The Top 10 Most Influential Living People in Animation

From time to time, you see lists for the most influential people in animation. However, a lot if not all of them include those of us that have departed this world for the next and in any case, Walt Disney is always on top. So today, I present to you the top 10 most influential living people in animation (in not particular order).

Bill Plympton

Being hip before it was cool, Bill has been an independent since before I was born! To be an independent animator is to be one hard working fellow. Continuously putting out witty and serious works, Bill is an inspiration not only for his films, but also for his master classes, festival and society appearances and the blog he co-writes with Pat Smith. All in all, Bill shall continue to be an influence on animators for a long time to come.

Ed Catmull

Let’s cut to the chase; CGI animation likely wouldn’t be around in the form it is today if it weren’t for Ed Catmull. A lot of people will give John Lasseter the credit, but it was Ed who saw the potential for computer animation long before anyone else. Today, Pixar sets the bar in terms of animation quality against which all others are measured. If that isn’t influence, I don’t know what is.

Matt Groening

Do you like primetime animation? Good, because while Groening might not be entirely responsible for the idea, he is certainly a large part of the execution. His success with The Simpsons has spawned King of the Hill, Futurama, Family Guy and just about every other attempt at televised mainstream animation that you can think of.That’s not small feat.

Gene Deitch

Just celebrating a birthday last week (as I write this), Deitch has worked on Tom & Jerry as well as Terrytoons although perhaps most notable (and the reason he’s here) is his work for UPA which continues to influence animation to this very day.

Glen Keane

After the 9 Old Men came Glen Keane, who is very much integral to the Disney look over the last 20 years or so. His art has helped shape many a young animator’s portfolios and he has been an essential link between the old Disney and the new. Although he has departed the Mouse House, it’s safe to say that Keane’s influence will continue to be felt around Burbank for decades to come.

Fred Seibert

Although Nicktoons kicked it all off, creator-driven TV shows didn’t get into full swing until Fred helped launch the Cartoon Cartoon series on Cartoon Network while head of Hanna-Barbera. Smash hits like Dexter’s Laboratory, Johnny Bravo and the Powerpuff Girls are still viewed with awe. After those hits, Fred has continued to crank them out through the What A Cartoon and Random! Cartoons which launched even more hits for Nickelodeon (including my personal favourite). Moreso than that, Fred has been an innovator, moving into the online world with the prototypical series The Meth Minute 39.

Hayao Miyazaki

This one kinda goes without saying doesn’t it.

Bruce Timm

Think of a modern superhero cartoon. I bet you thought of one that Bruce Timm has his hand in didn’t you? If not, you can be sure that his influence exists somewhere down the line. Ever since Batman: The Animated Series hit the TV screens, it has been night on impossible to escape the look of Timm’s DC animated universe (DCAU). He’s still going strong so anticipate his influence to continue.

Tomm Moore

A young man in relative terms but The Secret of Kells went above and beyond what everyone expected and introduced a whole generation of people to Moore’s lush visual 2-D style. Although it isn’t seen very much yet, expect to see a lot of Moore’s influence in the years to come.

Ray Harryhausen

Still kicking around and remaining a considerable influence on special FX and stop-motion animation even in the face of blue-screens and CGI. Ray Harryhausen’s long career establishes his place on the list simply by being so long! In addition he worked on pioneering films such as Jason and the Argonauts and The 7th Voyage of Sinbad; films that continue to be studied today.

Why Animators (and You) Need To Create A Network

Last night I attended a networking event put on by Loyola University here in Baltimore, where I currently undertake an MBA course of study. Now I’m not one to readily go out and ‘network’, I can be tremendously shy and nervous at events like these, however, I did find last night a great help insofar as persuading me that I need to attend more events like this (if that makes sense).

The most important lesson I took away from the evening was that relationships can matter a whole lot when it comes to business. Although this is kinda sad in a way, it is the truth, and thankfully, there is plenty you can do about it to help yourself get where you want or need to go.

For animators, creating a professional and personal network should be one of their highest priorities. You’ll likely already have one from school, but it is important to create one outside of that, either from the neighbourhood you live in, organisations like ASIFA or the Animation Guild, a drawing class, or even just the folks you work with.

One of the points that was hammered home last night was to build and maintain relationships. One of the panelists put it like this:

It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.

That’s a great quote and pretty much sums up how you can determine your place in the labour supply pool. If no-one knows you, then there’s a good chance that you can become isolated professionally and that can have detrimental consequences when it comes time to look for a job or even climb the career ladder.

ASIFA-East President and one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met, David Levy, often mentions networking over on his blog, Animondays. His reason is more practical than most. As a New Yorker, the tight-knit animation community flourishes because of personal relationships. There are no really large ‘faceless’ corporations operating in the city so a fair amount of the time, he is working directly with an individual or small studio. In such a situation, personal relationships can (and do) count for an awful lot. Animondays has plenty of advice so check it out (if you don not do so already).

Relationships are also something that can slip away easily. I know myself that I am a horrible communicator. If you ever get an e-mail from me, I can come off as whiny, needy, hyperactive or just plain ignorant. If you don’t receive a reply from me, I more than likely neglected to take the 5 seconds to reply.

I know these are things I need to work on, and it can be hard when you’re working or going to school full-time to justify spending an evening or afternoon schmoozing with other people in the field. However, once you create a relationship, it is imperative that you take the small amount of time to maintain it. E-mails now and then, or even the occasional lunch can work wonders.

However, it would seem that the benefits are well worth the time put in, and like a couple of the panelists were saying, the more people who know you’re out of work, the greater the chance they know someone with an open position that needs to be filled.

So quit making excuses for yourself. That TV show or computer game can wait this evening. Head on out there and meet someone in the same boat as yourself! You’ll be surprised at they great kinds of people you’ll come across.