Alumni Update with Jeremy

For some people, creativity and logic don’t mix. But for others, they complement each other and lead to some pretty incredible things. For this week’s alumni update, I talked to Jeremy, who uses his studies in both illustration and computer science in the field of animation. Just think about it…without people like Jeremy Cantor who can think creatively and technically, we wouldn’t have Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, and other characters/projects that have shaped our culture.

Jeremy CantorDSC05624

Graduation Year/Major: Class of 1987, BFA Illustration, Computer Science minor

Current Occupation: Full-time computer animation & story instructor at Ringling College of Art & Design (previously worked as a computer animator and character “rigger” in the film and video games industries)

1) What was your favorite part about Marywood?

When I attended Marywood, the art department was pretty small, so everyone knew everyone. The resulting close-knit camaraderie between the students and faculty was probably my favorite part. And I had some great instructors, including Fred Brenner (figure drawing and children’s book illustration) and Dennis Corrigan (illustration).

2) Any advice for current art students at Marywood?

Do your best to make sure your work stands out from the crowd. Your goal for every assignment is for your piece to be the one that gets featured in next year’s catalog, or hangs on the wall to attract prospective students, or is used as an example when your instructor assigns the project next year (and beyond). Obviously, one way of achieving that goal is to strive for artistic and technical excellence, but also try to go above and beyond. Don’t just “phone it in” by satisfying the basic requirements of each assignment. Do something truly unique and creative. Add some self-imposed “extra credit.” For instance, if you’re painting a still life of a bowl of fruit, slice open the watermelon and make it drip and stain the table cloth. Or add a spider. Or a hovering spaceship outside the window. Of course, be sure to get your instructor’s approval to ensure that you don’t stray too far or bite off more than you can chew. But even if your idea is rejected, your ambition will not go unnoticed.

Do not discount the importance of professionalism. Your skills are what will get you hired, but your ability to meet deadlines and work well with others is what will keep you employed.

Also remember that your instructors have a lot more knowledge and insight than what can be covered during class time. Their experience is a tremendously valuable resource, so take full advantage of it while you can. Hang out after class and ask them for additional comments on your work. See if you can schedule one-on-one critique sessions during their office hours. Invite them to sit with you at the cafeteria, and then ask them to share tips, tricks, and anecdotes from their careers. Doing so will not only improve your own knowledge base, but will also help you to stand out from the crowd. Even if you’re not the top student in your class, you’ll be the one your instructor remembers (and probably even recommends) above all others.

3) How did your art education at Marywood help you in your career?

After graduating with a degree in illustration, I worked as a tee-shirt artist, a graphic designer for a sign company, a freelance illustrator, a storyboarder, and a video game artist/generalist, before ultimately “settling” into the role of computer animator (and “rigger”) in the film industry. And while, on-the-job, I rarely get to utilize the specific drawing and painting techniques learned in my Marywood art classes, all of the fundamental principles still absolutely apply: composition, perspective, silhouette, design, appeal, color theory, posing, balance, weight, depth, attention to detail, etc. Also, as a character animator, the importance of live figure drawing can’t be stressed enough, so I’m glad that I had a lot of those classes at Marywood.

4) What is your favorite part about your job?

I’m fortunate to be teaching at a prestigious animation school with extremely talented students, so my favorite part of my job is seeing the amazing work they produce. And if a particular story or animation actually improves as a result of my comments and critiques, well, that’s pretty much the most rewarding part of being a teacher.

5) Most people think of illustration as a very “left-brained”/creative field, and computer science as “right-brained” and technical. How do you mesh the two together to succeed in your career? Are you naturally more creative, technical, or a combo of both?

As a computer animator, and especially an instructor, I really have no choice but to mesh art and science in order to succeed, so I have to continuously exercise both sides of my brain. Fortunately, I enjoy both. Art is rewarding because it’s creative and fun, but programming is also satisfying because, unlike animation or painting, you actually know when your work is complete! A work of art rarely feels finished. You can always add or change something, especially if you show it to a teacher or a critic or your mom, who will give you their own opinions and suggestions. But programming a little tool or plugin can be a nice break from the subjective world of art, because when the code works, you’re done and you can go to bed!

I spent my first three years in college as a computer science major (while taking painting classes), but eventually switched schools to major in illustration at Marywood. At the time, I had actually regretted those years I had “wasted” learning all of that computer stuff, because my post-art-school plan was to be a traditional illustrator of children’s books. However, a few years later, when I started exploring computer animation (which was in its infancy at the time), the tools were extremely technical, documentation was limited, there were no classes on the subject, and of course, the internet didn’t yet exist, so the fact that I had actually taken all of those computer science and programming classes turned out to be crucial to my ability to learn the primarily “left brained” software that was available back then. Fortunately for current students, the tools are much more artist-friendly now.

Images courtesy of Jeremy Cantor.

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