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Ward Jenkins is an animation director, illustrator and designer living in Atlanta, Georgia. He currently works for Primal Screen, an award winning animation company that focuses primarily on broadcast animation and design. His work has been seen on such networks as Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, PBS Kids, TNT, HGTV, Animania, to name a few. Ward has been animating professionally for 10 years and has been with Primal for the last 5. Besides being an animator, he also enjoys painting, illustrating, photography, and doing graffiti on the side. He's also been known to collect old things (lots of interesting old things.)
Ward has been married to Andrea, his soul-mate and "secret weapon," for 11 years, and they have two children together: Ava (5), and Ezra (2). You can find Ward spouting animated prose and what-not on his blog, The Ward-O-Matic (http://wardomatic.blogspot.com), which has become his most recent obsession for the last year and a half. Stop on by if you're the curious type. He'll thank you for it.
When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?
I've always drawn. Just like your average kid, I picked up a crayon and drew things and loved it. But for some strange reason, I kept it up when others started to focus on other things, and continued drawing throughout school and then high school. I was pretty much the "artist" of my class who would draw things for my friends, if asked nicely. It got kinda old, but I pretty much enjoyed the extra attention that it gave me from time to time. So, really, my desire to become an artist/illustrator started pretty young. Sorry, no pivotal moment for me.
Who or what inspires you?
There is an ongoing roster of many artists, illustrators, and animators who inspire me on a daily basis, so it'll be hard to pinpoint exactly who, especially since it's always changing, evolving. But there are a few biggies who helped form the basis for my artistic upbringing. I loved Jack Davis and Charles Schultz in my early years, but it wasn't until my college years when I realized this whole world of art that I had yet to tap into. Jean Michael Basquiat, Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Cy Twombly helped me look at this world around me with new eyes. When I started to get into animation, I drew upon the talents of Ward Kimball, Freddie Moore, Mary Blair, Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston, to name a few. Lately, I've been getting into a lot of old stuff, like vintage children's books, vintage ephemera, illustrators from the 50's - 60's, Jim Flora, The Provensen's, Aurelius Battaglia, etc. There's just something about that era. I can't explain it.
Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?
Even though I went to school and got a BFA in Illustration at Georgia State University, I'm largely self-taught when it comes to animation. I learned from reading books and watching animated movies and shorts frame-by-frame. I was so curious as to why these particular animators did the things that I was seeing on screen. It was amazing to me. And when I learned about timing and the difference between "ones" and "twos," well, that was monumental. A door opened for me that day, and I've been trying to wrap my brains around it ever since.
How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?
Being aware of your surroundings, contemporaries, fellow artists/animators -- seeing what they are up to, but then doing your own thing and taking it further than anyone else would. Take it far without breaking it.
What are some of your current projects?
I wish I can tell you what I'm working on currently, but I'm not allowed to mention any current project until it airs. However, I can tell you that I just finished up directing the most recent Cocoa Puffs commercial, produced through Saatchi & Saatchi. I'm very excited and very proud of that one. It's a biggie. It was very intimidating, however, to follow in the footsteps of Renegade Animation, who produced the previous Cocoa Puff spots. Smooth, full animation with impeccable timing is not easy to do, especially when you're under a deadline, but I saw it as a challenge. I think we succeeded. It's airing now on most of the kid's networks.
Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?
Besides the Cocoa Puffs spot, I am most proud of my two animated short films I produced independently while working at an animation boutique in the late 90's. The first short was called "figure drawing," and the second, "noir." They both had modest showings in the film fest circuit, but it was an incredible rush to see your film projected up on the big screen. That is a feeling I plan on experiencing again some day.
There have been a number of great jobs that I've been proud of throughout the years: the most memorable being the ones where I got to design the characters as well as the entire spot itself. I once animated the opening to Charles Barkley's short-lived show on TNT, called "Listen Up!" done in a blocky, chunky style that I had picked up from my stint in graffiti. In fact, I got to meet Mr. Barkley himself, who then turned to me and said, "So you're the dude who drew me with a pointy head?" It was a classic moment, one that I'll never forget.
You can view the Listen Up! opening on Primal Screen's website (www.primalscreen.com), in the "Openings" section. The Cocoa Puffs spot is not up on the site yet, but I'm working with the tech guy at Primal about getting a nice quality version available to download soon. I'll let you know as soon I as know anything.
Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?
I'm pretty happy with what I do in animation, but I do love painting. There's something about real paint on real textured paper. I love it. I need to keep that painter inside of me fresh, but lately he's getting a bit parched. Also, graffiti is a big outlet for me that allows me to look at design, color, characters in a completely new light. I haven't been able to find the time to get out and paint, though.
I'd love to illustrate children's books. That's something that I've been wanting to do ever since I got into the business. Some day I'll all these things. Some day. But me a busy, busy man.
Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?
Be patient. Don't expect to make it big right away, right off the bat. It just doesn't happen like that. There'll be plenty of dues to be paid, so just be prepared for getting down and dirty. I worked at a movie theatre shelling out popcorn to moviegoers for 3 years before I really was able to do anything worthwhile towards my career. And I was in my mid-20's, too!
What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?
Art is subjective, but if something doesn't look good it's usually because of a lack of basic design principles; composition and balance, clean, effective communication to the viewer -- that sort of thing. If you don't make a connection with the viewer, then your piece has lost its purpose. The same can equally be said of animation, too. In fact, communication is one of the main points of animation.
What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?
I don't want to sound so cliche but I enjoy just hanging out with my wife and kids. They provide me with endless inspiration, not to mention countless hours of amazement and wonder. If I didn't have my wife there right beside me at the end of the day I don't know what I'll do. Go bonkers, I guess.
And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?
My big three: LOST, Project Runway, and The Office. There's a big hole in my heart that once was saved for Arrested Development. I miss that show. At least there'll always be DVD sets.
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