Over the last ten years, Classical Animation grad Mike Geiger has gained a lot of valuable experience working for companies like Bardel Entertainment, March Entertainment, and Carbunkle Cartoons (The Ren & Stimpy Show). He recently made the leap into the potentially unstable, but creatively rewarding world of the Independent Animator. For a lot of people, that's a risky move, but for Mike, it's one that's proving to be a very successful choice.
We had a chance to ask him about his career and life, and here's what he had to say:
Q: Hi, Mike. Thanks for your time. After a quick look at your recent work history, it seems like you must be swamped all the time. How do you balance your life while working as an independent animator?
A: Not very well. I recently tried to solve that problem by getting a studio space to work out of so that when I go home at night, I have no way to work even if I want to. But previous to that, when I was working from my house, there was just no excuse for not being productive, which threw me pretty far off of any sort of work / life balance. I got a lot accomplished during that period, but it was not much of a healthy situation while I was doing it.
Q: What prompted your decision to go out on your own?
A: I've been working in animation for 10 years now. There is something to be said for making a steady pay cheque, and I learned a lot in those years, but eventually I found that I had hit a point where there was so much more that I wanted to do, and I could no longer justify devoting my 9 -5 hours to a day job. Once I started to get a few projects rolling on the side, and received some recognition from a few festivals, I felt like I reached a point in my development where I would rather live poor and have the time to explore my own work, than have a steady pay cheque and cease to progress as an artist.
Q: For the benefit of current and future Classical Animation students, could you tell your breaking-in story? How did you get your first gig after graduating from VFS?
A: Well, I graduated in 2000. At that time "Flash" (which is now the standard for 2D animation in Canada) wasn't a broadcast option, and the studios in town just weren't hiring. I ended up getting a gig making web cartoons at an internet company with the help of some people I knew that already worked there. It was really the perfect introduction job, and was a great place to learn a lot of basics that helped me move forward into a job that I probably wouldn't have been qualified for straight out of school. I guess to answer your question, I would say that no job in the industry is not a good one as your first. We all have to start somewhere and there are things to be learned no matter where you land, even if it's not your dream position right out of graduation. Just be willing to take what is given to you and learn from it.
Q: There's a steep climb to your credits - from Animator to Lead Animator to Animation Director. What's the secret to climbing the ladder?
A: I think it's a pretty basic formula of doing solid work and being dependable. I'm still nowhere close to where I would like to be on that ladder, but I don't think there is any secret to moving forward other than realizing that if you don't step up and be better than the guy sitting next to you, then there is no reason to expect to be hired over him for the next job.
Q: Do you have any plans to bring Country Ghostto traditional broadcasters, or is it a project that will only live on the web?
A: County Ghostwas really designed to be as simple as possible so that I could animate it in my spare time without losing my mind. So I would like to see where I can take it in web format before considering changing the format into a broadcast property. I have a few other projects that I am working on that are targeted towards broadcasters, so I kinda like having County Ghost as its own entity.
Q: What do you think is the most common mistake beginners make in this industry?
A: I'd say complacency. As a Director, I really notice who is around the studio after 5 o'clock, who's asking quality questions, and who puts in the effort to do the little things to help make the production run smoother. As I sort of mentioned before, with the amount of talent out there, companies need a reason to hire you over the next person, so unfortunately, just being good probably won't actually be good enough to maintain any sort of job security in this industry.
Q: Can you tell us what you are currently working on?
A: Right now, I'm making a pilot for a show with an overseas broadcaster which should be wrapping up pretty shortly. Once that's delivered, I want to just get back to making short web content. I have one new web show called "Hellfire and Rain" that we are working on some audio for at the moment. I would love to get back to some County Ghost episodes as well.
Q:Is there a dream job out there for you?
Being an independent animator, I can't imagine a better situation than going to my studio in the morning and simply making whatever I feel like creating on that given day. So really, I think the only dream job from here would be making a steady pay cheque while doing it.