DreamWorks Animation Farewell

Farwell DreamWorks AnimationI started this blog by saying that I have a job at a dream company, and that I planned to leave that company.  Well, that time is upon us, and next week will be my last week working at DreamWorks Animation.  I have been keeping the name of the company I was working at a secret until I made them aware of my intentions.  Now that they are aware, and my end date is official there is no longer a reason to keep it a secret.  I have worked at DreamWorks Animation for over 6 years now, and in that time I have worked on the movies Monsters vs Aliens, Kung Fu Panda 2, Madagascar 3, Home!, and several shorts.  It has been an amazing experience that gave me the opportunity to work for a great company with some of the most talented people in the industry.  It is these amazing people that I will miss the most… closely followed by the free lunch.   I’m currently working on the feature film Home! as the modeling and surfacing production supervisor.  Home! was scheduled to be released this November, but was pushed out to March of 2015.  I knew when I started on Home! back in March of 2012 that it would be my last film I would work on at DreamWorks, and have been planning around that these last few years.  It always seemed so far away, and it’s hard to believe that I only have 1 week left.

As I was getting closer to my end date I was thinking they would most likely not have a position for me to go onto after Home!.  This would have worked out nicely for me, since I would not have any hard feelings about turning down a position.  In the past when the movie I was working on was getting close to being finished I would start talking to other shows that were staffing up to see what positions were available.  This time I did not talk to anyone about my approaching end date.  I thought that by flying under the radar that they would forget about me, and fill all the open positions with other people.  Also with some of DreamWorks Animation’s projects getting pushed, and my contract expiring I was sure this meant I would be asked to leave.  I played in my head many times how the meeting with HR would go.  They very professionally telling me that unfortunately there was no positions and I would have to leave the studio at the end of my current project.  Me trying to resist the grin forming on my face would say “I understood”, and that “it was a pleasure working here for as long as I have, and thank you for the opportunity”.  Yup, that was not at all how it happened.  They actually offered me a position on one of the upcoming films, so I ended up having to turn it down. I would be lying if I said I was not a little happy that they wanted to keep me even though I was planning on leaving anyways.  My last day at the studio will be July 3rd which means on July 4th I will also be gaining my own independence. I will leave the security that DreamWorks has provided me for so many years, and risk it all for a chance to make my dreams come true.  It’s exciting, invigorating, and scary all at the same time.

” While it’s tempting to play it safe, the more we’re willing to risk, the more alive we are. In the end, what we regret most are the chances we never took. And I hope that explains a little about this journey on which I’m about to embark.”
~ Frasier

I do want to say thank you to DreamWorks and all the people I have had the privilege of working with over these years.  Everyone one of you inspired me in more ways then you know.  I have never worked at a place that had so many people that are such an inspiration.  You made going to work each day so enjoyable, and I hope to work with all of you in the future.


If you have not already, I hope you will join me on my journey by subscribing to my blog.  If you have any thoughts or advice I would love to hear what you have to say, so please feel free to leave me any comments below. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@MillerAnimation). Only Time Will Tell.

What’s In A Name

EMA signatureWhen I was younger and first started to dream about doing what Walt Disney did I always thought I would name my company as he did.  I built my dreams around the idea of Eric Miller Animation, so now that I’m actually starting my studio there was never much thought about what it would be called.  Although, through my experience in the industry I have heard of downsides to naming it after the founder.  At this point it is hard for me to think of the studio as anything else, and there are a few reasons why I still plan to name my studio Eric Miller Animation.

Marketing Me:
At the beginning I will have to market myself to prospective clients.  There won’t be a company to talk about, and it will simply be me, Eric Miller.  I will spend a lot of time and money building a reputation for what I can do for clients.  I feel it would be a waste if I changed from a name they have come to know and trust to something they don’t know.  Sure it can be done, but if it is not necessary why add the extra work.  I will already have enough mountains to climb, so why make things harder then they need to be.

Personal Touch:
The one thing I liked about the Walt Disney company is that the name gave it a personal touch(at least in the beginning).  I want people to want to work with me and the studio because I have been a friend, and they know they can count on me.  I feel that by using a name that is not linked to a person makes it seem less inviting.  I also feel there is a level of accountability when your name is attached to something.  You don’t want to put out cheap or sloppy work that will ruin your personal reputation.  By attaching your name it makes you feel more accountable to deliver your best every time.

More difficult to sell:
Business advice says that it is a bad idea to name a company after the founder, because if you ever want  to sell the company it will be less appealing to buyers.  This makes sense, but starting an animation studio was never a business venture to me to simply make money.  I don’t plan to get the company up and running, and then sell it off to the highest bidder.  This company is everything to me, and I want others to know that I stand behind this studio.

Taking all the Credit:
Some people say that by naming the company after one person it takes credit away from the artists.  I can understand this if credit is not given to artists in other ways.  The company name to me is more marketing and branding.  It is that name you come to trust, and thought of as the industry expert.  The company name of Pixar does not give any more credit to the artists then Eric Miller Animation.  Credit needs to be given in other ways, and I’m a very strong believer in giving credit where credit is due.  It is important to celebrate the hard work of all the people on any project, and shine a spotlight on anyone that went above and beyond.  After all, what makes a company great is the people that work there.

Not everyone might agree with the points I make, but this is what I feel is the right thing to do.  After all I’m the one that will be risking the most, and putting myself, and my family’s lives on the line.  There has to be some benefits for taking a chance to follow your heart. Some people might say that is just ego, and maybe it is, but I feel it is more then just that.  I want to make a difference in the world and leave my mark. Maybe that is selfish of me, but everyone has that right.  After all, one could argue that the names of things do not matter, only what things “are”.  What we do as a company is the only thing that matters in the end.

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
– William Shakespeare

Here are some interesting facts about company names you may or may not know.  A few entertainment companies that are named after people; 20th Century – Fox William Fox, Don Bluth Entertainment – Don Bluth, MGM or Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer – Samuel Goldfish, Edgar and Archibald Selwyn, and Louis B. Mayer, Hanna-Barbera Productions – William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, Hasbro – the HASsenfeld BROthers,The Jim Henson Company – Jim Henson, Lucasfilm – George Lucas, Miramax Films – Max and Miriam Weinstein (parents of founders), Turner Broadcasting System – Ted Turner, and of course The Walt Disney Company – Walt Disney.  The Walt Disney Company has gone through several names over the years including; Disney Brothers Cartoon Studio, The Walt Disney Studio, and Walt Disney Productions.  Eventually the live action and animation divisions were renamed to Walt Disney Pictures, and Walt Disney Feature Animation under The Walt Disney Company umbrella.


If you have not already, I hope you will join me on my journey by subscribing to this blog.  If you have any thoughts or advice I would love to hear them, so please feel free to leave me any comments below. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@MillerAnimation). Only Time Will Tell.

Produced by Conference

photo 1This Sunday I attended day 2 of the Produced by Conference that was held at the Warner Bros. Studio lot.  It was a great experience, and I’m very glad I was able to attend.  The Produced by Conference is a conference for producers by producers, and is put on each year by the Producers guild of America.  This is the 6th year of the conference, but only my first year going.  It is made up of different guest speakers and panels of industry experts, and I signed up for 4 panel discussions that I would like to share with you.

Conversation with Norman Lear:
Norman Lear & Steven LevitanI’m embarrassed to say that I did not know who Norman Lear was before signing up for this session.  I still did not know the impact he had on the industry even after looking him up online in advance and finding out about the shows that he wrote and produced.  I have heard of the shows he made, but never actually seen any of them.  All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Maude, and Sanford and Son to name some of the big ones.  So having this chance to hear his stories was very fascinating. He was so influential that the Producers Guild’s comedy series award is actually named after him.  The person that won the Norman Lear Award the most times was Steven Levitan, and he was the one moderating for this conversation. Steven Levitan created such TV series as Just Shoot Me!, Stark Raving Mad, Stacked, Back to You, and Modern Family. This paring of the two made this conversation even more rewarding. Norman talked about how he felt like he never did anything that was that earth shattering, but was just telling stories.  He said when he was first getting into the industry the biggest issues in TV shows was that the boss was coming over for dinner and they burned the roast.  He wanted to tackle the most controversial issues of the time.  His shows touched on racism, abortion, and sexism.  He had to fight to get the networks to be OK with many of the shows’ subject matter.  His hard work paid off, and paved the way for many shows that have controversial subject matter in them.  Including Steven Levitan’s show Modern Family which has a homosexual couple in it. He also talked about how he is still working on projects, and he is not having any luck on getting his most recent project made.  It is a comedy that’s set in a retirement village, and is called Guess Who’s Dead.  He said “They don’t want to touch the demographic”.  It sounded like it would be pretty funny, and I would be interested to see it made.  When asked what advice he had for producers today, he said the greatest lesson he could pass on came from Jean Stapleton, the late co-star of All in the Family. He said,

“She’s always where she is, always be where you are.”

The Emerging Majors: New Possibilities for Scripted Storytelling:
photo 2This was a panel of four executives moderated by Chris Thomes, VP Digital Media Studio at Disney/ABC Television Group.  The four panelist were; Laura Allen, Head of Production for Yahoo!, Michael Klein, EVP Programming and Content Strategy for Conde Nast Entertainment, Erick Opeka EVP Digital Networks for Cinedigm, and John P. Roberts, SVP Digital Media and Commercial Affairs for Endemol USA.  None of these people were lacking in overly long titles.  It was interesting to hear that 3 of the 4 panelists have cut the cable cord.  They felt cable TV did not provide them with anything they could not get from online.  This was really interesting to me since it was further evidence on the changing landscape of the cable industry. They also talked a lot about packaging scripts and stories from a business point of view.  They want that ideal Youtube star that “writes”, directs, creates, and produces their own content for practically nothing.  They also wanted to find talent that helped with their brand.  “Brand integration” is the key, said John P. Roberts.  It was good to hear what they were looking for, and what was of interest to their companies.  This panel was helpful in the fact it gave me an insight on what was important to them.  If I was ever to pitch an idea to them I would have a better understanding on how to approach each one.

Financing Independent Film: New Business Models:
photo 3This was one of those panels that highlights all that you don’t know about raising financing for movie.  You go into it thinking you know a little about the subject, and walk thinking you know nothing.  Instead of listing out all the panelists I included a picture of the title card with all their names and positions.  It was made up of producers, agents, attorney, and other experts in film financing.  There was a lot of very intelligent, and experienced people on this panel, and they are the kind of people you want on your team when you are trying to raise money.  They talked a lot about crowd funding which is something I have already thought about doing to make my first project, but know I need to get a little more credibility first.  Sky Moore(attorney) talked about other ways that I had not thought of before.  These were; Advertise private offerings, Money from advertisers, and retailers.  Honestly I’m not real sure what he meant about the first one, but it had something to do with talent going out and raising money on their own.  If someone knows more about this please comment below.  The second one, money from advertisers, he used the example of the Lego Movie.  Working with advertisers to fund the project if you put their product in the film.  You have to be careful with this method, since you don’t want your movie to turn into a hour long commercial.  The last one, Retailers, could be money for showcasing products, or products to use in the film for free.  It could be clothing, cars, food, or other products.  He mentioned Netflix, and Walmart being good examples. Stephan Paternot, Co-Founder and CEO of Slated talked about his company, and how it can also help you raise money.  He explained it by talking about a tail, and at one end you have the studios, and the other you have crowd funding.  His company is in the middle of the two.  It is a network that helps connect creators with investors.  While sites like Kickstarter can be for anyone including people with no experience, Slated is for more experianced film makers.  It helps investors filter down all the people wanting to make a project to people with more of a proven track record.  Slated provides tools for investors to see who is involved in the project, and give an idea of the market value of each project.  For example the director could be inexperienced which would lower the value, but it might have other experienced key people and talent that would increase the value.  They also talk about domestic and international options, but many of this was over my head.

Indie City: Finding Your Niche in the Digital Eco-System:
photo 4I attended this panel instead of the conversation with Francis Ford Coppola.  Although it would have been amazing to see him I felt this panel would be more beneficial to my goals.  This ended up being the most interesting session of the day, and I felt justified with my decision.  I have been very intrigued with the power of YouTube lately.  I have seen first hand how quickly a video or channel can go viral, and quickly bring the creator into the spotlight.  This panel talked a lot about YouTube, and YouTube success strategies.  Panelist Tim Street kept making the point that you just need to get started, and that is the best way to learn.  Most people already have everything they need to make a video for YouTube, and you add that with a great idea, and you might have something.  I think the reason I liked this session the most was that it was inspiring.  As mentioned before I plan to get my animation studio started by doing commercial work, but this inspired me to think I could start making movies.  It got me thinking about ways to make fun short animated videos to start building my YouTube audience.  The fact that animation is expensive is still there, but it got me exploring other ways to make inexpensive animated videos.  I always wanted to have highly polished animation, but maybe there is value in making rougher animations to start.  On the other side it kind of depressed me on what kids made popular these days.  YouTube channels like Fred and Annoying Orange in my opinion are horrible, and can’t understand why they are so popular.  If this is what kids are watching then I really don’t understand my target audience.  I have to hold onto the belief that quality animation is still of value.

I had a great day in these sessions, and met a lot of very interesting people.  I look forward to next year’s conference.

If you have not already, I hope you will join me on my journey by subscribing to this blog.  I would love to hear any of your thoughts so please leave me any comments below. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@MillerAnimation). Only Time Will Tell.


Credibility: the quality of being trusted and believed in. Getting my first client will be one of my biggest challenges due to a lack of credibility. Most people want to see what you can do, and in this field that normally means your portfolio of past work. Starting a new studio I won’t have a portfolio to show prospective clients. Yes, I have 6+ years of experience working at a major animation studio, and in that time have worked on 4 animated movies and 3 animated shorts in different production capacities. The problem is I can’t use these projects to show what my studio is capable of. Sure, I can use them to give credibility to my experience in managing a project, but I won’t be able to show what we as a new studio can do artistically. I will either need to get a client to blindly take a chance with my studio, or find a way to create a portfolio. I like a challenge, but I’m not going to set myself up for failure by believing anyone will blindly take a chance on me. I have talked with some artists that know of companies in this situation that had used work from the artists they will be working with to make a demo reel from the collective body of work. After all if the studio finds work that also means work for those artists. This brings up a new set of challenges, but this seems to be my best option. I will need to check with the artists I’m working with to see if they are comfortable with this idea. After the studio creates its own work we will be able to update the demo reel with work done through the studio.

Credibility will be extremely important in getting the studio up and running, but it will always be important. We will constantly have to prove our ability to deliver high quality work with the best customer service. I feel this will be one of my main responsibilities that will help in building a positive reputation for the studio. When people hear our studio’s name I want them to trust and believe in us.


I hope you will join me on the rest of my journey by subscribing to this blog. This can be done by email via the prompt on the sidebar, and also please leave me any comments below. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@MillerAnimation). Only Time Will Tell.

So Far

Now that we know what the journey is, let me tell you where I’m currently at. In order to do this I will have to rewind a little first.  I mentioned earlier I went to school at the University of Toledo to study animation.  Although I’m very happy with my time there it might not have prepared me as well as a school here in Los Angeles might have.  The animation program was really just one animation class, and it was saved for seniors.  The rest of it was graphic design and web design courses.  After my first semester I was able to prove to my instructor that I was ready for the senior animation class, and took it my second semester.  For the classes final project I made my first animated short called “ChessMate“.  It was a story about a chess pieces that came to life after the people left.  The king did not appreciate what he had (his queen), and after seeing the other queen and her fallen king he got an idea.  His greed to have more then he needed left him with nothing.  After taking the only animation class my first year I ended up with nothing to move up to.  I talked with my professor, and he basically created a class for me.  It involved me coming up with another idea for an animated short, and then spending the semester working on it.  Since I was going beyond what they taught I ended up having to teach myself.  This turned out to be very valuable to me, since it forced me to figure things out on my own.  I had to think outside the box to find better, faster ways of getting it finished.  It also taught me to set my own goals, and milestones.  At the end of the semester and many hours of late nights, and many computers rendering my shots for weeks I was left with my second and final animation I would do in college.  I called this animation “Mediocrity” and it was about a creature that was not happy with his current life(I’m only now starting to see a underlining theme in my projects).  He imagined his reflection in the mirror had a better life then he did, and thought if he could only get to that other side of the mirror things would be better.  In the end he realized that he has to make his own life, and take action in improving the life that he has instead of trying to live someone else’s life. After college I moved back home to Canton, Ohio with my parents to get things in order before making the move out to Los Angeles.

I mentioned in the first post how after I got to California I found out I was heading down the wrong path to become an animation producer.  It turns out that my education in animation was not a waste, and would only help me in becoming a producer.  I feel it gave me an understand of animation that would help me be a better producer.  As you already know I have this job at an animation studio.  Getting this job was my first goal, and was key because I was able to learn so much about the industry.  The last 6 years I have learned as much as I could.  I wanted to understand how they did things inside and out.  I worked in different departments, and the departments I did not work in I met with those who did to learn about them in my free time.  I have met some incredible people along the way, and built lasting friendships.
In 2013 I had worked on enough animated films that I was able to get into the Producers Guild of America (PGA).  Realizing that networking will be vital for me to start my own studio the PGA gives me a way to continue networking after I leave my current position.

I wanted to setup a social presence for my studio, so a few years ago I started creating accounts on the major social media sites.  I once heard that casting directors on smaller budget projects have been known to choose talent based on the number of twitter followers.  The idea is that by casting one of these actors or actresses with a large number of followers that they would instantly have a following for their film. This made me realize the power that having a large social media fan base can have.  I now have accounts on TwitterFacebook, Google+Vimeo, and YouTube.  Some are more developed then others, but I also been trying to keep it a secret that I plan on leaving.  This makes it challenging to build followers from people I never met, and not promote it through my established personal networks.  In addition to social network sites I have also setup a website for my studio.  There are a lot of little things that I have done, and I’m always looking for new ways to get my business out there.

While I spent a lot of time setting up the ground work for my studio the hard part was actually figuring out how to get an animation studio up and running.  I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to start without a lot or any capital.  At first I thought I would start up other companies to raise money that I would use to invest in getting my animation company going.  I thought of some crazy ideas for companies that did not require a lot of work that I could make money from.  A few of these ideas included setting up gumball machines in different place, or starting a business making those road side advertisements.  Each time I ran into issues that would require more work I found I was not motivated to continue. I had many other ideas, but I started to realize that none of them would succeed.  Mostly because I was not passionate about any of them.  They were just a way to make money for what I really was passionate about.  I soon realized I needed to stick to what I was passionate about, and what I be willing to put my sweat and tears into.

I went back to focusing on animation, and trying to figure out a way to start with little to no capital.  I stumbled across a small animation studio that was out of Washington DC that was making commercials, and seemed to be doing well.  I was able to get in touch with one of the guys that started the studio, and talk to him about how they were doing it.  I got a lot of great information from him, and it really got me thinking. I could do commercial work, and I would not have as many start-up costs.  I could spend my time finding clients, and once I have a project I would bring on the needed freelancers.  I would get paid by the client, and in turn would pay the freelancers.  I have been building a list of freelancers in different areas of expertise that are interested that I can call when I start a project.  It is beneficial to them since it is one more source for them to get work, and saves me the time of having to find people after I get a project. Once I’m on my own I plan to start with this approach first, and see how it goes. My next big challenge is finding a way to build my portfolio.


I hope you will join me on the rest of my journey by subscribing to this blog.  This can be done by email via the prompt on the sidebar, and also please leave me any comments below. Otherwise, be sure to stay connected with me on Twitter (@MillerAnimation). Only Time Will Tell.