We asked artist Mike Dougherty about working in animation, his career path, and advice to young professionals wanting to pursue a career in animation.
Tell us about your Copic Colors piece for October.
I loved the warmth and organic quality of the Copic color triad for November and it inspired me to draw something earthy and natural. I liked the broad range of tones the three markers offered: a warm red, a cool green and a neutral brown. I sketched the dog while on a plane trip, then inked and colored it when I returned home.
What does it mean to be an animation artist? What does your day-to-day look like?
Being an animation artist means getting to do what I love for a living and feeling blessed on a daily basis that I get paid to draw cartoons all day. It can be time-intensive, tedious work that requires focus and discipline, but it’s also inspiring and rewarding to see your work come to life as an animation. On any given day, my supervisor, legendary storyboard artist Sherm Cohen, gives me a storyboarding assignment and I spend 8 hours chipping away at it, initially drawing fast and loose to build momentum and get the assignment done in a timely manner. Eventually, my supervisor will review my rough work, I’ll address his notes and ‘clean up’ the drawings to make them more legible in the final storyboard animatic. It’s so satisfying and magical scrolling through a day’s drawings on the playable timeline and seeing a cartoon character’s performance come to life!
Tell us a little bit about your journey becoming an artist, an animation artist, and your career path.
Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to be an artist. At first, I thought I would be a cartoonist and comic strip artist at Mad Magazine in New York. Once Toy Story hit the theaters in 1995, I knew I wanted to be an animation artist. That movie was life-changing for me! After high school, I went to a local community college in San Diego and studied art foundation until I transferred to the illustration department at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA from 2003-2005. In 2006, CG artist Josh Book, based on a referral by my figure drawing teacher Mike Mattesi, offered me my first animation job: as a character designer on Tak and the Power of Juju at Nickelodeon. I was on my way! I’ve been working at Nickelodeon for 12 years as a designer, art director and storyboard artist. I’ve been blessed with a long, fruitful career.
In your profession, how do you balance analog with digital?
I spend 8-10 hours a day at Nickelodeon drawing digitally with the safety of undo buttons, auto-saves and endless editing capabilities. Those tools are great for producing fast, efficient production art, but it’s nice to go home at the end of the day and abandon all the modern art media and just get my hands dirty with graphite smudges, ink smears and paint stains. I do all my personal art traditionally. I think I’ve found a nice balance between working in traditional and digital media.
What are the projects you're most proud of?
I’m proud to be a storyboard artist on one of the funniest, longest-running, most renowned and popular TV series in history: SpongeBob SquarePants. I am so fortunate to be a part of this phenomenal team of animation artists on this classic series that people all over the world know and love. Also, I spent a 7 amazing years as a designer on Butch Hartman’s team making The Fairly OddParents and T.U.F.F. Puppy. One day, I would like to illustrate a children’s book and do commercial illustration.
What advice do you have for someone wanting to pursue a career in animation?
Draw every day. Go doodling at coffee shops; observe and sketch a variety of real people in a wide range of poses and expressions. Attend figure drawing sessions. Go to the zoo and draw animals. Sketch buildings and structures to gain knowledge of perspective. Watch movies and observe how directors frame shots and stage the actors. Create your own simple stories or scenarios and draw them as comics or storyboards to practice your own visual storytelling. Go out and draw, have fun, be free and be creative. Doing these exercises daily will make you a technically and creatively proficient artist, and those skills are the foundation to eventually building a strong portfolio and securing work.
Mike is currently building his website, but you can follow his work on Instagram at @mikecartoons.