Paul Johnson has an animation career that spans over 20 years, many of those years being at Bardel. Boy are we lucky! Shows like Mucha Lucha, Neighbours From Hell, Planet Sheen and the ever popular, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which is currently in production on our studio floors. We had a chance to pick his brain.
What do you do at Bardel?
I currently Lead Team Don and animate partial quota on Season 3 of TMNT. This position involves pre-director scene approvals and revising, scene assignments, technical and artistic mentoring, improving workflow efficiencies and providing feedback for the rest of the team, ensuring an episode delivery every 16 weeks. And of course, animating.
How did you become involved with Animation?
Ha, funny story. I didn’t create much visual art growing up because music was my big focus from grades 8-12, playing the clarinet and saxophone. I took a year off after high school before starting college to teach English. After a year of that, I figured out that music was actually a realistic job option that fit my natural tendencies more, so I spent the next 2 1/2 years studying music in university. It was the one-year full-time data-entry job that really transitioned me into animation though – it was so brain-numbingly tedious that I needed a creative outlet to keep from losing my mind… so I started drawing! That led me to a one-year animation program at VFS in June of 1994.
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Once I saw those first two images moving in sequence on the line-test machine, I was hooked. It was an awesome moment, to realize that single images created out of my head could tell a story when represented in real time. A childhood of watching cartoons had prepared me for this without me knowing it, and my music background supplied me with the understanding of timing I needed to succeed in the industry.
What changes have you seen in the industry over 20 years?
I’m lucky that I’ve been able to work in drawn 2D, digital 2D, and 3D. Working on “The Far Side II” in 1996 was awesome, it is likely the only cel-based project I’ll ever get to work on. I loved walking into the back and seeing 50 cels drying because they all had the white painted on them, and the next day they’d get the red done. Good times.
What projects do you work on outside of Bardel?
I create short films, the most recent being ‘The 8 Bit Cup’. Inspired by a Keith Olbermann broadcast from Mar 20, 2014, “The 8-Bit Cup” is a pixel-art chiptune short film in homage to great jobs I’ve had and great calls I’ve heard over the years. I’ve always loved listening to sports on the radio, so this was my chance to animate some of those great calls in a way that I hadn’t seen before.
Do you have any advice for aspiring animation artists?
One of the things I love about this career is the concept of the demo reel, and how it goes with you no matter what your current job situation is. Portfolio trumps all. Education, living situation, whatever, they’re all irrelevant if you can do the job competently and work well with others. Keep evolving your demo real to allow you to reflect on what you’ve done, and represent yourself clearly and easily.
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Watch movies and TV shows consciously. Everything is (or at least can be) constructed. Cuts, camera angles, shot selections, colors, composition, stories and emotion are being dictated by the combination of all these. Take it all in, but retain and explore your own reactions and inclinations, because we all experience the same show a little differently than someone else, which can in turn be used to create something of our own.
Never stop learning. Never be complacent. Refuse to be content with recycling ideas without putting your own spin on them. Decide to chew bubblegum or kick butt, and then realize you’re out of bubblegum. Inspire, be inspired, don’t let the bastards get you down, fight the system, make art, and to thine self be true. No one else is going to do it for you.
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