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Art & Life with Sam Ancona

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sam Ancona.

Sam, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I liked drawing a lot as a little kid: cartoon characters, spaceships, the usual kid sorta stuff. My parents were really encouraging of my love for drawing, too. Once I was in high school, a friend, Tiffany Ford (who’s now an amazing artist), excitedly told me about this arts program she had been to: CSSSA. With guidance from my high school counselor, I applied with some of my drawings and got in! Man, I had a blast. I thrived as our instructors challenged me to improve my art while being surrounded by a bunch of kids that loved animation like me. While drawing Dragon Ball Z characters as a kid, I had been pretty sure of my career: animation. By the time CSSSA ended, I was completely certain. I started taking life drawing classes and building up my portfolio for college applications. I ended up going to California College of the Arts in Oakland. I learned loads under the wings of some amazing folks from Pixar and Tippet, among other places. I wasn’t the most talented, but with enough time and practice I got the hang of it and forged some great friendships.

Soon after I graduated, my dad sent me a blurb from LA weekly about a guy with an animation studio that made marketing videos. I emailed him and landed an internship a month after graduating. The pay was zero, but I was really, really fortunate to have my folks let me live with them for the first six months. The studio was tiny, so I wore lots of hats and did design, animation, editing- even sound design, though I liked animating characters best. Putting together multiple pieces of the animation puzzle was fun, and I managed to turn the internship into a full-time job. I made some incredible friends while working there, but I felt the need to move on after 2 and a half years. I went to a media startup where I honed my chops even further and made more good friends. Unfortunately, the startup shifted gears over a year into the job: they were booting full-time animators and suddenly I was laid off. I was shocked; I hadn’t been working at the most prestigious of studios, but I had always been consistently employed. Now, I had no job. At the same time, I had already been planning for an overseas trip for months. Thankfully I stuck to it, went anyways, and had an incredible time.

I came back ready to start freelancing, and then my career took off! Except… it didn’t. I came back home to zero work and zero income. For months. It was hard to deal with, both financially and emotionally. I had plenty of thoughts along the lines of “maybe I should just quit this and go into something more normal.” I had never been the best in my class, after all. At the same time, I was taking a storyboarding course, and it kept me excited. I also saw that I had been holding myself back as a full-time employee: I had settled for the work that I could get, instead of aiming for the work I wanted. I didn’t think I was good enough. Of course, that was silly; I definitely had what it took to “make it,” I just needed to really try for it. So, I resolved to work for animated television. I finally got some freelance in the meantime. And then more. Just about a year after I had been laid off, I started working on my first TV show after a friend recommended me. It was great! I got very, very lucky, in that the show was genuinely special and its leadership and crew were good folks who knew what they were doing. The show ended towards the end of last year, and since then I’ve been doing freelance and hunting for my next TV gig while working on some personal projects. I see now that my career isn’t a straight line angled up, but a zig-zag. I’m determined to keep riding that zig-zag angle upwards.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I make animation! My career focus up until now has been character animation: usually, that means taking already established character designs and bringing them to life by having them move and emote through a scene. I’ve also done plenty of character designs, background designs, some motion graphics animation, and storyboards too. Boards are something I’ve really grown to enjoy, and I’m seeking to move my career more in that direction. For myself, I’ll make very short animations from start to finish, and I really enjoy making everything coalesce.

As far as process, I’ll oftentimes start drawing in a sketchbook. After that initial stage, all the work happens digitally on a computer with a large array of software and a special screen that lets me draw right into the computer program I’m using. Depending on the process, I’ll storyboard in one program, design in another, and animate in a third one! So software literacy is key to working quickly. Of course, knowing software doesn’t substitute for knowing what you’re making and why so super solid foundations in art and animation are foremost.

As far as why I do what I do, it comes down to the love of drawing and creating I’ve had since childhood. I’m seeking to keep that flame of excitement alive. Of course, I don’t just draw as a serious hobby, I’ve made animation into my career. I think that’s a more difficult path to choose when it comes to finding creative satisfaction; in order to make money, compromises have to get made. The push and pull between needing to make a living and creative expression is something I’m very much in the middle of figuring out. I’d imagine that balance will shift back and forth over time, and I’m ok with that.

Lastly, as far as takeaways, I simply want audiences to connect with what I make. I definitely have stories to tell and larger, more complex ideas to put across, too. But at the end of the day, it comes down to just sharing a feeling and making each other feel a little less alone.

What would you recommend to an artist new to the city, or to art, in terms of meeting and connecting with other artists and creatives?
Connecting with other artists is really important! It’s how you stay inspired, solve problems, and get work. I don’t know how good this advice is going to be – I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by lots of fellow creative folks ever since college.

I’d say stay friends with your peers in college – you’ll definitely be getting work through them (and it’s also just good to stay friends). LA is a huge city, and there’s something for every kind of creativity here. Find events (even if they’re far) that are about the art that you like and go! It can be a little awkward talking to strangers if you don’t know anyone at events, but there’s bound to be at least one person you can connect with. If you’re in a work environment that’s creative, make some friends there, too. That’s super important – these are folks that don’t just know you but know your work. They can vouch for you when future opportunities come up.

Also, use the internet! I’m not so hot at it, but I know lots of folks make connections (and get jobs) by posting their work up on social media and having it shared around. Even if no jobs come from it, I think putting work up online is an awesome way to directly engage with your audience.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
The best way to see my work is just over at my website, samancona.com. After that, visiting the ol’ social media links is the way to go. I’ll occasionally submit an animation to Loop de Loop, so whenever they have a screening in Los Angeles (usually it’s every other month, or so), you can see a bit of my work there, too. Hell, Loop de Loop is a lot of fun and you should check it out regardless! As far as support, if you enjoy what I make, share it around the internet (with attribution, of course)!

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Andrew Greenstone

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