“One of the things I like most about my job is creating fun and engaging characters, animals, and designs that bring a smile to the audience’s faces and brighten their day for having seen it,” says Hannah O’Neal. Once a FableVision intern, now lead animator, Hannah has created stunning animation at the studio for years. During her time as an intern, Hannah connected with the work and mission of FableVision, and when she finished her internship, she soon began freelancing. She then joined the team as a staff artist/animator and later became lead animator. In her role, she has delivered high-quality animation on a number of award-winning projects, and takes part in many important conversations surrounding the studio’s animation process.
What distinguishes FableVision from other studios in the industry, for Hannah, is the work environment. “FableVision has a tremendous studio culture that creates a positive place to work,” says Hannah. “As an employee for a while now, it’s always been a pleasure working in a place that has collected what is both some of the best talent and also the nicest people in the Boston area.”
Read on for more information on Hannah’s role at FableVision, where and how she finds artistic inspiration, and how she is shaping the minds of future animators in her animation course at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design.
What is involved in being a Lead Animator at FableVision, and how has your day-to-day routine changed since the beginning of your time at FableVision?
I still get to do a lot of the day-to-day animation tasks, making characters and designs move around in an interesting way, but now I also get to be more a part of the upfront discussions on not just what we’re working on, but also why, and how. In that way, I have the opportunity to shape the way we approach our animation for a given project and make sure we’re doing the best we can to meet our clients’ and partners’ goals. I am also able to interact more with other animation freelancers on projects and help direct them. I interact more with clients, as well, and provide animation-related information and feedback that helps keep projects looking their best.
As the art/animation internship coordinator, you’ve guided many young artists and even former students of yours in their practice. What do you look for in an intern candidate, and how does it feel to work with your students and former students at FableVision?
I was once an intern at FableVision, so I feel really blessed to be able to help usher in our new art interns every semester. I’m always looking for candidates who have the appropriate skill level in their portfolios for art or animation; however, portfolios only get a candidate so far. I also need to make sure that the candidate will fit in well within our close team-oriented environment. So I look for talented folks who are also up-beat, goal focused, and willing to jump into a team project and work with other people to make something great! I do my best to make sure my interns and students are getting the best professional experience possible, while also making it a positive experience for the studio to interact with these talented young people. By the end of the semester, I tend to be very sad when I have to say goodbye to them, but we all typically stay in touch, and I do my best to keep those connections alive.
You started out as a FableVision intern! How does your experience transitioning from intern to animator to now lead animator affect how you run the internship program?
FableVision was a great place to intern, and if I have anything to say about it, it remains a great place to intern! Becoming an animator after being an intern was a very different experience for me. The transition from animator to lead animator involves more managing, which means there is more overlap with my role as internship coordinator. I manage a team and their time, as well as direct look and feel of a project’s motion needs. I take what I learn managing the interns and apply it to what I do as a lead, and vice versa.
What’s a project you’ve worked on this year that you’re especially proud of? Do you have any all time favorites?
This year, I just wrapped up a project that deals with financial literacy content. I was able to work with some really amazing writing and character designs, as well as some fantastic voice acting. Things came together so well and made my job not only easy, but super fun to execute. When we previewed the animation in front of the studio, it made people laugh and have a good time. That’s the best part of the job, when our team comes together well and makes something everyone really enjoys.
What are some things that have influenced your art style over the years?
As a kid, I was really into anime-style animation. While I am not as interested in that as an adult, I still use its visual language in my work. This is easy to do because most animators these days are using anime-inspired visual cues as well. Other inspirations include independent comic artists and illustrators of varying styles and genres. I love styles that push poses and emotions beyond the expected, and you tend to see more of that in comics since you have to say more in one character pose than you would in animation. I also derive a lot of inspiration from video games in terms of how things can move and what software to use to do so. I love seeing the latest from top-name motion graphic companies, as well. I’m fascinated by how much one can relate to an audience using abstract shapes and good graphic design. But what I have always felt most inspired by is nature! I’m a huge nature nerd, and it has always informed what and how I create art.
How did you first become interested in animation? What advice would you have for an artist pursuing the field today?
As mentioned, I love nature, and it’s because of that love that I was drawn to animation, specifically to the idea that I could essentially create living art. I could make art move and breathe and run and laugh. It seemed to me to be a very powerful form of artistic expression. One thing I would suggest for an artist interested in learning how to create animation, and ultimately becoming a professional animator, is to make sure you’re okay with drawing a lot! It can be tedious, and if you’re finding the level of tedium is preventing you from feeling that spark of creativity, you may want to try other forms of art. But, if you are really into it like I was, you should learn the basics first!
And I what I mean by “basics” is learning how to draw animation (either on paper or in a software that lets you draw frame-by-frame) before starting to learn software. The animation world is very competitive world, and there are more software options than you can shake a stick at. There’s also a lot of pressure for a young animator to learn ALL THE SOFTWARE! However, all the software in the world isn’t going to make you a good animator if you don’t understand how to move and draw with a sense of weight and 3-dimension. It takes an experienced artist to make that movement something worth watching, giving your object life, making it relatable, and giving it a purpose. That can be quite a tall order! But if you can figure out how to do that, no matter what software (or paper) you use, you’ll be on the fast track to becoming a successful animator and artist.
Where do you seek out opportunities for viewing art and animation? What are some of your favorite animated shows/movies/cartoons?
Studio Ghibli films are always a great source of animation inspiration for me in regards to tone, story, and character movement. Anything animated by Milt Kahl is worth studying for hours if you can as well! He was a master of animation. One of my most favorite animated TV shows is Batman the Animated Series from the 90’s. It was very formative for me! It pushed character design and story in the realm of children’s television and is still such a pleasure to watch. I also love the animation coming out of the Cartoon Saloon in Ireland. They’re great at adding interesting stylized design and story to make epic and enjoyable animated films. Practically anything coming out of Gobelins school for animation is also top-notch! And last but certainly not least, I’ve really enjoyed the works of Giant Ant, an amazing motion graphic studio!
Tell us about your current teaching gig!
I am lucky to work in a place that lets me take part in teaching a class on 2D Animation software at MassArt. I have always really loved teaching, which is part of the reason I enjoy running the intern program at FableVision. I’m going into my second semester teaching, and I’m really looking forward to it. Helping young artists learn to be the best they can is super rewarding work!
We heard you’re also into gaming. What’s your current favorite video game, and are there any games that have influenced your artistic style over the years?
My favorite video game is Journey—hands down! It’s SO amazing in every way I hope a game to be amazing. It has a meaningful story that promotes cooperative play with others, it looks stunning, and the music is *chef’s kiss*. It’s an award-winning game for a reason.
More about Hannah:
What’s at the top of your travel bucket list and why? New Zealand because it’s so BEAUTIFUL and kind of weird, and I can pretend to be a hobbit. It’d be great!
You love to camp! Do you prefer a tent or a camper? TENT 100%. I like hiking into a remote location and pitching a tent by a fire. There’s just something so satisfying about that—being so lost in and surrounded by nature.
We heard you grew up on an animal farm. Do you know why cows come close when they hear trumpets or other music? Cattle will come to any weird noise you make so long as they believe there will be food at the end of their journey. We used to yell out a sort of song to attract the cattle to come feed. They have to hear you over fields and hills, so you have to be really loud! It went something like, “SoooooeeeeEEEEe Cooome n’ Get iiiiiiiitttt!” and hit the empty bucket against the giant feeding trough because it makes a loud sound. The cattle loved it!
Favorite song to listen to while working? I like to listen to albums, so it’s hard to pick one song! I like to listen to the album “Songs from Moonlit Lake” by Daniel Olsén because it’s so darn cute!
Favorite work snack? Double chocolate cookies from Flour Bakery!
Describe your ideal dessert: There was this legendary dessert dish my Granny made when I was a kid that she called Mississippi Mud Pie Graveyard. It was a kind of cake with LOTS of chocolate things. It had pudding, oreo crumbles, and maybe some cream cheese. MOST IMPORTANTLY, though, it was in a casserole dish decorated with gummy worms and marshmallow ghosts to resemble a graveyard, since she made it for Halloween. I will never forget that dish and want nothing more than to eat that again, but only for Halloween!
Summarize FableVision in three words: Hard-working, good people.