Josh Sobel graduated from SCAD in 2013 and is currently a Character FX Artist at DreamWorks!
Tell us about yourself!
Hi! I grew up on Long Island until I was 12, and South Florida after that until SCAD. I graduated with a BFA in animation in 2013. I work at DreamWorks (feature) as a Character FX Artist (cloth and hair simulation — known at other studios as technical animation, character simulation, etc.). I set up cloth and hair rigs for simulation, run them in shots, and develop Python pipeline tools (usually for Maya) when the need arises. Aside from DreamWorks, I also run an online store that sells character rigs, tutorials, and tools. This has been the backbone of my career over the years, especially between jobs.
How long have you worked for DreamWorks?
I started in July 2018 on Trolls World Tour and just recently moved onto Boss Baby 2.
Did you have a job/internship lined up before graduation?
Yes, I met with Reel FX at the career fair and they offered me a 2-month rigging apprenticeship at their studio in Dallas.
What made you decide to go into Rigging and Character FX, and when did you realize that was going to be your focus?
Despite performing strongly in early animation classes, I never really improved to the point of producing great work. I focused on animation for a while, but after positive reactions to the rig I made for my senior film, as well as to a female mod I made for AnimSchool’s publicly available Malcolm Rig, I realized rigging (and eventually cloth and hair simulation) better suited my skills.
If you could do anything differently when you were in school, what would it be?
I don’t regret much in school. Of course I cringe when I think of specific moments, but I think school’s biggest benefit is learning how to work with others, so it was all a necessary process, and I still hang out with [and work with] many of my former classmates. SCAD connections also led to most of my job opportunities. If I had to pick one thing to change, it would be to learn more coding early on. I foolishly thought knowing how to code was just an added bonus. Totally wrong.
What advice would you give to current students applying for jobs and internships?
Keep your reels short and focused. Don’t fall into “dream job” tunnel vision — small studios are great, and sometimes more enjoyable than the big ones. If you do land your dream job right away, be very careful with your performance — despite being fresh out of college, this is how they will remember you. For rigging reels, don’t just pull individual controls around — showing that you know how to make an IK leg should not be a selling point. Work it in naturally, like a sped up video of you posing a character, or through animation when possible. For general Character TD jobs, add some cloth or hair simulation and/or coding to your reel.
What has been your favorite project that you’ve worked for in the industry and why?
Probably Trolls World Tour, since I started early with a very small team and got to get my hands dirty re-shaping the pipeline to fit emerging challenges. And I didn’t do a single hour of overtime in the 1.5yrs I worked on it, so that’s a plus! Feast was also fun. It was my first tech anim ever, and it is still the most art-directed project I’ve worked on. Tons of nearly-frame-by-frame shot sculpt work to push the rigs/simulations past their limits.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Not sure. DreamWorks is the healthiest work/life balance I’ve experienced in my career, and the people I work with are great. But I might be interested in someday focusing more on my online store at some point (side work and big studios don’t mesh very well, unfortunately), maybe alongside a part-time job like teaching or some freelance. Maybe I’ll get out of crowded cities for a while!
What’s your favorite thing about working for DreamWorks?
Sounds simple, but the fact that everyone is happy there. The pretty campus and free lunch helps, but they seem to be on top of scheduling their shows to avoid as much overtime work as possible. A healthy work/life balance is extremely rare in the industry, but DreamWorks has given me that. They also make a habit of keeping hires around as long as possible, so there isn’t much of a competitive atmosphere from fear of losing jobs — it’s fairly stress-free.
Have you worked for any other companies/ had any other Internships before DreamWorks?
Reel FX, Disney Animation, Blue Sky, Psyop.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Pretty straight forward and relaxed. I chip away at my assignments and go to meetings to show work-in-progress. Start at around 9, lunch at 11:30 for an hour or so, leave around 6. A few walks around the campus throughout.
How did SCAD help you prepare for the industry?
Learning to deal with criticism, social interactions, etc.
What films did you work on at SCAD?
I started work on an overly ambitious proof-of-concept called Keepsake. I eventually came to my senses and took the main character who was already rigged and used her in a short comedic film called Whack. I later released the character as a free rig called Bonnie online, which helped jump-start my career. The one other film I remember working on was by Caitlin Geels, though I can’t remember the name. I rigged the face of the main boy.
Are you working on any projects outside of work?
Not at the moment. Sometimes I chip away at an auto-rig system to use to make future rigs, but there’s a lot of work left to do on it so I mostly procrastinate. Time and computer use has also taken a toll on my mouse arm, so most days I try to limit my computer use to just the 8hr work day.
What do you do in your free time?
LA is a foodie paradise so I go out to eat a lot. Sometimes I try cooking something new. Movies, video games. Sometimes I start and quickly abandon writing story ideas for shorts and video games. Maybe someday I’ll get to make one of them.What’s your favorite animated character and why?Hmmm…video games are animated, so I’ll pick Vivi from Final Fantasy IX. His personality through design, animation, and writing is a great mixture of child-like innocence and existentialism. The technological limitations of the time lent themselves to enhancing the overall charm too.
How do you keep yourself motivated during a large project?
I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by fun and engaging co-workers, and that helps the time pass. Also walks around the campus when I need a breather. In general, relying on fun projects to be happy at your job isn’t a great idea since you’re likely to work or more projects you don’t like than those that you do. Focus on the fun of solving daily challenges and the joy of teamwork. Find a work family that excites you more than the projects.
How can students stand out when applying for jobs?
Ask questions about the way things work at the studio — show an interest. Don’t be a fanboy. Don’t be a yes-man. Challenge them. Show what your brain can bring to the team.
What films have you worked on during your career?
Feast, Big Hero 6, Ice Age 5, To Gerard, Trolls World Tour, Boss Baby 2