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CW: What is your current job description?
PNK: Animator, Director, Illustrator, and Animation Professor at the City College of New York and Kingsborough Community College -- both part of the City University of New York.
CW: How long have you worked in the animation industry?
PNK: A little over twenty years.
CW: You've mentioned in previous conversations that your parents were always supportive of your desire to be an artist. But when did you know that you wanted to be an animator? Was there a single defining moment?
PNK: Watching the Smurfs on TV on Saturday mornings really blew me away. I had no idea how that cartoon was made as I was 8 at the time, but I just knew that was what I wanted to do.
CW: What roles have you performed during your career in animation?
PNK: I started off as an inbetweener on a series of short films that John Dilworth of Stretch Films fame directed for Sesame Street. He then moved me over to take on scenes to animate, working directly off of layout that he handed directly to me in the tiny studio. When Courage the Cowardly Dog launched I was a prop designer and a Story Board revisionist on that show. I then went on to be a layout artist at MTV for shows like Daria. I’ve done character design and BG design too as well as storyboard and sheet timing.
CW: You have worked for studios and as an independent, which do you prefer and why?
PNK: I love working independently. With a slightly more flexible schedule I can be PilarToons and I can also teach which I am now equally passionate about, particularly at the college level.
Also, working independently I attract clients that more or less give me creative freedom to interpret their projects.
CW: You've stated that you're pretty busy working on jobs and bringing in more jobs, are you able to find time in order do more personal work?
PNK: Amending my previous answer: I am doing more personal work lately because I just started grad school this summer at the School of Visual Arts MFA Visual Narrative program. It is heavy on illustration and creative writing. In the next couple of years I will have illustrated a graphic novel and a picture book and a number of other really cool things.
I’m also in the process of developing a series of shorts geared towards girls.
CW: Let's go back to your time working for MTV Animation. You once told me a funny anecdote about how you drew yourself into the crowd scenes of Daria's "I Loathe a Parade". Did you have to get permission to do that or was it a little mischief that you played on the producers?
PNK: It was the producers on the show that came up with the idea to pad the show side characters with likenesses of Daria crew. There were only so many characters that the designers could come up with for dozens of kids walking through the halls of the school and scenes that take place in the town such as a supermarket or a sporting event or parade. So we had a model pack full of teen versions of the Daria crew as well as the generic kids and townspeople.
Editor's note: If you see a girl with short hair and red shirt in the Daria parade scene, that's Pilar! :)
CW: You've been branching out into illustration work. Is this a recent development in your career?
PNK: I’ve illustrated over 20 children’s books for companies such as Nickelodeon, Random House and Little Golden Books. I do character art for licensing having worked on the style guides for Frosty the Snowman, Pink Panther and various Warner Brother’s properties. All of the illustration that I have done has been commissioned work. I am working on releasing my own children’s book soon.
CW: You've experienced first-hand the ups and downs of the New York animation scene. In the past while working on Daria, you were also doing some work on the side, so when Viacom shut down MTV Animation, it didn't impact you as hard as it did others. Do you think it's important for animators to have a 'fall back' skill that they can draw upon during times when animation work is scarce? (Examples: illustration, storyboarding, coloring, special-effects, etc).
PNK: Yes, Illustration became my 'fall back' skill. Whenever animation work dried up for a time, I would fall back on illustration work. For the past 6 years teaching animation became a really useful side gig. Now lately, teaching animation is more than something to fall back on, it is a passion of mine, particularly at the college level.
|Pilar after the show with the Cybertronic Spree. 1
PNK: I’ve been attending OIAF since 1994 and I also attend local festivals in New York City of which there are many. Going to festivals is inspiring and it is a really great way to get out there and show your face at industry events. It’s not a guaranteed way to get work even at networking events, but rest assured you will come away feeling really inspired.
CW: Speaking of the importance of networking at festivals (and being at the right place at the right time), would you share about how you got to meet industry luminaries Jon Musker and Ron Clements?
PNK: I met them because I attended a screening of the Little Mermaid at the Bytowne. All of my friends went to a Laika presentation. Musker and Clements gave a small introduction and the movie commenced. When the movie ended I was standing in the nearly empty theater chatting with some people when I noticed way on the other side of the theater Clements and Musker were just standing there talking to about three people. Myself and a couple other people ran over and introduced ourselves to them and they were both lovely and didn't seem to be in a rush at all. They took their time chatting with us until someone came and whisked them away to another event. Later that evening everyone else that I knew stood on line for an hour to meet them. I managed to take my picture with Jon Musker
|Pilar, posing at the NightOwl party's live-drawing session. 1
PNK: Having visited the Pixar studio a couple months ago I met so many amazing artists that were women who were story artists, directors, animators etc…
I can’t say with authority that there are more women that are in animation now than another time but I am pleased with the number of women that I am meeting in the industry
CW: If your daughter said that she wanted to work in animation, what advice would you give her?
PNK: Draw, draw, draw! Practice drawing and never stop. Like my mentor John Dilworth told me “draw drawdrawdrawdraw!”
My advice would also be to not let whether you work in a studio or not define you as an artist. You are an artist whether you work in a studio or not.
CW: What is the most important thing that authority figures (parents, teachers, professors, etc.) can do to encourage girls who are considering a career in animation?
PNK: Tell them they can do it!
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In addition to her teaching, Pilar is also the owner of her own boutique animation studio called Pilartoons where she conducts most of her freelance work. I encourage everyone to take a look at her comic strip "Just Pilar", Pilar's humorous take on her life experiences as a grad student. And before you go, I also recommend checking out some of Pilar's freelance animation work on the Kabbalah Toons series that she directed for chabad.org (along with husband and Sound Engineer Ivan Katz) -- a series of animated shorts designed to teach concepts about science, Judaism, and the Torah to kids.
1. Photos copyright Charles Wilson.
2. All other photos, illustrations, and videos copyright Pilar Newton-Katz (PilarToons LLC) and used with permission.