Lion King Mentor

You can’t start an animation studio alone, You need great mentors.

I’m a strong believer in the importance of having great mentors.  No one has all the answers, and to have someone that has more or different experience then you who can help guide you is an absolute must.

A big part of leaning is making mistakes, and if you can have access to other people’s mistakes you won’t have to make them yourself to learn the lesson.  A mentor can also provide you with things that have worked well for them, and give you an understanding that you previously did not have.

I have been very lucky, and have had some great mentors in my career.  I plan to continue to find more mentors that can guide me on my journey.  These people might not work with you, but are still very important members of your team. They help you make the right decisions, and plan a well thought out strategy.

“No matter how brilliant your mind or strategy, if you’re playing a solo game, you’ll always lose out to a team.” —Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn co-founder

You often hear about industries that are cut-throat, and how it is everyone for themselves.  I have worked at a few of those places… “coughtalent agencycough“.  I’m sure the animation industry can be cut-throat , but from my experience there is a lot of great people in this industry.  People that will bend over backwards just to help and mentor others. This is why I always try and do the same when someone comes to me for advice.  I don’t always feel I have all the answers, but if there is any way for me to help, I will.

I feel that the mentors I have had have all helped me get to where I am now.  I want to talk about two people in paticular who have mentored me on starting my company.  The reason I want to put a spotlight on these two mentors is because they have actually started their own animation studios.  To me their advice has been invaluable, and I have a great deal of respect for them.  Not many people start their own animation company, so it is great to get to talk to them, and get their advice on what to do, and what not to do.

James Baxter
James Baxter and Eric MillerBefore leaving DreamWorks Animation there was one thing I knew I needed to do.  That was to sit down with animation legend James Baxter to talk about his experience in running his own company.

If you are in the animation industry you should know who he is, and if you’re not in the industry you will at least know his work.  He has been an animator for years and has worked at Disney, and then DreamWorks.

In 2005 he left DreamWorks Animation to start his own company James Baxter Animation, where he directed the animation for the 2007 film Enchanted, and the 2D opening credit sequence to Kung Fu Panda, for which he received an Annie Award. In 2008 he closed his company, and returned to DreamWorks.

I have wanted to talk with him about his company for a long time, but never got up the courage until it was my last week at DreamWorks.  I wanted to pick his brain to find out what challenges he had, and how he got his clients.  I also wanted to know why he closed his studio and came back to DreamWorks.  That is why I was so excited to have the opportunity to speak with him, and talk about his experiences.

He did not have to agree to meet with me, or answer any of my questions, but he did willingly and talked with me about starting an animation company.  He gave me some great advice, and even offered to help on future projects.  Besides being extremely talented, he is also a really nice guy.  It was a joy talking with him, and he even agreed to take a selfie with me.  Out of respect for him I won’t share everything we talked about, but I will say it was reassuring to hear how successful his company was doing, and that his decision to dissolve the company was not because of failure.

Below is a clip that shows some of James’ work on Beauty and the Beast (1991).  The ballroom was done in CG, but the Beast and Bell were hand drawn by James.  It is impressive the emotion and weight he can show with pencil lines.

Ashley Postlewaite
Last week I had the pleasure of talking with Ashley Postlewaite.  Ashley is the co-founder & executive producer of  Renegade Animation.  Prior to starting her animation studio she worked for both Disney and Warner Brothers. In 1992, her and her partner Darrell Van Citters started the traditional animation studio, and have been in business ever since.  Renegade Animation might be best known as the producer of cartoon series Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi and The Mr. Men Show for Cartoon Network. As well as co-producing The Tom and Jerry Show, a show featuring Tom and Jerry, that is currently airing on Cartoon Network starting in 2014.

While Darrell leads the company creatively, Ashley serves as the executive producer leading the company on the business side.  I was excited to get to talk to her since I see myself more as the business person of my company.  We talked about many different subjects from the state of the industry, and the struggles they, like many companies, have been going through, to tips on what to do, and what to avoid.

Her company has a small core staff of full time employees, and based on the needs of their current projects will hire additional staff or independent contractors. She emphasized the importance of being smart about how you spend your money, and to save for a rainy day.  It was strategies like this that she was able to keep the company afloat and strong during the recession.

She is an extremely busy person, and I was impressed with her dedication to help and mentor others.  This is another example of the generosity of the people in this industry.  She told me that if I ever have any questions to not hesitate to reach out to her, and who knows, maybe we will get to work on a project together someday.

 

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. 

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