Tripping the Intergalactic Fantastic: An Interview w/ Animator Jake Armstrong

This week we’re taking the wayback machine for a look back at one my earliest interviews for the now-defunct Cartoon Funland featuring artist and animator (not to mention a Strange Kid Anthology contributor) Jake Armstrong! Perhaps best known for his 2009 student thesis film, The Terrible Thing of Alpha-9! , Armstrong has continued to work on some pretty impressive projects in video games, animation, and print.

The following is an excerpt of that unseen interview and and Armstrong even took the time to update us on some of his latest projects like the aforementioned SKC Anthology, a comic book collaboration, a slew of new art prints.


 

BAR-BARIAN!

Welcome to the clubhouse, Jake! If you had the choice of either being a bad-*ss barbarian or a plundering pirate, which would you choose and why?

Thanks Rondal! It’s great to be here. Admittedly both guys would be fun to be, but if I were to pick between the two, I’d have to choose the barbarian. I mean being a pirate, you get treasure, have solidarity in your friends, and sail in a big ship all day. Sounds perfect, but next to a barbarian it’s no contest. You’re like crazy strong, weild some kind of sword or hammer, and get hot chicks in animal skins. I’d pass up 17th century naval warfare any day for some lady in an animal bikini. Extra points if she has a pet tiger.

Good answer. So, tell us a bit about yourself.

I grew up in Norman, Oklahoma and stayed there switching majors in college for years before moving to New York to go to art school. I’m a little scattered in my interests, so it took me a long time to find something like animation that fulfilled so many different interests at once.

What first got you interested in being an animator?

For me, it was a two-part process. Initially I just wanted to be a filmmaker, but when I found out that I could draw I decided to try and mix the two. That and I realized, even in my early 20s, I would still plan my nights around watching cartoons.

Underground Comics! Read them of bearded, knife wielding men will chase you.

Apart from animation, do you have any hobbies?

I play guitar and fumble around with the bass, keyboard, and drums. I’m perpetually starting bands, but never finishing them.

Describe your creative process.

For me it starts with looking at things. I like to just collect things I enjoy, like illustrations or short films, or movies, or comics. I feel like stories and characters kind of organically come out of that. But then again, I’ve only made one complete short (to date), so it’s always changing.

What’s your personal favorite animation or short film?

There are a lot that I like, but one that I always find myself re-watching is Raoul Servais’ Sirene. At times, it is a really uncomfortable short (which is a good thing), and overall has a lot of grace and thought behind it.

You’ve got a very interesting style that seems to blend the best of Bryan Lee O’Malley, Dan James and Aaron Augenblick. Who are some of your artistic influences?

Thanks, those are awesome ones. There are too many people to list here, but the last three artist’s books I bought were Jillian Tamaki, Gipi, and Johnny Ryan, which is admittedly a really scattered set. I guess I’m not very discerning though. I pretty much like everything. I read indie comics, French comics, manga, watch TV cartoons, animated and live-action movies… everything can be pretty inspiring in one way or another.

Character designs from The Terrible Thing from Alpha-9!

How important was it for you to learn the fundamentals of drawing school?

It’s one of the most important things. I don’t think that anybody naturally knows how to draw. Right now I’m out of practice, but whenever I get a chance I like to sit in on figure drawing sessions. Still, that doesn’t lower the importance of knowing how to write a story and plan a production as well.

The Terrible Thing of Alpha-9! is your best known short to date. What influenced you to create something that took place in space?

Honestly, I’m not sure why I chose space. It was probably more of a subconscious thing. I know I was drawing a lit of dudes in space suits at the time. I was also watching a bunch of old 60s movies then. so it could have just as easily ended up being a western or an espionage film.

There’s sort of an ironic twist as the end of the film, was Twilight Zone or EC Comics’ Weird Science an influence there?

Definitely. I was pretty fascinated by the spooky endings in Twilight Zone and Outer Limits. They just always leave you feeling lackadasical and kind of cheated. I totally wanted to do the same thing in my story.

What was your experience like on Dante’s Inferno? I understand you worked on character and effects animation for the in-game narrative.

Oh yeah! That was a while ago, close to 2 years now… I did a good deal of the in-game 2D animation in that game with Augenblick Studio in a crew of only about 6 people and interns. That was a crazy awesome job, it was probably my first real job out of school and I was working in my chosen field on a really neat looking game. I don’t know how it really fell into my lap, but I guess after interning there for so long they decided to throw me a bone for a bit. Honestly though, EA and all the companies who were in between the design and us were so vague each step of the way, we really didn’t know too much what we were making half the time. We just made it look cool, and I’m really proud of the work we all did on it.

In addition to being in the upcoming SKC Anthology, you’re also working a new comic- what can you tell us about it (characters, setting, etc)?

I’ll try my best! It’s about a guy who’s trapped in a small boat drifting out at sea and he has to keep his mind active to keep his sanity. Ultimately, he loses when he finds a door in the dinghy leading somewhere else. It’s a small section of a larger story I’m kind of serializing. I’m going to post a page or so on my blog sometime soon, but for the most part I’m trying to keep it with the Fakeheads Anthology it’s being published with. It should be sold around NYC, including Mocca, and has a bunch of really incredible comics in it. Hope you can check it out if you get a chance!

 

Jake's take on our very own Strange Kid

Let’s end things with a bang… what’s the strangest thing you can remember doing as a kid?

I don’t remember doing this, but my mom tells me that when I was barely able to crawl, I had a habit of prying open the freezer, opening packages of frozen corn dogs, and attempting to eat them while hiding in the bottom cupboard. Today, corndogs are still pretty much my favorite food.

All Artwork © Copyright Jake Armstrong

Written by Rondal

Rondal is the Editor-in-Chief of Strange Kids Club and a creative instigator who tackles each day with Red Bull-induced enthusiasm and a mind for adventure. Rondal has written for other sites including Rue Morgue, Fuel Your Illustration and Bloodsprayer. His obsession with horror movies, 80s animation and action figures is considered unhealthy by medical professionals.

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