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Animated Insights for Non Artists:
Interview with Jason Stiff
by Shannon Muir

When I first decided to launch the "Animated Insights for Non-Artists" columns, one area I wanted to delve into was the art of post-production in animation. However, for various reasons, nothing ever came together. Finally, things lined up so that I could get in touch with Jason Stiff, who is Director of Post-Production for Nickelodeon Animation studios and animated programs for The National Network as of this writing. Previous credits for Jason include Post Production Supervisor on INVADER ZIM, CHARLOTTE'S WEB II, JIMMY NEUTRON BOY GENIUS, and the FATHERHOOD pilot for Nickelodeon Animation; STRIPERELLA and GARY THE RAT for TNN; ROBBIE THE REINDEER for CBS; and KING OF THE HILL for FOX.

First off, I asked him to define post-production. "Well," Jason responded, "literally it means the work that happens after pre-production and production of the project is finished. In the animation world, it is what happens after the initial work is finished. Some call it the 'fix factory' but anyone that works in post would resent that characterization." He continued by describing the process. "After the script, storyboard, character design, backgrounds, color design, and timing of the show it is sent to Korea (in most cases) to be animated. We then get it back (in digital format) we edit it together and make any changes necessary. Music and sound effects are added and the show is completed. Obviously that's an amazing simplification, but it hits the bullet points."

When asked how he got his start in animation: "I did some freelance animatic stuff with a friend when I first moved here, but my first real job was as a post production assistant for KING OF THE HILL at Film Roman. As for how I got it...well, I got it the old fashioned way...a friend of a friend of course! Yes, it's true, nepotism is still alive and well in Hollywood! Seriously though, a friend referred me to Film Roman and I was EXTREMELY persistent to hear my previous boss tell the story. Eventually it worked and I was given a chance."

As to how he moved from that position to Post Production Coordinator, and later Supervisor: "The setup on the show was that there was a Post Production Supervisor, a Post Production Coordinator and then myself. Basically I just kept taking on more and more of the Coordinator's responsibilities and when the opportunity to advance came, I was given the job. I worked my way up from the initial PA job, through Coordinator and then finally to Post Production Supervisor for King of the Hill. I enjoyed 4 years and 5 seasons on that show. It was an amazing experience working on such a challenging show. I learned more there than I would have ever imagined. KING OF THE HILL (and THE SIMPSONS) are still done traditionally (cel based ) and since it was a prime time show on a major network the emphasis on perfection was something that I really enjoyed.

"Also, my supervisor and mentor, Loren Smith, (the person who hired me into the business) taught me things that I don't know that I would have learned elsewhere. Her attention to detail, her no nonsense way of taking on situations, and her way of teaching the process and ideas of post production were amazing. She showed me how to do things not only technically but enhanced my ability to deal with people and multi task in an environment that is not forgiving when it comes to time."

Not too long before this interview took place, Jason received a promotion to Director of Post Production for both Nickelodeon Animation Studios and the animated programs for The National Network such as STRIPERELLA and GARY THE RAT. "I'm really looking forward to getting further into it. I think it's a great opportunity to bring a singular structure to the productions as well as furthering the ability of the Studio to compete in a broad market. We are looking to take the studio in an even more digital direction than it is now including DVD authoring and digital transfers of materials from overseas studios."

When asked what he enjoyed most about the post-production field, Jason said, "Maybe it's the German in me, but I love the structure. I really enjoy getting things in order and finding new ways to solve problems. The animation that is done these days is getting more and more complex utilizing 2D/3D/Flash and other mediums. This allows for some amazing work in the end...and finding a good and creative way to get there is fun for me." In regards to challenges, he commented, "[a]s with anything, we are limited by time and money. Given an unlimited amount of each, we could do some great things. Otherwise, it's all about problem solving. That's a challenge, but a fun one. It's almost impossible to keep up with the technology, but luckily the outside vendors can do that for us at times. Although, Nickelodeon is a real force in house as well utilizing both talent and equipment to make really high quality shows."

I couldn't resist inquiring if there was any particular memorable story Jason Stiff wanted to share about how the art of post-production improved or rescued a particular show he was working on. "Oh my, I can think of a hundred. Really," came the response. "It's such an important part of the process that without it, you wouldn't want to watch what we first get. The editors, composers and sound designers do so much to enhance and 'save' every single show. I can't praise the work that is done by these people enough."

Another thing I was curious about was crucial he believes formal education was to your advancement versus on-the-job training. Jason's response: Personally I know that it helps me in life, but I can't give it too much credit in my work. Sure, it helps me to communicate with people and I suppose it showed me how to be organized to some degree, but I wouldn't say I needed it to do what I do. A lot of the people who do what I do have not had degrees. It is such a specific science at times it can be learned. However, the people that bring a creativity to the work (in the art as well as the thought process of how to get things done) are really the ones that make it in the long run."

Finally, I asked Jason if there was any other advice that he would like to share that had not come out as a result of any of the other questions. "No, other than to say that I really enjoy doing what I'm doing. I think that is important to getting the job done. If you can't enjoy it or you stop having a good time with it, you really should try to do something else. This makes me happy and I hope to be able to continue doing it for a long time. Thanks for the opportunity to talk with you."

Thank you for sharing your time, Jason.


Click here to discuss this column in the dFX Forums.

Shannon Muir is known in the animation industry for her work as a production coordinator for Nickelodeon's Invader Zim. She also served as a Production Coordinator for Extreme Ghostbusters and a Production Assistant for Jumanji: The Animated Series. Muir is an accomplished writer and often participates on panels or as a guest speaker at conventions like Comic Con International. Muir moved to Los Angeles in 1996 from Cheney, WA (population approximately 8,000), knowing she wanted to be part of the animation business. Since then, she's never strayed far from making that dream reality, whether it be actively working on a production or writing articles about the industry.

You can email Shannon Muir at shanemuir@aol.com.

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