Director Trifecta with Leisl Gallagher, Mike Barth and Sam Chou
Jam Filled recently wrapped up on three exciting TV shows and would like to introduce three unique talents working with Jam Filled in Ottawa and Toronto. Our own Jennilee Murray reached out to each director with an amusing, blow-by-blow Q & A.
Leisl Gallagher, Mike Barth, and Sam Chou sat in the director’s chair for Wellie Wishers, Final Space, and Kody Kapow, respectively. The shows couldn’t be more different, but all brought dynamic content and fun, professional challenges to our teams.
Grab a coffee, kick your feet up, and enjoy!
How did you get your start in animation? Did you always want to become an animator?
LG: I’m from the generation that saw “The Little Mermaid” and decided from then on that I wanted to be an animator! I was 11 years old at the time. After high school I went to Sheridan College and got my first job after my second year.
MB: Actually no. I was fully geared to be a programmer as I do enjoy the problem solving aspects of coding. But during one of my last years of high school I sat in front of a computer in class and stared at the screen for about an hour. Decided "Nope, this isn't for me" and immediately dropped the course and had to do 4 years of art classes in 1 semester to catch up! But I loved it, and once I realized that animation was something I could do, the passion never stopped and continued to build after that.
SC: I had loved drawing, comics and storytelling my whole life, so I thought I was going to be a comic book artist. I got into animation almost by accident. In my final year of high school my parents urged me to go to Algonquin College for their new multimedia and animation program. I instantly fell in love with the character performance aspect of animation.
What was your first creative job?
LG: Technically my first creative job was doing some animation in grade 8 for a friend’s brother in high school who wanted some animation done for a project. It was of a guy doing chin ups and it was supposed to show how the muscles work. I did the drawings and then he took a photo of each one and somehow got it onto a computer. I think that guy still owes me money actually…
MB: It was actually an Animation position in Ottawa - straight from college luckily enough. And before that it was just hard, dirty, physical labour in warehouses loading trucks all day to pay off my college tuition. But it taught me a lot about hard work, perseverance, professionalism and always pulling your weight for the team.
SC: I worked for a company called Fun Bag in Ottawa on “Ed, Edd and Eddy” (CN), then “Sniz and Fondue” (Nickelodeon). I was doing posing/layout/animation.
What style of art were you most drawn to when you were growing up?
LG: I was definitely a Disney girl for most of my childhood, until I discovered anime!
MB: Bob Ross... that guy can paint a tree.... a pretty little tree.
SC: My first love was American and Hong Kong comics. Batman was the first comic I ever read and it imprinted on me.
Do you have a favourite film or cartoon that influenced you in your teens?
LG: When I first saw Sailor Moon I was obsessed! It was the gateway to more anime and manga and I just consumed as much as I could!
MB: Not just teens, but it's always been Star Wars (the originals.. just had to clarify).
SC: My favourite films were Tremors, The Thing, Leon, Die hard. I wasn't a macho teen, so maybe these types of films appealed to me. My love for animation didn't blossom until late into high school. It may have started with Batman: The Animated Series. It was incredibly influential for me.
Where did you go to school for animation?
LG: I took Classical Animation at Sheridan College.
MB: I was the last group to go through Sheridan's 3 year classical animation program.
SC: I went to Algonquin College.
What is the biggest, baddest show you’ve worked on, to date?
LG: I loved working on The Bagel and Becky Show! The style and the humour were so awesome and fun. I learned a lot on it.
MB: Definitely Final Space! It was the most ambitious show I've been a part of, but also the most fun. It had the biggest challenges, but when it all came together it really was a spectacular project to be a part of.
SC: It's got to be Season 4 of Max Steel, titled Max Steel: Team Turbo. It was a balls-out action-packed series that had aliens, robots, zombies, and crazy explosive battles. That took a ton of work.
Do you have a cool/strange collection? What is it?
LG: I’m a big Sherlock Holmes fan. I have books, comics, toys, souvenirs from Baker St. in London, you name it, I probably have it.
MB: I have far too many pens at home that don't work anymore... Why do I keep them?
SC: I have a hacky-sack collection from around the world.
What do you love to do when you’re not directing in the studio? Hobbies? Passions? Side hustle?
LG: I’m currently trying to write a graphic novel. I want to get better and writing and visual development. I love digital painting! I also love baking. Mmmmm cakes!
MB: Anything that switches my brain off for a bit and brings me into another world is peaches.
SC: I love Muay Thai, BJJ, biking and indie comics.
What gets you up in the morning? What keeps you awake at night?
LG: My son! Literally though, I don’t need an alarm anymore, because he always wakes up around the same time every day. Other than that there is usually some idea brewing in my mind that I need to write down, or something I want to practise.
MB: If it's not my 4 year old son, or the constant looming deadlines of the show, then it's the challenge of bringing together a vision and improving the art form each step of the way, from department to department. I suppose the same things keep me up at night too.
SC: Short answer is my kids. They will wake me up in the morning and they will keep me awake at night. Long answer is, to tell stories that have not been told in animation. I’m drawn to the study of storytelling, what makes people laugh, cry or shriek in terror? Speaking of keeping me up at night, I’ve been reading some Japanese horror Manga...this stuff is beyond scary.
Who is your biggest mentor in the animation industry?
LG: Jamie [Leclaire] has taught me so much about storyboarding, creating humour and the ropes of directing. Also, Rebecca [Greenwood] over in the Setup department is awesome. She’s been in the industry for a long time and she has so many interesting stories to tell. She helps keep me in check when I’m in panic mode.
MB: Everyone I work with.. awwwwww :)
SC: I have a few mentors, the first being the Chiasson Brothers at Yowza animation (Claude and Roger Chiasson), I worked on three feature films under their tutelage. Chuck Gammage was like a father to me, he taught me how to direct and how to tell a story in a very short time. Chuck is not shy about what he likes and what he doesn't like, which was a constant ego check- which is a must in this industry
What do you find most rewarding about your career in animation? Most challenging?
LG: The most rewarding thing is that I’m working in a field that I enjoy and I can use my skills. The most challenging part is searching for your own voice when working on something that is not necessarily your vision. Raising a family while keeping a career is pretty challenging too!
MB: The most rewarding aspect for me, is variety. Nothing is ever repetitive in this industry and especially in a director position. Every scene has its own story to tell, and every scene can present challenges you've never dealt with before. It always keeps me thinking. Finding the best route. Finding the best way to tell that scenes story and how that scene plugs into the bigger picture. And all the while being conscious of the production schedule. Harmonizing many different forms of art and creativity into one final cohesive vision, is an absolute privilege and gift to call my 'job'.
SC: Animation is a challenge. There are many elements to it. Character animation alone has 12 complex principles on top of that, there is storytelling, the writing, edit, sound, designs, art direction, music, lighting, comp. That’s not even including production crew dynamics, pipeline and client notes. Putting it all together into a tight machine, that’s the challenge!
One of the most rewarding things is getting a pat on the back and being told “good job”” from the broadcasters. Also, if people love the show.
Do you have any words of advice to instill on aspiring animation students/illustrators?
LG: Be a good person to work with, and keep improving yourself. You’ll pretty much be learning for life so it’s good to be open to criticism.
MB: Never stop learning. Seriously... NEVER!
SC: 1. Keep doing what you do because you love it, there's no other reason to do anything besides passion.
2. If you fail, pick yourself up and keep going. Fail better next time and at a higher level.
3. Scrutinize your own work. Ask yourself, is this the best it can be? How can this be better?