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Interview No. 145
Interview By: The-Great-One
The day this interview has been posted I personally have spent 10 years on Newgrounds. I thought it would be proper to celebrate my Newgrounds Birthday with a special interview. One of my most requested interviews. Today's guest has been known for the creation of Newgrounds classics such as Bitey of Brackenwood, the YuYu, and the Last of the Dashkin. He has also worked professionally for The Walt Disney Television Animation Studio and Bob's Burgers. He is a professional animator, and one of Newgrounds cherished creators. I am most honored to welcome, chluaid a.k.a. Adam Phillips.
Q: How did you find Newgrounds and why did you join?
A: Back in about 1997-98 I set up my first website as a kind of digital portfolio and personal animation journal. A couple of years later, some random guy emailed me, recommending that I submit something to Newgrounds. I checked it out and decided that it wouldn't hurt to submit my movie Nightshift, just to gauge the reaction. It was such a simple little story but within minutes I found myself hooked on reading the comments. It's something I'd never experienced before; people from every corner of the world looking at my work and telling me what they thought of it. It was strong motivation for me to make more shorts.
Q: You stated that you've been drawing since a toddler. You could hold a pencil before your legs could support you. What became the drive as you got older?
A: Some artists swear they create art to change the world, move people emotionally, get people thinking or "start a conversation" about some important issue. But I don't believe it. I do it for my ego, as I believe we all do. As an adult, it's not much different to when I was a kid; I just want to impress everyone. I want people to look at my stuff and say "holy shit that is amazing!" because that's what gets me up in the morning. It was the same at Disney. We were all aiming to do the most impressive animation so we'd get encouragement or constructive feedback from the artists we respect the most, our colleagues. This goes back to my previous answer on how praise and feedback on Newgrounds was strong motivation for me to do more stuff and improve so I could get more feedback (mostly the good type).
Q: What brought you to The Walt Disney Television Animation Studio around 1993? What did you learn there? What was their purpose overall?
A: In 1991 I was working in a steel factory up in Queensland because I was too stupid to do electrical engineering or games programming. One day while dreaming about being a ninja, my glove got caught on a spinning part of the mesh-welding machine. Thanks to the ninjutsu I learned from magazines and movies, I managed to quickly hit the stop button, but not before the machine had pulled me in and snapped my arm to bits. The result was surgery, followed by six months of paid recovery time, during which I developed my drawing skills focusing on anatomy and perspective. I was a comics enthusiast so my artistic style was pen and ink and I learned so much from comics. My heroes back then were Eastman & Laird and Simon Bisley and I started to develop characters and pages for my own comic book ideas.
Soon after returning to work at the factory, an inexperienced crane operator dropped several tons of steel rods from above me and it landed all around me like a giant metal bird's nest. It's actually a miracle I wasn't killed. In fact, it was such a close call that the steel shredded the back of my shirt when it fell. I knew I had to get out of there, so a couple of weeks later, I told everyone at the factory that I got a job in Sydney doing comics and I resigned. In reality, I just saw the factory as a deathtrap and didn't want to work there any more. There was no job waiting for me in Sydney. I just wanted everyone to think that I'd finally hit the big time. So I went to work on a farm in my home town, driving tractors and digging holes and eating dirt sandwiches for lunch.
About 18 months later my mother cut an advertisement from the newspaper and brought it over to my place. Walt Disney Studios was calling for artists to apply for a trainee position. In short, I sent Disney a bunch of my own comic pages and they put me through a couple of rounds of testing before offering me a job. When they told me that thousands of people had applied for those 8 trainee positions, I was suddenly grateful for that factory accident and my time spent sharpening my drawing skills and reading comics. Everything that had happened, the tattered glove, the comics, the falling steel, the dirt sandwiches, all had led me to begin my career in animation.
At Disney, I started in the inbetweening department and over the years moved up through animation and into FX, eventually becoming the FX supervisor. We started out as a television animation studio doing shows like Duck Tales, Gargoyles, Jungle Cubs and stuff like that, then we became a movie studio, mostly doing direct-to-DVD sequels, like Lion King 2 and 3, Jungle Book 2, Lady the Tramp 2, Peter Pan 2. Yeah pretty much anything with a 2 or 3 after it. My first movie as FX supervisor was An Extremely Goofy Movie (that's a title btw, not an opinion).
Q: What made you decide to leave The Walt Disney Television Animation Studio around 2004?
A: One day I realised that I was mostly on autopilot at Disney and I no longer felt challenged. I applied to the character animation department in an attempt to freshen things up a bit but I was denied, so I decided to quit. After all, this was around the time my online work had begun to attract a following and I was turning down several work offers every week. Using Flash, I had even completed a music video for my favourite band at the time, Ween. Anyway, Disney really was a dream job, and after all that factory and farm stuff, it was like a happy ending. Leaving was terrifying at the time but I'm glad I did it. 18 months later, Disney closed their Australian studio and I was glad to have that head-start making my name on the internet and getting my own work out there.
A: Brackenwood was originally about a character named Bingbong. It was the adventures of an idiot in a perfect world. It was a pretty thin concept and in an attempt to fatten up the story, I decided Bingbong needed a nemesis. For that role, I created a cruel trickster in the mould of Pan, the ancient Greek god of the wild. Before Bitey came along, Brackenwood had been years in development, but from memory the "Bitey of Brackenwood" movie itself only took a few weeks. My comment about hating the movie doesn't mean I still hate it today. It happens toward the end of every project, kind of like an overdue pregnancy. You just want to get that thing out of you and when it finally happens there's an emotional high, followed by a crash. So I don't still hate it, and I wouldn't change anything (apart from some smoother animation and better lighting); it's just how these things go for many artists.
Q: Bitey's journey would take him through Prowlies at the River, littleFoot, and what you have claimed to be your best work, the YuYu. What made you want to continue Bitey's journey and why do you believe the YuYu to be your best work?
A: Bingbong was a very shallow character. The only real reason for him to exist in the world was to be laughably stupid. Bitey on the other hand was instantly more interesting. He was created to fill a specific role, which instantly gave him a depth of character that Bingbong didn't have. It also gave him motivation for any situation I could put him in. So it was easier to think of new stories for him and as I released more, the feedback and growing fan base validated it. I think The Yuyu is my favourite Bitey movie to date simply because it was an unexpected little interlude that allowed me to collaborate with one of my musical heroes, Spider Stacy. On top of this, I had tons of fun animating it and it's one of the few projects I can look back and wonder how the fuck I did it.
Q: You are one of the few animators who has done professional work. For animators looking to work in the profession, what advice do you have to give them?
A: I wouldn't say I'm one of the few animators who has done professional work, unless you mean on Newgrounds specifically. For aspiring animators who want to work professionally, I recommend compiling a 60-second show reel of all your best work and putting it where people can find it. Update it regularly with only your best work. Spend all of your spare time developing personal projects and improving your skills. Even if you do find professional work, continue to work on your personal stuff in your spare time. Even though I'm working professionally for games and animation studios, the personal work I put on my YouTube channel and my website feeds the fan base and attracts regular work offers. If I devote myself too much to professional work and stop producing my personal projects, fans will move on and my name will fade into obscurity. I recently tweeted that "As a professional artist, my biggest fear is being unable to pay the mortgage. As an independent artist, my biggest fear is being forgotten".
Q: What can you tell us about the Last of the Dashkin and its upcoming sequel?
A: While all his previous movies were simple scenarios without much depth, The Last of the Dashkin was the definitive character description of Bitey to set up the bigger story of Brackenwood. As for the sequel, I can't tell you anything about it I'm afraid. Nobody knows the story but me, so if I die early, the story does too.
Q: When AlmightyHans was here we talked about Africa Dudes. A collaboration of multiple Newgrounds artists including Oney, LazyMuffin, Stamper, and Egoraptor. How did you come across this collab and what was it like working with these other artists?
A: I didn't actually work with other artists on Africa Dudes. Stamper just emailed me and asked if I'd like to contribute. When I said yes, he sent me a bunch of specifics and I sent him my bit. The next thing I heard was that it was released.
Q: How did you become a storyboard artist for Bob's Burgers? What was the experience like working on this show?
A: The Supervising Director on Bob's Burgers is a close friend of mine, Bernard Derriman. He was a character animation supervisor at Disney when I was the FX supervisor and we had learned Flash together in our spare time, each working on our personal projects, sharing techniques and providing critique for each other. We've always kept in touch over the years and collaborated on a few things. He's still the first person I show my personal projects to because he knows so much about story telling and films. When he moved to the US and started at Bento Box Entertainment, he contacted me a few times to do some FX animation for Bob's Burgers, like fire, water and some animated props. Later when they were looking for storyboard artists Bernard threw my name on the list because he was familiar with my Brackenwood shorts. After storyboarding on Bob's for several episodes, I was promoted to Assistant Director which is my current full time job. I love the job and the ability to work remotely is icing on the cake.
Q: What advice do you have to give to other animators and artists?
A: If you have your own ideas for characters and stories, work on them as much as possible. Even if you're animating professionally, try your best to continue producing personal work and continue to grow outside the box of your professional job description. Compile a show reel specifically for prospective employers and keep it under a minute. No matter how good the soundtrack, no prospective employer will sit through a 5 minute video of mediocre animation, so keep it short and keep it updated only with your very best, most recent work. If you want to make a separate personal show reel though, you can go nuts there. Make it as long as you like, put whatever music you like, put all your shit alongside your gold, if that's what you want to do. All the same, people will find it more watchable (and shareable) if it's short and contains only your best stuff.
Q: What tools and software have you used throughout the years and what can you recommend to new animators?
A: I started experimenting with Macromedia Flash 5 and used it to make all my early movies including Brackenwood. In 2006 I visited the Toon Boom booth at Annecy (animation festival in France) and was flattered when they recognised my name on my name tag. They demonstrated the software for me (at the time it was called Digital Pro) and they encouraged me to try it out on my Brackenwood projects. Long story short, I started using it and immediately found it difficult to go back to Flash. I'm still using Toon Boom now for all my work, both professional and personal. To broaden my horizons a bit, I'd also like to try TV Paint and Cacani.
Q: What can we expect from Adam Phillips in the future?
A: For the past few years I was trying to complete a Brackenwood game, but when progress stalled, that initial momentum seemed irretrievable so I reluctantly cancelled it. Now, thanks to my supporters on Patreon, I'm able to restart work on a substantial Brackenwood project, so my current goal is to finish The Last of the Dashkin sequel and later, hopefully, make that game.
One of the earliest movies I ever saw on Newgrounds was the YuYu. It was in the portal in the high ranking area. I decided to watch it and loved everything about it. It was the most impressive animation I had ever seen on Newgrounds at that time. It was a mark that other animators looked to. To try to better themselves to. Adam Phillips is a legend on this site, and for good reason. Here's hoping that he brings more of that brilliance to us, because he has certainly shown, that he's still got a few tricks up his sleeve.