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Meet Isaac Orloff

Today we’d like to introduce you to Isaac Orloff.

So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Thinking back on my journey to get where I am today, I realize how many chapters of my life have come and went to bring me to where I currently am. I am original from the New York area, born in Brooklyn but raised in New Jersey since as early as I can remember. I was lucky to be born into a very creative family having artists in both of my parents. I always knew I wanted to be an artist, so it was fully expected that I would go on to art school and pursue an artistic career of some kind. I never really found a true calling in art until later in my journey as an artist. Many artists have stories of shows or artists that inspired them from an early age. Surprisingly I never really gravitated to a certain genre until my high school days, where I fell in love with street art.

Being a skateboarder and explorer at heart, I fell head over heels into graffiti culture. The exaggeration, the colors and the wide variety of styles was absolute eye candy to an aspiring artist. This accompanied with the allure of an underground culture was very attractive and I devoted a lot of time to drawing in “black books” and quickly became sucked into every aspect of the culture.

Around this time, I started my official art career as a freshman at Maryland Institute College of Art, in Baltimore, Maryland. Many of my friends went to school in New York City but I wanted to spread my roots a bit so I elected to attend an art school just far enough away from home that I felt truly independent for the first time. I made it through my foundation’s classes and knew I wanted to major in illustration, but was still very unsure of what my future would look like as an artist.

Street art by nature, is an art form that demands 100% dedication in order to make a name for yourself. And even if you’ve made a name for yourself, there’s no guarantee that recognition will lead to anything that resembles a career. Unfortunately, another inevitable speed bump for any developing street artist is the run in’s with the law. Early in my college career, I found myself in big trouble with the law which brought my ability to partake in the art form that I loved so much to a screeching halt. At the time it was soul-crushing and difficult to handle. I had to find new friends and find new ways to spend my time. Art is how you express yourself as a creative and having to find a new outlet is a very difficult process that yields a lot of anger, frustration, and stress. Not to mention having to deal with my first and hopefully last experience in what I learned to be an unbelievably flawed and unfair legal system. At the time, this felt like the worst moment of my life, but looking back now, I am so lucky to have been set on a different path before it was too late.

In my junior year of college, I discovered entertainment art. It started with following the Avalanche Software blog on Blogger and waiting for John Nevarez’s monthly link postings. I quickly fell in love with the exaggerated shapes and energetic forms in entertainment design. All of the things I loved about street art were being applied to character, environment and narrative illustrations. I was immediately sold and I dove head first into developing a portfolio that would set me on a path for a career in entertainment design.

At the time the term visual development was not even on the radar as a viable career path coming out of the Illustration program at MICA. There were some game studios in the area, and I had one or two teachers that had some character design experience but by and large, I never had the heavily focused entertainment design schooling that so many programs offer on the west coast or online. Online classes weren’t really a thing yet, so I found myself reaching out to artists and trying to learn as much as I could on my own. After school, I had some small freelance gigs here and there but I mostly waited tables for a living until I landed my first full-time artist job at a local branch of the game company Zynga.

I worked for Zynga for a couple of years until I encountered the closure of our studio and was offered a chance to move west. For the longest time, I was a die-hard East coaster and swore I would never move to California. Though over time I realized that if I ever truly wanted to break into entertainment design, a move to the west coast was not only required…but the longer I waited, the harder it would be. And with this in mind, I had to make the extremely difficult decision to leave my family and all of my friends behind and fully commit to chasing my west coast dream.

I felt at home instantly in San Francisco, a city that to this day, feels like my home and will always be my favorite place in the world. I worked a few jobs at game companies, constantly working on my portfolio, waiting for a chance to make the jump to animation. After knocking on the door for nearly seven years, I finally got my first offer to work full time at an animation studio and I took it. Though again, I found myself needing to uproot my life in pursuit of my dream and this time was definitely the hardest. I never knew if I would get a chance like this again so I uprooted myself and my fiancé (then girlfriend) from our first apartment together, said goodbye to friends and a city I had no intention of leaving to pursue my dream of working in animation. And here I am, living in Los Angeles and I have been at Dreamworks Animation for over two years now.

Has it been a smooth road?
It has absolutely not been a smooth road. To become successful in a competitive field, It often requires great sacrifice. I truly can’t say if I had known the sacrifices that chasing a dream in animation would require If I would have made the same choices. I miss my family all the time, some times I only get to see them once a year and for someone who is very close to their family, this is heartbreaking. Working as an artist can be extremely rewarding, but it is not free of stresses. I have been lucky to have dodged 5 or 6 rounds of layoffs at companies I have worked for, but those times are hard for everyone. In what is a relatively new industry, there comes a lot of uncertainty and lack of security. No one really knows if it’s possible to keep working as an entertainment artist and have a family or a healthy life balance. There is a constant struggle to balance a demanding work schedule and a happy life. Sometimes It feels like I will never be able to take a step back and take a much-needed breather. I am hoping to work towards being a freelance artist that will allow me to see my family and live life as I see fit, which requires not being tethered to studio life in Los Angeles.

I am extremely grateful to have a family and a partner that has supported me throughout the many hurdles it has taken get to where I am today. I appreciate the sacrifices they have made for me to help me to get where I am today.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
As an artist, I specialize in Visual Development for animation. Visual Development is a very broad term, and it is used to describe a variety of work that goes into designing worlds that tell stories. Some days I might be designing props, other days I might be doing mood paintings. As an entertainment artist, we are forced to wear a lot of different hats and I think one of my greatest contributions to a project is that I can wear many different hats as needed. For myself, I love to draw and paint things that inspire me, which usually is environments with dramatic lighting or vehicles of all kinds. I love adventure vehicles and being outside and I will always find ways to infuse things that make me happy into my work.

One thing I love about animation is how collaborative it is. We work extremely close with other creatives every day and you have to be ok with sharing ideas and concepts and working together towards the greater goal. There is a lot of camaraderie in our tight-knit community and I love that. It isn’t about who you are as an artist, it’s about how you can help the team. I really enjoy being in such a creative and collaborative field where we can all inspire each other every day.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
LA is very unique in that whatever you are looking for, you will find it. It may be hard to find, but whatever you need, LA has it. There is a lot of opportunities here for people to grow their careers, and not just in show business. I have lived in a few major metropolitan areas and LA is the only city where I have encountered so many people that moved here specifically for work. There’s so much to explore here, food, architecture, entertainment… theres too much to do I don’t think anyone could ever run out of things to do here.

LA as a city is very hard on people. Many people come here to grow their careers, but not because they want to be here. LA has a resounding workaholic culture that burns people out. While we love what we do, I miss the laid back Bay Area lifestyle were taking time to travel and enjoy the world around you was more common than working all day and then freelancing all night.

On a personal note, I wish It were easier to enjoy the outdoors here. LA does have a lot of outdoor recreation, but most of it feels the same and the last place I find myself wanting to be on a Saturday afternoon is roasting on a dusty hike with no shade.

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