Interviews with Animators

Interview: IdeaRocket Art Director Robert Kopecky

SaraJane Askildsen 09.24.2013

Our art director, Robert Kopecky is a creative professional with more than 25 years experience as an animation designer, pop illustrator, designer, and cartoonist. If you read his blog, you also know that he’s both spiritually and creatively reflective, and along that vein, he just published his first autobiographical book – How to Survive Life (and Death): A Guide for Happiness in This World and Beyond. It’s an awesome read.

I recently had a chance to chat with him about his experience as an illustrator and writer.

SaraJane: How did you get started working in animation? Or illustration for that matter?

School Development Artwork for PBS Kids Animated Show

Development Artwork for PBS Kids (2009)

Robert Kopecky: Crazy as it sounds, I was “discovered” on the street in Del Mar, California by an Art Director when I was seventeen, sketching in a pad I kept. He sent me to a small school where illustrator and teacher Everett Peck (Duckman, Squirrel Boy) became my mentor. I drew horse (and people) portraits for the race track crowd, created T-shirt designs, did junior soccer league logos, and stuff like that for a couple years. Then I worked as a welder on large-scale steel sculptures in San Francisco until I got enough money together to go to the Art Center College in Pasadena. A couple semesters in, Everett sent me to see Frank Terry and Roger Chouinard at Duck Soup Animation, and I was off and running.

SJ: Did you always see yourself working in animation?

RK: No, although as a kid watching Saturday morning cartoons, I always liked the backgrounds the best. And even though Duck Soup was a great break for me early on, I really wanted to be a pop illustrator. So I left after a couple years to give it a try, and aside from a few animation design projects and art direction jobs here and there, that’s what I did for the next 20 years, until I got back into animation design in 1999. That was when I realized that illustrations didn’t move enough.

Bear Chucker animation designs for Cartoon Network's Codename: Kids Next Door by Robert Kopecky

Designs for Codename: Kids Next Door (2006)

SJ: What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

RK: I’ll stick to animation work: My very first job at Duck Soup was animating the New Yorker cartoonist, Ed Koren’s hairy cocktail animals – that was a real learning experience. I had a good time designing an animated show for Cindy Crawford and Magnet Pictures when I first got back into animation, because everyone in town at the time went through that project, and we worked with some cool early animation software – the Discreet precursor of After Effects. Designing all the “2×4 Technology” for Cartoon Network’s Codename: Kids Next Door was a lot of fun, like being a junkyard Leonardo.

Then and designing WordWorld for PBS Kids (3-D in Maya) was very rewarding. It was a great idea, that show, to help kids learn to read. Both those jobs were for Linda Simensky, who’s great;  and both brought me lots of cross-over design too – toys, game sets, Nintendo, like that. I really enjoy mixing it up. That’s what’s so cool about IdeaRocket – I’m always working in different ways.

SJ: If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking to start a career as an artist, what would it be?

RK: Go to where they are doing it. Even though you can do a lot remotely these days, try to go to a good school for your specialty, and live in a city where it’s happening. Join up! Be a part of what you want to be. Don’t be afraid to fail – it’s invaluable as an education, and who cares anyway? Don’t worry about making money, just do your very best and follow your heart. Then learn what you need to learn to say what you really want to say.Codename: Kids Next Door Episode 4050b 10/27/04

SJ: You have a pretty successful blog, Art, Faith, and the Koko Lion, can you tell us about how you got started with that?

RK: I always loved to write, and I was compelled to get into it again about six or seven years ago. I always had art to share; I started a spiritual practice based in meditation and study that brought me a lot of fulfillment, and gave me inspiration to write; and I’ve had a ton of wild experiences – some crazy fun, some pretty unbelievable, others heart-breaking, mind-bending, and totally transforming…so I started this unlikely blend of a blog where I could put it all out there.

Development Artwork for Disney by Robert Kopecky

Show Development Artwork for Disney (2009)

SJ: I recently had the opportunity to read your blog entry about moments of clear creativity. It was very inspiring! What advise would you give to a creative professional who is put on the spot for an idea?

RK:I like to start with key words (whether I write them down of not) that apply to the role of the project and the client’s history and current needs, followed by a simple process of roughing out ideas. Then I look at what may inspire me. That’s the methodology behind every job for me. What I was talking about in the blog is more about following your intuition, and having faith in it. Set yourself up like a radio to receive messages from a mysterious place where beautiful ideas are born, and believe in that dimension of creativity, and in yourself. Then always be as kind, and as flexible as you can be. Keep your ego out of the process as much as possible, and just go until you get there! Then keep going.

SJ: You also have a book coming out next year. Whats it about?

RK: It’s called How to Survive Life (and Death), Conari Press, Spring of 2014. It was inspired by the three “Near Death Experiences” I’ve had over the course of my life (so far). It’s about what I’ve learned from peeking behind that curtain a few times – about the real magic that’s going on in every moment we’re here and with one another; all our opportunities for expression, and what’s underneath it all. About living a real dream. And it’s about the ways I’ve stumbled across to stay happy and fulfilled, in good times, bad times, this moment and every tomorrow you get. There’s nothing about animation in it (except Life, that is), but there will be some fun little illustrations.

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