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Mind Your Business: Inspiring the Next Generation of Animators

Do you remember the moment of inspiration when you first decided to work in animation?

Laika puppet with 3D printed face replacement.

Do you remember the first time you were inspired to work in animation? Was it a moment, a person you met, or something you saw?

I always loved animation, but I was 16 when my father introduced me to the owner of an animation studio in Houston and I got to tour his studio when I realized I could have a career in animation.

My 13-year old twin sons Luke and Reece have been around animation all their lives. They are in my studio all the time. They see me working on storyboards and animation. The meet the artists I work with. They even do their own drawings in Photoshop.

From the right, Mark Simon, Luke Simon, Jeanne Simon and Reece Simon at the Citruscel Festival in Jacksonville, Florida.

But they’ve never really seen the process of animation, probably because I’m their dad. It’s too close to them.

A couple of years ago I set them up with my old Video Lunchbox and showed them the basics of Claymation. They spent an entire day making bloody claymations and laughed every minute of it. And then they never touched it again. Typical.

They’ve always expressed some interest in being artists, but I never noticed any desire to work in animation. Both of my boys love science and excel in math. Reece has been talking about being an artist scientist (I love that idea) and Luke loves fish so he’s thinking of something in marine biology.

Of course if they could make a living playing video games, they would jump at it. I’ve talked with them about trying to design their own games, but they don’t even respond. I just stare at the top of their heads as they look down at the latest online game on their laptops.

But I watched both boys experience their inspiration recently. I was speaking at the Citruscel Animation Festival in Jacksonville, FL and I brought my family with me. It was a relatively small event so all the attendees had a chance to talk to all the speakers.

Laika presenters Brian McLean and Georgina Hayns.

There were also two people there from Laika, Brian McLean and Georgina Hayns. Seeing their presentation was high on my list. I’ve always been a huge fan of stop-motion animation. The process is so tactile and the puppets are so cool. So I drug my family with me to their talk.

When we entered the theater we noticed a display of the puppets and the rigs from ParaNorman. That got our attention.

Brian and Georgina spoke about the process before animation, the process of designing and creating the stop-motion characters.

Laika is now using 3D printers to create extraordinary face replacements for their characters. But seeing the engineering behind the heads was amazing. Norman’s head alone has more than 70 parts.

Printed face replacements fromParaNorman.

During their presentation I looked over at my boys and they were both leaning forward in their seats with interest. Not exactly what I expected. I thought they’d be playing games on their iPhones while I sat there in rapt interest. But no, they were totally into it.

When the presentation was over, my boys looked at me and said, “Wow, we had no idea so much went into making animation.” I sat there with my mouth hanging open as if I hadn’t spent their entire lives talking about every aspect of animation. Oh well. At least they get it now.

Then we walked up to Brian and Luke and Reece asked him questions about the puppets. They had a chance to actually touch the printed faces, silicon skin and the tongue of one dead character.

Norman puppet from ParaNorman.

“It was gross but cool,” exclaimed Luke. “It feels like a real dead tongue.” As if he knows what a dead tongue feels like, but now at least he thinks he knows what a real dead tongue feels like.

After the festival was over we were talking about what the boys liked most from the weekend. I entertained them because I jump around a lot when I speak and they think Storyboard Pro is really cool.

But what hit them the most was Laika.

“I loved the Laika presentation,” said Reece. “I had no idea that stop motion was so complex. The way they created the faces and even the skin tone was amazing.”

Luke was quoting all the facts and figures from Laika. It really struck him that it takes 50 hours to animate just 4 seconds of stop motion-animation and that doesn’t include any of the prep time. “I always thought of animation as just hard work, but the Laika people showed me that you can have lots of fun and that it all pays off in the end,” said Luke. ”You could tell that the people from Laika love their jobs. It shows on their faces.”

Reece agreed, “Animation interests me because it has art, engineering and fun. It’s a career I’m now considering.”

Oh be still my beating heart!

We’ll see what happens in the future, but this one event may have helped shape their future and inspire a new crop of animators. So bring your kids to your geeky events. It can rub off, especially when the info comes from someone other than just mom or dad.

Who or what inspired you?


Mark Simon is a story artist and director who has worked on over 3,000 productions. He lectures around the world and is author of the best-selling storyboard text, Storyboards: Motion In Art. His webinars on the industry may be found at