Studio: Freelance Animator/Illustrator
School(s): ·University of Nebraska-Lincoln (BFA)
·Art Institute International-MN
“Hey Uncle Lamont, tell us a story!”
You wanna hear a story, huh. Okay, how about a story about a journey and a dream that is still being pursued.
“Is this story gonna be about you, Uncle Monk?”
What??? No... of course not. Now just listen. There once was this kid who loved anything and everything animated.
“Sure SOOOUNDS like you, Uncle.”
Your killin’ me, Smalls! Now where was I? Oh yeah. From the moment I, er…I mean, HE!! From the moment HE started watching television to the times his family started taking him to the latest animated movie to hit theaters, this kid knew there was something about those moving drawings that HE wanted to be a part of.
“This IS a story about you, Uncle Lamont!!”
Yeah, yeah...it is. So what…it’s a story, now simmer down and listen.
I decided that I wanted to draw better, soak up everything I could find about animation and do whatever I needed to do to get into an animation studio. But not just any studio. The Walt Disney Animation Studio was my dream goal. Growing up, I was pretty alone in my dream. My friends wanted to be doctors or sports stars or farmers, but I didn’t care. This dream was mine to have and go after.
Now, most stories like this would tell you all about how this kid grew up, went to art school or made some film and got an internship at a studio, which led to a job as an animator at a bigger studio which then led to his life-long dream job…but that isn’t quite how this story goes.
MY idea of how my journey would go was not what ended up happening. I had dreams of going to some well known colleges for animation, but a lack of money and self-confidence stopped me. I decided to attend the University of Nebraska for art; illustration, drawing and graphic design. I left there trained as a fine artist, but not trained on how to make money, and not really trained in how to continue my quest to become an animator. After finishing college, I worked for a couple years in the Graphic Design world. Then I went up to the Art Institute International – MN (AI) for computer animation. And that was where I REALLY had my first taste of seeing my art “bounce” across the screen. I had done one animation project while at Nebraska, but it was at this point that I knew this was my passion. I had known that I wanted to animate, but there was just something about drawing on paper, shooting those drawings frame by frame into a camera and seeing it almost instantly bounce across the screen that resonated in my soul! This was a HUGE moment in my life.
Before this point, I had only focused on traditional hand drawn 2D animation; CG was not even on my radar. I got my first taste of computer generated animation at Art Institute when I realized 2D jobs in the U.S. were getting scarcer and scarcer. I went ahead and took classes for BOTH 2D and CG. When I left AI, I went back into the work world doing some commercial freelance.
Then my sister calls and says, “You should come to Taiwan.”
She had found me a job at a company in Taipei, Taiwan (a company my family had ties with), who were looking for an animator to help with some upcoming projects. The work was in very limited animation that was used to help teach English on the company’s television shows. It wasn’t the best animation, but I did my best to try and bring a higher standard to the project than what had been produced previously. After a year and a half of living in Taiwan, I decided I wanted to try again to pursue my dream of film animation.
So I moved back to the States and freelanced for a couple years, honing my craft, but not finding that the work was getting me closer to my dream. At this point, I decided to finally make the move out to California, hoping that being around more animation studios, I would find more opportunities. I felt that some L.A. studios overlooked my potential because I was not local.
So in 2008, I moved to L.A. without a job, no place to live and very few contacts. This was not the ideal way to do it, but it’s what I did. About a month out in L.A., I found a job coaching gymnastics (something I had work experience in since about age 14). So I had a job, but after some conversations with some recruiters and other executives in the animation world, I decided I really needed to get some more training in CG to get my demo reel closer to something that would allow me to reach my goals. So I signed up with Animation Mentor.
I fully submerged myself in school for the 18 months, while coaching full time at a gym in Pasadena, CA. I really tried to gain everything I could out of the school and the mentors. In 2010 I graduated, and within 6 months I got a job at the Jim Henson Company. I worked on “Sid, the Science Kid,” cleaning up motion capture and some small key frame work. When my contract ended, I thought with this experience at Jim Henson, more studio jobs would follow. But they didn’t. I found a few freelance gigs, but nothing substantial. And so, I was thrust back into the“wonderful” world of unemployment.
After a few months of freelancing, I was connected to Traceback Studio and the short film “One Per Person” (OPP) they were pushing into production. I had seen many other short film projects looking for free animators, but with Traceback, I saw something different. Their press release showed an organized group of people with a simple idea and what appeared to be a visually appealing film, so I applied to join the team. Now, I want to be clear that I do not recommend aspiring animators work for free. But for me, these people were really professional and wanted everyone they brought onto the film to gain experience towards dreams and goals. I was brought on as an animator, but because of some technical issues and delays, I also helped out in layout for a short time. Once shots were being handed out, I started busting through shots over about a year and half. OPP will be hitting the festival circuit in 2014.
As I animated on OPP, I continued to work on my own personal work and demo reel, as well as looking for studio work and freelancing. At this point, I still felt my skills and work were not at the level I wanted or needed. It was during this time that I discovered a new animation “school” beginning in the summer of 2013 called AnimSquad. They were offering online classes and in-person workshops. It was the in-person workshop I was drawn to. Also, I have to admit that having mentors who worked at Disney was a big draw. I signed up and in May of 2013 I became astudent again. I could go on and on about my 12 weeks with AnimSquad, but I’m just going to say that next to my experience of seeing my early animation bounce on the screen for the first time, this was the biggest leap toward my dream and goals. In the first few weeks, I stumbled and made MANY mistakes, but I also started to see WHY those mistakes were made and learned from them. Nathan Engelhardt, my mentor for the workshop, helped immensely, causing some major switches to flip on in my animation, which then allowed me to produce some of my best work up to that time. I believe FULLY that as great as online education can be, nothing beats in-person training. I would not have had the same experience through a webcam and streaming classes. Even though I feel like I’ve moved to a new level of animation, I know there is SOOO much more to learn in this industry. As animators, we need to have those “A-HA” moments periodically in our careers and education. Otherwise, we just become stale and we have no growth.
So… this brings us to the “now”. The story of that little boy who was known by EVERYONE as “the kid who likes to draw cartoons” is continuing to be written. That journey he started all those years ago, well, it’s still being traveled. And that dream he dreamt, well, I’m still dreaming it. And you know what, this little dreamer has discovered his dream has multiplied and grown more and more as the years have past. But this dreamer knows it isn’t about just reaching the dream, it’s about allowing yourself to enjoy the journey and allowing the dream to morph into things you never would have thought it could. Disney hasn’t called yet, but I know that call is gonna happen!
Every good story has a moral or words of advice, and so does mine:
DO WHAT YOU ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT IN THIS LIFE!! If that is animation, then do all you can to reach whatever dream or goals YOU have in animation. Your dream/goal is all yours. It doesn’t matter what others think about it, it doesn’t matter how fast or slow you are getting to those goals. If you have a passion for something and you are on a journey TOWARD that passion, then just do it! I just pray that each of you discover what you are passionate about and I can’t wait to hear the story of YOUR journey!
You can see Lamont's latest reel HERE.