Mike Morris: Disney pro dishes on animation, The Simpsons and evil robots
On Saturday, April 14, animator Mike Morris will appear at the 2nd Annual Digifest Temecula, a three-day arts and entertainment festival showcasing “all things digital.”
Currently a storyboard artist at Disney ABC Television Group, Morris spent a good chunk of his youth in Riverside County, including Lake Elsinore, Riverside and Temecula.
He talked with us about his formative years and breaking into the industry.
Q: When did you start drawing?
A: I started drawing very young. My mother said as soon as I could hold a crayon I was drawing with it.
Q: How did you settle on a career in animation?
A: I was about 15 or 16 when I finally decided what path I wanted to take. At the time, comics were really big, so that was an alternate route, but as most people working in animation, they have that one film or show that made them decide they wanted to be a part of making films like those. I had always been a fan of the Disney Studios’ work, but when I walked out of the theater after seeing the Lion King, I knew which way I wanted to go. Animation, full steam ahead.
Q: Did your education help with your career?
A: I was lucky enough to land in with a great group of artists at Arlington High School (in Riverside) under the tutelage of Mrs. Adrian Reinis, who was instrumental in my early artistic development. She was always encouraging us to do more and go further and bust through our limitations. My courses at Riverside Community College helped me get into the Digital Age as it was coming along, and that helped prepare me for my 4-year, California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), which keenly focused on making art and films.
Q: Your first job was working on The Simpsons. Tell us about that.
A: It was 2006, and prior to graduation, (director) Mark Kirkland and [artist/director] Karen Carnegie-Johnson came to CalArts, essentially recruiting for everything they had going on at The Simpsons. They were struggling to find suitable talent to help keep the show going at full production while several of the directors and other Simpsons artists were busy working on The Simpsons Movie. So, I took the test they provided to gauge drawing and performance skill and got in at a time they needed a lot of people. There was a fair bit of training to be sure after getting hired, but it was a fantastic learning experience from some modern-day masters in storytelling. Ironically, I hadn’t been allowed to watch The Simpsons growing up and was introduced to it mainly by my wife and her family, who were ardent fans.
Q: What is the workday of an animator like? You get up, go to the office..?
A: Yep, I get up, go to work, Monday through Friday, in a 40-hour workweek, with the occasional overtime here and there. It’s a lot like a normal office, except we get to talk about more fun stuff, like how a character is going to fight off a giant evil robot, or how an intrepid space explorer gets out of being sucked into a cosmic vortex or some such.
Q: What will you talk about at Digifest?
A: “The Constants in the Change,” focusing on the elements of filmmaking that are universal to any media format in the ever-changing media environment.
Q: Any advice for aspiring animators?
A: Learn your craft. Get out in the world, have experiences, learn life lessons, get a point of view, study motion, study acting, study cinematography, and hone those drawing skills to be able to get what’s in your head onto the screen. Make films however you can make them, and don’t wait for “perfect conditions” equipment or skills-wise. Show the films you make, whether it be online, or to a small group of friends, get your work out there, and good luck!
IF YOU GO:
When: Saturday, April 14 at 11:30 am
Where: JDS Studios at 28069 Diaz Road in Temecula
Tickets, schedule and information: www.digifesttemecula.org
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