Featured Friday: Stephen Swirsky

Those glasses hide his real identity…

Q: Where did you go to school?
Texas A&M University – Department of Visualization

Q: When did you first realize that you wanted to work in animation?
So, funnily enough, my heart wasn’t specifically in animation at first. I had always loved it, but I thought I would pursue something in films or video games. However, one of my earliest memories of realizing I wanted to pursue the creative industry was watching the Special Features for the Extended Cut of Lord of the Rings. There was a segment tha focused on the armor design and the physical pieces that the artists at Weta were creating. The documentary crew then started interviewing two employees who were putting together chainmail in a very tiny room. It was an incredibly lengthy process that took days . But, as they were interviewed, you could see the absolute joy radiating off their faces. Their tasks were seemingly small and their contribution would probably go overlooked, but they did it with enthusiasm and passion. They didn’t care what part they had to play; only that they were able to help create such a beautiful world that they loved. I knew instantly that I wanted to do something similar. I didn’t care what, I just wanted to be a part of creating worlds, stories, and characters. I wanted to impact others as these stories had impacted me.

Q: Who is your biggest inspiration?
Growing up I was obsessed with Weta Studios (as you can probably tell from my previous answer!). Their work with practical and digital elements blew me away and I could never get enough. Now I’m currently inspired by too many things to list. I love consuming as much media, literature, and art as I possibly can! There’s always something new to watch, read, or play!

Q: What is your favorite animated movie/show?
“Favorite” questions freak me out. It’s seriously way too hard to pick! So I’ll just say that the most recent animated film I saw and LOVED was “I Lost My Body”. It was very well directed, had a great soundtrack, and was seriously beautiful. I would definitely recommend it!

Q: What would you say to those who are not getting hired by a studio or having trouble finding a job?
I think everyone’s journey is different and there’s definitely no “one way” to get to the destination. So listen and learn from as many people as you can. Not just to find “an answer” but to grow and gain new understanding of yourself and for yourself. Figure out where your true passions lie and really get to the heart of why that is. Don’t ever stop trying to exercise your “artistic eye”. I was in several artistic jobs before this that I really disliked and found creatively draining. But I still pushed through and mentally decided that I would still try to learn and grow as much as I could. I honestly think I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t done that. Also, sometimes you can find that you can be happy in an area outside of your “dream job”. I initially didn’t even think of doing compositing for an animated series, but now I absolutely love it. It’s become the dream job I never knew I had! Lastly, I can’t stress enough how important it is to just be a hard working, passionate individual that is dependable and easy to work with. Sometimes, even if you feel like your skills are not up to snuff, you can still land a job over the person whose skill set might technically be better than yours.

Q: What are some stories of your path to art and animation?
Growing up, my two older sisters were also into art and drawing. I remember taking a drawing class at a very young age with one of them. To this day, I have a very vivid memory of sitting next to each and drawing a still-life of a teddy bear. When we were done I looked over at hers and was so startled by how much better it was and how bad mine was in comparison. At the time, I couldn’t figure out how she got hers to look so good. I’m pretty sure I was so distraught I refused to draw the rest of the day! (I also think I never went back to class.) However, I’m also sure that this memory instilled in me an insatiable passion to observe as much media as possible so I can try to understand how they can be so effective. Not just being passive when observing, but really thinking critically and then incorporating that into my own work. So, in the end, I’m thankful for my sister’s superior teddy bear. She can probably still draw a better teddy bear than me anyways…

Q: What’s it like working in Austin? And how is the creative community here?
It’s fantastic! I’ve lived in Texas most of my life so I always envisioned eventually moving here. It’s an awesome blend of music, arts, nature, and so much more. It’s been fun to explore, see a few shows and/or museums without having to do much traveling!

Q: What is the best part about your job and working at Powerhouse?
One of the best perks of being in compositing is you get to witness all the incredible work that comes down the pipeline. From animation, to backgrounds, to storyboarding, to character designs, etc. It’s fun to see it all come to fruition. So, in a sense, it feels like such a privilege and an honor to help put the finishing touches on a series. I also love being able to push and pull things a certain way. Either with lighting, effects, or slight camera adjustments you can really help sell or convey subtle emotions or storytelling. I love being able to dial in on that one emotion that the scene is trying to sell. Or, you know, just helping sell the effect of Trevor’s morningstar whipping something into oblivion is fun too.

Q: What is your favorite Powerhouse Project that you’ve worked on?
Definitely Castlevania. I came in around the second half of post-production for season 2 and I’ve loved it ever since. Getting to work on the show as a fan is obviously a great experience, but I think my favorite part has been how much I’ve learned and grown (largely due to working under Adam Deats and learning from all my other fellow compositors). We also get to do a ton of effects and lighting work. It’s been a blast. So I’m incredibly grateful to be a part of a series that I love so much and that I know is so special to many others. And my appreciation for hand drawn animation and all its facets has only grown exponentially (and it was already pretty high!).

Q: Most challenging part of working at Powerhouse?
Compared to everyone else, I’m not as good at Super Smash Bros. as I thought I was before coming here…

Q: Any cool little known facts about production (funny stories/cool animation tricks/etc)?
I was once poking around in a background file from our out-sourcer and found a Hilton Hotel hiding right behind another building in the scene….You can’t see it in the final version, but I think it still remains there… hidden in secret to this day…

Q: If you could be any anime character who would it be and why?
I’d want to be a Scout from Attack on Titan so I could zip around buildings and trees. But without Titans so I don’t have to worry about dying…and maybe it could be in modern times… basically I just want to be able to swing around like Spider-Man.

Here, have a tissue…

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