Animator for “The Simpsons” and “Iron Giant” shares insight


Self illustration of Steve Garcia, with some of his notable artwork.

Animations can cost more than $200,000 and they can tell incredible stories such as the “Iron Giant”, “Cats Don’t Dance”, or funny stories/series such The Simpsons that have been around for more than 30 years, and something that all these movies and series have in common is that Steve Garcia worked on them. Garcia gave some of his time to answer a few questions. Check out some of the opinions of an animator:

What is the project you worked on that you are proudest of?

Well, over the past 30 years I’ve worked in different visual media. In both Animation and Illustration, I think if I had to choose ONE project…it would be the animation work I did on “The Iron Giant”. When we finished up “Cats Don’t Dance”, I had an offer from Dreamworks to go and help them finish up “Prince of Egypt” and then go onto their next project “Sinbad” ( At least I think it was Sinbad). And it was a tough night of decision making for me! 😀
In the end I chose staying on at Warner Brothers to work on “Iron Giant”. Mainly because I really wanted to work with Brad Bird (The director) on this film “Iron Giant”. I KNEW that this film was going to be special. I knew that we really had lightning in a bottle here. Films like this don’t pop up very often. So I stayed.

It was an incredible experience. We had many obstacles from the studio to deal with. It’s a miracle that it even got made actually. Brad had made a deal with them that upon them largely leaving us alone to make the film that HE (Brad) wanted to make….that we would do the movie with a third of the money, half of the production schedule and half of the crew of a Disney film.
And that isn’t an exaggeration. We had a very VERY truncated production across the board.
But we all believed so much in what we had. And Brad. We literally threw in everything we had to get it done. And thankfully it came out looking pretty good I’d say.
It was a team effort and I’m proud to have been a very small part of that very small but dedicated team. 🙂

– What are the influences for your work?

I grew up on a very healthy diet of Comic Books and Animation. Love both those artforms. Always have. Comics are more part of my dna. More in my blood than animation. Probably because it was more of an ongoing constant for me growing up.
The storylines kept going on and on.The characters had much more of an impact on me as a kid.
Most of my artistic ‘learning’ came from comics and the artists from that field.
But animation was always a part of my life as well.
Comics and the artists within them…the connections are just deeper to me I guess. Artists such as Frank Frazetta, Bernie Wrightson, John Byrne, Art Adams, Kerry Gamill.
I love great linework, and these were masters of what they do.

For animation, I’d say the biggest influences were Glen Keane, Frank Thomas, Freddie Moore, Bill Tytla, James Baxter. The ones that were heavy in the *acting* part of animation.

I tell every young artist I meet to sketch.”

— Steve Garcia

– Any New Projects you are involved in?

Being a part of artistic ‘industries’ (Animation and Illustration) is nice. It’s allowed me to do work for books, magazines, concept art for video games, and animation work for film as well as tv.
And it’s something I’ve done for over 30 years. But there has always been a gnawing inside me to “Do my own thing”. And I’ve had that ‘gnawing’ for over 15 years . LOL!
Recently, I made the decision to (for lack of a better word)…STOP. And after working at Electronic Arts doing concept art, I realized the time was more than right to finally strike out on my own. Open my own ‘studio’ so to speak.
Focusing more on the illustration end of things, as that’s more at the core of my heart. But I will also come back to doing some animation for my own projects. That will be a little later on down the line.
Within the next year will see art books, and the beginning of a short series graphic novel in the works.
I’ve had offers to come back to the animation industry, but at this point, I’m so happy with my decision that I really have no desire to work for another large company on things I don’t own, or studio projects that I don’t really believe in. 😉

– How did technology change the industry of animation?

Wow…well, it changed it over all. Almost entirely. And there’s good and bad to those changes.
I’ll list a very good way it’s changed it…As well as a very bad way it’s changed it.

The Good: It’s opened up the camera angles entirely. Nothing is impossible as far as shots and moving the camera. And it’s so much easier now to do. Which creates some wonderful opportunities for some great animation storytelling.
The Bad: Back when I was heels deep in animation, I had a saying. “To be the best animator, you need to be the best “artist”.
Meaning….you should study everything. Get your hands dirty in as many art forms as possible. Painting. Drawing. Sculpting. Study dance. Look at the old master artists. In short…don’t JUST study animation. Don’t just practice animation.
I still hold to that.
Now….there are some great 3d animators out there. And they are absolutely fantastic. And I’m sure that they are more than just ‘animators’. I’m sure that they are pretty well rounded.
But…I see so many young people coming out of school…who don’t know the first thing about drawing. Or traditional animation. Or anything art related. They just wanna be animators. And that’s their choice. But I think that they are missing out. There is so much more out there than just animation that they could learn about and could infuse into their animation. It kinda breaks my heart a lil bit.

And there is another thing that goes hand in hand with that. Another bad thing about the technology side.
Is that while beautiful? There is no doubt in my mind that it has lessened the art form of animation.
There is nothing beyond the film itself.
No drawings. No ruffs. No clean ups. Not even any storyboards since most of that is sketched out on a tablet.
Just pixels.
In the 30s and 40’s when the old disney and warner animators and creators were doing their thing….how incredible it is to have one of those old drawings, sketches. To marvel at the thought process. To sit and take in every line placement.
I have some of Glen Keane’s drawings. And they’re beautiful!
The same is true with illustration. Where the standard nowadays is digital paintings and compositions.
There is no “there” there.
And that’s pretty heartbreaking in my opinion.

I tell every young artist I meet to sketch. To continue to work in some way in traditional fashion.
To make sure you put something on paper as often as you can. Because in 100 years from now…THAT drawing…not what you leave on the digital landscape, but THAT SKETCH you leave on paper…will have so much more value across the board….especially to your loved ones.

– What is your favorite type of animation 2D or 3D? Why?

Oh 2D. Without a doubt. As a spectator as well as an animator.
And for the same reasons. there is an overall warmth to it that I don’t think you get with 3D.
Each has their own beauty. But 2D being done by hand…there is just a visual artistry there that you don’t get in 3D.
As an animator….when things started to go total digital. All of us…ALL of us had to make adjustments. To see about adapting. Or even IF we could adapt.
So…some did indeed adapt. Learning the 3D tools (primarily maya at that time). Many….couldn’t. Those animators that couldn’t or just didn’t WANT to do 3D animation, went into the story dept. Doing boards and even visual development doing character design.
It was preferred since it was still “drawing”. So it was a good fit.
But many couldn’t. They just couldn’t grasp it. And a lot of these guys were top notch pro seasoned animators!
For me personally. I got myself a maya program. Started to tinker around with it.Did all the animation exercises to familiarize myself with it.
And…I picked it up! Understood it. And it looked pretty good.
But…and this is a big but:
I haaaaated it. Absolutely hated it.
Not at all organic. Completely void of that organic flow. I felt more like a technician or mechanic than an animator.
Felt also like a sort of….puppeteer. As you are basically moving a modeled out character around. (What is called a “Rig”.)
I commend all the animators that love doing this type of animation. And I especially commend the traditional animators that picked it up. And make it work.
I just wasn’t one of them. I just couldn’t get past the ‘coldness’ of it. It’s just a bunch of hassling with motion editors and things like that.
Nope. Not for me. Even though what I had done for tests looked pretty good. I just couldn’t see myself doing this.

There is still 2D animation done today. Mixing with 3D shaders. And it looks great! I believe “Klaus” (directed by my old school mate Sergio Pablos) was done traditionally, and it looks beautiful. Check it out. You’ll love it.
Fortunately for me, I had really been wanting to get back to my illustration roots. So this was the perfect time for me to do so. I moved out to Texas and have been doing illustration for books, magazines and major video game developers. Been having a wonderfully fun time with it.

– What is the process to an animation?

“Process”? Well, if you are asking about what the work flow is like for traditional animation…first it’s worked out in script. Then hammered out in broad beats and slugged in boards. And then those are refined. Some things added. Some things omitted. Then once it’s past that stage (which can be in a continual working process well into the production of the film actually. )…then it’s put into workbook form. And scenes sent to layout, where they work out the layouts/ backgrounds sketches and placements.
Eventually…it gets to us animators. And we get the packet. Look in the folders. get our scene. Go over it with our supervisors and directors.
Then with that guidance, we sit…..and listen…to that voice track ( if it’s a dialogue scene) over and over and over and over again. Because that voice track reading is what dictates a lot of your animation.
There are two types of animation. 1) Action. 2) Acting.
And the acting scenes require a good amount of study. The voice track. Working and acting out (Literally) your scene. Sometimes even filming yourself lip syncing with your voice track and acting it out.
Once you get an idea of where you wanna go, You then work it out in small crudeish thumbnails sketches.
I usually time those and film them and sort through my timing and poses at that point. See my ‘movement’ through them.
Once I get that locked down, I’ll blow those thumbnails up and start working out my key poses.
Then film those….see where they are at. massage them. And once comfortable with them, I’ll start doing some breakdowns and ruff inbetweens .
I personally like to do as many ‘rough inbetweens’ as possible. the more YOU do…the less interpreting someone else has to do of your work as an animator.
So more work on your end…but at least you know that more of YOU ends up on screen. And far less possibility of screw ups once it leaves your hands.

From there it gets ‘key cleaned’ up…which I go over…(IF production time lends for that) and then it gets finalized to clean up inbetweens.
It is a loooong process. But a TEAM process.

On “Iron Giant” there is a huge message in the movie about the type of people you can be depending on you, how did you feel when you read the quote “you are who you choose to be”?

Love this question. Because it lets me clear something up about what is at the heart of that line..and of the movie.
I painted a picture featuring the Iron Giant, and each time I sign it I sign it with that very quote: “You are, who you CHOOSE to be.”
It’s probably the most important line of the movie.
Many people wrongly assume that this is a movie about ‘gun control’. What it is ACTUALLY about….is about every one of us.
Every one of us is…in essence…a ‘weapon’.
A vessel of sorts.
With the capacity to either do great harm and destruction. Or great good, and create and build up!
Therefore, it isn’t the Giant himself who has to ask that question. It’s a question that each and every one of us has to answer. And a decision and choice that each and every one of us has to choose.
To build up. Or to tear down.
To create. Or destroy.
To do harm. Or great good.
To be the villain…….Or to be the hero.
You are….who YOU choose to be.
It’s not so much about ‘gun control’. As in SELF control.

– What is the best moment in your animation career?

Well for animation, it most definitely would have to be working on the “Iron Giant”. Not just because it was a wonderful project. But because we were such a tight knit team. A very VERY small team, with half the budget, half the time, and half the crew of what a studio like Disney would have on any given Disney movie.
But…we believed so much in this project (and in Brad Bird. The director) that we all dug deep. And came together, worked our tails off to make this work. And I think in doing so, we put out a pretty good flick. It really was a magical time. And I’m so proud of all of us AND that great movie called “Iron Giant”.

– A great experience you had with a fan?

Oh wow. Interacting with fans is a pretty new thing for me. For over 30 years, I’ve more or less dealt with people that were ‘co-workers’ or other ‘creatives’ in these fields.
I only just started to do shows and hit the convention circuit this year! And it’s been absolute magic. And a very humbling experience listening to all of their wonderful stories on how some project I had a small part in had touched them in some way.
It’s really left me speechless on so many occasions.

For example, just a few shows ago, It was morning and it was about an hour before the show was going to open the doors. I had forgotten my lunch at the hotel and was going to leave the convention center to go and try and find a sandwich shop or something.
Right outside the doors there was a woman in a wheelchair in the front of the line to one of the doors. I had asked her if she knew of a place nearby. She gave me some ideas and away I went.
I came back with my food, and passed the same lady as I was trying to get back into those doors. She said hello and asked if I found a place. I showed her my bag and smiled “I did! Thanks for your suggestion!”
She noticed I was an “exhibitor” by my badge.
“Oh! You’re an exhibitor. Are you a vendor?”
I told her I was an ‘artist’ and was showing in the artist alley area.
“Really! What do you do?”
I told her that I had been a professional animator and illustrator for the past 30 years.
“Really?? what have you worked on?”
I rattled off some of the shows I’ve worked on.
Her eyes got REEEEAL big. And she literally screamed out. She got so excited and so happy. Her eyes started to well up.
At first I was taken back by that reaction. (remember I”m still very new to the convention circuit).
But then she said that the “Iron Giant ” had meant so much to her when she saw it the first time. It helped her get through some hard times when she was younger. I kind of think it may have had something to do with her being in a wheelchair maybe?
I’ve had quite a few of those types of experiences with people. It’s really humbling because you work on these things…and you really have no idea of the impact some of these things have on people. For any amount of differing and valid reasons!
So, to have this interaction FINALLY…with people that have seen many of the things I’ve had a small hand in…well…it really is an amazing thing.
It’s a blessing. And one that I don’t take lightly.

Wish you all the best my Friend!!

Steve Garcia !

If you want to check more information about Steve Garcia you can go to his Instagram or website!

Instagram – stevegarciaonline
Website –