Featured Friday: Michael Leavenworth

● Q: Where did you go to school?
I studied illustration at Brigham Young University-Idaho!

● Q: When did you first realize that you wanted to work in animation?
I have always been interested in storytelling and imagination. I knew I wanted to work as an artist in some part of the entertainment industry at an early age. Probably after discovering “making-of” and “behind the scenes” videos for all my favorite monster movies and animated features. It wasn’t until my early 20’s that I decided I specifically wanted to work in animation!

● Q: Who is your biggest inspiration?
I’d say my biggest inspirations in life are equally my family and my faith. They are both the central and most important parts of my life and guide all my decisions.Now in my art, I am most inspired by a variety of contemporary illustrators, like James Gurney, Greg Manchess, and Armand Baltazaar to name a few.

● Q: What is your favorite animated movie/show?Right now
I’d have to say my favorite is Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse. I’ve watched it so many times. It’s exciting because it opens the door for a variety of interesting and creative styles of animation to be successful on the main stage.

● Q: What would you say to those who are not getting hired by a studio or having trouble finding a job?
That’s a tough one. I was very fortunate to find work shortly after graduating from school (which you don’t necessarily even need to work in the industry; it was just right for me). That being said, I like to think I did manage to pick up at least some pearls of wisdom in my travels. If I could offer some advice it would be this:

If you’re not getting hired or having trouble finding a job, I would invite you to do three things:

1) Find out why – You can’t overcome whatever is holding you back until you know what it is. Do some soul searching, like if you really want this. Then, go do some sole searching, as in do the leg work and “knock doors” to learn what you need to do. Get feedback on your work, where you need to improve, or find out if it’s even you at all! Maybe you’re not skilled enough yet, or maybe you’re just not looking in the right places! Which brings me to point 2.
2) Focus your efforts – It’s important to have a good idea of where you think your skill set would be most valuable. Some of the best places to start in the industry, and expand your ever important network of industry friends, are smaller studios. There are tons of studios out there that solely do animation outsource work for TV Animation, animated features, and ads and marketing.
3) Lastly, network – The single most important thing you could do for your animation career, beyond becoming ridiculously skillful in your craft, is making and maintaining many, meaningful contacts and friendships in the industry. Attend cons, learn or increase social skills, connect via social media, be willing to travel or even move closer to the center of your industry, etc.

● Q: What are some stories of your path to art and animation?
I knew finding work as a professional illustrator or working at an animation studio, could be a challenge. So, I focused on what I could control. My wife and I counseled and prayed together and decided we would do whatever it took, for as long as it took, to find a job in animation. Part of that was being willing to work wherever I needed to, in order to feed our kids, while working on my portfolio, networking with contacts, and saving up for regular trips to visit industry friends and do interviews in LA. So, that’s what we did. It just happened to work out faster than we thought!

● Q: What’s it like working in Austin?
And how is the creative community here?Austin is pretty awesome! Great food. Lots of places to take our kids. Super nice people.

● Q: What is the best part about your job and working at Powerhouse?
One thing that I really love about working here at Powerhouse is how much say we have creatively in how things will look in the production! I didn’t realize how valued our concepts and ideas would be to developing the final look of the show until I got here.   

● Q: What is your favorite Powerhouse Project that you’ve worked on?
Definitely Masters of the Universe: Revelation. The designs are so fun and it’s super humbling to work on a property loved by so many. (But, I also really, really enjoyed Seis Manos…)

● Q: Most challenging part of working at Powerhouse?
Aren’t challenges wonderful!? Great opportunities to stretch and grow. For me there have been really two main challenges working at this great studio:
1) Being surrounded by so many amazingly talented and skilled people fosters a fun challenge to become your best self.
2) The only tough part about working in-house, at any studio really, is that it has the potential to be pretty far from home. So, when my mom’s health deteriorated, and when she ultimately went into hospice last year, it was hard to not be able to visit her and my family more often. (Thankfully this studio is so good to us about being able to take some time off when needed that when I was able to gather enough finances to travel home, I didn’t have to worry about also missing work!)

● Q: Any cool little known facts about production (funny stories/cool animation tricks/etc)?
Cool fact: Everybody is a nerd about something and all artists like decorating their workspace with cool stuff. Mostly cool toys and figures.

● Q: If you could be any anime character who would it be and why?
It’s more western anime, but I’d probably be Aang from Avatar: The Last Airbender, because I’ve long held that the coolest super powers are those where you can manipulate the elements and Aang can use them all! He is so charming, and kind, and is a good example of how to be a good friend and to not give up.

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