Smashing Spotlight: Jason Medisky, Sr. Animator, Tech Artist & Motion Designer

Wonder what makes Smashing Ideas so smashing? Our people! We sat down with Jason Medisky, Senior Animator, Tech Artist, & Motion Designer, to talk shop, how Play-Doh is the perfect metaphor for original character creation, and what it will take for Jason to go to Disneyland on the moon.

 

You’re Smashing’s Senior Animator, Tech Artist, and Motion Designer. Wowza! That’s a big job. What does your day-to-day look like?

That’s what is so fun about my job.  The day to day tasks can be so different.  One day it’s creating motion studies in Flash to explore how UI moves, the next modeling 3D assets in Maya, followed by a day of testing a rig in Xcode, or painting a texture in Photoshop.  Maybe a character needs animating in Unity, or it’s time to grab some paper and a pencil and design characters.  And some days it’s all about surviving the C.H.U.D.s.

It’s great–there’s so much variety and there’s always a chance to learn new things.

 

You’ve helped bring to life some of Smashing’s most beloved characters, like Flurry, who lives in the AppleTV app, Furcaster. How do you partner with designers and creative directors to come up with an original character?

Every character is different, but generally it’s a collaborative and iterative process. With many of us having been together for so long, we usually start the process on similar pages. We establish what a character’s personality should be, what purpose it serves, what styles we all like and feel encapsulates what needs to be communicated.  From there, drawings are made and iterated upon, and then combined, improved, erased, and re-drawn until we land on something we’re all behind.

It’s kind of like sculpting a character together from a block of Play-Doh.  We’re all pushing and smooshing and modeling it until its form takes shape.  In the end we have a character we all created together with the fingerprints embedded in it as proof.  Our salty, Play-Doh covered fingerprints.

 

Do you have a signature design style? If so, what is it?

My signature design style begins with a dramatic J, clearly establishing a recognizable and memorable silhouette.  This is followed by a series of playful curves evoking, rather than showing, the subsequent letters.  The middle and last initial echo the angles and boldness of the J creating a clear theme running throughout.  The final letters are created with a flourish that describes not so much the structure of the individual letters but the shape of the name as a whole.  Famous signature magazine, Autograph Quarterly, once described my signature design style as “an illegible mess that should not be considered legally binding under any circumstance.”  I’m pretty sure they were being cheeky, though.

As for my art and design style, I always try and create with the word “appeal” in mind.  Is what I’m creating appealing?  Who should it appeal to?  Would they find it appealing?  Do I find it appealing?  What about my teammates?  What could I do to make it more appealing?  Is that a peal on the floor?  Who ate my banana?  I was really looking forward to that.

 

Which of Smashing’s core values do you most identify with?

Stay Curious, Raise the Fun Flag, and Create with Heart are three values that really speak to me.  The fine print on my prescription bottles say I should consult a doctor if I hear disembodied voices speaking to me, but that’s just lawyer talk.  These three values have served me well in my professional and personal life.

I’m also a fan of the unwritten value, And on Mondays, there Shall be Bagels.

 

You’ve been at Smashing for some time now. What keeps you coming back after all these years?

Well, there’s the aforementioned bagels.  But even more importantly, it’s just a great place to work.  The people, the projects, the culture . . . they’re all really important to me.  I’ve gotten a chance to evolve my career as SI has grown as a company.  The projects we work on are interesting and challenging in the best ways.  And I’ve met so many great people here.  My co-workers have become friends and allies that I trust and am happy to join every morning to do what we do.

Plus, there are two PokeStops that are reachable right from our office.  My trainer is already a level 28 and an infamous legend amongst poor rabbles of Team Mystic who dare challenge.

 

For all the aspiring animators out there, what you would say are the top 5 skills that should be honed to become a professional animator?
  1. Know your animation principles and how to apply them. They should be part of your DNA.
  1. Unless you are chasing a very specific animation career, know how to apply animation to whatever platform or medium you’re targeting and with whatever tools you have at your disposal. The basics should remain the same, but it’s important to know how to interpret them across different needs.
  1. Don’t only focus on animation. Draw!  Design!  Paint!  Learn 3D!  Create and invest time in your own projects outside of work and school.
  1. Have as many different experiences as you can. Cartoons and games are great.  But having outside experiences will bring knowledge and nuances that will influence your animations in ways you may not expect.
  1. It’s easy to get lost in our work. Be sure to go out into the sun once in a while.  If you don’t, how will you ever be able to check if your skin is sparkling and know whether or not you’ve been turned into a vampire?  A hot, emo, dramatically posing, vampire?

 

You sir, have won the imaginary lottery, and to celebrate you’re going on an epic adventure vacation with your family. Where are you going and why?

My wife and I love Disneyland.  For the past 20 years we’ve tried to go once a year.  But for as much happiness as it brings us, it also takes a nearly equivalent amount of money.  Some years it’s just not possible to go.

So if we won the lottery, we wouldn’t just go to Disneyland once a year, we’d go FOR a year.

Or better yet, by the time we get around to winning, Disney may have finished acquiring everything on Earth and beyond.  Presumably there’d be a Disney park on the moon and I could combine my love of space and Disneyland into one epic vacation.  Of course on the moon, my favorite ride, Space Mountain, would just be known as Mountain.

 

What was your last truly smashing idea?

That signature design joke was pretty good, right?

No?  Okay, how about this . . .

A shower head that infuses the water with a lemon/lime flavor.  It leaves you smelling fresh and is delicious.

Or how about a road-side cheese stand whose cheese is so delicious it’s described as little drops from heaven.  It’d be called, A Whey in a Manger.

Then there’s the title of my sure to be best-selling, and mostly true, and not at all exaggerated autobiography, 50 Shades of J.  I think Patton Oswald could star in the movie adaption.

 

And last, but certainly not least, where do you get the most creative inspiration from?

The usual sources.

Last minute panic.  Looming deadlines.  Intense curiosity and focus on silly details.  Near constant tiredness.  And a willingness to let my brain wander down whatever paths strike its fancy for as far as is needs to go, despite my therapist’s warnings that one day it may not come back.

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