Tell us about yourself!
My name is Zachary Ates and I am a senior studying 3D character animation! I’m not only just a character animator but a director, producer, illustrator, dog lover and head personal assistant to senior effects animator Troy Gustafson. I am a man of many talents and interests. Have always been one to be seeking creative avenues and networking with creative individuals.
What area of animation do you enjoy the most and why?
Of course I love 3D character animation and have found love in super emotional intense scenes. Getting every detail and expression right in the characters emotion when trying to convey fear, heartache, confusion; the subtle details are what really excite me in character acting/animation. You truly have to be quite the actor yourself when doing shots like these, so when shooting reference I truly try and get into the characters mind and commit to the role I’m animating. I usually do over 30 takes just to get the expressions I want right and also do multiple versions of the acting. After the first 15 takes I find the characters soul and then emulate that in my performance when shooting reference.
What is a challenge that you’ve had to overcome?
Challenges I’ve had to overcome with 3D animation were having to be tech savy and also be able to troubleshot your own problems. Google does not have the answer for everything! Also, coming to SCAD has been the biggest challenge of my academic career. I come from a very low income household; most of my life I’ve shared a bedroom with my two other siblings about the size of a walk in closet. The idea of being able to go to such a well known great school such as SCAD was a distant dream. My family couldn’t even fathom of trying to afford to send me to a school such as this. But, the drive to become successful was bigger than ever and the drive to become an animator was even larger. I was accepted into SCAD after working so hard and given great scholarships to do so! My hard work and determination paid off! But the challenges still come, as they always do in life. My biggest hurdles have been how I’m going to afford to fly to and from Savannah to Oklahoma on breaks. Due to my financial standpoint it is hard but by miracles I somehow am able to!
What advice would you give yourself as a freshman?
I would definitely tell myself to take as many animation classes early! When I went to community college I didn’t and I wish I did! So to my younger self, that ripe little 19 year old bean, take those animation classes! Also, get your license already and stop taking the bus, save your money, working as a manger at an amusement park is fun but man is it going to kill you, and keep creating. It will take you far in life and one day it will lead you to your goal; becoming a 3D character animator at a HUGE studio!
What inspires you during a difficult project?
I definitely watch a ton of short films Pixar Studios have released over the years as well as Walt Disney Animation Studios. the film that inspired me to do what I do know is the short Paperman, that was the turning point in my young life to ask myself “do i want to be an animator?” and I answered that questions fast “YES!”. So whenever I’m feeling lost I watch Paperman or listen to the filmscore and i’m re-inspired all over again.
What experiences have stood out to you?
I currently have two experiences that have stood out to me and are still ongoing. One being a director to the senior film I pitched called Monkey Thief and the other being the Head Personal Assistant to Troy Gustafson. I say these are still ongoing because with everyday I’m learning something new and exciting. As a director, I’m learning how to lead a collaborative team into creating a vision we all want to create. Also being able to give direction and handle all questions that are being asked and being able to answer them effectively. Sometimes its hard, sometimes I don’t have all the answers my crew needs and that’s okay. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I cant be this omnipotent person who needs to know all. Which relates very well to my other experience working as a head personal assistant to Troy Gustafson. Students ask me tons of questions about Troy’s upcoming assignments and deadlines; I need to know them, like there the ten commandments. But there are times I don’t and then I gotta ask the boss. Working alongside of Troy has been the best experience Iv’e had here at SCAD. He not only is my mentor on my work but my biggest critic and I need that. I need someone to tell me if my work isn’t strong enough and I’m glad he’s by my side for that. Hes taught me to be a strong leader and to stand out above the crowd but to also be very humble. Working for Troy and being a director has been the most exciting moments of my time here at SCAD.
Have you worked on any projects outside of class?
Luckily I have been able to be part of three capstone senior films last year; two 2D animated short films and one 3D animated short. Flocked (3D), Lesser of Two (2D), and Juracan (2D) and for all of these films I was a “production assistant” I helped take and give notes during critique for the films and assisting anyway that I could. Being a part of these three films definitely helped me direct my own senior film and learn what to do and what not to do. I’ve also done pre-visualization for a short horror film called Camping is Cheaper directed by Jaxson Varni. Also did poster design for the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee directed by Carlos Martinez for the company Atenas, in the Dominican Republic.
What are some things you enjoy doing in your free time?
My most favorite pastime is to watch horror films and eat pizza. If not that I’m playing with my Great Dane named Chandler whom my family and I rescued! Hes the sweetest dog in the world and I cant wait to go back home on break and snuggle up with him!
Thank you so much to Zachary for taking the time do this interview for us! Check out more of his work below!