What if?

This is Part 1 of 3. Part 2. Part 3.

I wasn't looking for a new job. Really, I wasn't.

This thing just fell into my lap -- the job opening for an animator at LAIKA/house had been available for several weeks by the time it was mentioned to me by my pal Tom Knott, recruiter for LAIKA. I met Tom at the Ottawa International Animation Festival several years ago when he and I were at the Animator's Picnic -- he glanced at my festival pass and saw that I was there under the auspices of Drawn! An older guy with a white goatee, he surprised me by saying that he's a big big fan of that site and that he checks it every day. He and I hit it off right away as he told me his history of being the festival coordinator for the Ottawa Animation Festival back in the 80's and working as recruiter for Warner Bros. during THE IRON GIANT. He then told me he was currently working as head recruiter for the newly-named LAIKA, formerly Vinton Studios. They were getting ramped up to do some major hiring for CORALINE, a stop-motion feature based off of Neil Gaiman's off-beat story about a girl who discovers an "other world" inside an old house. It was to be directed by NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS director Henry Selick (pronounced "Selleck" as in "Tom Selleck", by the way), who was debuting his new cg-animated short film, MOONGIRL at Ottawa that year.

At any rate, I kept in touch with Tom throughout the year, just to say hi and see how things were going for him and LAIKA, and to see if he was going to Ottawa again this year (this was 2006). After several weeks, Tom finally replied (he was a busy man) and said yes, he's going to the festival this year and in fact, LAIKA/house will do a special presentation of their work and how they do it. And oh, by the way, there's an opening for an animator at House, if you're interested.

It didn't even phase me. My first thought was, hey, that's cool that Tom'll be there at Ottawa this year and my second thought was, hey, that's cool that LAIKA/house is doing a presentation -- I'll be sure to check it out when I go. And that was it. No immediate reply or follow up.

A day or two passed and I didn't mention anything to Andrea. I think my initial thought was that because the position was for an animator and not animation director, it didn't really pertain to me. Nothing wrong title-wise, as I wouldn't mind stepping back a bit from directing to help out fellow directors -- but salary-wise? It could've been less than what I was making at Primal and I didn't want to mess with my current income considering that I'm supporting a family. It's a delicate matter when it comes to salary and budgets for a single income family and this was no exception.

When I finally did mention the position open to Andrea, without a pause she said, "Are you going to pursue it?"


"Sure, why not? Maybe something will come of it....you never know."

She was right. Why not? Why not pursue it? It wouldn't hurt to try and find out, right? Plus, if I didn't do anything about it, I would probably drive myself crazy further down the road, always wondering, "What if?" "What IF?" So I called Tom that evening to see what was up. He gave me the low down about the job -- even though the position was for animator, they were looking for someone with directing experience because they would then have them move onto director status once more jobs came in, and that they were definitely expecting to be busy for the upcoming year. Tom also gave me a brief overview of the 2D department and if I was interested in the job then he'll let the head of the department, Jan Johnson, know right away because they were already narrowing their search down to about three potentials. He then suggested that since Ottawa was coming up in two weeks, why not bring my resumé and demo reel to the festival and he'll then pass it on to Jan. Great, I said, no problem.

Although there was a problem. Three, actually. I hadn't updated my demo reel in six years. Gulp! My resumé was worse off: it hadn't been updated in TEN years. Yikes! Also, to make matters worse, my boss at Primal told me that I had to get all the animation for the Cocoa Puffs spot done before I leave for the fest. Eep! Needless to say, I had my work cut out for me for the next two weeks.

Somehow, I did it. I don't know how, but I was able to construct a brand new demo reel from scratch by editing it in After Effects and then burning it using iDVD (I had my brother-in-law re-edit one of his songs to use for the montage), scrapped my old resumé and created an entirely new one -- all the while trying to finish up all the scenes that were left on the current Cocoa Puffs spot I was directing. It was a very trying two weeks for me and looking back on it, I really don't know how I was able to pull it all off. I do remember being very stressed out by the converging of so many things at once. But how was I able to do it? Even under so much stress?

The promise of possibility. I think that that was my driving force, my motivation. What if?


  1. Congrats on the move to Portland! Wish I could have made the reunion. Where was I....ummm...somewhere in Panama. Update me with your new contact info. Later. Peter

  2. I love stories like this. I am looking forward to hearing more...

  3. Firstly, congratulations on your move to Oregon! It must be wonderful to have such a supportive family right behind you.

    Secondly, I love hearing stories like this. Everyone has one or (more likely) many moments in their lives where they look back and think "what if..." I'm glad that you're glad you took the plunge. Good luck! :)

  4. What a great post! I can't tell you how happy Amanda and I are for you, Andrea, and your family. Exciting times! Now, post the next part of this epic journey!

  5. very exciting ward! The story is awesome so far and God is good to bring you such an incredible gift.
    I'm experiencing lots of similar stuff since we moved. Still waiting for it to come full circle.
    Can't wait to hear the parts I don't know!

  6. All I have to say is that there are always times in your career when you look back and say "how the heck did I get all that done?" And the answer is very simple: Because you HAD to! That's the definition of a winner, Chester: someone who steps up to the plate KNOWING he has to hit a homer, swings for the fences and gets the job done. Passion and creativity without professionalism and discipline are meaningless. You're one of those rare ones who has the balance just right.

  7. Congrats Ward! I had no idea you guys had left Atlanta. We might be running into you soon; we are considering a move there in Jan. (long story) Email me when you have time!



  8. Wow, Robert, that's some comment there. I'm honored that you think that about me. Although in my mind I think I'm far from finding the right balance there, I'm doing my best each day to aspire to that sort of level. I'm trying.

    And everyone, thank you all for your nice comments. Very cool of you. I'm currently working on the second part of the story, so hang tight!

  9. It's me, Robert...I don't know what's wrong with my accoutn lately, so now I have THIS weird name! Anyhoo, Ward-e-mail me so I can e-mail you back....

  10. Ward
    I stumbled onto your site looking for '50s bomb culture pictures, very nice stuff. I write about jazz and its intersections with modernism, cold war culture, conceptual art, and am also an arts writer for the daily here (dance, music)--and a fellow Portlander. Welcome.

    If you're in the Pearl stop by the Armory (Portland Center Stage) and say hi--I'm there daily.
    Tim DuRoche

  11. It's amazing how that one little connection changed your whole life! And I hope for the better. Considering you haven't posted in the last few days, I'll bet that means Laika is keeping you busy! I hope your new assignments are interesting and exciting. Who would've known that when we both started at Primal in 2000, we'd eventually end up in these cool new cities! Isn't it great that our hard work has propelled us this far?

  12. thank you for letting me live vicariously through your exciting adventure
    pssssst, for mother's day......
    i just posted a contest on my blog.
    the prize is a complete outfit with shoes! enter your wife