Monday, September 15, 2014

Interview with Josh Book: Supervisor of Sheriff Callie's Wild West Pilot Show

Last week, I shared with you information about the new App "Mr. Cupcake Has The Sprinkles."  This is an interactive storybook app for kids ages 2-8.  What drew me to this app was it's creators, Josh and Jennie Book.  Josh oversaw Computer Generated animation on the hit animated TV shows “Bubble Guppies” and “The Penguins of Madagascar”, and the pilot for Disney Junior’s “Sheriff Callie’s Wild West”.

Having ties to Disney peaked my interest, obviously!  Josh agreed to an interview about his work with Disney, Sheriff Callie and animation in general.  Welcome Josh, to A Disney Mom's Thoughts, and thank you for your time!
Josh Book from
How long have you been in animation? How did you get into this field?

I started working as an artist in video games in 1995, and I first started creating animation at Electronic Arts then. I worked in games for a few years, but then spent the next decade or so in the animation industry, working on TV shows, films, and commercials. I broke in when a family friend gave me a tour of Electronic Arts. I showed a team there my portfolio in the hopes of getting feedback for applying for a job there at a later date, and instead I was hired on the spot.

Did you go to school to learn to be an artist or are you self taught?I got a BA in Fine Art at UC Santa Cruz, and had a very traditional fine art education there, but didn’t learn animation there. I learned mostly on the job, and also through some classes at the Animator’s Union down in Hollywood.

Do you prefer computer generated animation or hand drawn?
I love both! I’m a big fan of all forms of animation and the variety of looks different mediums have. CG can be very rich looking and super polished, and 2D/hand drawn animation can have great designs and snappy quick timing that is sometimes tougher to pull off in CG.

When you worked on Sheriff Callie's Wild West for Disney Junior, what was your job? Which characters or scenes were you responsible for creating?
I was working at an animation studio called WildBrain that did the production of the show. I was the CG Supervisor there, so I was overseeing all the CG (computer generated) animation pipeline. This includes everything from making sure the character models are a good interpretation of the 2D designs, to evaluating the rigs which are the CG puppets, to helping guide the animation performance and how the final rendered frames look. I was really an advocate for the show creators, helping to make their show look as good as possible.

I worked on it starting way back in 2008, when we did some first tests of what it might look like. That was so far back that it was called “Oki’s Oasis” and Callie/Oki had stripes instead of being a Calico cat! Then we did a pilot for it, which is a full length episode of a new show to see what it will look like, and let Disney decide if they want to make a full series out of it. After the pilot I also did some more development work on Callie, mostly working on different looks for her. That finished up in 2011. People might not realize how long it takes to make an animated series! I was offered a position on the series but turned it down as it would have been in Los Angeles.

When animating, what comes first? The voices or the artwork?The voices come before the actual animation part of the production pipeline as they can set the pace of the story and the overall timing. But writing, character designs, background designs, storyboarding, modeling, character setup – those can all happen without being dependent on the voices. Of course, if you have the voices first, that can do things like influence the look of the characters, or give ideas of how they might behave. Like if a character sounds really fun and bubbily you will design it to look one way, or if it’s sneaky or mysterious it would go another.
Mr. Cupcake
What is the hardest part about your job as an animator?Animators have to take so many things into consideration when animating a scene. There are scenes that are mostly acting, where getting a good performance is most important so that viewers can feel the emotional tone of the shot, and it’s clear what is taking place. Then there are scenes that can be big action scenes, with characters say jumping around from place to place, in which timing needs to be spot on or else it could look like it wasn’t moving right. We’re taking these computer puppets and moving them around, one frame (a 24th or 30th of a second) at a time, and trying to create “the illusion of life” as it’s called, where the audience is believing that these CG puppets are alive, and have personalities and “exist” in their worlds and stories.

How long did you work for Disney? I was working with Disney, but for WildBrain, which was the show’s animation production company. Many TV shows are like this, where the show is created at and by a different studio, but there is a collaborative relationship between the studio and the network such as Disney. So there’s a constant dialogue going on with the network/Disney, but you aren’t actually working FOR Disney. It’s like they’re a client in a way, but much more collaborative than most client type of relationships.

What was your favorite part of working with Sheriff Callie's Wild West?
Well in the industry the best part of any job is working with great people, and I got to work with two of my favorite people from WildBrain, Denis Morella and George Evelyn, who co-created the show with Holly Huckins. Helping them see their show get the greenlight (and get turned into a series) from its early stages was the best part. And of course the characters are great, and it’s fun to be a part of a show that so many kids love. It’s fun with both this and Bubble Guppies which I worked on for Nickelodeon, to have parents tell me their kids are fans. TV can be detached from the audience because we work on episodes up to years in advance and then it airs, and we don’t always get that audience feedback.

My 5 year old loves Sheriff Callie. He especially loves the chipmunk trio that sings in each episode! Which episode is your favorite?
Cool! Yeah the chipmunks are really fun. I also think Toby is a super cute character. The musical aspects of the show are great. I’m still partial to the pilot actually, as I saw it about 100 times while we made it. J But it was also a cool moment to see the first episode when it was wrapped. I was visiting Denis and George at WildBrain and they showed me the first episode with music, and there was a big dance scene. The dancing (which is very tough to animate) looked great, as did the whole show. The characters have a lot of appeal, and I think it looks great!

What are your hopes and dreams relating to your animation career? My wife and I formed a new studio called Mighty Yeti and our goal is to tell our own stories. I’ve had a great career making hit shows for Disney and Nickelodeon, but now we want to see if we can make a go of it with our own stories and characters. We’re starting with interactive animated storybook apps, so we can tell our stories and be content creators without all the costs of animation (which can require a lot of people and hundreds of thousands of dollars). We’d like to get to the point of creating full animation down the line, but as a startup we have to be realistic and first create a sustainable company. I feel we’re making products easily on par with what I’ve done for other people, but the biggest challenge will be connecting with our audience and making people aware of what we’re creating and building.

What tips do you have for any young people who dream of being a Disney animator?It’s awesome to have a career as an artist or animator, but it’s also a lot of work. Start off by drawing a lot and learning everything you can about art. Even though we work on computers, they’re just another tool like a pencil or paintbrush. It can be called “computer animation”, but it’s not the computer animating, it’s a person working on it. So getting to be a good artist is key, which is done by drawing a lot and developing your skills. You’ll develop “your eye” which is the ability to see things critically and know how to improve your artwork. Take art classes if you can, you’ll learn a lot from people who know a lot more than you, and you’ll learn it faster than if you are trying to alone. Make your own comic strips, try to tell a story, because ultimately in animation we’re telling stories. And when it’s time to try to get a job, Disney can be a very tough place to break in to, but don’t give up. There’s lots of animation studios in the world doing lots of amazing work, and you will always be developing your skills throughout your career. And it’s a lot of fun!

1 comment:

  1. What a great interview! He seems like a fantastic guy and I wish him and his wife all the best in their new venture!

    My son adores Sheriff Callie and sings the songs all.the.time!