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Buffy AnimatedInterview with Eric Wight - Art Director Buffy Animated
Monday 10 March 2003, by Webmaster
SMGFAN.com’s Exclusive Interview with Eric Wight (Art Director of the Buffy Animated Series)
Many Buffy fans were disappointed when it was announced that the Buffy cartoon had been put on hold. Then preliminary artwork on the series became available on the internet and only made the fans long for the project to push through. The man behind the excellent artwork is 28 year old Eric Wight. Most of us may not be familiar with him but he’s been in the animation and illustration field for a few years now. He has worked with some of the biggest production companies in the business including Walt Disney Animation (Tarzan The Animated Series, Kim Possible), MTV Animation (Beavis and Butt-Head Do America), Warner Bros. Animation (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman Beyond), and Film Roman (Charlie’s Angels 2, X-Men Evolution, Austin Powers Animated). We had the pleasure of asking Eric a few questions regarding his career and his involvement with the Buffy Animated Series.
Images copyright FilmRoman, Inc and/or its respective licensors. Thanks to ericwight.com for the images.
JPM: You graduated from The School of Visual Arts in NY with a cum laude. (Impressive!) Did that honor help make breaking into the field easier?
EW: It certainly hasn’t hurt. Granted, 99% of getting the job is based on your portfolio, but I can’t tell you how many times being an SVA alumni has becoming a key discussion point during an interview. There are a lot of talented working professionals that don’t have a college degree, but I am very proud of mine.
Glenn: Your work is beautiful. You’ve reached a high level of success quickly. Could you tell us a little bit about how you got your start in animation, and how it led to so much high-profile work?
EW: One of the cool things about SVA is that the professors are all active professionals in their field. So the first month I was in school I landed an internship with the Children’s Television Workshop because a professor that I set AV equipment up for was a writer on one of their shows. By the end of my first year I was working full-time at MTV on the Beavis and Butt-head movie, again because another professor of mine was friends with the director and recommended me for the gig. So for pretty much the entire time I was in school, I was a working professional.
At the end of every school year, it was the same argument with my family. I wanted to quick school to work full-time, they wanted me to finish out and get my degree. So every August I would end up giving in and enrolling for classes.
During my junior year, Disney ran an animation recruitment boot camp. I was lucky enough to be one of 30 chosen out of thousands to participate (Of course if I had dropped out as I wanted to, I would have missed out). For an entire month we were set up in Monterey, CA on an old army base and were instructed by an amazing ensemble of Disney animators.
Towards the end of my senior year, I had heard that the folks at Warner Brothers that did the animated Batman series were doing an animated Superman cartoon. So I took it upon myself to cold call Bruce Timm, one of the producers, and see what I could find out. I was shocked when he answered his own line! After a few minutes I was able to sweet talk him enough to know that I wasn’t just another rabid fan boy (well, I was, but that’s besides the point!) and take a look at my portfolio. He did, they offered me a job, and the rest is history. So within a period of two weeks I flew out to LA to sign my paperwork with Warner Brothers and find an apartment, graduated from college (of which I was the class speaker), was married, and moved to California with my new wife.
JPM: How did you end up working on the Buffy animated series?
EW: Once at Warner Bros, I began work on Superman and Batman Beyond as a character designer. After about a year, I decided I wanted to try something new. I heard through the grapevine that Film Roman (the company famous for making the Simpsons) was producing an Austin Powers cartoon. Eric Radomski (one of the original Batman producers) was producing the cartoon, so I sent him some Austin Powers drawings, he like what I did, and hired me to be one of the character designers of the show.
The production was killed before we even finished the first episode, but Radomski and I clicked very well together, so he kept me onboard to develop "DOOMSDAY," an original cartoon by the creator of Sliders and produced by Howard Stern. That show also died an early death (a common practice in Hollywood). As I had begun to clean out my office, Radomski informed me stop packing, that he had been approached by Joss to develop a Buffy cartoon and wanted me to be the guy to draw the presentation art to help sell it to the networks. Joss really dug what I did, and the rest is history.
JPM: Did you watch Buffy before you took on the job as Art Director for the animated series?
EW: I had enjoyed the movie when I saw it in the theater, but for some reason I missed the first season of the show. But come season 2 I was a full-on addict! The show was in it’s fourth season when we started developing it, so I was pretty much already obsessed with the show by the time I got the gig. I did manage to find the DVD’s in Australia as soon as they came out and got a non-region player so I could see what I missed.
I’ve had a majority of positive responses to my designs, and I think a lot of that is because I’m as much a fan of the show as you all are, and I wanted the quality to be as good as the show deserves. So I found that my passion for the material pushed me as hard as I could to make the art the best that I could.
Glenn: Could you describe for us the technical process that creatives are faced with when creating a cartoon; for example, the Buffy animated series? You can be as technical as you like. :)
EW: I could write a book on this question alone! But generally it all starts with the script. Then the voices are recorded. From there characters and backgrounds are designed, storyboards are drawn, all of that is shipped off to Korea or wherever the animation studio is. The storyboards are then animated and colored, the footage is shipped back to us, is edited and mixed with sound, and voila! You have a cartoon.
To sell a show is an entirely different beast. It gets pitched to the head of development (or sometimes their assistant). And then if it is liked it keeps getting pitched up the corporate ladder, changing and evolving along the way to suit the needs of the network. Usually by the time the show is sold it looks very different that it did at the beginning.
JPM: What was your inspiration in designing the Buffy characters?
EW: From the beginning there was a fear that the actors might not reprise their roles in the cartoon, so Joss wanted me to try and capture the essence of the character, rather than caricature the actor. That was by far the most challenging part. Whenever I start a new project, I do a lot of research to try and put together a style that is unique. So I look at a lot of cartoons, comic books, artists, illustrators, and the like to try and get fresh ideas.
For Buffy the obvious artist to turn to was Mike Mignola of Hellboy fame. His dramatic use of blacks and simplistic design was a major source of inspiration. I also wanted to capture the female cuteness found in Japanese anime and manga, so I spent a lot of time rifling through the book stores in Little Tokyo. I also went to all of the local cemeteries and took pictures. I watched a lot of Martial Art and classic monster movies.
Glenn: Are there finished episodes of Buffy Animated in existence at this time?
EW: Nope. We never made it that far.
Glenn: We haven’t seen Buffy Animated yet, of course, but we’ve seen Kim Possible. Are there similarities in the characters’ movements and overall flow on those two shows?
EW: Let’s face it. Joss is to thank for perfecting the action-drama-comedy. If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, Kim Possible is oozing with obsequiousness.
JPM: You have a very impressive resume. What is your most satisfying project, thus far?
EW: Buffy was definitely my favorite. I’ve enjoyed almost every project I’ve worked on, but Buffy has a very special place in my heart.
Glenn: Could you use a hand from a print and web production artist in the DC area with ad agency experience? :) No, seriously, do you have a company or are you a freelancer who goes where the situation is?
EW: Ha! I am a company of one. There was a time when I toyed with the idea of starting a production company, but I’ve found I enjoy getting my hands dirty far more than managing other artists.
Glenn: Do you ever sleep?
EW: I didn’t sleep much before my wife gave birth to our new son, but now I really never to sleep! The creative process is a strange beast. I’ve tried to keep a fairly 9-5 work schedule, but I find myself working through the night way too often. I just can’t say no when I get called for work!
JPM: Everyone has a dream job or project. What’s yours?
EW: Certainly to see the Buffy cartoon get green-lit and finish what we started would be awesome. I would love to draw a Buffy comic book if Joss or one of his posse would write it.
I have a lot of personal projects I hope to produce someday. I guess my personal dream is to draw whatever I want and get paid to do it. But isn’t that the dream of any artist?
JPM: Do you have any words of wisdom or advice for aspiring artists?
EW: Draw, draw, draw! It’s all about pencil mileage. And don’t be afraid of criticism. It will only help you get better.
JPM: Any new or upcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
EW: I’ve been venturing into illustrating comic books. My first published work will be in Hellboy: Weird Tales #2, due in stores on April 23. I also just finished a cover for Justice League Adventures #20, due out sometime in June. I’ll continue to post what I’m up to on my website, ericwight.com.