Animation Special Interview – Jason Donnelly, Lead Previs Artist, Pixomondo Los Angeles
October 25, 2019 – October 28, the International Animation Day (IAD) was proclaimed in 2002 by the ASIFA as the main global event to celebrate the art of animation. This day commemorates the first public performance of Charles-Émile Reynaud’s Théâtre Optique at the Grevin Museum in Paris, 1892. In 1895, the Cinematograph of the Lumière brothers outshone Reynaud’s invention, driving Émile to bankruptcy. However, his public performance of animation entered the history of optical entertainments as shortly predating the camera-made movies.
Jason Donnelly is a previs artist at Pixomondo where he worked on such feature films as Midway and Venom, as well as the Star Trek: Discovery and The Orville TV series. He began his VFX career working as a Maya generalist before moving on to creature and vfx animation, working on films such as Super 8, Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, and the Emmy-nominated Netflix series, Daredevil. Jason transitioned to animation supervision before finding his niche in previs and postvis. He is currently supervising Season 3 of The Orville. Jason grew up in Michigan and spent eight years in the military. He attended the Columbus College of Art and Design and eventually made his way to Los Angeles, which he now calls home.
Today, Jason Donnelly talks to VFX Online about his experience about Animation Industry.
// From Jason Donnelly, Lead Previs Artist, Pixomondo Los Angeles
How do you describe yourself professionally?
I consider myself to be ambitious and driven. I thrive on new challenges and am constantly setting goals for myself on every new project. I’ve never been comfortable with settling, and I’m always looking for an opportunity to do better and grow as an artist.
What sparked your interest in Animation or Visual Effects?
I’ve always been enthralled with the magic of animation since I was a kid, spending Saturday mornings with my brother watching hours and hours of animated cartoons. The concept of seeing drawings come to life has always been so captivating and alluring to me. It wasn’t until I became older and a little more savvy in the film making process that the magic of visual effects and how REAL it looked grabbed a hold of me. The possibilities at that point seemed endless. Seeing imagination becoming reality will never grow old.
How did you first land a job in the industry? What was the key to breaking in to the business?
Hard work and attitude!!! After graduating from college, I packed my clothes, bulky CRT monitor and computer into the back seat of my car and headed to Los Angeles from Ohio. From there it was a race against the clock of finances vs finding a paying gig. I spent every waking moment working on my animation, reading books to expand my skills and slowly built up a demo reel. Once you start landing interviews, be sure to show up early and have a positive attitude.
Any particular area of technology that interests you?
I think VR is extremely exciting and I believe it has extreme potential beyond entertainment. I could easily see it being used for education to take you to new places and experience things you otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience.
What do you think will be the evolution of Animation and VFX Industry over the next few years?
I feel like we’re already experiencing an evolution now. With the internet and websites like You Tube, its opening up a world for filmmakers and artists to be seen and heard that otherwise may never have had the chance. It’s been eye opening to witness and to enjoy the amount of content and the enormous ocean of talent that is out there.
What is your favorite project you’ve worked on so far?
This is a tough one… it’s really difficult to say which has been my most favorite project to work on because at the end of the day, for me, it wasn’t the work that I remember most as much as it was the people that I worked with. You could be working on the dullest project content-wise in the world, but if you’re with a great group of people and friends, it makes ALL the difference.
What was the most discouraging moment in your professional career? What helped you overcome it?
Discouraging moments are inevitable. For me it when I was working on a particularly difficult animation/fx shot and it had gotten to the point where the director and VFX Supervisor were literally standing over my shoulder watching me press buttons. Eventually it was passed onto someone else.
What helped me was to find out that everybody has experienced something that really brought them down. Try not to take things personally. Just because you might not have nailed that one thing doesn’t mean that you aren’t the exact right person for another.
What was your favorite Animation or VFX Film and Why?
Currently I think it’s gotta be Coco. I was so blown away by that movie and amazed yet again by how well Disney/Pixar can craft a story with believable characters. No matter how many times I see that movie I seem to get some dust in my eyes or something.
What’s your favorite Animated/Cartoon Character and Why?
I would have to say Goofy. He’s just so awkward, clumsy and determined, yet he always means well. Even when things don’t work out for him he just seems to always be able to brush IT off with a “gorsh!” and continue on without stressing about the little things in life.
What’s your special achievements/awards in Animation and VFX Industry?
Some of my work was nominated for an Emmy in the past but I’ve never really been big into awards or special recognition. This is really cheesy, I know, but just being proud of my work at the end of the day and being alongside talented peers is enough for me.
What’s your favorite tools for Animation and VFX?
Maya, sketchpad, reference videos and imagination. I try not to rely too much on tools because those tools aren’t always going to be with you from shop to shop. There are definitely a lot of great tools out there to supplement and make your life easier, but never fully depend on them.
Any particular artists/professionals that inspire you?
My Instagram account has pretty much been an excuse to follow animal accounts and artists. Currently I am obsessed with (Korean graphic artist) Kim Jung Gi and had the pleasure to hear him talk and demonstrate his methods in person.
How has your experience been working at Pixomondo?
Pixomondo has been my home for over four years now and I’m loving it. Cool place, cool people, cool gigs… what more do you need?
What do you think about Animation Organizations support from ASIFA, Women In Animation, Animation Guild, Animation Society for this industry?
The more the better. Anything that can be done to get people interested, feel included and excited about animation is a win in my book.
How do you think the industry could improve in those areas?
Simply to keep being vocal and expressing thoughts, ideas and concerns and to be sure that animation never becomes an exclusive thing. The ability to create and share is a gift that any one of us should be able to feel free and uninhibited to do.
What kind of projects would you like to work on in the near future?
I would love to get a chance to work on VR related content. I’d love to be a part of anything that keeps pushing this field and see where we could be 100 years from now.
What advice would you give to someone who wishes to get into this industry?
I say give it a shot and just go for it even if you’re afraid to take that chance. You may regret never having tried to achieve your dreams. You can still fail at doing something you hate, so you may as well take a shot at doing something you love.
What’s the importance of World Animation Day to you?
World Animation Day is a great opportunity to showcase the beautiful art that is animation in all its many varied forms and styles. It’s also a great chance to dig into its history and learn about those that helped to forge the path for what it is today, so that all of us to continue it into the future.