In 2004, Richard O’Connor opened his own animation studio, Asterisk, producing animation, graphics, and live action for commercials, short films, and features. His projects have included Paramount Pictures’ The Stepford Wives and Merchant Ivory’s The White Countess, as well as clients Mercedez-Benz, Sharpie, Disney, Nickelodeon, Sirius Thinking, Sirius Satellite Radio, On the Leesh Productions, and rock band They Might Be Giants—among others.He is currently working on Between the Lions for PBS and, for Comedy Central, an original pilot, Ghost Foot, developed by Asterisk and Steve Kerper. O’Connor also teaches at Parsons School of Design and occasionally writes about animation production and theory.Below the Line: Tell us about your current tools.Richard O’Connor:The fundamental tool hasn’t changed in 100 years. That’s the pencil. Drawings are always the starting point, whether something is CG, animation, stop motion, watercolor or cartoon. After that it’s all process. We work with Macintosh systems. For any drawn animation, we’ll scan them or shoot the drawings with a mounted Canon G5 camera, then “paint” them in Adobe Photoshop. Adobe After Effects serves as our camera, and also allows us to composite live action or effects in the same digital project. For CG we work with Autodesk’s Maya.In reality, every project requires different tools for execution. After we sketch up the initial concepts, we may find ourselves sculpting miniatures, transferring Letraset letters or finger painting on cardboard.BTL: Tell us about what you were using five years ago.O’Connor: 2001—that’s this century; not too much has changed. But if you ask six years ago, or seven years ago, you’d find a more rustic production path. That was the transition period from film to affordable digital technology. Gradually you didn’t need to have a million-dollar capitalization to do digital animation, and the old-school techniques were becoming too cumbersome. We’d still do work on cels with all the crazy tricks involved there and shoot them on film using a 35mm Oxberry animation stand. Every once in a while I remind myself how nerve-wracking it was preparing to go to camera and then waiting for dailies hoping that we didn’t have to reshoot because of cel flairs or Newton rings from stacking cels or some other ridiculous quirk of animation.BTL: Tell us about what you’re looking forward to coming out in the next 18 months.O’Connor: We’re working on pilot for a show we’ve sold to Comedy Central. When they pick it up I’ll be able to afford all the aspirin for the headaches that will come with doing an original series. On top of that we’ll invest in some new equipment, DigiBeta deck, a faster-bigger-better file server, and nice new pencil sharpeners for everybody.BTL: What project are you working on now?O’Connor: The Comedy Central pilot is taking most of my attention. That, and finishing up 18 films for Between the Lions, the literacy show on PBS. Redesigning the Asterisk website and doing some publicity for a couple projects that have recently been released: Merchant/Ivory’s The White Countess, which we did an animated sequence in; and They Might Be Giants Here Come the ABCs DVD, which we did two films for. I’m also working on anything that will prevent me from having to do the bookkeeping.
Written by April MacIntyre