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Creative Spotlight: Q&A with Animator Lee Daniels

You may have stumbled across Lee Daniels’ work on our Adobe Stories site or our Adobe Facebook Page, but we recently caught up with him to really find out the depths and origins of his creativity when it comes to animation and cartooning.

Adobe: What’s your story? How did you get to where you are today?

Lee Daniels: After experiencing a lack of support for cartooning in grammar school, I decided to get a job in graphic design rather than University education. I got to learn all the Adobe software by trial and error in a real world environment on company hardware, which was always better than what I could afford at the time. I then became a digital retouch artist and graphic designer for a magazine publishing firm for 13 years after leaving school. Since then, I’ve been working as a freelance illustrator in London for almost 4 years (8 including the crossover with my last design job).

leedanielsart-300x212What was it about animation that got your attention? 

Cartoons like Wile E. Coyote and Tom and Jerry. I always saw the levels of creativity, invention and escapism in cartoons as light-years ahead of the live action drip-feed in to our living room for the other 95% of viewing time.

Cartoons have always been generally viewed as childish because of the history in kids TV, which is why I like to use the medium to create work that is not necessarily childish – without taking it too far of course, that’s the job of South Park.

Inspiration: Is it easy to come by for you or is it a rare pearl? How do you find it?

My previous videos include everything from the misfortune of frogs, though triumphant hamsters, to incompetent Secret Service agents and intelligence tests for a reluctant chimp. Although there is no overriding theme to all, I would have to highlight the common thread as the success of seemingly inferior beings over their seemingly superior tormentors. So inspiration for this can be found pretty much anywhere and tends to come fairly easily. I’ve usually got about 2-3 ideas for future shorts in mind while working on any one project.


lee-daniels-art-212x300Do you believe in creative blocks?  How do you push through them?

Yes, absolutely. Although this is almost impossible to do, I find the best way to get through a potential day-spoiler is to just drop everything, stop working and go for a run. Admittedly this is much easier to do now that I’m working for myself – leaving an employment situation in this fashion would be frowned-upon at best! The only real escape to freedom during a creative block in my old job was a trip to the coffee machine the long way round, which was not very inspiring.

What’s your go-to product within the Adobe Creative Suite? Why?

This may sound like a cop-out answer but my go to product is the Creative Suite. I like to view it as one playground. More specifically, if I’m static illustrating or cartooning, it would be a mixture of Illustrator and Photoshop. If I’m animating it would be the previous two plus After Effects, Premiere Pro and Soundbooth. If I’m doing a graphic design job it would be Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign. But generally, whatever project I’m working on, I can guarantee to be pressing Apple + Tab multiple times throughout. I’ve downloaded free trials of a lot of different software over the years, but nothing comes close to Adobe in my opinion. I treated myself to the Master Collection after leaving my job to go freelance, and I wouldn’t change it for anything else.

What was your favorite project you worked on while using Adobe Creative Suite?

My most recent work ‘Jungle Brawl‘ is definitely my proudest achievement so far. I made a decision early on not to cut any corners when creating the background artwork and even playing the music myself on guitar as opposed to ‘loops’ (apart from the drum loops, which I don’t play). Previously, I’ve concentrated my efforts mainly on the characters, but I spent a lot of sleepless nights storyboarding, painting the rainforest environment and thinking of new ways to shoot the scenes in an attempt to keep up the filmic quality.

I utilized all the major Creative Suite applications during production – as you’ll see from the credits – and After Effects is definitely the star of the show, although heavily backed-up by Photoshop and Illustrator. After Effects is an incredibly powerful cartoon animating tool and I’m pleased to be championing its use for this medium.

Who are your creative role models?

Stylistically, I take inspiration from hundreds of undiscovered creatives in my online networks. Inspiration from more publicly known artists and companies would be some of the more obvious: Frank Miller, Jamie Hewlett, Patrick Brown, Dave Gibbons, Pixar, Warner Brothers.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new animator/artist starting out, what would it be?

Learn the software and practice, practice, practice. Every piece of software I’ve used has been predominantly learned by trial and error. I find that pure experimentation throws up unexpected problems and only deepens your knowledge in the long run by forcing you to learn what NOT to do.

To find out more about Lee’s upcoming work, you can follow him on Twitter @LeeDanielsART.

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