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An Interview with Artist & Animator Sean Solomon

An Interview with Artist & Animator Sean Solomon

By Alina Nguyen

Sean Solomon‘s done some weird shit. At 22, the animator has designed sweatsuits for Andy Samberg and Joanna Newsom’s wedding, directed 3 animated commercials for Odd Future, and designed the main characters of a television show on FOX. He’s also in a band called Moses Campbell that recently had a song featured in a Vans documetary short. When the filmmaker contacted Sean about using the song, he professionally responded through text, “U can use whatever u want. I love money and shoes. But take a song. Use this text convo as legal proof that i said it was ok.” Sean dropped out of Cal Arts after his second year because, he says, “FOX asked me to.” Who knew his unhealthy (judge for yourself) obsession with The Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening would blossom this way, driving him into his now 22-year-old existence as lead designer on FOX ADHD‘s TV show Lucas Bros. Moving Co where he comes up with rules like “never draw a perfectly straight line”?

I’ve known Sean for a few years now through his involvement with the LA music scene, so we met up at his humble abode in Echo Park in the shadow of the Dodger Stadium and shared some weird drinks we picked up from Sunset Beer: an IPA called Yeastie Boys, a “malt beverage” (like Four Loko) called Justin Blaeber that was blueberry-flavored, and a Belgian IPA called The Audacity of Hops. Check out our super sober interview below where he talks about owning Cal Arts’s Portfolio Day with only a nameless zine and no portfolio, why he feels animation is hardly ever written about, and his thoughts on “that lamp shit” AKA Pixar:

Wow, it’s baby’s first interview!
Is it recording? [burps] Uh, I know all about interviewing, actually. I read a book on interviewing people.

Really? What was the book about?
Well, uh, my student film at Cal Arts was about my parents. My teacher approached me and told me to read this book about how to interview people and I read it. But it was mostly about how to get like, [grumbly old man voice] “I interviewed Drew Barrymore and I got her to talk about Tom Green even though she didn’t wanna! And this is how I did it.”

How did he do it?
He’s an idiot and I never want to do what he does. I mean I was interviewing my parents, but he would start with something that had nothing to do with what he was trying to talk about and just keep inching his way there so it felt like they brought it up. That was basically the tactic. For instance, the film was about my dad being bipolar. So I started with, “What were you like as a kid?” And he says, “Well, when I was a kid… I felt kind of different.” That was the first thing he said. I asked him, “Why’d you feel different?” And it began from there.

It’s only 2 minutes long, but it was the most involved thing I did and the only thing I finished at Cal Arts. It took a year. I interviewed my dad for 3 hours and my mom for an hour and a half and I cut it down to 2 minutes. I didn’t put it online because I felt it would be more respectful to my parents that way. But I played it in some screenings.

People were down. They were like, “This is tight.”
People cry. It makes people cry. [laughs]

A still from Sean’s short film “If You’re Pushed Hard Enough” which was recently screened at Cinefamily’s Animation Breakdown. It actually made me cry. For more information on this film, email seanmichaelsolomon@gmail.com.

Are you getting a lot more attention because of that Odd Future commercial you did?
I’m getting a lot of Odd Future followers on Twitter. They’re like, “GOLF.” On Tumblr, too. I think it’s interesting because it’s people that usually would have nothing to do with me. It’s kids that are like, “FUCK SCHOOL. FUCK MY PARENTS.” And I post things like, [little voice] “I’m sensitive.” Like, “It’s hard. Life is hard because girls are mean.” It’s cool that those people are finding my work.

EMO. Those guys can be really sensitive, too! Tell us more about the project.
The dudes I worked with are from Mellow Hype. I did each short in less than a week. ADHD likes to work really fast. I storyboarded each one in two days. We had a day or two for design and a day or two for animation. They’re pretty short, so instead of giving the animators notes, I did a lot of retakes myself.

You worked with a team of people for that?
The first one was just me and then I got two people to animate it. This guy Evan Borja and Garrett Davis. The second one, the shorts team animated it and the third one - the team helped me designed it as well.

Is that a team of people… that wear shorts?
It’s like a team of people that wear shorts everyday to work. Like board shorts. No [laughs], they make the shorts.

One of the commercials he directed for Odd Future.

How did that project come to be? Did they just give it to you?
I was sitting at my desk and this dude I know named Chris from Cal Arts showed up and said, “Hey, I’m working with ADHD on this project for this design company.” And a couple hours later, I got called into the studio like, “Yo, come to the recording booth, these dudes from Odd Future want you in here.” And the design team was basically Odd Future’s design team. Chris didn’t even mention this. They were like, “Chris showed us your shorts and we were wondering if you could sit in here and brainstorm stuff.” So Left Brain goes into the recording booth and does his thing and my boss comes in and goes, “What the hell are you doing in here, Sean?” And I said, “I don’t know, these dudes from fucking Odd Future told me to come in here!”

This dude Hodgy Beats walks in an hour late holding a bag of weed and goes,”YO, SORRY I’M LATE, AT LEAST I’M NOT FUCKED UP RIGHT NOW.” So they’re smoking weed in the record booth and I’m like, man, I wish I was in Odd Future. I could just show up an hour late and then just get high. But after that, the editors at ADHD cut the audio and that’s the basis for the short.

It’s funny, because I was wearing these glasses and they were like, “Yo, this is Sean, he’s the animator.” And Hodgy was like, “AW, I COULD TELL YOU WAS AN ANIMATOR!” And I said, “What the fuck does that mean?!” And he said, “AW MAN, IT’S CUZ OF YOUR GLASSES!” Like he immediately felt awkward about saying that. I hung out with them recently and that was super weird. They’re nice guys, though.

Can we stop talking about Odd Future? This interview is going to be all about Odd Future.

[Laughs] So you went to Cal Arts for two years and dropped out because you got a job with Fox ADHD?
Yeah, I went to Cal Arts for experimental animation for two years and then…

Is your animation VERY EXPERIMENTAL?
[laughs] I think I’m doing very traditional things, but I’m approaching them in an experimental way because I don’t know what I’m doing. In the same way that a band would write a punk song and they don’t know the chords they’re playing, but they’re still just writing a song.

.Gif collaboration with Garrett Davis.

Or when a noise musician puts out a tape and they’re like, “Damn, this is some harsh shit.” But then they’re also like, “I don’t know what the fuck I just did.”
I don’t actually… know what I’m doing. But I shouldn’t tell people that. Wait, what was the question? [laughs] Is it experimental. The departments at Cal Arts, there’s two: Experimental Animation and Character Animation. Character Animation is more traditional, it’s more Disney. It’s geared towards kids that want to work in the industry. Experimental Animation [views animation more] as a fine art. So it’s for kids that want to be directors or make their own films. They teach you different things.

So how did you get the job at FOX? You’ve mentioned that Cal Arts helped you land the gig.
There’s a thing at Cal Arts called “Portfolio Day” and all these different companies are invited to look at kids’ portfolios. You leave your portfolio there and if you get a call back they’ll meet you at school. All these other students had storyboards and character designs and all these class projects they had done and all I had was a zine with some drawings in it.

What was the zine called?
There was no name. It was a picture of two people making out on the cover that I drew. Inside there was a page where I drew Homer and Marge from the Simpsons in my style and I wrote “Family Guy isn’t funny” really big on it. The next thing I know I get a call from FOX. Which was… great. It was kind of like winning a role in a play because they post who gets a call back on the wall. I got a call back from Ben Jones from FOX ADHD and he was like, “You’re the only person here who looks like they make art outside of school,” because I had a zine instead of a class project. He asked me to come in and pitch show ideas.

I got home and I got a call from Six Point Harness, another animation studio. They told me they were working with Titmouse for web cartoons. That motivated me, so I pitched to ADHD, Adult Swim, Mondo, Six Point Harness, Titmouse… I had general meetings with Cartoon Network. I pitched Gosh Josh, which is now a short on ADHD - and Fer Sherbet for Titmouse. A lot of other kids were getting hit up for their technical skills like storyboard work, but the response I was getting was that they wanted ideas from me for TV shows and web series ideas. Just ideas.

Were you surprised that you got contacted without any finished school projects?
I didn’t expect to get any response from it, honestly. I had a few friends who were contacted as well, but the general response from my classmates was like, “Oh shit, Sean got a bunch of callbacks and he didn’t even do anything.” It was cool because I had all these TV show ideas. I got into cartoons because I was obsessed with The Simpsons. I wanted to be like Matt Groening and have my own show.

You basically want to be him.
I don’t want to be him… but you know. I want to be inside him.

So when did ADHD hire you?
I interned over the summer for about 3 months and after the internship they asked me to drop out of school. It was an easy decision because they offered me a job where I could support myself and after a few months I made Gosh Josh and they asked me to design Lucas Bros. [Moving Co]. That was pretty crazy. Suddenly the company of 25 people expanded to over 100 and now I people asking me, “Sean, what’s this supposed to look like?” I felt like an idiot at first. Now, I think I have a better hold on the aesthetic of what I’m trying to do. It’s a little stupid because the rules are like, “Never draw a perfectly straight line, draw everything by hand.” I always want my stuff to look like a person made it. Instead of, you know… cyborgs.

At the beginning, did you feel weird that you were working with a team of people that was mostly older than you?
I did feel weird. I had a few people that I felt didn’t want to listen to me because I was younger. At this point, at least on The Lucas Bros. Moving Co, it’s more clear what my position is. But the show is a huge collaboration. I do the concept art but there are so many other people involved. Our director, Ben Jones has a lot to do with how it came out and he taught me a lot. Everyone working on it has put their own twist and style in to it. I think it’s looking better every episode and I’m really happy I’m able to be apart of this awesome team. The next 6 episodes will look even better then the first.

From the start at Cal Arts where you were like, “Yo, check out my zine. I… don’t really have a portfolio,” it sounds like aesthetically you’ve tended to lean more towards - for lack of a better word - DIY.
[laughs] That reminds me. Some old guy was like, “I can really tell that people like your style because everything looks so slick and good now with technology, the computer, Photoshop - everything’s so smooth and polished so people are reverting back to things that are a little more rough around the edges because they feel nostalgic for it or they miss it or it feels more human.” I think about the way I draw as similar to the ways people will prefer vinyl over .mp3. There’s something a little more human about it. Or cassette culture. It feels more tangible. When I draw, you can see that there’s a mistake or that one eye is bigger than the other eye. You know, when we did the first episode, I said, “I don’t give a shit about perspective. When you draw the backgrounds, just make sure it looks good.” Obviously, that only lasted so long before we were like, well, this character has to fuckin’ run from one place to another.

A trailer for Lucas Bros. Moving Co. Watch full episodes online here.

Do you agree with that guy saying people like your art because it’s basically lo-fi?
I don’t know if I agree with that guy who said that, but it’s definitely like pretty obvious to me - as to what I’m influenced by. I was at CSSSA - it’s a Cal Arts summer program for high school students. I remember on our first day we had to say how or why we got into animation. Every kid stood up and was like, “I know everyone’s already said this, but I really wanna work for Pixar,” or like, “I LOVE PIXAR.” And I was like 16 sitting in the back, thinking, what the fuck is Pixar? Is that that thing with the lamp? Is it that lamp shit? I literally had no idea. I stood up and said, “UHHH, I like The Simpsons, I like Beavis and Butthead, I like ’90s Nickelodeon, and uh…” and I remember the teachers clapped for me. So, I don’t know if it’s true or not that people like my shit because it’s lo-fi and ugly like that guy said, but it’s definitely influenced by… what’s that company - Cluesky Chapo?

Oh my god. Who are you? CLUESKY CHAPO. You mean Klasky Csupo. What other animators are you into now?
Bruce Bickford. Amy Lockhart. Bruce is a very weird claymation artist - he did a bunch of work for Frank Zappa. Amy did this really great film called Walk for Walk - it’s probably my favorite animation ever. It’s over 1000 paper cutouts shown on 16mm film. Both Bruce and Amy shot all their work on 16mm, so they didn’t even know what their animation would look like until it was done. Lately, I really like Devin Flynn and Allison Schulnik. She went to Cal Arts for experimental animation and now she’s doing really well as a fine artist.

I never got into animation like, FUCK YEAH, I WANNA WORK ON LITTLE MERMAID. THAT SHIT BLEW MY MIND! It’s more like people who are artists who use animation to make their art. I look at Pixar or Disney and my first thought is, you can’t really tell who made this. It becomes nothing after a while. There’s so many people that no one’s voice seeps through. It’s missing the auteur. There’s a director, there’s an animation director, there’s a designer, there’s a guy who created the original characters. It kind of loses what’s personal about it in a weird way. It’s the reason why animation isn’t written about like music. With music, I could name a million blogs, but with animation, there’s really not that many. You probably have no idea where to find an article about animation [laughs].

When I was in school, I was most influenced by student films. Because I knew this person drew every single frame. With something like Lilo & Stitch it’s like, I have no idea whose vision this was, whose thoughts these were. It’s like 12 business men probably started it off, and then passed on to 12 other dudes… who are worried about losing their jobs. When I watch TV, I’m like, does this show suck because the guy who created it is an idiot, or because everyone who works on it wants to go home early?

So deep. What’s interesting to you about character design with animation?
I guess it’s that you can create a character that has a life of its own. Like with Homer, any writer can grasp who he is and write for him and in his voice. They still make fucking Mickey Mouse cartoons. A cartoonist can die, but it doesn’t mean their characters disappear. It’s different than directing actors. I like the idea of creating something iconic or even a personality that’s iconic that lives on even after you stop working on it.

The idea of creating something that grows and expands outside of you.
Yes.

Outside of… your body.
Yes, outside of my body. That’s why I want to be inside Matt Groening. Don’t include that.

Still from “Teen Halloween”, written and directed by Sean. Watch it here.

Tryna steal my hat (get it here in The Hundreds’ Online Shop). You can check out Sean’s most recent work at foreversean.tumblr.com and listen to his new punk band Heller Keller here.

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