Tell us about yourself! How did you get your start, and how did you end up at Disney?
I am originally from San Diego. I came to L.A when I became a Fine Arts major at the University of Southern California. After I graduated, I took some more animation-focused classes at various little schools around Los Angeles. One of the schools had an open-house night where a few people were chosen to display their portfolios for the studio executives that would be visiting. This lead to landing an animation training internship at Walt Disney Feature Animation. I worked there for 7 years on films like Hercules, Tarzan and Treasure Planet. During the collapse of the 2-D animation department I left to begin a career in television, working at Nickelodeon in the story department and was also a character designer on a show called “Chalk Zone.” Later I created and produced two original shorts for Nickelodeon/Frederator called “Yaki and Yumi” and “Girls on the GO!” The work I did lead me to a job as a writer and story artist on Phineas and Ferb, where I also have the pleasure of voice acting a character (Mandy) and writing songs… One was nominated for an Emmy in fact (“Come Home Perry”)!
What is your earliest memory of drawing or making art?
I don’t remember a time where I didn’t love to draw and color. I have vivid memories in fact of trying to draw a ballerina in preschool!
Who or what are your biggest sources of inspiration?
My granddad who always encouraged my love of drawing and animation. I also have to thank my many great mentors from my days at feature animation: Brian Ferguson, John Ripa, and Eric Goldberg, without whom I wouldn’t be where I am today. My greatest inspiration however, was the beloved gesture drawing teacher from Disney Features and veteren animator Walt Stanchfield, who is no longer with us. Walt changed my life. His passion for drawing and living in general was infectious. He taught me how to see what I was drawing, how to feel it and how to express emotions in my work.
The number one thing people always tell me about my drawings, no matter how loose or sketchy they are, is that they are full of life. Walt is the one who taught me that. I will forever miss him. Any student of animation, or drawing in general, should find anything and everything they can about this lesser-known Walt from Disney.
What has been your favorite episode of Phineas and Ferb to work on?
I would have to say “Tri-stone Area.” It was an episode that took place during the days of cavemen and sabertooths!–where language was nothing more than grunts and growls. I loved the challenge of communicating a story only with acting, gesturing and action. I think the fans got a kick out of it too.
Aside from your storyboard and writing work on Phineas and Ferb, you also write songs and provide the voice of the character Mandy. Do you prefer some of these tasks over others?
I absolutely love voicing characters and writing songs. But nothing excites me more than working out a story and breathing life into an idea.
What’s the best thing about your job?
The people that I work with and the joy we all share in doing something we love.
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
My writing partner loves listening to thrasher metal music… We work things out though, and end up settling for The Shins. Other times I simply plug my ears and start singing the Greek National Anthem as loud as I can… Wait, what was the question?
You’ve created two original shorts – “Yaki and Yumi” and “Girls on the GO!” Can you tell us a bit more about these?
I created them for a Frederator/Nickelodeon shorts program called “Random Cartoons.” I drew upon characters I knew or had known in my life, and also incorporated some ideas from my Greek heritage (the bat and dragon character were based on my Greek parents, and the main character in Girls on the Go is Greek—Katerina Metropoulos). They both aired on Nicktoons, but did not get picked up by the studio (they chose Eric Robles’s fun short, “Fanboy and Chum Chum”). “Girls on the Go!” has gained quite a lot of traction on YouTube, however, and I am hopeful I’ll get to make it into a series one day! It features the voice talent of Danica McKellar, who is fantastic.
How do you use Copic markers in your process, and what do you like about them?
I use Copic markers mostly when I am doing story sketches, but also for quick-sketch life drawing, or even location sketches. I love to sketch out an idea really loosely and rough—focusing purely on the feeling, movement, and life that I am trying to breathe into that moment. Then I use the Copics to add form, depth and mood (using either the cool or warm grays). Sometimes I use a lighter toned pen to sketch out a rough idea, then draw into it with a darker fine ink pen. I love the different values I can get with them, that they really seep into the paper nice and smoothly. I like that the pens don’t overpower my ideas, but instead enhance them.
What are your future career goals?
Ultimately I would like to produce an original animated series of my own, as I absolutely love writing stories, developing characters, and breathing life into made-up worlds! I also have some feature film ideas that I’d like to further develop some day.
What advice would you give to new artists hoping to pursue a career in animation?
Draw, draw, draw, and draw some more! Look for mentors in your chosen careers and see how you can learn from them. Ask them for help, tips, and advice. Show them your work, and don’t be afraid of criticism. At the same time, listen to your inner voice and discover what it is you want to say and create. What is the mark you want to leave on this planet, and by what means do you wish to express it? Then, go grab some Copics, and start sketching!