Canadian Animation Artist Interview with Ken Priebe
A Brief Animation Biography
Ken A. Priebe, from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, studied art,
filmmaking & animation (BFA) at University of Michigan School
of Art & Design and classical animation at Vancouver
Institute of Media Arts (VanArts). He has taught animation
courses at VanArts and for the Academy of Art University
Cybercampus, done animation workshops for children, and worked as
a 2D animator on several short films for Scholastic/Weston Woods
through Bigfott Studios. He is also a writer, illustrator,
puppeteer, animation historian, and author of two instructional
animation books: The Art of Stop-Motion Animation and The
ADVANCED Art of Stop-Motion Animation. Ken lives with his wife
and two kids in Delta, BC.
Ken A. Priebe Animation Reel
What part of Canada are you from?
Well, I’m actually from Grosse Pointe Michigan, right across the
lake from Windsor, Ontario so although I was American first, I
always lived very close to Canada. I’ve been a dual US/Canadian
citizen now since 2005.
What inspired you to create animation?
When I was a kid my dad showed me how to make flipbooks with a
pad of paper, so I did some of that just for fun, and I dabbled
in computer animation a bit in high school, but the real turning
point for me actually wanting to do film animation professionally
was while I was in university and I caught Wallace & Gromit’s
“The Wrong Trousers” on television. It was perfect timing, as I
was in a place where I had the means to enrol in film classes and
pursue doing stop-motion animation using 16mm film. So I did lots
of it there and made several student films combining live-action
with cut-out and clay animation. This led to me being hired by a
local animator named Steve Stanchfield who was running his own
studio there in Ann Arbor, MI and that was my first industry job.
How would you describe your artistic style?
That’s a loaded question, since I’ve also been branching out
into book illustration, where my style tends to be more
detailed than anything I would be able to animate. One of the
things I picked up working with Steve Stanchfield was catching
his obsession for 1930s cartoons, so lots of my characters are
drawn with black beady eyes inspired by the look of those
films. I’ve picked up lots of inspiration over the years from
the golden age cartoons of the 30s, 40s and 50s in particular,
so I tend to like drawing stuff that has the same feel. I also
love drawing monsters, so I’m inspired by illustrators like
Maurice Sendak and the amazing work that Mercer Mayer did back
in the 70s.
|The Wise and Ancient Tree|
Can you share a piece of art work or script segment that no
one has seen before?
Sure, here’s a little elf character from one of my old
sketchbooks. My daughter named him “Lokey-Gock” when she
was a bit younger, so that’s probably still his name.
What role do you play in the creation of animation?
Typically, just a character animator, old-school and hand-drawn
with pencil & paper on an animation disc. At the time of
this interview, I’m currently working on my 10th short film for
BigFott Studios, who I’ve
been involved with since 2006. All of these films have been
directed by my friend Galen Fott, a fellow VanArts graduate,
who started his own studio in Nashville and adapts childrens’
books into animated shorts for Scholastic/Weston Woods. Based
on an animatic and matching the character design from whichever
book we’re doing, I do all the pencil animation on my
light-table and ship the drawings off to Galen so the digital
inking & painting can be done by other artists. Sometimes I
feel like I’m one of the only people still animating on paper
What is one project that you are proud to have been involved
Well, I’m proud to have worked on all of the films for BigFott
Studios, which are ultimately released to DVD and marketed to
schools and libraries. One of them, Scaredy Squirrel (based on
the first book by Melanie Watt), has even shown up on NetFlix.
The Scaredy films are probably my favorites, but what I most
appreciate about them is that I can share them with my two
young kids, and they have grown up watching me work on them, so
they have a first-hand glimpse at how much work goes into the
animation. Plus they’re just great films for them to watch over
and over again. It’s a real blessing to be able to work on
something that’s good for them to enjoy.
What project are you working on now?
In addition the new film for BigFott, I am currently in the final
stages of something completely different, as I have also been
transitioning and branching out into creative writing and
illustration. For the past couple of years I have been
obsessively working on a book called Gnomes of the Cheese Forest
and Other Poems. It’s fully illustrated with black & white
ink drawings, and is essentially a collection of 103 poems that
I’ve written. It’s sort of a mash-up of different stories
& ideas based on random parts of my life, unfinished projects
or just weird things that showed up in my sketchbook while
working on it. I’m self-publishing it and hopefully it will be
released this Fall. I have a blog that shows a bit of
behind-the-scenes and for documenting, anticipating and sharing
information about the book: http://gnomesofthecheeseforest.blogspot.ca/
I also have ideas for a collection of short stories and at
least one novel that will likely follow after this one.
Drawing in progress from “Gnomes of the Cheese Forest and
Who is one of your favourite Canadian animators?
Williams is the first one who comes to mind, especially the
work he did on his original vision for The Thief and the Cobbler,
which I’m a big fan of. I was lucky enough to meet him a
few years ago, and he is such a nice guy, dedicated artist and
What is one of your favourite animations and/or animation
Oh gosh…..way too many to mention. My favorite animated film
would probably come down to The Nightmare Before Christmas; that
film is better now than it was when it came out. It’s
absolutely timeless and just gets better with age. But I also
love the films of Tomm Moore: The Secret of Kells and Song of the
Sea, and another rare favorite of mine is John Korty’s Twice Upon
a Time. I could keep going but I digress for now. Sorry, I have
to mention Allegro Non Troppo too. I should watch that
again…it’s been awhile.
For animation books? Also difficult to say, as you have
how-to books, “art of” books, and history books to consider.
One that really stands out for me is the book that Disney
released about Lilo and Stitch (another one of my favorite
films) because it took a different approach: more than just
your standard “Art of” book it actually contains stories from
key people who worked on the film about what inspired them as
they made it. Really great stuff! I’m also rather
mad-obsessive over children’s books in particular these days,
and I’ve discovered a few graphic novels that I really love,
like Luke Pearson’s Hilda series and David Nytra’s Secret of
the Stone Frog.
Who is an up-and-coming or relatively unknown Canadian
animator that everyone should check out?
Oh, it’s hard to pick just one….working at VanArts full-time as
Communications Manager (my day job) I meet so many other
talented students in the animation department and it’s neat to
watch them come and go, and start working in the industry. It’s
a good time for them right now.
Are you involved with any animation organizations in
Not at the moment, but I have been involved in past years with
SIGGRAPH Chapter and the group that is now Spark CG Society. I was part of the
group that launched the first Spark Animation festival back in
2008, which still happens every year.
Have you written any books or blog posts about Animation or
Here is a link to the “Books” page on my website, which
includes the two books I’ve written on stop-motion animation.
The first one is out-of-print but can be found in e-book
format. The second one is still out there and easier to
Do you have other interviews online about your work in
This interview I did with CGTantra is still online:
To see more of Ken’s work and to follow what he’s up to
check out the links below.
Main Website: http://www.priebelieving.com/