Spotlight: What I Do As a 2D Animator

The creation process at the heart of 2D animation conjures up nostalgic images of smoky rooms where animators worked on their tilted drafting tables, flipping through thin pages, sketching characters live. Those days may be gone, but 2D animators are working in new ways, telling stories through their art.

Pencils, paper, and acetate have given way to tablets and digital compositing techniques that can do everything the old-fashioned methods can do, while simplifying the process at the same time. There is no need to redraw the character’s pose if you have a digital file from a previous show. (And the barriers to entry for hobbyists are lower than ever – drawing tablets are cheap, and there are tons of animation programs out there that are free to use .)

To learn a little about what it’s like to work in modern 2D animation, we spoke with Sketch MacQuinor, Lead Animator behind Adult Swim at Squidbillies .

First of all, tell us a little about your current job and how long you have been doing it.

I am currently the lead animator and designer for Squidbillies, a 12.5-minute cartoon based on the Cartoon Network’s programming block called Adult Swim .

What prompted you to choose your career path? Making a career in 2D animation isn’t easy!

As a child, I wanted to be a cartoonist like Bill Watterson and Jim Davis. I learned to draw by copying books and comics about Roger Rabbit, then went to high school. In high school, I fell in love with cinema and so I applied to colleges to become a filmmaker. It took me two years at community college to save some money and I discovered 3D animation. When I entered my regular college, Savannah College of Art and Design , I switched to 3D modeling and animation and completed my degree. While there, I studied 2D animation as my main course and took a single class in Flash animation.

How did you get a job?

I got my job by sending my demo cassette (cassettes were still in use in 2002, although they were gradually phased out) to various companies. After a year of accepting applications, I did an internship in Atlanta at a now defunct studio called The Wild Hare. After that, I had occasional, sporadic work with them while trying to get my name across to other studios. I once ran into a former classmate named Nate Cerny who was working for the now defunct Radical Axis on the now-canceled Aqua-Teen Hunger Force as a composer. I gave him my card. Soon after, they hired me as a typesetter for ATHF, which I worked on for two seasons and a little on the film.

The Squidbillies show needed animation tests, and as one of the few Flash animators in town, I provided them for Radical Axis and they got a contract. Then I became the lead animator in a series of developments on a system that could animate a long animated broadcast program using the knowledge of one Flash class and many personal experiments. This has been a large part of my work for eleven years. Now half of all shows are animated in Harmony and the other half in Flash / Animate because it’s cheaper.

What are you doing besides what most people see? What do you actually spend most of your time on? Meetings? Brainstorm?

I create most of the characters and other drawn elements of the show and animate several scenes in each episode. While I do this, I observe, teach, and sometimes learn from the animators I supervise. I guarantee that their work is of good quality and that they will not let the flat style of the show influence the final product, creating a style that looks a little more like Family Guy than folk art. In most of my notes, I say, “I really see him doing something like this,” and they move my hands in a certain way, “than that,” moving their hands differently. “Does this make sense?” I “ll ask. This is almost always the case. I often get up and act out the physicality that I want to convey in the character in order to figure out time, movement, character and gravity. I respect those people I know who also practice their fitness. I am not writing anything other than the occasional visual gag that comes from my animation scenes.

What other misconceptions do people often have about your job?

1. Some people think that every frame is redrawn, but it is not. I use the same heads and mouths for the main characters that I drew eleven years ago. If someone is standing and talking in a scene, most of it probably comes from the library, except for doing with their hands or showing nuanced facial expressions.

2. We do not animate on paper. I haven’t professionally touched paper for eight or nine years. At this point my name will be “Stylus” instead of “Sketch”, but I don’t have a strong sense of style to pull it off.

3. I am not writing a show. I use my abilities to develop other people’s vision.

4. We almost never use mentions of voice actors. The physical play of the characters comes from the animators, who interpret the same direction as the voice actors.

What’s your average uptime? Typical 9-5 thing or not?

In the case of squid, yes. We work from 9 to 5, 40 hours a week. It’s a low-intensity, broad-timetable show that knows how to allocate hours, so it rarely requires someone to overtime, which is expensive. Last season, a guy appeared on the show who had just stepped out of the ill-fated Chozen TV series. This show had a large budget and tight deadlines, so the animators worked 60 hours a week, 80 in some cases. He hadn’t seen his wife for months. Squids were relaxing entertainment.

What personal tips and shortcuts have made your job easier?

My career started with a former classmate who passed my information on to an employer, and the fact that I was the only guy who knew Flash at the right time. I learned to be a professional and supported my team and it helped me survive.

Are you doing anything differently than your peers in the same profession?

I have been living in the same city for years. I also get up from the chair and perform complex actions.

What’s the worst part of a job and how do you deal with it?

Lack of recognition for my show. Eleven years and a half of the people I have encountered have either only heard about it, or have not seen it, or have seen one or two episodes and have no particular opinion. This is discouraging, especially given the success of much younger shows like the much-loved Rick and Morty . This, as well as the deliberately limited style of the show, can sometimes frustrate an artist who wants to challenge themselves. And the budget.

What is the most enjoyable part of the job?

The other half are fans who enjoy the show. It’s a really great show and I laugh with delight every time I get a new script.

I often ask people how much money they can make in their field. In animation, I suppose it really depends on whether you are working in a large studio or a small store. Can you comment on this?

If you don’t transfer to Disney, you will be paying your teacher salary to pay off your exorbitant student loan. This is why I do not recommend people switch to SCAD.

Is there a way to “advance” in your field?

I’m not the guy to ask. I have been the lead animator for the same show for eleven years. If you want to produce a show, you need to be a writer / producer. Otherwise, you just work hard and communicate, and you will be noticed and offered the best job, like in any field.

What do people underestimate / overestimate in what you do?

The animation quality on this show is very good, but the flat coloration on a flat background tends to make people think of it as a low quality show.

What advice would you give to those who want to become your profession?

If you can find a way to avoid college debt, I would recommend it. Start animating A LOT in your spare time and listen to the advice of professionals who know what they’re talking about, like the 11 Seconds Club . If you can avoid college debt, do so, although this kind of environment (being a professional student) is essential to getting the skills you need. You will not become a quality animator with a professional mindset in a home office.


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