Animation: Young Artists Bring Characters to Life

BY Debra A. Schwartz

Aura Technologies’ laser animation of skiers coming down mountains, Christmas wreaths with twinkling lights, reindeer leaping, Santa Claus and Sony products will be projected on the side of the Sony building on Michigan Ave. during the Nov. 19 Christmas parade.

The animation was created by three young animators, David Kennedy, 20, Carl Graves, 23 and Bohdan “Rob” Pywowarczuk, 26. Pretty heady stuff for a bunch of artists barely out of school.

The Aura Technologies three aren’t the only Generation X animators with wide audiences. Derek Frederickson, 24, and Kim Nylan, 24, are animating a feature at Atomic Imaging; over at Calabash Animation, Mike Medlock, 24, and Jackie Smessert, 26, are animating commercials; and Chris Olsen, 24, Heather Jones, 22, and Lesly Benodin, 24, are drawing images at Big Idea for the first half- hour, fully computer-animated children’s video series produced in America, says owner Phillip Vischer.

All this animation activity is happening here, where many of the rookies say they want to stay for their entire careers.

They are the first generation to use a computer and mouse to create the kind of stuff once painstakingly drawn by hand. Generation X animators are leaping over masters with years of experience to higher salaries than their predecessors.

“We have animators who are very young who make more than older animators,” says Ari Golan, owner of Atomic Imaging. Their salaries are not based on age, they are based on capability.”

Generation X’s computer expertise has allowed them to break into the once-complex field of cel animation. At work, they are animating characters, products and shapes with an electronic pen in hand. At home, it’s pencil and paper for drawing and sketching the old fashioned way. It’s what the young animators in demand say gives them the edge over computer graphics artists.

Aura owner Steve Heminover says many Generation X applicants seeking animation jobs from him have backgrounds in computer art but not in traditional art. ‘We find a lot of
(Generation Xers) who know computer graphics, but many of them really can’t draw,” he says.

That makes them hard to work with, Golan says. More to the point, in his mind, it makes them unemployable. “The problem is if they have no background in the traditional arts, their styles are very limited. They’re not as flexible. They are more caught up in the technology of the imaging and less with the image itself.

They don’t have enough control over the tools they are using to recreate the image from their mind’s eye,” he says. Consequently, Golan doesn’t hire anyone who can’t draw.

The Generation X animators in Chicago are mostly coming from Columbia College. Pywowarczuk and Kennedy are still students there, but are working full-time in the field. Nylan and Graves are self-taught, though Graves studied for a year at Columbia, and both say their strong traditional art backgrounds give them an edge over graduates with degrees in computer graphics.

Beyond economics, studio directors say the new crop of animators bring three gifts to the field: 1) a natural adeptness with computers; 2) freshness, and 3) a new animated look. “We grew up on ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Star Trek’,” says Kennedy. “Our mythologies are different than the generation before us, and we’re able to take the technology a little bit further.”

There is still another reason to hire Generation X animators. Aura art director Jackie Kling adds a fourth. “Their age allows their style to be more dominant than if they’d been forced to work in a company’s style for 20 years. They have fewer inhibitions about doing it their own way of seeing things. They’re not as reserved. It gives us a variety of styles to offer, so we don’t have a set look to every piece that goes out of here. I enjoy that freshness,” she says.

Computer-generated animation displayed in “The Mask” and “Lawnmower Man” is showing kids that animation is not just cartoons, causing a resurgence of interest in animation throughout Generation X, Kling says. “It has been revived to a mainstream medium again,” she says.

Generation X is most interested in classical animation, says Ed Newmann, director of animation at Calabash, cel animation specialists. They’re not as attracted to other forms, such as claymation, he adds.

It’s true for Pywowarczuk, who plans to direct cel animated cartoons in Chicago someday; and for Medlock and his classmates at Sheridan College’s International Summer School of Animation in Canada. It’s not true for Frederickson, who doesn’t do any hand-drawn cel animation but aims to animate features. “I prefer to use a mouse to draw,” he says.

“Computer animation is best for making non-living things move, such as mouthwash bottles and cereal boxes,” says Medlock, who has animated commercials for Trix, Lucky Charms, Dunkaroos and the kids’ game, Crazy Crab. “The computer is digitized, making dupiction of an already living thing less believable. To a point, the technology takes over and draws the audience’s attention instead of the character. That’s the obstacle Generation Xers have to overcome.”

VOL 16 NO. 40

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