Garrett Jackson is a 2D animator and comic creator, as well as Office Manager-extraordinaire of Frederator Studios and the Costume Quest crew. He may juggle a million tasks to keep Frederator’s lights on and Keurig cranking, but Garrett still takes time every day to create, coming up with and drawing awesome characters and stories. Garrett’s experience is testament to our common ode: you needn’t go to a mad $$ school to work in animation! Hard work, passion, skillz, and being a good person does the trick. Not to mention, a gig at the mystical watering hole of cartoon people: the Burbank Trader Joe’s…
When did you decide that you wanted to work in animation?
Super super super young. I’ve been drawing as long as I could hold a pencil. But I distinctly remember watching Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers, and thinking, “I love this. I want to make something like this so other people feel this too.”
Sugary sweet grossness, but from then on I knew I wanted to work in cartoons. I really grew up on Disney afternoons: The Wuzzles, Ducktales, TaleSpin.
What is your #1 goal in animation?
I guess just, make a show that people like to watch! Growing up, I taught myself traditional animation, mostly by watching behind the scenes specials. In high school I started taking classes, some at the Animation Guild in Burbank, and at Santa Barbara City College too. On weekends I’d drive down to Burbank from Santa Barbara for class, and came to really like the town – and want to be close to the studios – so I moved. It wasn’t really until I started living down here that I realized, “Oh crap… nobody animates by hand in America anymore.” So I needed to find new ways to use my skills in 2D and drawing. I started looking more into storyboarding and concept art, while still making my own shorts.
So you hand-make animated shorts? What about?
Different things! The one that’s probably most people’s favorite is called “Going Crackers”. It was inspired by me living alone, hanging out with myself.
How did you meet Frederator?
About 5 years ago, my cousin told me that Frederator was looking for pitches for shorts. So I emailed Eric (Homan, our VP of Development) and set up a pitch. I actually wound up pitching to Disney first, and then to Frederator a week later.
How’d you get in the door at Disney?
Totally by accident! I was working at Trader Joe’s and a lady came into my line, and we were chatting about our weekends. I told her I’d been working on a pitch for Frederator, my first ever. And she pulled out her business card and said, “Why don’t you come pitch to me too? I’m the Head of Development over at Disney TVA.” And I was like, “Okay, whaaaaat?” So I went and pitched some bibles there – I didn’t what I was doing – but I did get to see the original Gravity Falls and Tron: Uprising stuff. I remember watching the Tron clips and thinking, “This has to be the most expensive cartoon I’ve ever seen.”
And what was the project, your first pitch to Frederator (& Disney)?
It was called “Space Mon Go Home”. It was kind of Tamagotchi inspired, about aliens that invaded a town, but only the kids could see that they were aliens. The parents just saw them as weird pets. So we talked about that idea and I told him about a couple others, like one called, “Oh Shit! Monsters”. And he was like, “What’s that? I like that name.” So I came back later to pitch a board for “Oh Shit! Monsters,” which was about two dudes who are just trying to make sick beatz, but keep having to fight giant monsters. But they record their battles and use the audio as sound effects for their sick beatz.
Sounds pretty dope. So then what happened?
Life happened, I guess! We kind of dropped off, and I was distracted with working on other things. I didn’t pitch again for a really long time. Then I met Pen Ward at Trader Joe’s.
Goodness gracious. The people you meet at Trader Joe’s.
Yeah! He came through my line one night and I recognized him, and he was like, “Cool! I have recognizability”. And I told him that I’d seen him at an art show and am a fan of Adventure Time, and congrats on his success. About a week later he came in again and remembered me. He asked what I was up to and invited me to a Drink and Draw. That’s where I met Natasha (Allegri, creator of Bee and PuppyCat). She was super nice and drew in my sketchbook and stuff. Pretty soon after that I became her assistant. I would come in two days a week to help her out with stuff. From there, she asked me to co-write the Bee and PuppyCat comics with her, so we did the first two together.
That’s so cool! You’re published!
Yeah! At that point I’d left Trader Joe’s and had been working at the Lego Store. The girl who worked the front desk at Frederator left to go to DreamWorks. I’d been burning the candle at both ends – working 7 days a week for months. I was powering through, but my bosses at Lego were like, “Go pursue your art stuff! We love having you here, but follow your dreams!” When I finally turned in my 2 weeks, they were like, “We expected you to do this a long time ago”. So I took over the full time reception job here.
And around that time I started pitching again. I’d never really thought about having my own show – the stuff I’d pitched before, I’d only thought of as shorts. But hanging out with Natasha and Pen, they both thought I’d be good at having a show. I was like, “I’ve never thought about doing that, do I have to go to school, or just… figure it out?” I just started figuring it out, and working on series ideas.
What were those ideas?
The first was called “Dough Pocket”. I came up with it while watching anime with Natasha, something with ridiculously beautiful food – which is all anime, really, the food always looks delicious. I came up with this idea about a guy who has his own restaurant where all the chefs have magical powers. But they don’t have control over them, so they’re constantly causing havoc and tom-foolery.
The second idea was “Dead Beats” about a pair of detectives in the 80s. I actually became so enamored of it that I took a break from pitching to make it as a web comic. I put that on hiatus last year, and started working on 6 other ideas. My goal for 2018 is to pitch once every quarter.
When do you find time to work on your ideas?
Any old time! I finally got a Cintiq last year. Before I’d just draw at work, during my downtime in the front office. Having a Cintiq at home made it a lot easier to work on stuff there. So I draw around the clock, really.
Since you aim to be a creator, do you think it’s better that your job lets you work on your projects – rather than an art job working on other people’s?
Maybe! I’ve thought about that before. I remember early on when I was Natasha’s assistant, I’d talk with a lot of people at Drink and Draws who were super burnt out. It was kind of discouraging. Like, cartoons were just their job—there was no magic in them anymore. It was such a bummer. Maybe it is that: not being able to express their own creativity, and only working on other people’s shows day in day out. I don’t know. I hope it doesn’t happen to me! But I mean, growing up doing traditional animation, I’d draw the same character 1000 times to get like, a minute of animation. Making my own shorts hasn’t burnt me out yet, so that’s a good sign!
Do you have a favorite among your shorts?
Most of them are more like animatics, because that’s just the easiest way to get the idea out. Probably the most fleshed out one I’ve done, ironically, I made in one night. I made it for Pen: he tweeted some drawings and was like, “Hey, does anybody know how to make games in Flash? I want to make a game out of this.” And I was like “Darn it, I know Flash really well, I’ve used it forever, but I didn’t know how to make a game”. But I got inspired to make his drawings into a short. It was easy, because the designs and the frames were already done. It’s called “Pen Ward’s Super F-Yeah”.
Delightful. What are your favorite cartoons or other stuff?
My favorite cartoons are Ducktales – the old and the new, Gravity Falls, because I love spooky stuff, and Rick and Morty, ‘cause I like sci fi. Also, The Real Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters in general is just the best thing ever to me. My favorite genre blend is horror and comedy. Ghostbusters and Hellboy are big inspirations – especially for “Dead Beats”!
Thank you for the interview Garrett, and sharing your awesome work! See you like, tomorrow, probably!