Tell us about yourself!
Hellooooo! My name is Missy Griffis, I am an animation Graduate Student
here at SCAD currently finishing up my thesis. My focus is in CG sculpting and modeling. I tend to lean more towards realism but am trying my hand at stylized! I am also working for the chair of animation, Chris Gallagher, as one of his animation student aides!
What area of animation do you enjoy the most?
CG sculpting and modeling, both characters and environments. I come from
a background in 2D so being able to take those skillsets from my undergrad and apply them in 3D was very exciting to me. It allows me to push past the
boundaries that I couldn’t get past in 2D.
What is a challenge that you’ve had to overcome?
Learning how to maintain a good work life balance. When I first arrived at
SCAD I jumped in headfirst into my work immediately. I was so excited to be here and learning about what I loved. So much so though, that two years later I realized that I had forgotten how to be kind to myself. I know that happens to a lot of students, we become obsessed with our work and forget how to take care of our mental and physical health. Don’t get me wrong, working a ton of hours on your work is an excellent skill. The industry will love your passion and commitment to a project. But, there are only so many hours in a day, and you HAVE to remember that your work cannot be at its best if you, the artist, aren’t at your best. As an artist, and just as a human, you have to realize your own limitations and work within them.
What advice would you give yourself as a freshman?
Ooof. That was a long time ago. Well, as a freshmen, I was at a completely different school. I got my associates degree at Northern Virginia Community College and my bachelors at Old Dominion University in Norfolk VA in Drawing and Design. I would advise myself to go to SCAD, to pursue a degree in animation. The second piece of advice I’d give myself before starting SCAD would be to really plan out your electives. I had originally with my animation courses, but once I switched to modeling, I was all over the place. Taking classes just to fill an elective instead of doing my research.
Actually, during my first quarter at SCAD I received a good piece of advice
(indirectly) in Bill Tessier’s ANIM 504 class. He was talking to someone who was sitting in on the class, observing I suppose, and he said “The most important thing a student can learn is never expect to be praised. Always expect feedback.” I can’t tell you how much that helped me. I mean I never expected to be praised, but there was always this small little hope inside that one of my professors would be overjoyed with my work. Some sort of confirmation that I had picked the correct field. But when I heard Bill say that, that little hope/expectation disappeared. I stopped looking for compliments and started looking for constructive criticism.
What inspires you during a difficult project?
I turn to the movies that first sparked my love for this industry. I watch Disney classics, Avatar, Harry Potter, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Hobbit Trilogy, or Mary Poppins. I easily get discouraged if I feel I am slow at learning something. I’m rather hard on myself at times, so watching these movies helps me take a step back and try again.
What experiences have stood out to you?
I was asked to teach modeling to the summer seminar kids this past summer! I loved watching the kids grow and learn, I finally understood what Professors felt when their students were not only learning but enjoying what they were doing as well. There was one particular student that I’ll never forget. She was so passionate and excited about learning 3D modeling, that she was constantly asking questions and asking me for “homework” (even though summer seminars don’t get assigned homework). So I would send her videos to watch and the next day she would already be applying what she had learned. I was even able to teach her a little outside of class once when she and her parents spend their lunch break with me at Montgomery hall. Meeting a student as dedicated as her
was such an inspiration.
I also had the privilege of attending SIGGRAPH 2019! It was an incredible
experience and I encourage every student at SCAD to save up and go.
Finally, another good experience here at SCAD has been working as a
student aide for Chris Gallagher. It’s a whole new world up on the fourth floor, and it’s been so great being able to get to know various professors, learning from Thomas Meseguer, and happy fun times with John Webber. That’s also where I met Emily Jenson, the greatest animation student aide of all time, Taylor Saunders and Andrew McKinney! It’s been a ton of fun working and collaborating with this team and cannot wait for Chris Gallagher has planned for the department!
What are some things you are looking forward to this year?
FINISHING MY THESIS! laughs Actually I’m looking forward to the various employer visits, the savannah film festival and the career fair. But mostly my thesis. Oh, and graduating.
What classes have you enjoyed?
Oh man, that’s a tough one. My favorites are Bill Tessier’s animation classes, Zbrush with Parrish, Environment for Games with Charles Shami, and Professional development with Chris Gallagher. Bill was my first Professor at SCAD. He worked at all my dream companies and worked on my favorite series of all time, Harry Potter. So being in his class, I was awestruck, it was like watching magic unfold right in front of me. While I wasn’t the best at animating, mainly I was just tired of breaking maya all the time, but he was always patient with me. I was never embarrassed if I needed him to
re-explain something. He’s very passionate about what he does and it definitely shows when he teaches. Parrish’s class was a whirlwind, it was so much fun. I took his class when I was taking a break from animation, and I’m SO glad that I did. My very first sculpt was of Robin Williams as the Genie and while it didn’t get where I wanted it to be, being able to use my skillset from my undergrad in a new way that I never even knew existed was exhilarating. I found new hope in his class and am forever grateful for it.
Charles Shami has the kindest soul. It was my first time taking an unreal engine class and I’m so happy I was able to do so! Our class only had four people in it so we became a close knit group real quick. I got really lucky with the size of the class because it also benefited my ability to get more feedback from the professor during longer critiques. Chris Gallagher’s class is what really opened my eyes to the world of this Industry. He taught us the importance of self-advertisement and branding. He gave constructive criticism and explained the harsh reality of the film industry. He showed us companies that I had never heard of before and I finally understood what studios outsourced their work to so I could better narrow down my choices. He also told funny stories of his experiences and constantly gave advice, I walked out of that class every day inspired. But more importantly he showed me what level my work was at and guided me to where it needed to be. Even if you think you already know what this industry wants, I promise that you don’t. His class will help you gain a better insight on the animation industry as a whole along with teaching you professional skills to help you make important connections and how to keep them.
Have you worked on any projects outside of class?
I always tried to as much as I could. It was more going back and trying to perfect older projects then creating new ones. I do have a list though, of future projects that I would like to start whenever I have the time. I did the Walt Disney Imagineering competition last fall, did two of the 48 hour game competitions, and helped various friends with models for their films. Aside from that I tend to stick to my other hobbies (to keep myself sane, haha!)
Is there anything you want to see SCAD offer in the future?
I think a class about the various jobs in the Animation Industry would be beneficial to incoming students. Going into this field, I understood that there was a team and a pipeline that went into these films but I didn’t understand every step. I didn’t know what TD meant, or what rigging was. It’s a lot to take in if you don’t know all of your options, so offering an introductory class to educate students on this could help them find their paths. Perhaps also, and this is specifically for Grad Students, having more cross-list options with the undergraduate classes. There aren’t as many options for classes at the Graduate level that there are for the undergrads, so it’d be nice to have more options to apply to our electives.
What made you decide to go to SCAD, and when did you choose to go to SCAD?
Back in high school I really liked doing art and for awhile I said I wanted to pursue it. My parents, while wanting to be supportive were also scared about the lack of jobs in the fine arts field and didn’t want me to be a “starving artist.” So they kindly encouraged me to explore other opportunities. The whole time I was in my undergrad, I felt lost. I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do. After a few different ideas (and wanting to make my parents proud) I settled with teaching. I like kids and art, maybe I could teach art? It’s a real job, fun topic, a win-win, right? So I transferred to ODU, but within the first semester I realized I hated lesson planning. I was excited at the idea of teaching but didn’t like the planning of the lessons. One night I was sitting at my kitchen counter in my apartment venting to my roommate about it. Then she asked “Well, if you could work anywhere, what would you do? What is your DREAM JOB?” and I instantly said “A Walt Disney animator.” EPIPHANY. Everything started falling into place. I told my parents, who seemed more comforted by this form of art, transferred to the art program they had at ODU and started planning my for my masters in animation which led me to SCAD. What was even better was that I didn’t feel lost anymore. I applied to SCAD right after I graduated with my bachelors, took a year off to save some money, received my acceptance letter from SCAD on my 25th birthday, and moved down here in December 2016 to start winter quarter.
What type of studio would you like to work in when you graduate?
Ohhh there’s so many! Well I would love to work for Walt Disney Imagineering or Weta Digital. I really enjoyed working on the Walt Disney Imagineering competition during the fall of 2018. I worked with a great group of girls, and our idea was amazing! But it exposed me to another side of this field that I hadn’t ever thought about (previsualization). And with Weta Digital, I’ve been a fan of their movies since The Hobbit, and I hold them as an example of where I want my art to be.
What has been the best thing about SCAD?
SCAD saved my life. I’m not kidding! As I mentioned before, I was so lost in my undergrad. It felt like I was constantly walking in circles or running really fast just to stay in the same place. But when I came to SCAD, I met like-minded people, and friends I’ll have for the rest of my life. Along with the amazingly talented professors I was lucky to learn from. The people who helped create my favorite films from my childhood, my heroes, were now passing on their knowledge to me. I mean this place is the DREAM. I often joke that SCAD is like the Hogwarts of art schools. But that’s what this industry is, full of magic. Our jobs are to create something out of thin air, to bring life to inanimate objects. We get to make audiences care about characters as if they were family even though they are no more then sketches on paper or pixels on a screen. Our inner children guide us as we tell stories and connect to people we will never actually meet. We’re the ones that aren’t satisfied with reality and remake the magic we want to see in the world. This is what SCAD has given me.
What are your goals after graduation and what goals do you have for your career?
Doing the work I love at a company that has the same goals and standards that I do.
Do you have any advice for working as part of a team?
Be open to other people’s ideas. Remember that it’s not just your project and everyone has the right to be heard. Be respectful, honest and kind with your feedback. Also, it really helps to be friends with the people you’re working with too, be serious about the work but don’t get so lost in it that you forget about the team around you.
What has your favorite project been during your time at SCAD?
No that’s not fair! laughs Well, I really like the Tavern I made in Shami’s unreal engine class. I felt like I learned a lot of about environmental modeling and texturing in this course. And then of course my first Zbrush project of Robin Williams as the Genie.
Do you have a favorite animated movie?
Why of course! What is this question? laughs Beauty and the Beast is my favorite movie. I would watch it every day after school for the first 11 years of my life. But then my taste expanded to more CG films, like the few I mentioned above.
What are some things you enjoy to do in your free time?
I like to read books or binge watch a Netflix show. Or I’ll spend time with family and friends, or clean up some of my older projects.
Thank you Missy for taking the time to interview with us! Check out her website!