A Chat with Steven E Gordon
Steven E Gordon is a world renowned artist, animator and Annie Award Nominee. Recently, I had the opportunity to ask him a few quick questions about his animation, the future, and his Annie Award nomination.
GP – “I am sure you have been asked this a thousand times before, but what was it that first made you get into drawing for a living?”
S.E.G – “I had always planned on drawing for a living, my initial plan was to get into illustration. That changed when I fell into animation and have been happily busy with that as my main source of income now for almost 40 years. Over the course of those 40 years, I’ve animated, created layouts, storyboarded, designed characters, directed and worked on presentations as well as development for shows and features.”
GP – “Has your artistry ever brought about a change in a character? As in, have you ever drawn something that has made the writers fundamentally re-think things?”
S.E.G – “Sure, but the changes aren’t usually recognized by the writers so much as the producer that gives the orders to the writers as to what to do. The best example is the characters in X-Men: Evolution. I had a lot of design (and discussion) input into how these versions would differ from their traditional comic version. For example I kind of despised the Dolly Parton version of Rogue so I decided to go with the Goth/trailer trash look and that not only effected how she was written, but how she was cast and recorded as well.”
GP – “You have done a lot of X-Men work. What do you think of how the X-Men were translated onto the silver screen and what the future holds for that franchise?”
S.E.G – “I think it’s hit and miss sometimes, but what was done works decently enough. I am glad to see them getting closer to uniforms in the more recent films and less about motorcycle leathers. Some of the characters work well, but others seem to me to have missed the boat quite a bit and they seem to have missed several golden opportunities in their storytelling.”
GP – “If you were given total free reign to artistically re-design any character, who would you re-design and why?”
“I wouldn’t mind taking a crack at some of the DC characters since what little work I’ve done on them (mostly for children’s books) has been done with the orders to keep them close to the comic version or the film version.”
GP – “Have you ever been approached to illustrate or animate something, which you declined, and wish you had not declined? At the same time, is there anything that you wish you had been involved in and either illustrated or animated?”
S.E.G – “I’m not sure that I’ve ever declined anything that falls into that category, but there have been jobs I wish in retrospect I hadn’t quit so soon. If I’d stayed on those jobs they would’ve led to working on films I think I would’ve enjoyed (which answers the second half of your question). I would’ve loved to have worked on Tarzan for Disney and some of their other films. I think I would’ve also fit in well on some DreamWorks films like Prince of Egypt and Spirit as an animator.”
GP – “Obviously you have done a lot of work and even been nominated for an Annie award. However, being an artist cannot always be easy. Were there any times in the past where you considered giving it all up and trying something else? If so, how did you get through those times?”
S.E.G – “Actually the only times I’d considered trying to find something else to do is when I had trouble finding work. And, as I get older, that becomes more difficult. I have over many years diversified and moved away from being exclusively involved in animation. I’ve storyboarded for live-action films, illustrated children’s books as well as started doing some comic work all in an effort to stay viable and employable.”
GP – “With the continuing rise of CGI and Computer Generated Animation, where do you see traditional artists like yourself heading in the future? Do you think that traditional hand drawn animation will still thrive?”
S.E.G – “Outside of the US 2D animation still thrives (more or less), but within the US it’s become much more about CG animation and trying to find a way for 2D artists to fit in. Many (like myself) have moved into other disciplines like presentation, development, character design, storyboarding and direction. All of which can be done without a huge amount of knowledge of CG animation. Though you still have to know how to work digitally. Eventually 2D might make a comeback, but I suspect it will be more of a boutique type of film making.
I have often suggested that Disney should re-open a small 2D division and release a 2D film every 5 or so years just to keep the art form alive and to maintain their legacy. They could easily absorb the costs and maybe one of the films will eventually get lucky again and do great box office and that could allow them to ramp up that division.
In the meanwhile traditional artists like myself (if they haven’t taken the leap and learned CG) can still be involved in may stages of pre-production such as design and storyboarding – as well as direction.”
GP – “As someone who is typically “behind” the camera so to speak, do you find that you get enough recognition from fans for all the hard work you do?”
S.E.G – “Since I’ve started going to conventions and posting in social media I’m amazed at how many fans I do have. Not all of them know who I am specifically all the time, but they recognize my work and are always happy to meet me. And I’m always happy to meet them as well. I’m not the best known of all the animation professionals, but I’m happy with the recognition I get.
One time I was sitting with Boyd Kirkland in an audience as we waited for a panel about Wolverine and the X-Men (he was the producer and I was one of the directors) and a couple of fans saw us and came up to us. They knew our work well enough to actually recognize us sitting in the audience. By this time I was starting to play around on social media and started to sense there were some fans out there, but Boyd was completely blown away (as were my kids who were also there). Of course, maybe we were just the oldest ones sitting in the audience and that’s what possibly triggered it…”
GP – “You sadly lost out on an Annie award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for Production Design in an Animated Television Production in 2001. How did that make you feel at the time, and, looking back today, do you think that winning it would have changed your career since then?”
“Wow, you’re the first one to ever mention that or ask about it. I would’ve loved to have won, but I understand why I didn’t – I think. My design work was very traditional and didn’t really fit into the usual TV production expectations. But I feel justified in the fact that I’m often told by other designers and artists working on other shows that they had copies of my XME designs and were inspired by them.”
GP – “One final question. What words of advice would you give to any young artists today that are trying to break into doing it professionally, and similarly what warnings would you give them?”
S.E.G – “Well, my usual advice is to draw as much as you can and learn as much as you can. Don’t focus on just one aspect of animation since you never what jobs might be available and when. There are many fine artists that are now unemployable because their jobs have been phased out and they never learned to do anything else.
Also, when you’re just starting, be willing to take almost any job. Even a go-fer. That will help you get your foot in the door and once you’re in a studio you’ll find they often hire from within before looking elsewhere. You should also learn to use social media to network. Meet professionals and listen to them. Find out what they’re discussing and listen to them. It’s much easier in this day and age to network then it was a decade ago.”
Steven E Gordon was speaking Exclusively to Chris, writer for Geek Pride. All images are (c) Steven E Gordon.