Artist – James Caswell


James Caswell – A Brief Animation Biography
Born in the wilds of the Canadian North, I came to the GTA at the
tender age of ten, while there I attended the Sheridan College
Cartooning program (and hated it). From there, I moved on to the
Ontario College of Art’s Communication and Design Illustration
program. After graduating, I went into Nelvana’s commercial
division, where I stayed for five years. Then, I freelanced;
special effects, layouts for slide productions, illustrations for
packaging, anywhere I could draw and they’d pay me. I eventually
settled into storyboards and liked the style – which required
flexible, fast and loose drawing to succeed. I’ve always liked
learning new things, so while working I also spent time studying
for academic upgrades; a Bachelor of Design: Illustration (OCADU)
and a Master’s degree (Ryerson University). Earning the Master’s
degree gave me the opportunity to be a full time faculty member
at the storied Sheridan College in Oakville.

James Caswell

What part of Canada are you from James?
I was born in Sudbury, lived my younger years in North Bay, and
then moved to Brampton when I was ten. I avoided the world of
itinerate animation communities (where folks moved from place
to place working on projects) by consistently finding good work
here in the GTA. I’m proud to say my children attended the same
grade school I did.

What inspired you to create animation?
I just liked to draw, and animation was a way for me to
practice my drawing and be paid. I’m pleased to say that my
love for drawing has given me a sustaining career for over 30
years.

How would you describe your artistic style?
Fast and loose. Storyboarding requires a style of quick, direct
drawing that I like a lot. To modify a quote from A.J.
Liebling: “I draw better than anybody who can draw faster;
faster than those that can draw better.” I admire the clarity
and speed of a Jack Davis or Jack Kirby drawing. Preciousness
or over-rendering kills a board sketch.

Jack

Can you share a piece of art work or script segment that no
one has seen before?

I’ve always liked this painting I did a long time ago. My
promise to myself is to get back to this way of working soon.
Again, loose, direct style, I hope.

(Detail Shot)

What role do you play in the creation of animation?
I am a storyboard artist. I was picked out of the crowd in my
final year at the Ontario College of Art by one of my teachers,
Bob Fortier (an unsung founder of Toronto’s animation community).
At the time, Bob was forming what would become the best
television commercial house in the city. I started in layout and
SFX design, became an art director, and then moved on to
storyboarding.  I like the variety of boarding different
styles of projects, which is probably a consequence of my
commercial training. I’ve also designed characters, done layouts,
created special effects and worked on some live action boarding –
but mainly, I’ve worked on animation production boards.

Star Command Storyboard by Jim Caswell
(click photo to see the full size version)

What is one project that you are proud to have been involved
in?

I can’t single one out. I’ve had enjoyable and productive times
working with several talented directors. Brad Goodchild, Neil
Hunter, Matt Ferguson, Jason Groh, to name only a few. I’ve
always found the pleasure for me is in producing content vs.
the back-and-forth debates to determine what to create that
happens on a feature or high profile property. Frank Thomas, in
an interview I read recently, referred to the Disney features
as “product.” This seems to me to be a healthy way to consider
one’s contribution to industrial animation. As Dylan says in
Hurricane: “It’s my work,” he’d say, “I do it for pay. And when
it’s over I’d just as soon go on my way.” In feature animation,
as I understand it, too much energy seems spent between
battling egos and not on the process of actually creating the
film. I guess that’s the board artist in me. I don’t however
feel that this applies to independent animation.

What project are you working on now?
I am currently working as a professor at Sheridan College in
the BA: Animation program. After 8 years as a partial load
faculty, I am a full professor now. I am a professor -one who
professes- in the practice of story and boarding.

Who is one of your favourite Canadian animators?
Not to sound too much like a Sheridan keener, but I am
continually impressed by Kaj Pindal. He has had an amazing
career. He always seemed to be at a place where there was
interesting work going on. He was with Williams in London,
Korty in San Francisco, and of course Lamb at the NFB. He still
has valuable advice to share with Sheridan students and
faculty.

What is one of your favourite animation books? 
I promote Alexander Mackendick’s” On Film-Making” as a good
resource for storyboarding and filmmaking in general; both the
aesthetic and practical. Rowland B. Wilson’s “Trade Secrets”
has a lot of information too. Both are a little dense, but good
reference to read and dip into occasionally.

I also follow Mark Kennedy’s “Temple of the Seven Camels” blog.
(http://sevencamels.blogspot.ca/)
I find his reference to comics and story and boarding
particularly helpful.

And of course, “Mayerson on Animation” (http://mayersononanimation.blogspot.ca/)
always has good timely animation reviews and business
observations.

Who is an up-and-coming Canadian animator that everyone
should check out?

There are so many very talented artists I have met through my
time at the college, if I start singling one out, I’ll miss too
many. And the internet literally tumbles with numerous new
inspirations daily.

Are you involved with any animation organizations in
Canada?

Currently, no. I was a member of T.A.I.S. through the 90s until it
seemed other folks could take the reins. I did the
newsletter-in print and mail out days, was president for a
while and even designed the logo they currently use. I was
briefly a member of ASIFA but found it too
Montreal centric at the time. I am pleased to have been the
first speaker at AnimaticTO, an
organization I support wholeheartedly as a way for folks in the
disparate animation community to connect and discuss issues
face to face vs. Facebook to Facebook.

Have you written any books or blog posts about Animation or
Canadian Animation?

I have an infrequent blog at: https://jcasual.wordpress.com/

And I add to my blogs for my 3rd Year courses at Sheridan:
http://thirdyearstory.blogspot.ca/
and 3rdyearstorylab.blogspot.ca/.
Those are good samples of what I like in the current week.

Do you have other posts on the internet where you were
interviewed about your work in animation?

Animation Insider: http://www.animationinsider.com/2013/06/james-caswell/

For more information on James and his work in animation,
check out the links below.

Main Website: www.caswelldesign.com

I developed an online project at part of my masters thesis from
Ryerson University:
www.monstermashuptv.com.
My goal is to learn more coding to develop these further.

IMDB Jim Caswell: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1061099/

IMDB James Caswell:  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2811616/

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