2D Animator and Story Artist, Sebastian Rodriguez-Wakim, told us a little about his process and experience here at SCAD. A senior with a passion for entertainment, Sebastian lets us in on what it’s like to collaborate with a team to create something amazing. Keep an eye out for his Capstone film- The Lesser of Two!
What made you choose to attend SCAD?
I actually have a very specific moment that I still remember that really sold this place to me. When I was a high school junior, a recruiter from SCAD visited my art class. She did a really good job talking about the school and inspiring interest.
The moment that really got my attention was when she told the class to visualize themselves as SCAD students arriving at a school building like Montgomery hall late at night to finish a project. While that is a situation I have become all too familiar with during my time at this school, high school me was weirdly fascinated by that. That visualization of working on animation late at night and being surrounded by all the computers and other talented artists was very attractive to me in high school. That was what first brought my attention to SCAD.
Then during the summer after my junior year I visited Savannah for a week to participate in a summer program aimed at prospective students interested in SCAD. I took two short classes; an animation course and a sequential art course. The animation class was taught by John Webber and that was a great experience. That was the first time I met him and he is definitely a major reason why I pursued 2D animation. We did a short animation with pencil and paper and I learned so much even though the class only met about four times if I remember right. I animated this little ball of clay that grew a cute face and then bounced around the screen before rocketing away leaving behind a trail of smoke. I remember that John complimented it and said that someone named Troy would really like the smoke effects I did. I had no idea who Troy was at that time six years ago, and I wouldn’t actually meet him until I started my senior film six years later. (Troy Gustafson is the professor leading Sebastian’s Senior Capstone Project). That summer experience really sealed the deal for me. I knew I had to come to SCAD.
What area of animation do you focus on?
I love 2D animation, but my favorite part is definitely storyboarding. What I enjoy most about storyboarding is that you can get more ideas out faster. There have been times where I cranked out a 2-5 minute long storyboarding sequences in a couple of nights. You’re just able to explore so much more without having to spend a dozen hours on every couple seconds of the sequence. It’s not as satisfying as watching animation, but all the ideas still get across quickly and effectively. So for someone like me who enjoys the storytelling part of animation most, it was natural for me to gravitate towards storyboarding.
What class did you really enjoy?
One of my favorite classes I’ve taken here was Screen Design with Jan Carlee. That was a fantastic class, I produced some of the best work I’ve done at this school in that class. Jan helped me feel a lot more confident about what I was doing. I really enjoyed that class because we had so many opportunities to edit together sequences of storyboards in the form of animatics. Each assignment challenged us in new, inventive ways and invited us to go above and beyond what was expected of us. Jan gave us so much creative freedom in that class and I think it really paid off. The final project for that class was to tell a story about a farm animal that was made into a parody of Frankenstein’s monster and somehow I ended up making a six minute short film that I think came out a lot more emotional and heart-warming than such an absurd idea has any business being.
Concept Development was another excellent class, surprisingly also another class taught by Jan Carlee. That’s where The Lesser of Two was born. But… I’ve taken so many amazing classes here; the Sequential Art department taught me A LOT. Drawing for Sequential Art with David McHargue, Character Design and Storyboarding for Animation with Ray Goto, Comic Scripting with Mark Kneece to name a few. I don’t think I’ve had a bad experience in any of my classes here. I’ve been blessed with talented, kind professors.
How did you come up with the characters for the Capstone Project?
I think Armaros might be the oldest character in that group. He started in a totally different story; an idea for a graphic novel. The setting was darker, it was based loosely off of Dante Alighieri’s Inferno and the plot was sort of an inverted parody of it. Armaros was a demon who didn’t want to be a demon anymore, he wanted to become an angel again and return to Heaven because he finally realized that… Hell sucks. Armaros’ decision about that was shocking and confusing to every other demon he knew, because they all loved being in Hell. Meanwhile the Angel character from the film was condemned to Hell for committing a terrible, mysterious crime, that’s where she meets Armaros.
“We want things we can relate to”
The plot was going to be about Armaros and the Angel trying to help each other get out of Hell. All the while the two of them having to fight through and outsmart all the demons who don’t want them to leave Hell and all the angels who don’t want either of them back in Heaven. One thing I finally realized about that idea is there were no people in it. You don’t NEED human characters in order to keep people entertained, but it definitely helps. We want things we can relate to and it’s kind of hard to relate to immortal, unkillable creatures like angels and demons who don’t need to eat, sleep, or reproduce. So I asked myself, “how can I make these angels and demons about people?” The Lesser of Two is the result of that line of questioning. I decided to relate the characters to Jungian psychological theory; Armaros is the shadow (the dark desires and the malicious side of the human conscience) and the Angel is the opposite, she is the moral conscience that drives us to make the right decision, even when the right decision doesn’t feel good
Do you have any personal projects?
I have a webcomic. My minor is in Sequential Art, not Storyboarding even though I want to be a storyboard artist. Sequential art is a little similar to storyboarding so the skill set has translated well, the main difference is that you can do things with a comic page that you can’t do with a screen. In storyboarding, you have to think about timing and the constraints of film and animation. In comics you have more freedom with what you want to do with the size and shape and content of each panel.
The webcomic I’ve worked on was inspired by Hasbro’s, My Little Pony Friendship is Magic. I enjoyed the show in high school enough to start a badly drawn comic about it, but in my first year of college I decided to reboot it. I kept working on it for years even though I lost all interest in the show. I was invested in the comic because it focused on a personal story with characters that I cared about at the time. It was a dark, very dreary story, which was weird because it had colorful, talking horses in it… Looking at it now, I love that it shows my artistic education progressing over the course of the last four years, but I often wonder why of all things it had to be ponies.
What inspires you during a difficult project?
What I think is the best part about being an animator is that feeling you get after working on a shot for awhile and then finally getting to hit the play button and watch it. If you’ve been thoughtful, if you’ve been minding your principles, and thinking about your drawings and you’ve done a good job then when you hit the play button then you’re in for a real treat. That moment when the animation comes together and that character in front of you starts to breathe, or talk, or shout, or jump… that’s a great moment. I love those moments. That’s what keeps me going during a difficult animation project, knowing that every hour brings me closer to that feeling.
When I have a lot of work to do, it’s also helpful to visualize the finished project. See yourself finding the path to success, then realize that the only way to get there is to work hard, then do it. Don’t be discouraged, break the project up into smaller pieces that you KNOW you can get done and then do it.
What experiences have really stood out to you during your time here?
This senior film class has been my favorite class in my time here at SCAD. It feels real, it feels professional, and it feels like the height of my education. I love my team. I love the whole group and all the people in the classroom around me. I’m so happy we got Troy for our film. It just feels like a really good class. Every Monday and Wednesday I wake up, I get ready and I go to that class where I get to be surrounded with people who are so talented and good. It feels good, I like it a lot.
It just feels great to learn and improve. It’s the collection of experiences over time that I value, it’s hard to just choose one or even a few that stand out to me. Visiting the SCAD museum for the first time, playing D&D at the SCAD library, getting to sit down and watch movies at the Lucas, eating at restaurants on Broughton, enjoying living in Savannah, meeting new people and professors every quarter. That’s what I’m going to miss the most about this college. I’m going to miss being surrounded by so many unique and talented people.
Do you have any advice for working as part of a team?
I knew that I needed to like the people assigned to my crew and that they needed to like me. I figured that if we’re going to be working together for the next year of our lives then we might as well enjoy each other’s company. I decided that it was important to bond outside of our work so that when we did inevitably get pissed off at each other because of our work we’d still be able to be polite and cordial with each other. This is why we started playing D&D (Pathfinder) together. I think that the most important thing to do when collaborating is to establish a good rapport with the group. By agreeing to meet every weekend for food and D&D we entered a sort of unspoken pact together; we were going to be teammates, but we were also going to be friends.
“I think that the most important thing to do when collaborating is to establish a good rapport with the group.”
The work benefits from respect and efficient communication. Interacting outside of work definitely helped us establish those things. D&D was helpful because it’s sort of similar to a collaborative project. Everyone makes decisions and adds to the experience and we slowly break down social tension by having fun together. We learned to work as a team and trust each other in a unique way through D&D and I think that the project has benefited from that. D&D isn’t for everyone! But it’s important to find something outside of work that your team can enjoy together, maintaining morale is important.
Working with your group during the same times and at the same location is also very helpful. It helps build relationships and makes it easier to talk to each other. It’s easier to collaborate when there are fewer social barriers between you and your team members so it’s important to break those down as often as possible. My team makes an effort to work at Monty for long hours every Saturday and Sunday, we find a line of computers next to each other and we work together. Work gets done during the week too of course, but it’s those weekend meeting times that the most gets done because we actually get to see each other face to face. Sitting next to each other makes it easier to keep work ethic strong and to avoid distractions.
I think it’s important to listen and respect what everyone has to say. Even if you know it’s wrong, you need to respect them and politely tell them your own opinion. That’s why I prefer to get feedback as a group, if the majority of the group agrees on something then it’s easier to come to a conclusion and resolve any disputes. I think that when you’re working with someone, if you come off with the impression that you think you’re more important than them or you think you know more than them, that’s the fastest way to get that person to want to stop working with you. That’s not how you collaborate. You need to respect each other.
“I always try to stay open to the idea that I might be completely wrong.”
I also understand that my approach to work can be fallible. I always try to stay open to the idea that I might be completely wrong. I try to learn something new from every situation and from every person I meet. Approach everyone with the expectation that there is something valuable to learn from them and they will appreciate it. I know that I am imperfect, I make mistakes. I fully accept that I make mistakes and the more people that help me avoid those mistakes the better.
What advice would you give to freshman you?
Don’t make a comic about ponies. Make an original property that you can show everyone and not have to explain why you’ve drawn over 150 full color comic pages about talking horses. But seriously, I would say “manage your time better.” This year I’ve been making an effort to have no more all-nighters. My goal is to not work past midnight and that forces me to use my time more wisely. When you’re working in the industry your work hours aren’t going to be 8pm to 4am. So you might as well learn to schedule out your time and work at a reasonable hour. Nowadays I try to get to Monty by noon and work until 8pm and that feels a lot better.
Another thing is engaging with the right people. I think it’s an excellent idea to seek out motivated people. My best friend from freshman year already had a website and a business brand when she arrived at SCAD and that was wild to me. It inspired me to want to do more. I started to hang around her more often and that naturally drove me to work more often. I think it’s important to find people who are working just as hard if not harder than you, because that will drive you to do better yourself.
Save often! Hit CTRL+S. It’s so easy. Do it and save yourself the heartache.
Huge thank you to Sebastian for giving us this interview! It was wonderful hearing about his experience here. If you want to see more of his work, please visit his website: