Last year Brian Martin got an amazing job, but had to keep it secret from even his close friends. Animation projects are kept hush-hush so other studios don’t get wind of a great idea. Now he can share that he’s been working on Steven Colbert’s Our Cartoon President. The half-hour cartoon show premieres Feb. 11 on Showtime. Brian graduated in 2015 from Kutztown University majoring in Communication Design with Ad and Illustration concentrations.
Brian signed an NDA, or Non-Disclosure Agreement, so he can’t share photos from inside the studio or images he has drawn for the show. I’ve grabbed art from the official Our Cartoon President trailer, which can be seen at Showtime.
Last year, Brian was a designer for a pharmaceutical e-learning company. It wasn’t his dream job. He promised himself he’d land his first animation gig before he had to renew his apartment lease. He just made it with one month left on the lease.
Q: How did you land the job with Our Cartoon President?
Brian: “With animation, past experience isn’t that crucial. It’s your reel that counts, and it always comes down to how well you do on your animation test, where they’ll ask you to animate a scene from the show. I finished the test in one all-nighter, and they emailed me the following week offering me a three-week position that could lead to long term if my work was good. It was Friday, and they wanted me to start Monday, so I packed up my desk immediately, and never went back. It was a giant risk, but every bone in my body told me to do it. Best decision I ever made!”
See the demo reel that got Brian’s foot in the door here.
Q: What was the move to NYC like?
Brian: “The first four weeks, I commuted from north Philly to NYC every day. It was a 5 to 7 hour round trip, – pretty brutal, but I think my commitment to the cause was appreciated! After the first five weeks, we went on a month-long hiatus, so I had plenty of time to prepare for the move. The first season is in production till sometime in March, so I’m staying in an Airbnb in East Harlem. “
Q: Like you, Floyd Bishop and Tom Warburton graduated from KU and had success in animation. Where did most animators you work with study?
Brian: SVA is the one I hear brought up most often.
Q: What is a typical day like? Do you work on one particular character or facet of the cartoon? Do you use specialized software?
“I’m not sure how much of our workflow I’m allowed to talk about, but I can say I work entirely in the realm of hand-drawn character animation. I don’t do any of the puppeting or rigging. We’re animating in Adobe Photoshop so our files can be imported into Adobe Character Animator, a brand new software.”
Q: Can you share some of your sketches?
Brian: Sure! Work stuff is a bit too top-secret, but here’s some recent sketchpad doodles!
Q: What is Steven Colbert like?
Brian: “I’ve only met him a couple times. First time, I was walking from the bathroom back to my desk. I was alone in the hallway and heard a voice behind me shout, “Hi there!” I turned around, and he was sticking his head out the elevator door with a big grin on his face, clearly with the intention to startle the hell out of me and leave me star struck. “
“The second time was at the Late Show holiday party. A coworker and I drunkenly thanked him for our awesome job. He was super cool about it and talked to us for a minute and took selfies with us and a few dozen other people. He just seems like a super nice dude and an average Joe in the best possible way. It’s one of those things that never quite feels real, so it’s hard to truly appreciate.”
Brian can’t talk plot, but Showtime reveals a bit about the show’s first episode: “The President tries to revive his low approval ratings by delivering the greatest State of the Union speech in history and to strengthen his relationship with First Lady Melania by naming her the national bird.”
Brian can’t tell us much more about his work. However, Our Cartoon President‘s lead animator Tim Luecke shares much about process in this cool Adobe video.
Our Cartoon President, Feb.11 on SHO, or on demand beginning Jan. 28. Could it be funnier than a White House Press conference? Let’s see! New subscribers can get a free 7-day trial of the Showtime app. Tell ’em Brian Martin sent you.
P.S. I contacted Floyd Bishop, now an artist at Microsoft, who taught Brian animation at Kutztown. Floyd says, “Brian pushed himself to tackle tough challenges, and grew his skills faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. Whatever he gets involved with is going to be great!”
In Illustration 1 class, we added a bit of motion to our art using Photoshop gifs. Shout out to Prof. Dannell MacIlwraith for teaching me how to make a gif loop.
Amanda Collins, artwork above, sits alongside Mia Clark, artwork below. Both focused on nostrils, oddly enough.
Ashley Ferguson animated one of her 3 icons, or “tricons,” as they are called here. Not sure what sort of lifeform this is, but looks to be dancing on a very magic mushroom.
Haeley Vernon imagined a green smoke enveloping a purple skull encrusted with crystals, something you don’t see every day. Yow!
Rachel Lefko began working on an ambitious animation of a cliff diver. I hope she completes it someday. Meanwhile, she delivered this quirky item, The Devil Knitting.
The gif assignment was a first for these juniors and the results were fun. Coming full circle back to nostrils, Todd Weber produced a somewhat snotty image, below.
Gif illustrations have definitely gone mainstream. The New York Times digital edition runs gif versions of art that appears static in the print edition of the newspaper. Check out this link for the animated version of the art below by Peter and Maria Hoey. By the way, Peter Hoey is a successful Kutztown University illustration grad, BFA 1982. So, we expect great things from the current crop of students.
Art for NY Times by Peter Hoey and Maria Hoey. Click through to see in gif form. Teachers in TIAA retirement plans, like me, may find the story eye-opening.
Illustrator Ryan Lynn, 2006, BFA, Communication Design, is doing fine, thanks. I remember covering my ears when Ryan’s punk band, The Aurora, rocked the Trexlertown Grange, around 2005. His music career may have faded, but his artistic energy certainly hasn’t waned. He just completed the biggest illustration job of his career. His slightly-retro super-graphic style is the perfect match for this project.
He writes, “I was approached by Miller Lite to create a series of illustrations for 15 NFL teams that were to appear on posters, billboards, and other materials in each NFL team’s market. These illustrations were created in the Miller Lite illustration style that I helped establish in their Summer Poster Campaign.
As a huge NFL fan, it was awesome to get to work on this series and immerse myself in each NFL team’s colors, attitude, and traditions.
Question: How did this job come to you?
Ryan: I’ve been working with Miller Lite’s agency of record for about a year. I got an email from them one day out of the blue asking if I could do a poster series for the summer (the dragon and octopus, plus a robot one that never got finished). After that, I kept working with them on some billboards and trade show graphics before getting the NFL series.
Q: How long did it take?
Ryan: It was a tight turnaround – 15 posters took around 5 straight months without weekends or holidays. I even had to skip a cousin’s wedding!
Q: You are an Eagles fan, but strictly from a graphics point of view, which image is your favorite?
Ryan: I’m pretty happy with how they all turned out. If I had to pick, I like the Ravens because it has a lot of detail. The Steelers is cool, too.
Q: What size is your original art?
Ryan: They are all the same size 24” x 36”. Each poster also has a landscape version as well. The final illustrations had to be vector so their team could put them on billboards, buildings and whatever else.
Q: Have you gone to any of the Stadiums to see these?
Ryan: Not yet! I don’t know if they all are going to be in their stadiums. I know the Atlanta Falcons illustration is in their stadium bar and there was talk of the Texans putting theirs on a mural, but I don’t know.
Ryan: Miller Lite illustrations for Major League Baseball!
Thanks, Ryan. All I can say is “Wow!” Your artwork is solid and just right for NFL.
Visit Ryan’s website and shop to snag listed edition sic-fi art and gig posters for as at little as $20. Ryan is still into music. Below is his poster for Cruisr, the hit band that includes two KU design grads, Andy States and Jon Van Dine.
As the semester begins, I warn new students that illustration is a very tough field. Like acting, -the world only needs so many movie stars. On the other hand, I should share success stories of grads doing great work in illustration. Here are a few stellar grads.Take 2017 grad Heather Fox, for example. She made a zine that debuted at MoccaFest 2016. Then she self-published via Amazon’s CreateSpace. She created a retelling of one of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So stories, The Elephant’s Nose. She collaborated with her boyfriend Jonathan Stutzman on these projects. Now they have an agent and a real book deal with Putman books for Butts Are Everywhere! I wrote more about Heather and her talented classmate Meredith Shriner here.
Tom Whalen’s collector tix for Rogue One
Tom Whalen, KU CD, 1996, is one of the greatest vector-illustrators in the country. He has worked for major entertainment studios including Disney, Lucasfilm, Paramount, Marvel, DC, and Warner Bros. Above are his collector’s tickets for Rogue One’s theatrical release. Below is one of his posters for Disney/Pixar.
Tom Whalen’s work can be found at Strongstuff.net. Below is a screen grab from his site to give a window into his versatility and prodigious output.
Amanda Geisinger, a 2008 grad from Pottstown, won an Emmy for her work at Nick Digital, part of the Nickelodeon empire. She works on Times Square with Spongebob and other celebrities. Back in 2010, I interviewed her for a blog post I titled, What’s Spongebob Really Like.
See more of Amanda’s work including cool gifs like the one below at her website, AmandaGeisinger.com
The insanely-talented Chris Sickels came from rural Indiana to rural Pennsylvania with a suitcase full of strange characters. He let me play with his dolls. – Me and a roomful of artists attending his workshop for the UCDA Summit at Kutztown University.
Chris Sickels is Red Nose Studio. The studio is known for 3-D illustration and experimental animation. “I don’t think of myself as an animator,” said Chris, “but as an animation enthusiast.” And his enthusiasm is contagious.
Chris gave us a rapid demonstration of how he shoots still frames on his Canon SLR and animates in Photoshop. After the demo he divided us into pairs.
I got paired with Prof. Brytton Bjorngaard of U of Illinois, Springfield. We tore up scrap paper, bits of a Brillo pad, and using Chris’s model plus some masking tape and florist’s wire we made a film. Our 20-frame film is so extremely short that by the time you say the title, Professor Cigar, it is starting over. See below:
It was a wonderful learning experience. I was lucky to work with Brytton, a whiz at both analog and digital media. A one-woman art and design department, she has taught animation and everything else. She ably used Photoshop’s Healing Brush Tool to clean up the frames where the Professor’s stray wire was showing, see below.
Seven other short films by newbie animators were created by noon and then we had a mini-film festival. Thanks to KU Prof. Josh Miller, the Program Director for the 2017 UCDA Summit. He did a wonderful job planning the event. Kathy Sue Traylor, the CD Dept Office manager, did a great job at event planning. The wine tour was a hit. Even I, a designated driver, enjoyed it. Nearly 100 conference attendees came from all over the country, a few even flew from China for the event.
Do visit Red Nose Studio and check out more wonderful Lo-Fi animation here.
Our last blog post featured recent illustration grad Meredith Shriner. Chris Sickels signed The Secret Subway, one of his children’s books for Meredith as Prof Cunfer looked on. His books are as marvelous as his animations and another way to become acquainted with his extraordinary imagination.
There was more to the UCDA conference, but Chris’s workshop was a high point. We will leave you with a a photo of KU CD grad, James Pannafino, now a prof of Interactive Design at Millersville U of PA. He worked with Prof. Denise Bosler, chair of the KU CD Dept. Believe me, they made this little bellhop hop!
Chris Sickels keeps busy making award-winning illustratios. He only does one or two workshops a year. If you ever have the chance to participate in one, do it!
KU Grad Matt Twombly posted on Facebook that he had left his job at National Geographic and begin freelancing in 2015. He was a stellar student and won the Don Breter Illustration award when he graduated in 2008. So, I was curious about his transition and sent him some questions.
1. What was your job title at National Geographic?
Matt Twombly: Graphic Editor. The job was basically designing, researching, and illustrating graphics. One project might call for a data visualization of some kind, say a chart, diagram, or graph, and another might be better suited for an illustration. But I left that in December 2015.
2. Why did you leave NG? Did the recent acquisition by Fox have anything to do with it?
In short, no. It was a hard decision leaving the Geographic. At times I felt like I was crazy and at other times a transition felt necessary. Basically, it came down to reasons outside my professional life. I wanted to buy a house and set up the foundation for starting a family. DC is great, but expensive. Plus, my wife was offered a position up here (PA) in her old school district, which got her out of teaching in DC public schools, something pretty much unsustainable for even the most dedicated. So we took advantage of that offer to move back to PA.
Coincidentally, the merger with Fox and creation of what is now National Geographic Partners happened just as I was leaving, but it wasn’t a motivating factor for me. The magazine was facing some big changes and up against some big challenges, but nothing that the entire magazine publishing industry as a whole wasn’t already up against. With the merger, some good talent left, or was pushed out, but I was still thankful for the job I had. Not to mention the fact that the staff there, and the graphics team especially, was moving ahead and would keep doing some great work.
3. What did you learn from freelancers at National Geographic?
The most important lesson I learned is what it’s like for the editor on the other side, – hiring freelancers. That was me for a time. A lot of editors find freelancers they like and keep going back to them again and again. Freelancers we worked with were known for their specialty, either a specific style or a specific subject matter: space art guy, 3D guy, paleo art guy, etc.
Freelancers we used regularly had already established themselves in a particular specialty. But they we all very professional, never missed deadlines, always delivered and didn’t push back on feedback from us. If you get a chance to do a job, do it well and you’ll be asked again some day.
4. How did I you get your first freelance job?
Well, some of my first freelance jobs came while still at the Geographic. Someone might see my work in the magazine. Or word of mouth. Mutual friends or colleagues might recommend me. In my case, the first big job, a poster for the Parks Service in Alaska, came from an ex-employee I had known from the Geographic who already had her own working relationship with NPS.
Poster for National Parks Service, Alaska, Archaeology Month, 2016
Not much has changed in how I land jobs now. How I get jobs from National Geographic now probably goes without saying. They know me, know what I’m good at. But I’ve been able to work with some new clients in my first year freelancing. Most of them just by introducing my work to the appropriate editor/art director. Obviously, a lot of people know the Geographic’s work and some are already familiar with my work, so that gives me one advantage. Also, some people from the Geographic (or my first publication, Science) now work at other publications. So in most cases I’ve just sent email introductions.
5. How much time do you spend on self-promotion?
Probably not enough. It can be awkward reaching out, especially to total strangers. And it’s discouraging if you fail to get a response. While I was on staff at NGM, I’d occasionally get a mailer or mass email from illustrators hoping to get work. Most of the time, that didn’t have a big effect on my hiring an illustrator. Part of that is because NGM requires such niche work. But just as much because editors already had a trusted pool of freelancers to draw from. Breaking into that is tough. For that reason, as a freelancer I opt for personal email introductions with a link to my website.
These days most of my self promotion is through social media (Instagram and Twitter) and the occasional email self-promotion.
6. Did typography classes from Kutztown pay off?
Ha, I’m probably the wrong person to ask. At the very least, I think it’s important to have an appreciation for type and all of its crazy intricacies. KU classes were certainly my introduction to that.
7. Any big ambitions or particular projects?
The biggest one is continuing with the professional relationships I’ve made this past year. Hopefully expanding that net wider to more publications. I’d also like to diversify my sources of income. What I mean is find other things besides illustration for publications to make money for myself. Whether that means making handmade goods, collaborating with other businesses, or even teaching in some capacity, I’m open to it all. One thing I’ve gotten into is making art prints to sell on Etsy or Society 6. It’s small potatoes now, but it’s fun and personally gratifying. I’d really like to turn that into something bigger!
Elham Ataeiazar, work pictured above, came from Iran to work on her MFA at Kutztown. ‘Ellie’ has already illustrated a number of quirky children’s books for a publisher in Lebanon. Her artwork will be on display along with nearly 40 other KU undergraduate work at the Scatter Joy Center for the Arts in Horsham, PA.
“The Kutztown Univerity Communication Design Illustration Showcase” opening is Friday Sept. 23, 5:00 to 8:00pm. The public is invited and the show will hang through Oct.19, 2016.
Scatter Joy is the brainchild of Kathy Davis. Kathy Davis is the well-known artist who started a greeting card business in a corner of her bedroom and found fame and fortune. She also employs a crew of talented illustrators, designers, and letterers. In 2011 we wrote about grad Ashley McDevitt working at the studio. Ashley, who drew the announcement above, isn’t the only KU grad working for Kathy Davis. According to Prof. Elaine Cunfer, who has been instrumental in arranging this exhibition, 4 other grads are at the studio.
Prof Cunfer collected and organized work for students who chose to participate in the exhibition. Undergrad work includes projects done by sophomore through senior year. Kristen Tully (work above) drew the zine ‘Moon and Wolf Girl’ which was the bestselling KU zine at Moccafest in 2015. You can see more of her images here.
2016 grad Adam Liesenring’s work often evokes science fiction. More of Adam’s work can be seen here.
Meredith Shriner is still on campus. Her junior-level work, above, will be in the Scatter Joy exhibition. More of her work can be seen here.
Kutztown University is proud of its association with Kathy Davis Studio and hopes the relationship will grow in the years ahead. By the way, the studio is looking for a watercolor artist and a hand-lettering artist! Check the careers tab on the Kathy Davis website.