Our Animator: Andrew Wilson

“Have Pencil Will Travel” could be the name of animator Andrew Wilson’s autobiography as he has followed work back and forth across the states during his long career.

When animator Andrew Wilson joined the Cetati Studios team, he felt right at home helping to create educational materials using engaging animation. One of the projects he worked on just a few years ago was developing 2D animated characters and motion graphics that explained consumers’ healthcare and insurance benefits.

His animation career has been a long and winding road filled with twists and turns and ups and downs. 

Wilson’s artistic talent was discovered when in the 4th grade his teachers at the New Jersey school he attended informed his parents that he was drawing at a high school level. Soon he was creating school banners and program covers for events. Still, he didn’t see his gifts as the path to a career.

“I never wanted to be an artist because I saw them as people who were disheveled and poor on the street never making any money. I never even thought about becoming an animator or cartoonist. I wanted to become an architect. I was taking all these drafting classes, but the art teachers put me back into art classes and then I decided I was going to go into advertising. I got a scholarship to a small college in upstate New York called Cazenovia. But it was more about laying out ads and I wasn’t drawing enough. Then my dad came across The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art.”

Now called simply The Kubert School, the Dover, New Jersey-based institution was founded in 1976 and is the only accredited school devoted entirely to cartooning. The school’s namesake was a famous comic book artist best known for his work on the DC Comics characters Sgt. Rock and Hawkman.

The Kubert School instructors had worked at DC or Marvel comics and they also had an animation department with an old Disney animator working there, Milton Neil. He’d worked for Disney Studios from 1935 to 1944 and his resume included animation on “Fantasia,” “Dumbo” and other classics. Neil later worked on the children’s show “Howdy Doody” and designed puppets and various other merchandising objects.

“I knew nothing about animation. When I toured the school and went into Milt’s studio, he had all these pinned-up storyboards on the wall of a Pluto-type character and a Donald Duck-type character. Those drawings were just in pencil, but they came to life and popped off the wall at me. That’s when I knew I wanted to go into animation because I loved those drawings.”

After graduating in 1991, Wilson’s first job was creating hand-drawn animation that was digitized and projected onto Stone Mountain in Georgia for popular laser shows. After that he freelanced in Atlanta and then at IBM he entered the world of creating animated content for games.

“I worked on a “Peter and the Wolf” CD-ROM game that had Tony Randall as a voice actor. It was fun 2D animation. We were drawing on paper back then and we would scan it in and they would color it and put it all together. You’d play the game and it would tell a story and then click on things and the characters would animate.”

In 1995, Wilson moved to Las Vegas to work for a company called Westwood Studios. They had just finished doing Disney’s “The Lion King” game for SEGA and were going to do an “Aladdin” one next.

“They brought me on to animate Aladdin characters and I thought it might be a way for me to eventually get into Disney because that was my dream. I moved to Las Vegas and then they told me it got cancelled. But they told me not to worry because they were going to turn me into a 3D animator because of my 2D background. That was all new to me. This was when 3D animation was just coming out. It was so funny because they gave me a computer and I didn’t even know how to turn it on.”

During his time there, Wilson helped create the first 3D Monopoly game, but the transition from 2D to 3D animation wasn’t easy for him. Drawings on paper really only have to look good from one angle. Three dimensional ones, however, have to look good from numerous angles. Besides the technical difficulties, there was also the emotional one of pining for his first love.

“In my cubicle I posted a picture I drew of my pencil crying with the caption “Don’t give up on me!”

For years Wilson went to where the work was, ping-ponging from the east coast to the west coast and back again.

While working at Westwood in Vegas, he freelanced on the side animating “The Flintstones” for Turner Interactive back in Atlanta. Since computers sending images across the country back then was still science fiction, he would draw them and have to FedEx them to Georgia every couple of days.

Then he was hired full-time by Turner Interactive to do 2D animation so he left Vegas and went back to Atlanta and his pencil stopped sobbing. One project he did there was a game called Pie Jackers that included the voice talents of Cheech Marin and Cyndi Lauper.

Unfortunately, Turner got bought out by Time-Warner and they cut the Turner Interactive division. But, cue the hallelujah chorus, Wilson then got what he thought was his dream job–working for Disney. So he moved across the country again to work at Disney Interactive in Burbank, California. But dreams sometimes get spoiled by reality.

“I thought it might be the opening where I could get into feature animation, but it blew me away because I learned that everything was done out of house. I was managing all the artwork and animation and then the actual work was outsourced to other companies. It was crazy because we had to bow down to these people doing the work for us. I thought it would be the other way around because we were Disney. It was a good learning experience, but unfortunately Disney Interactive had a huge turnover and eventually there was a massive layoff.”

Out of work again, Wilson headed for—you guessed it–Atlanta and began working for Cartoon Network. One side of the spectrum of work he did there included drawing classic characters like Scooby-Doo, The Jetsons and Yogi Bear and on the other was the more risqué offerings on “Adult Swim.”

Then there was his stint at Inventionland in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“It was the craziest place I’ve ever worked. It was in a warehouse and so they took me to a bookcase and pressed a button and the bookcase opened up and it was like Willie Wonka. There was a pirate ship and a castle and a candy house and every house was themed. The robot head was where technology stuff was created, the candy house made food, the dog house made pet stuff and a treehouse in the middle was where the boss worked.”

Wilson became the animation director and stayed there for over two years, but management micromanaging, plus the frigid Philly winters had him longing for more freedom and warmer climes.

Through a series of serendipitous contacts, Wilson got hooked up with Cetati Studios in March of 2019. He has worked on animated scenes and recently began working on the task portion of episodes because of his gaming experience.

“In each episode for each grade level, there’s an opening animation and then they go through a lesson and there’s a task and an exit animation before moving on to the next episode.”

Wilson met Andrea, his wife of over two years, on Match.com, and they make their home in Menlo Park with their pooches Ripley and Zoe.

Wilson is a huge sports fan and especially loves baseball. In the past he has created animation and graphics for the scoreboards at Tampa Bay Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates and Atlanta Braves games, but now has a new baseball side job.

“I’m a Video Room Monitor or VRM. I have a crazy job. I work for Major League Baseball and I sit in the clubhouse and make sure that guys aren’t cheating–stealing signs or anything. They are not allowed to use their phones or any electronic devices from the time the game starts until it ends. If they do, I have to write them up. There are VRMs all across the country this year. I thought the players would hate us, but they came up to me and said they were glad we were doing it because other teams were cheating and they like to have a level playing field.“

At Cetati, Wilson loves hearing stories from his co-workers who have worked with animation legends and enjoys the camaraderie they share while they pool their talents to create digital magic.

“From my first day at Cetati I’ve enjoyed the people and felt a connection and I’m super-excited to work here. I think we have a really good team. When you are doing something you love, you may be tired at the end of the day, but it feels great when you’re working with a good group of people.”

To get a taste of Andrew Wilson’s work in animation, storyboarding, drawing, photography and more, visit his website at www.andywilsonstudios.com.