Check out www.VFXRates.com
Jason Scheier’s Links:
On this Podcast, Allan McKay interviews Jason Scheier, a Conceptual Illustrator who has worked with a number of studios including DreamWorks Animation, Warner Brothers Feature Animation and Walt Disney Imagineering. His projects include Kung Fu Panda, Rise of the Guardians, The Croods, Battlefield 4 and many others.
A graduate of CalState, Fullerton, Jason has also studied media arts and animation at the Art Institute of California and entertainment design at the Art Center College of Design. He brings his strong instincts for design, composition, color, and lighting and his experience in cinematography to his passion for virtual environment creation.
He has also taught at the Art Center College of Design, Brainstorm School, Concept Design Academy, Laguna College of Art and Design, and Computer Graphics Masters Academy.
Episode 75 – Interview with Jason Scheier
Welcome to Episode 75. I speaking with Jason Scheier who has worked for DreamWorks, Warner Brothers, Disney, you name it! He’s worked on a lot of cool projects from Rise of the Guardians all the way through Battlefield 4, and lots of other really cool projects. A really amazing Concept Artist!
Let’s dive in!
[-1:16:52] Hey! This is Allan. Just a quick thing to check out: www.vfxrates.com. This is a website that I created to solve a massive problem that we all have: What should we be charging? This is the giant mystery that we all have and most people feel very uncomfortable talking about what we should charge as a freelance rate. And the worst part is when we go apply for a job and if we ask for too much, we risk alienating the employer and never getting that call back. Whereas we play it safe and ask for too little, we not only get taken advantage of, but on top of that, we leave a lot of money on the table, which potentially over a span of a few years, can add up to 10’s of thousands of dollars.
[-1:16:07] So this is chance for you to go to the website www.vfxrates.com. Put in your city, your experience, your discipline, software, little things that are important, to figuring out what you should be charging as your base rate when you’re talking to an employer. This is based on a lot of experience, but more importantly, it’s based on the braintrust of the industry experts from different fields that we’ve pulled together to collect a very accurate way to generate what you should be charging.
[-1:15:39] The best part is not just what you should be charging — but what you could be charging by tweaking a few things: how you present yourself, building a brand, learning to negotiate better. Also, there are factors like building an irresistible reel, learning to approach employers the correct way; learning how to network. I want to share all of this information for free! Go to www.vfxrates.com — and find out what you should be charging for your hourly VFX rate.
[-1:15:10] This Episode is with Jason Scheier who’s pretty awesome. I loved doing this Episode. I haven’t met or spoken with Jason before this. I’ve mentioned this in the last Episode: This reminded me a lot of Ash Thorpe in terms of someone who is really inspiring, really hard working, who manages to do so much through pure passion, dedication and hard work; and a lot of crazy talent as well (www.allanmckay.com/56). Jason has a diverse background. He’s worked on Battleship 4, Guardians of the Galaxy. He’s worked for Warner Brothers, DreamWorks, Disney.
[-1:14:28] And the cool thing is: I’ve really liked the fact that I had figured out what I wanted to talk about initially. We pretty much threw that out of the window and dove into some cool stuff. I found this to be pretty inspiring, just the way he’s approached his life, his career, just a really genuine person and artist. I hope you get a lot out of it. Let’s rock this out.
[-1:13:46] Lastly, if you want to check out the show notes, just go to www.allanmckay.com/75. Lot of great quotes and links to what we’ve discussed.
[-1:13:26] Allan: Thanks again for doing this! Jason, do you mind giving a quick introduction and tell us a bit about yourself?
Jason: Yeah, man. I’ve been an artist for a very long time now. I feel like I started when I was a kid. Most artists do these talks and say they started when they were a child, drawing with crayons. That’s pretty much the same for me. Which is why this is a really good question. As far back as I could remember, I drew everyday from my imagination. So that was kind of cool, just being able to create my own IP’s with my brother.
I have an identical twin brother. And when we were younger, we would draw together. We would play Lego’s and we were always creating. We were kind of obsessed with drawing together, which gave [me] a competitive edge for the rest of my life. As I got older and older, that competitive edge never died. I always want to create and outdo him. Later on, my brother went into medicine. He has a 3-dimensional, really technical mind. He was always a better artist than me. I was a little sloppier.
Until I got to high school. That’s when I pursued art seriously. I’ll never forget my first drafting class, when I had to use rulers and measurements, learn perspectives. Ceramics class helped me discover different mediums, transfer them into different forms. And then instead of following directions and make pottery, I would create buildings and make creatures. My freshman teacher really encouraged me.
[-1:11:14] Allan: That’s really cool!
Jason: Yeah, man! You know how you meet different mentors along the way? She was my first mentor. She was an art teacher at the Art Center in Pasadena. And I was always terrified of that school and didn’t think I would make it there. But she kept telling me that’s something I could do. I never really went after it. Instead of discouraging me, she encouraged me and that made me pursue my career in entertainment design, since freshman year.
After high school, I studied at CalState, Fullerton, where I studied foundation drawing and sculpture, and painting. So I just did a lot of painting and drawing. Tons of it! 3D work, too. I was there only for a year until I heard that there was a media arts program that got started at the Art Institute of California in Orange County.
[-1:10:11] Allan: Man, you’re getting the full tour of duty in SoCal.
Jason: Exactly. I felt like I wanted to try as many junior college and meet as many teachers as I could while I was still young. A lot of people I knew would go into their final focus right after high school and that was it. I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself. I wanted to study as many art forms as possible. I was studying ceramics, and little bit of actual fine arts painting. I met two mentors there. I studied with a minimalist Jay Sagen, which is very different from what you and I do. It was more of textural part of the canvas that inspired me. He literally called buckets of black as “buckets of death”, and buckets of red paint — “buckets of blood”.
[-1:08:24] Allan: That’s kind of morbid.
Jason: That is kind of morbid, but as a young artist, I was drawing weird shit too. It was more than just gremlins. That teacher helped me loosen up. He was a great mentor! He passed away last year, and left behind a huge legacy. From then, I met Moira Hahn. She is a Japanese water colorist. She’s white, but she’s the most Japanese white lady you’ll ever meet. She’s obsessed with samurais.
Learning how much she knew about Japan got me down that path, and how much she knew about the anthropomorphic qualities of yokai. The old ghost stories and folklore sipped into my art later on. I didn’t want to take from my teacher, so I just watched her create these pieces. My mentality is — I’m always learning. I never really fucking know everything. I think everyone needs to humble themselves. They think they’re already masters. I don’t think of myself as that. I want to be 90 years old and still learning.
[-1:05:02] Allan: Student of life.
Jason: Yeah, exactly. Student of life. [From there], I ended up studying animation and learning from Art Leonardi who drew The Pink Panther. He was a traditional 2D animator. Then I went into 3D animation and I was in love. The stuff you can do with visual effects, I was learning Maya. I pushed my skills into traditional tools. I had a bit of an edge over the other guys. It helped me a lot, understanding sculpture and how things work from inside out.
After [school], I thought, “What do I do?” I thought I was going to be a 3D environment artist. All these guys coming out of AI were doing.
[-1:03:46] Allan: How old were you at that point?
Jason: I was 26. I was a late bloomer.
Allan: I think that’s fucking cool! You weren’t in that race of getting your foot in the door. I love the fact that you were able to take your time and appreciate art, and learn all these different media. It’s going to make you a better artist. It’s going to give you a better perspective and all these things that would benefit you later. I love that!
Jason: I didn’t want to rush into anything. It wasn’t a cop-out. I did study medicine too. I thought I would go into the illustration side of it. My dad is a doctor. He said, it’s all been done. I was always drawing in my biology classes. My teacher would say, “Dude, you’re so good! You shouldn’t be here.” That pulled me out of that class.
When I was 14, I started working. I worked at McDonald’s, Taco Bell, UPS, all these crazy jobs, just to get so many different views of the world. My mom is an OB/GYN. My brother is an anesthesia nurse. I was the black sheep of the family. My dad was actually really upset at me. He was constantly quizzing me on biology. He didn’t really believe in me until I got my first gig. Now he’s super proud of me! My mom was always the one rooting for me: Do anything you want and go crazy with that. My bro was the same way.
What about you, Allan? Did you ever get to a dark place and felt like you couldn’t do it, you were feeling stuck?
[-59:33] Allan: Yeah, every day. I’ve spoken a lot about that. It’s only been in the last couple of years. I started working when I was 14. There was a bit career spike and then — nothing for a good year and a half. For me, it was 24 hours trying to get out there. I feel like for the longest time, I had to prove something. I was ready to give up. I will say that when my career was going well — I was 16 — I quit to go work at KFC because all of my friends had jobs at McDonalds and all these food chains. I wanted to have the life my friends had. I do think you get to appreciate that side of life. 3D industry can be pretty cushy if you want to take that route. But if you want to go further and push yourself, it aids you. You’ve got to work hard!
Jason: You actually sound like you’ve been through a lot of the same pitfalls that I have. Like right out of school, no one was hiring me. My art fell on deaf ears. In my head, I was ready. It was a hard time for me. [I decided I had to go] back to school. That’s when I started studying at the Art Center. I was already drawing a lot so entertainment design was a good fit for me. And that’s when Scott Robinson was still there. He is a really amazing foundation designer. He suggesting putting me in a Master’s Program. He put me under Grad Industrial Design programs. I studied night and day. I created a new portfolio, deleted everything on my hard drive from the old school.
I heard this analogy of being stranded on a buoy attached to rope. You can either choose to pull on it really hard, or you can let it float. I chose to let it float. I waited for things to hit me. My first job was for this virtual reality company, back in the day, called Evolve.
[-54:00] Allan: Was that in the 90s?
Jason: It was in 2007. The very early days of VR. It was the second coming of VR when the technology has caught up with the idea. That was cool! They made me the lead Concept Artist. I did jobs for NBC Universal, Honda and Saab (when Saab was still around). Lot of cool really tiny gigs. I got to do themed architecture in a virtual reality space. That got me into video games. My friend was at Shiny Entertainment. They partnered up with Collective and they called themselves Double Helix. People started hearing my name and 6 months later I got the job at DreamWorks.
I forgot that when I was shotgunning my artwork out there, I gave my portfolio to DreamWorks Animation at Siggraph. I never heard from them. Six months later they called me [in for] an interview. I was shaking in my pants, it was so exciting. I told my job I was sick, went to the interview. The first guy I interviewed with was David James and he’s been the Production Designer for Road to El Dorado, Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas, and all these [other films]. He was designing Monsters vs. Aliens at the time. He said, “We love your portfolio. Where did you come from? You’re like an enigma.” It was really flattering.
And then another guy came in the room named Hameed [Shaukat]. He is producing House of Cards now. He was doing Kung Fu Panda at the time and he told he would fight for me. He wanted me on his show. I got pulled to that show. I was really respectful [to my employer at the time], I gave them a month’s notice. They were really cool about it. When I finally landed at DreamWorks, that’s when my career started to explode.
[-49:59] Allan: That’s really cool! I love that. I always find there is so much you can learn. After 5 years in the industry, I went to work at this place in Sydney, Australia and I had to pretty much throw everything out of the window. Just being around other artists, pushes and inspires you. There is always that one place where you get a massive growth.
You mentioned before gong to Pasadena and being intimidated. Once you finally got there, did you realize it wasn’t as intimidating as you thought?
Jason: You’re right. I did realize that later on. My imagination was playing tricks on me. When I went to the main campus I realized it was totally obtainable. I was doing all that stuff already and executing a little better. I thought I could do it. It wasn’t as a big scary monster I’ve made it out to be.
[-48:02] Allan: Most people make it to be more glorious than it needs to be. “I couldn’t never go at ILM or Digital Domain, or wherever it is. Pixar. The thing is over time you get better. Most people give up too soon. “I’ll never be good enough at that sort of thing.” They don’t even try in the end.
Jason: That’s so true! I am an instructor now. I’ve been teaching for the past 10 years. So many of my students say, “I can’t do it”. It’s the mentality, dude. It’s something that’s embedded in our genetic code. As soon as I tell them, stop saying “can’t” and change their vocabulary, they start doing it. You just need a person to say, “You have something here. Just keep going.” That’s when you start seeing the silver lining again.
[-46:13] Allan: I totally agree. Most people stay in their comfort zone. If you don’t try it, you’ll never win. If you do, you might fail. I always think that when they want to do something great, they convince themselves they would fail. I like to ask, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” A lot of the time, [the fear] doesn’t even make sense. When you actually think about it is plausible, you realize it’s not even rational. People will build up these wall, these irrational fears.
Jason: That’s so true.
[-44:02] Allan: For me, it’s better to be at the bottom of the barrel. I like to surround myself with people who are better than me because they’re going to pull you up. [When you went to Pasadena] — and the same with DreamWorks too — did you find that it accelerated your learning?
Jason: Oh, definitely. Honestly, DreamWorks was the place! The first hallway I walked down was Kung Fu Panda hallway. And these guys print their artwork gigantic, tons of characters, one per wall. I felt like this tiny little ant. And that was intimidating. These people were veterans. They’ve been there for 20 years. These guys are legends at DreamWorks. You look at their sketchbooks and it puts my drawings to shame. They’re just so prolific. I mean, Nathan Fowkes was doing this charcoal drawing. I thought, are you kidding me?
[-41:46] Allan: Yeah, I just did an Episode with him.
Jason: Yeah. That is when I let my heart absorb the love from those artists around me and let them be my mentors. I got some great instruction from Mike Hernandez and Michael Isaac, Ronald Kurniawan (who is my Production Designer today). So I totally agree with you: Surround yourself with the greats and allow yourself to be the little mouse in the room, and just learn from them. ‘Cause that’s how you get better!
[-41:06] Allan: Yeah! That’s just it. Some people are afraid of going into those situation. Being the student of life, you want to learn, you want to grow. It drives me crazy when I meet people who think they’ve reached a pinnacle. That’s a good perspective to have.
Jason: I think teaching for me has been the most instrumental of my educational experience. Sometimes, it’s more beneficial to the teacher. I’m getting inspired by my students. They come out of high school drawing like masters. That inspires me. And on top of that, I get to review the information constantly. I’d sit there and paint with my students. All that creative energy in the room. Some of my students were better than I am. That’s what made me better. I was learning from them, some of the shortcuts they were taking, the different train of thought that they had. In 14 weeks, we were killing it.
[-38:24] Allan: I think it forces you to regurgitate that information, to present it to other people. That’s really valuable. You need to understand it enough to explain it to others. It forces you to learn beyond the skimming of pages.
I thought it was fascinating your mentioning that you had a twin and they you, guys, would push each other. I grew up in a school where everyone had a twin. Six people in my grade were twins. They were all artists and pushing each other, and playing with a challenging, bettering each other. At the same time, I’ve got two friends who are directing a feature. Completely different styles. But they grew to be this entity. The Spirit brothers who are making Saw right now. More twins that have an art background.
Jason: Love that!
Allan: Did you find that too?
Jason: We still do. He is always driving me to become a better person. It’s like having a built-in best friend. We broke from the same egg, literally. I think that’s something that stays with you for the rest of your life.
[-34:45] Allan: With you, it’s been an underlying theme that you’ve had so many mentors. That says something about you too. How humble you are, how you’re able to learn from others. What do you think is the key to finding mentors? How was it for you, that you’ve had such a high success rate at finding them?
Jason: For me, it’s just been being an admirer of them. Not coming on as super geek. I treat them as a person. On a day-to-day basis [at work], I come in and ask them if they want to grab a coffee sometime. You get a better idea asking them what they do in their lives, genuinely asking them what they are as a person. Some of them aren’t great people. For me that’s a valuable lesson to be vulnerable for them. I would rather be a friend with someone, rather than getting information from them. I had to learn the hard way [in Los Angeles]. But it made me who I am today.
[-31:33] Allan: You’re absolutely right there. You’ve got to build genuine relationships. You can spot someone who is being fake a mile away, too. I think that’s such a critical thing. It’s not easy to find those people who are willing to help you. But when you do, it’s so valuable to your career and your outlook on life, too.
This is bit person, with your dad and your career. My fiance had that with her dad. She still has some friction, it’s been a struggle where parents wanted her to take a certain path. Did you experience that?
Jason: Yeah, I did. It’s a great questions. It’s been instrumental for me that there was friction. But it was a good friction. It was definitely something that challenged me. This is the final note I want to leave with your listeners: You want people to challenge you. You want people to make you uncomfortable, to make you question who you are and which road you want to take. There are many forks in that road. My dad was that person for me: “Are you sure you want to go down that road? Are you sure you have the perseverance?” Even though he didn’t believe in me in the beginning, slowly, I was able to open doors within him. I loved that! I could do this now, and he believes in me now. And it took a long time to get to that point in this relationship. At some point, those people’s thoughts and perceptions don’t even matter any more. Use that negativity as positivity.
[-27:09] Allan: I think that right there is such a critical thing! I’ve thought about this a lot recently. I’ve got the Paris talk coming up and it made me reflect on what people run into a lot. It’s a common thing: You ultimately give the power to the people who doubt you. It’s up to you if you want let it affect you, your whole life. No one has any power unless you allow them. You can look at it as, “Fuck it! That’s exactly what I need.” Use that as the fuel for the fire. For me, it’s more like I don’t give a shit. I’m going to go do what I want to do.
Jason: Those are what makes you a character. An individual. Those are the roadmaps of wrinkles on your face. I’m cool with that. That’s what makes me the sailor in the high sea. That’s always the analogy I say to my students. The world is a sea and you’ve just got to build your boat really strong, to get through that tide.
[-24:24] Allan: I love this! I went into this [interview] with a bunch of questions. I haven’t asked a single one. I love it this way. I love to get to talk and learn so much. With DreamWorks, when it did happen and it wasn’t instant, but like a boomerang. Some people will only do something if there is an instant gratification. If you go out and fire your reel to a hundred places, some of them might pay off and some of them won’t. All those things are going to come back later.
Do you think that with you and your career, you went through a huge learning process, did you experience doubt about agism, at 26? Did you think you’ve waited too long?
Jason: That’s actually a really good question. I’ve never really heard that question before. For me, I never let the age affect me. I was one of the youngest guys at DreamWorks. But I have heard that from people. I never discourage them. If you see someone putting in every ounce of effort, I want to give him or her all that wisdom. You’re constantly analyzing yourself. No matter what your age is, as long as you’re giving it everything you’ve got, you can do anything you want; anything you’ve set your mind on.
[-19:44] Allan: I think it’s called the Imposter Syndrome when you think you’re not worthy. So a lot of people talk themselves out of doing something, where the reality is, as I’ve said before: What’s the worst that could happen? I’m not that old. I know people who are in their 40s. So many go through several careers in their lifetime until they finally reach a point of “What do I really care about?” What would be really fun, as opposed to doing something you’ve been conditioned to do. You can never be too old.
Along the way all those experiences you’ve had, it’s not like you’re starting from scratch. You’ve learned responsibility, you’ve learned to see things through. You can look at the project and foresee all the problems that could come up. All of that stuff you’ve learned through life. Talent is one thing. Experience is the other.
Jason: The same thing for me. We now have to come up with contingency plans [on feature films] and foresee all the pitfalls that could arise with budgets, vendors and timing. If I didn’t have all that experience, I wouldn’t be able to do that. These jobs are so competitive. And there are so many chameleon ways you have to adapt. That’s the exciting thing, I think. On every job, there is an unexplored realm and the realm I’ve been on many times.
[-16:25] Allan: That’s great! To segue for a moment, you do a lot of personal work. How often do you try and do that, whether it’s for fun or it’s something you try to see through?
Jason: I do it every day. That’s something that I’ve made an obstacle for myself. Make it into something that’s an art habit instead of something that I hate doing. If I create a new painting (I still create with Lego’s), being creative every day keeps me inspired. I look at my friend John Parker. He is a Concept Artist, on the Avatar team right now. He does amazing digital painting on Facebook. It blows my mind. It makes me do that too. All of us together are constantly challenging each other. You have this epic epicenter that happens by being around each other. For me, that’s what keep me going every day. I’m working on a book right now. There are other people who are counting on me. I’m not just accountable for myself.
[-14:30] Allan: That’s such a powerful human trigger. It’s not just you saying, “Should I or shouldn’t I?” There are people who are counting on me.
Jason: That’s great to have these support pillars your community who support you. We all do that to each other. Only surround yourself with people that are bringing you the next level. That’ll help you keep hitting new notches and keep you moving forward in a positive way. Every now and then, you’ll get snagged on something, but that’s okay. You’ll pick yourself back up again and start pushing harder. Those challenges are what makes us who we are.
[-12:53] Allan: I think that’s really critical. I’ve mentioned it before: I think it’s common for people to be the best in their circle. That’s not the circle you want to be in. You want people who pull you up.
Jason: That’s true!
Allan: I had a feeling you’d say, “every day”. You’re right, it’s really critical. For you, where do you find the time between work and everything else.
Jason: Say, I’m busting my ass on an assignment and I don’t have time to do it. Sometimes, just doing the artwork for my job is enough. Sometimes, I have to skip my personal art for the sake of deadlines. But most of the time, I just set an hour aside in the morning when I first get to work and bust out a painting. Another way: I travel with my wife a lot. We went to Asia. For me travel and photography is just as inspiring, it’s just a different artistic tool. I’m really into full frame photography and I’m trying to put it back in my artwork.
[-9:59] Allan: You’re picked that up from early on, doing all those other things. They all aide in making you a better artist.
Allan: Do you have any personal habits or rituals for your personal work that aides you?
Jason: Sure. Watching a lot of film. I’m a film junkie. I’m a huge fan of Akira Kurosawa. I watch his movies over and over again, every month. In a way, they’ve become a way I see cinematography. In a way, I have that in my eyes now: I can see how to light it or frame it. That’s what helps me in my art, being psychoanalytical about it. Sometimes it hurts me. I can’t just enjoy a moment in a cafe. I wear different hats at different times. Sometimes I need to just be Jason. I never forget who I am. I’m still a 16 year old on the inside. I don’t want to get jaded. I allow myself to recoup and refresh. Take the time for yourself to go for a walk and be still for a moment.
[-7:06] Allan: I’m going to take that advice. I think it’s easy to fall into that rut of working 24/7. It’s so critical to step away.
Jason: You’ve got to get some perspective.
Allan: I think I’m going to leave it there. I really want to pick your brain about some of the commercial projects, but maybe we can leave it for round two. I am really looking forward to this trip! Everyone going there are such cool guys. But on top of that, like Ash Thorp, he’s a super genuine guy. You remind me of him. You, guys, are so down to earth. What’s your talk going to be on?
Jason: I’m doing one on color and light for visual storytelling. I’m going to breakdown the basics and color grading. Hopefully, I’ll do a demo, if I have time.
Allan: That’s really cool. You also have a bunch of course on Gammon. I had a quick look through them. Such a great resource!
Jason: I feel inspired to talk to you. You have a great mentality about life.
I hope you found this inspiring. I want to take the time to thank Jason for doing this Episode. I like that he took the time to perfect himself, perfect his art, then dove into the professional field. That definitely pays off in the long run. He’s dedicated always to his art.
Next Episode is going to be with my “brother from another mother” Dennis Mejillones. He is from Bethesda. He’s worked on Fallout 4, Skyrim, lots of crazy stuff. Super talented ZBrush artist. It was really inspiring to do hear him talk!
Pretty much now, I’m going to be opening up FXTD Mentorship. I’m psyched about it! If you’re not on the insider’s list, go to www.allanmckay.com/inside. Just a heads-up: It’s a Mentorship where I personally mentor everyone for about a year. I do weekly reviews and webinars, as well as teach scripting, effects. I think there are 700 training hours in there. It’s going to be pretty awesome.
Check out the show notes for this Episode at www.allanmckay.com/75. That’s it for now. Rock on!
“My mentality is — I’m always learning. I never really fucking know everything. I think everyone needs to humble themselves. They think they’re already masters. I don’t think of myself as that. I want to be 90 years old and still learning.”
“I heard this analogy of being stranded on a buoy attached to rope. You can either choose to pull on it really hard, or you can let it float. I chose to let it float. I waited for things to hit me.”
“Surround yourself with the greats and allow yourself to be the little mouse in the room, and just learn from them. ‘Cause that’s how you get better!”
“You want people to challenge you. You want people to make you uncomfortable, to make you question who you are and which road you want to take. There are many forks in that road.”
“That’s what makes me the sailor in the high sea. That’s always the analogy I say to my students. The world is a sea and you’ve just got to build your boat really strong, to get through that tide.”
“Only surround yourself with people that are bringing you the next level. That’ll help you keep hitting new notches and keep you moving forward in a positive way. Every now and then, you’ll get snagged on something, but that’s okay. You’ll pick yourself back up again and start pushing harder.”
That all being said, have a great week! Rock on!
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