Hi! I'm an animation student at UT Dallas, and I've been looking for stories and advice from great artists. What was your first big project, and what did you do? What advice would you give an aspiring animator
TOM: This probably isn't the answer you are looking for but my first animation for Disney was of a foot kicking a pot. I was (the legendary animator) Mark Henn's clean up assistant for about 2-3 years before I moved into animating my own scenes. During that time, I bugged Mark for advice, watched him animate, volunteered to shoot his pencil tests, dug drawings out of his "trash pile" for stuff to keep, did some rough inbetweening on his scenes, and generally bugged him to let me animate one of his scenes that he didn't want. And all that was above my "day job" of cleaning up his scenes. Well, one day, on Rescuer's Down Under two things happened: (1) Mark had a ton of good scenes on his desk and had director notes (changes) to a nothing scene and (2) I bugged him to the point he went crazy. He gave me a portion of a scene to reanimate! I would get no animation credit, no footage credit, and no extra pay- but I was going to animate something that would be in a Disney film! It was a scene where McLeach (angrily) steps toward the big kettle pot on the fire, shakes his fist, rears his foot back and kicks the kettle off the fire and steam goes everywhere filling the screen. (The shot was just from his midsection down, so you didn't even see his face.) Basically, a nothing scene for any animator. Mark had animated the first part (walking toward the pot, I believe) and he had a director's change on how he kicked it. He said: "Just have him shiver his fist (I think the audio had him growling), anticipate the foot back, then kick it". Sounds simple, right? Well, I over thought the heck out of it. I acted it out in front of a mirror, pretended my brother was a pot and kicked him a bunch, and did multiple thumbnail sketch versions of how he could kick it. Then I animated probably two or three of those versions. Showed Mark. He picked one and gave me some suggestions on how it could be better. I reanimated a section of it again. Shot it again. And got the best compliment you get from Mark, "Okay, I'll show the directors." Mark didn't compliment much but if he said it was good enough to move forward, that WAS the compliment. It got approved. To this day, I don't know if Mark mentioned that I did it or not. Sure, I wanted them to know, but I knew that scene wouldn't have changed my career path. I was going to be an animator "Academy award winning Pot Scene" or not!
What advice do I have to give? Make every scene/ drawing/ painting more important than it is. Work hard. Draw every day. If you don't do these things than enjoy drawing as a hobby. There's nothing wrong with that. But if you dream of being a PRO and having art support you and your family, that is a MUCH bigger dream. That dream only comes from effort. Effort that you will have to give everyday for the rest of your life. Best to you, Tom B.