Fanboy and Chum Chum: Breaking the TV CG Mold
So, at first, he asked me if I had a portfolio. I said, "I got napkin drawings, buddy, that's all I got." So he said, "Why don't you put together a sketchbook," so over a weekend I did. I sketched in it an entire weekend, didn't sleep at all. And I turned it into him and he showed it to Stephanie Graziano and she said to bring this guy in and we'll show him the studio. And that was the pinnacle of my life was to go into an animation studio. It was one of the independent studios back then, but it was still a big deal. I was just watching the X-Men series on TV and now I'm actually in the studio that actually made it, meeting with the artists. So for a guy like myself that was never exposed to these kinds of things, it was a huge deal for me.
Luckily, they saw my enthusiasm and they saw my work and they said, "We'll give you an internship." And that just blew my mind that I could actually be close to these guys, the professionals. For me it was the greatest experience ever. I actually only intershipped for about a week and a half before I got my first job. The only reason that happened was because as soon as I got in that door, all I would do was make copies of the model sheets and I would do my jobs, whatever they asked of me, but as soon as I would go home, I would mimic those model sheets. I learned how to draw X-Men. I learned to draw Wolverine and Cyclops and anything they had in production at the time, from the Tick to Street Fighter. And I would just draw and draw and draw, nightly. And then what I'd do every morning was go in real early in the morning and make copies of my work and put them out on the directors' and producers' desks of all the work I did the night before. So I did this for about a week and a half and basically these poor directors would have all my drawings all over their desks. So when the time came around when they needed a character designer for a show, they saw my work and they said, "Give it to the kid." It was one of these things where they came up to me and said, "Do you want a job?" and I was like "are you kidding me? This is a dream come true for me."
So I have to say, I didn't go to art school, but I was taught by professionals. Everyone around me was so willing to give me direction, to help. And that's all I wanted to do at that time was learn. So like a sponge I absorbed everything anyone told me throughout my career. I've been very blessed to have amazing mentors around me.
RD: If there were one mentor who stood out, who would that be?
ER: The one person who influenced me the most through my career was Carlos Huante. Carlos, he's been in and out of animation. He's more of a feature creature designer. And he's up at ILM now. But he's definitely the one that buckled me down and was like — this is anatomy, you have to know anatomy. This is why shapes work. This is why squash and stretch works. This is why this all happens. He was one of the ones that was real tough on me at the get go, and I needed that. He'd say, "This sucks. Get out of here until you get it right." And I'd be, okay, okay, whatever you say. Again, all I wanted to do was learn at that time. But I had a lot of great people around me that were constantly sending me back to the office to redraw this or that. For me, nothing was negative. Anything that anyone told me was a learning opportunity is how I took it throughout my career.