Pixars Brave

Animation Instructor

Patricia Waterman
// Animation instructor

Tell us about yourself Patricia, when and how did you get started in the 3D industry? What is your background in the industry and what are you presently doing now?

I have always seen myself as an artist and never wanted to do anything other than continue to do art. At an early age, I wanted to create animations, like I saw on TV, my favorite being Looney Toons. My mom, though, had the opportunity to work for Disney back in the 50's, and shared stories of less than desirable work environments and low pay. Back then, the work was monotonous, requiring the artists to ink and paint each cell one by one. It sounded very boring and I couldn't see myself drawing and painting cells one by one. So when I learned that I could make a living drawing and painting images for books and advertising as a "commercial illustrator", I set my sights on becoming one. Throughout my childhood, I was always drawing, especially the human figure, and character faces. I had these visions of being great, like Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci. When I was 16 years old, I learned about Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena, From then on, I was hooked. I could not even consider going anywhere else. The college experience proved to be a long and very difficult journey for me, since I had to pay my own way through. I worked in the food industry as a waitress, and as a bartender, lived on $2 a day for food, rode a bicycle to the college, and had absolutely no social life, due to lack of funds and time. Four years later, I had finally completed the program, graduating with my Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in Illustration.

Upon graduation, I worked for about a year in L.A. and decided it was time for a change. I thought it would be fun to live in San Francisco, which was rich in diversity, and big on the arts. The recession was being felt in L.A. during this time, but little did I know that it was a lot worse in San Francisco. Jobs were hard to come by, and the standard of living was high. Despite the financial hardship, it was an exciting, and artistically enriching time in my life. Due to the recession, good jobs were difficult to come by, so I teamed up with a friend of mine who was in sales, and we started an advertising company together. We did fairly well, especially considering that we had no start up money. With each of our efforts and one brand new Mac II ci, (we didn't even have a printer for the first 6 months!) we built an idea into a healthy business that afforded each of us a decent standard of living for years. After four years as a business owner, though, I found myself having to do a lot of things I did not care to spend my time doing, like payroll, bookkeeping, customer relations, etc., and wanted to be release from my other responsibilities and just "do art". I eventually, returned to Southern California, and met up with my friend, Teddy Yang, who years ago had started to learn how to use Alias 3D software. He was now working as a 3D artist for Warner Brothers. He encouraged me to learn 3D. I think I told him that I thought that it was too difficult for me to understand, but after some reassuring from him, I decided to look into it. Coincidently, not long after, a friend of a friend was starting a game company, called Big Grub in Irvine, CA.

After meeting with them, they agreed to allow me to come in during my spare time and try to learn how to use the 3D software. The first day I sat in front of the computer and started to create something, I was completely exhilarated. (Think I managed to somehow form a sphere into something more like a potato.) Although it was very difficult to learn, I could see the potential. I could see that if I could somehow learn how to use this tool, that there would be nothing I could not create! A few weeks later, the guys at Big Grub had concluded their negotiations with MGM studios, which would be funding their game, and they were ready to start hiring. I got hired by demonstrating my ability to draw and paint well. (Back then very few people knew how to use 3d software, so companies would hire traditional artists and train them.) My training period lasted about a month. We were each given a computer and the manuals and instructed to familiarize ourselves with the program. Once the month was up, we were to start working on the game. At Big Grub, we had the opportunity to model, texture, and animate our characters. A couple years later, I was approached by the Director of Digital Arts Department at the University of CA, Irvine. She wanted to offer a class in 3D, and asked if I could develop such a class, and teach it.

Although I had no previous experience in teaching, I was honored by the invitation and accepted her offer. This became the beginning of an intensive study period for me. It's one thing to practice a craft, and another to explain how to do it. From that time for about the next four years, I was reading 3D Studio Max books from cover to cover, and using 3D Studio Max seven days a week. I eventually ended up forming 5 3D courses for them, which became their digital 3D arts program. I saw teaching as a way of freeing myself from having to work the 9 to 5 job, (or 9 to 10, as was often the case when working for game companies.) My classes were offered at night, which freed up my days to work on developing my own business out of my home. I wanted to keep it small, since I did not want to have to deal with being an employer. The internet and e-mail allowed me to work with others remotely. From my website, and word of mouth, I was able to generate enough business to keep myself, and those whom I worked with, busy. In 2001, I was contacted by a professor at Santa Ana College who headed up their 3d arts program there. She was retiring after 32 years, and wanted me to apply for the position.

I was not interested in being a full time teacher, so I initially declined her offer to meet. She contacted me again, several months later and asked me to reconsider. My business was going very well, and I was making more money than I had ever earned, but the idea of having a guaranteed income was very attractive to me, as well as having a few months off each year to pursue my own personal projects. Furthermore, she shared stories about other professors who had managed to balance their businesses along with their teaching responsibilities. After our meeting, I decided to apply for the position. A few months later, I was hired as a tenure track assistant professor. Since starting, I have continued to stay busy with Waterman animation, but I no longer took on jobs just for the money. I now had the luxury to pick and choose my assignments. Lately, I have cut back on accepting outside work, in order to write a book for 3D artists, and develop an animated series I plan to market to the children's sector. I completed the book in August, and plan to complete the "pitch" for my children's series by the end of the year.

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