Ep.11: Curious mind of an artist with Tod Polson (The Book of Life)

By Iva Mikles •  Updated: Sep 19, 2017 •  Interviews

Tod is an animation designer and director originally from Wyoming, United States and currently living in Thailand. He has worked extensively as a director, designer, and art director, helping develop projects for companies all over the world including Walt Disney, Warner Bros., and Nickelodeon.

I met Tod while working at LEGO where he ran a week-long workshop about character design and animation.

Tod received both his BFA and MFA from The California Institute of the Arts (Cal/Arts) under a scholarship from the Walt Disney Co. At Cal/Arts, Tod fell under the mentorship of legendary animation designer Jules Engel, eventually garnering the “Student Oscar”, and “Annie Award” nomination for his short film, “Al Tudi Tuhak”. Between degrees, Tod apprenticed under the Oscar-winning team of Chuck Jones, and Maurice Noble.

Tod is known for his work on Howl (2010), The Secret of Kells (2009) and The Book of Life (2014). His animation design book, The Noble Approach, Maurice Noble and the Zen of Animation was published by Chronicle Books LLC. Currently, Tod is a creative director at large for the Cartoon Saloon studio in Ireland and is busy creating new personal short film projects through his own studio Prodigal Pictures in Thailand.

Get in touch with Tod

Key Takeaways

“Try to find balance in your life, look at things outside of animation for inspiration – art, music, travel. Do all these things, because taking time from art will make you even better artist”

Resources mentioned

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Special thanks to Tod for joining me today. See you next time!

All artworks by Tod Polson, used with permission

Episode Transcript

Announcer  

Creative, artistic, happy! That’s you. There are endless possibilities for living a creative life. So let’s inspire each other. Art Side of Life interviews with Iva.

Iva Mikles  

Hello, everyone and welcome to the next episode of aArt Side of Life where it’s all about how you can turn your creative passion into a profession. My name is Iva, and my guest today is highly accomplished and awarded animation designer and director originally from Wyoming us now living and working in Thailand. He was mentored by legendary animation designer Jules angle, and the Oscar winning team of Chuck Jones and Mary’s noble. He is known for his work on how the secret of Kells in the book of life, I met him while working at Lego, where he ran a week long workshop about character design and animation. Currently, he is a creative director for keratin salon animation studio in Ireland. And he’s busy creating new personal short frame projects through his own studio prodigal pictures in Thailand. So please welcome Tod Polson. Let’s jump to the interview. You always knew that you wanted to be a designer or being in creative field when you were a child.

Tod Polson  

I think so. It’s the, I think, you know, I started drawing actually really young, like my mom still has. And I think most artists are this wave of drawings from when I was like two or three years old stuck up on the refrigerator. And so I was always really encouraged. My dad was a rancher, and he wasn’t so sure about it. Until until after I he could see that I could actually make a living and I was in my 20s and he finally said so and I’m proud of you, but it took a long time to get there. But but but they always supported me and they always I was lucky to have great teachers. I was in four h i don’t know if you know what that is. It’s basically they were you in for ah you

Iva Mikles  

know, but it’s nice if you can explain it to people who don’t Okay,

Tod Polson  

yeah, four h is just an organization that gives opportunities for kids to learn different things. So I was I learned woodworking I had a great teacher named Kathy Hamblin, I must have been, like eight years old or something, I don’t know. But she taught me watercolor and, and, you know, pen and ink and all these different things. And then when I got into middle school, I had another great teacher, Tara Taylor, and Dennis Freeman when I was in high school. And he’s probably one of the best cartoonists I know still. And it just happened to be in this little town in Wyoming at that time, it had about 800 people in it. So amazing. There wasn’t much else to do. raise cattle and draw. So

Iva Mikles  

yeah, so you went for the drawing? Yeah. And so if you can mention, like, the biggest turning points, or the biggest decisions, kind of which led you where you are now.

Tod Polson  

Yeah, that’s, that’s a good question. I think I think just following my instincts, and a lot of times my instincts I question if they pin writer or wrong. When I was about, I think on my 30th birthday, I I kind of looked back and I said What, Where Where have I gone in my life and I I honestly couldn’t remember my 20s it was all a big blur of, of like studios and late nights and overtime and weekends and freelance projects. And I was like, I don’t want to I don’t want to live like that. So my, my mentor, Maria snowball, and I, we were going to make short film and we were invited to go to Thailand to make the film, and then he passed away. So I decided to go over for six months to make the film. And then that six months ended up being about 12 years. So and you know, some of my friends in the industry in LA were like, you know, you’re throwing your career away how brave of you and I was like, thank you. So, but now it’s just, you know, I just wanted to try some different things. That’s why I like the cartoon saloon and I work a lot with Jorge Gutierrez. They just doing really The quirky kind of different projects with a lot of heart. And those are the things that kind of keep me keep me motivated. So,

Iva Mikles  

yeah, because I met Kurt here, like just really briefly on CTN last year, he seems like such a funny guy and always in a good mood. So I can see totally how it can be translated in the movies as well.

Tod Polson  

It’s exactly right. Well, that’s because his films are so sincere. And the same is true of Tom Tom Moore, who directed the secret of Kells and Song of the Sea. That’s really them up on the screen. And so, you know, and like Jorge is, is a huge personality in his films are that way too? And those are the kinds of people that attract me to work with. And,

Iva Mikles  

yeah, because then you also work on the story, I guess, when you work on the movie, right? And then that’s kind of translated into the the whole look and feel of the movie.

Tod Polson  

That’s right. Well, what sometimes in sometimes in the story, but more mostly in the, they have me come in, they say, What do you think this looks like? So I’ll do some visual development. And a lot of times that will help guide the story. So they’ll see something, they go, Oh, that’s a great idea. Why don’t we even work that back into the movie or the TV show or whatever we’re working on, and vice versa, as well. So we really bounce off of one another, the visual side and the writing side? And, and here in Thailand, I do a lot of the writing, as well. So yeah.

Iva Mikles  

And if you like, imagine because you work with so many people, so many mentors, and also many inspiring people, what would be the best advice you ever received? And worst advice, maybe

Tod Polson  

the worst advice and the best advice? Well, my, my, my biggest influence in in my life has been probably Maurice noble, and he was Chuck Jones art director. So I was just about a year out of school. And he invited me to come work with him. And I didn’t want to work on cartoons I was in I was trying to get into the experimental animation program at CalArts. I kept getting rejected, rejected. So I got into the character animation program. And I’m glad I did because I you know, it taught me how to animate and storytelling and things like that. But so I didn’t want to do that. But the reason Murray’s hired me is because there were no cartoons in my portfolio. He saw these like, designs inspired by woodcut artists of the 1930s like Rockwell Canton, Lind ward. And little did I know, those were the things that he was looking at when he was a young man. Ah, okay. So he says, You know, I just, I don’t want another tree that’s, you know, that looks like something I’ve designed. I want someone, you know, he wanted someone that was interested in other things besides cartoons. So his mother gave him a piece of advice that he gave me and I still have it here. And I’ll read it from the book of the noble approach is called the greatest asset and not artists can have is a curious mind, in the courage to explore it. Yeah. So the great the greatest asset and artists can have as a curious mind, and the courage to explore it. And I didn’t know what that meant for a long time. You know, the curious mind part is easy. You know, being in and having if I don’t know if you have kids or not, but kids are. Yeah, they’re, you know, they’ll tear apart your watch, you know, they destroy everything, because they want to know how it works, right? Yeah. And Reese was that way, even at 90 years old, so that was really inspiring. But the second part, the courage to explore it, that’s more difficult because it’s just like with Jorge and Tom, the reason why they’re successful is because they’re brave enough to put themselves up on the screen there. In Pete doctor told me something once he says, If you can show something vulnerable, about yourself on the screen, and then your characters, your the audience is going to relate to that. And so Maurice was the same way with through his art that was his personality up on the screen. So for me, it’s I try to hide behind layers of, of, you know, design or trying to like gags and it’s hard sometimes just to be yourself up in a story or to design and I think I’m getting better at it, but it’s, it’s still a challenge. So

Iva Mikles  

yeah, for sure, because you will always have people who love it. And also internet trolls or whatever, kind of criticizing and then maybe they can point out things you already know and you don’t want other people to see and then if they actually see it, say it, then it gets stressful, but it kind of gets better because then you are a better artist or creator. Right.

Tod Polson  

I think I think that’s one of the things we forget in the animation industry that we’re artists who happened to do animation? Right. It is a business. And I think sometimes sometimes that overshadows the artistry. And I think, you know, I think there’s a lot of exciting things happening now. All over the world. I mean, the technology is so cheap, that there’s all these interesting projects coming out 2d and 3d, I mean, more than ever before. So I think that’s very exciting. Yes.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, for sure. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to see like, also all new projects with you will come up

Tod Polson  

with Yeah, I mean, to

Iva Mikles  

you, because I read somewhere that you would like to do the novel approaches or character theories, right.

Tod Polson  

Yeah, I was, I’m interested in doing it. The idea was, is to take some of Maria’s best cartoons, and then, and then break them down and have different people that he trained, kind of explain certain aspects of what he was doing. Because when Maurice was designing a film, he was involved, he was involved in story, he was involved in the whole process, you know, all those guys were really, they really bounced off of each other. So I think it would be really interesting and educational to people to break down those cartoons and talk about what was what was going on what they were thinking, the process, the timing, what they were, you know, the problem is, is that Warner Brothers really doesn’t want people to have these things and see these things. It’s a strips thing. So for just a book, the book itself took me eight years to get the rights to the images. Wow. So I would call them up every few months, can I can I can I use? And then they say we’ll get back to you. And it took eight years. Oh, my God, they thought I would get they thought I would give up. But I did. I told him I said, I promised Breece on his deathbed that I would finish this book for him. And he was in the hospital. And he said, could you I want you to do two things for me finish our film that was the pumpkin of knifer. And and finish my book, because I think it’s important that people you know, people get this information that it doesn’t leave with my generation. So

Iva Mikles  

yeah, yeah, for sure. I mean, but yeah, you made it. So that’s Yeah. Yeah. And when you’re working on the on the new projects, which are the new projects you’re excited about now, or something that you’re working on now or something upcoming? Well,

Tod Polson  

right now, it’s a pretty exciting time I’m, I’m working on. Well, for the coastal Park, cartoon saloon. I’m helping develop a project based on the the life of Jane Goodall, Goodall. And she, there was this book written by Patrick McDonnell, I get it right here. We’re working on it now. Cool. So it’s about her childhood and how, basically, that some of the things that came in, that made her who she would become and who she is. So that’s a very exciting project, we’re just doing the development right now we’re putting together a trailer and the script with a young writer and playing around with designs, and so it’s, and and the message is a great one, you know, conservation and, and getting kids out of the, out of the TV room and into the backyard, you know, exploring things. And then the other project I’m working on now, I’ve got a few things, but I’m working on a short called the prodigal son. It’s a based on the Bible story, but I’m doing a really different take on it. I’m not gonna give it away now. But it’s only five minutes, but I think it’s, it’s gonna be a lot of fun for people. It’s a drama. And most of my shorts up to this point have been comedies. So for me, it’s it’s a lot of fun to try something else out and stretch my wings a little bit. So that’s exciting. Yeah,

Iva Mikles  

I mean, it sounds really good when it will be out. Do you know already? Well, which which project, the short one,

Tod Polson  

or the short one? I’m hoping by the end of the year. Oh, God, I told them. I had the producer. Anyway, I was supposed to be done in July and it’s, it’s gonna be probably a few more months.

Iva Mikles  

I saw the short video when he posted on YouTube. When you’re designing the character, it’s super cool to see as well like how you kind of go around to design the character? Oh,

Tod Polson  

oh, with a different color.

Iva Mikles  

Yes, yeah,

Tod Polson  

let’s Oh, I didn’t know anyone would actually watch that.

Iva Mikles  

I was doing my research. And so what I wanted to ask you as well, when you’re creating stories or color scripts or everything, do you kind of travel to the places when you want to get the inspiration? Or how do you research your inspiration?

Tod Polson  

If possible? Yeah. You know, is it possible? Like the secret of Kells was interesting, because I had never been to Ireland before that project. I’d always imagined Ireland a certain way, you know, and when I got there, it was a shock to see, you know, it’s beautiful. I mean, it’s green, but it was raining every day. It was cold. You mean, no wonder they drink. Right. So that’s, that’s not true. They don’t all drink. So yeah. But, you know, the people themselves are so colorful, and, and just there, it’s an amazing crew, because we go to the pub, you know, sometimes, like on Thursdays, and there would be a band, a live band, and then they’d be playing the song and then half the artists would pull like a flute or some an instrument out of their bag, and they would just start playing along and singing. I was like, holy cow. And the guys are, like, you know, like, Ross Stewart is the art director. He’s, you know, he’s he’s a gallery painter. But, you know, he got kind of stuck in this animation world and, and so he’s he’s off painting when he has a free free moment. And then he’s, you know, back in the studio making poetry with with Tom. Tom more so. Interesting. But in like with Jorge stuff. I had a hard time because I wasn’t like, I’ve never, I’ve only been to Tijuana. So I first worked out with Jorge on LT gray for Nickelodeon. And my colors weren’t saturated enough for him. It took a while. And he and it’s, he goes, You know, I want to, to smell the sweat in the browns. And I want to, you know, feel the sun burning in the yellows. That’s how he describes it to me. I’m like, wow, okay. So you want everything intense? Yes.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, you need to have the emotions in the colors, right?

Tod Polson  

So, so his stuff is really hard to design because his colors have all the colors of the rainbow. You know, he can make them work, it’s more difficult for me to make them all work together. So that was a big challenge. But you know, through the years I got to know him and through a lot of research and books and things like that. I was able to finally kind of capture some of the things that he likes and doesn’t like I throw in pink every once in a while just to throw him off because he hates me Yeah, so sometimes I’ll throw in a pink a pink building or something like that just so she hasn’t asked me to work again since then.

Iva Mikles  

Maybe that’s the reason the thing and so when you are designing the color screen or or working with a complex background, how do you go about to simplify the characters so he doesn’t get lost in the layout? And I know it’s a complex question but maybe if you can,

Tod Polson  

but really it’s just like the the Jorge example sometimes the backgrounds were actually really ugly No, no color wise because the characters had to read so you know, they’re the stars they’re the reason that your watch you know watch the film so if they don’t stand out and people miss miss the characters then you haven’t done your job so sometimes, you know, I if I’m working with rainbow characters, I’ll have to work with really muted or monotone backgrounds sometimes. But you know, like, on the secret of Kells, the characters themselves were pretty muted. So the backgrounds really had to be the I mean, the characters were the stars, but it was really integrated more with the background so so the backgrounds had to stand out a lot more than they would on something like what Jorge is doing.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, because it was more the geometric shapes and movie right so you can We did and then on the book of life, then it was more the colors variation.

Tod Polson  

Yeah, yeah, that’s right. And, and in the book of life, everything had detail. Like, even the eyeballs had like little skulls in them and things like that. And it was, it was a lot of fun. It was challenging, but it was a lot of fun. So,

Iva Mikles  

yeah, for sure. Yeah. Because I mean, when I saw the movie first, I was like, Wow, so many colors. Yeah, yeah. And also on the Song of the Sea, were you involved on the movie as well,

Tod Polson  

I was just at the beginning. So they were trying to raise money. So we put together a trailer. And I helped a bit with that, just doing some color sketches and stuff like that. But I didn’t. And then I went, I looked at the story. And I gave some story notes on the first cut of the animatic. And, and then I appeared in the film as well. I’m in one of the background characters standing by a bus stop. We’ll watch it again. My claim to fame.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, this is really cool. I you know what, I managed to have a small character in Lego with my name, which is really nice. You go. But no one will notice ever when you are talking about it.

Tod Polson  

No one knows. Yet. My scene is like 12 frames long. So

Iva Mikles  

yeah, but now I will find it. And when you have now so many projects, how do you decide what to say yes and no to kind of how?

Tod Polson  

Well, when I was single, it was easier. Because it was my rule at at that time after I turned 30 Was it has to be an it really interesting project. Or it has to be in a really interesting place. It was never really about the money. So I remember I was I was invited to go to Fiji at one point. That sounds nice. There was a Yeah, it would have been great. There was a story about how Sanchez Sanchez elves get upset at Santiago on strike and decided to set up their own shop in the south pole. So on the way down to the South Pole, they get shipped direct in Fiji or something like that. So I actually it never I don’t think it ever happened. They never called me back. Anyway,

Iva Mikles  

because I wasn’t. I was wondering how do you combine Santa and Fiji?

Tod Polson  

I don’t know either. But if you get to spend the weekends on the beach, it doesn’t matter. Exactly.

Iva Mikles  

Okay, so and now because now you have a son, right? Yes. And he he’s really young.

Tod Polson  

years old. Yeah.

Iva Mikles  

So how do you design your day? And how do you combine your family life and the word balance? Like do you plan?

Tod Polson  

Yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s challenging. The last few days, it’s been a holiday here. So it’s, he’s been going to school to preschool. And that’s made things a lot easier. But the last two days, he’s so so what I’ve been doing is I go to bed at about nine o’clock when he gets goes to bed. And then I get up at like four or five in the morning. And work. At least try to work anyway. And so that’s that’s worked pretty well. But it’s always challenging. Yeah.

Tod Polson  

Yeah. Because then you you work on the personal project as well. And then you work. Do you? Do you schedule it like day by day or week by week? Or how do you split the project?

Tod Polson  

Um, it’s just like, when I have when I like for right now. I have the two projects. So when you know we have deadlines set up for for me, Jane. That’s the name of the saloon project. So we’ll have certain deadlines and I know that these days I’ll have to really focus with mark off to dollars is is the director on that I’m just creative director. So his his load is a lot heavier than mine. But and then and then I have certain deadlines that I have for the prodigal son project but that’s also why it’s not done because this other thing kicked in before I could finish it so it’s I’ve had to put it off unfortunately but I wanted to make it as as good as I as I can. So

Iva Mikles  

yeah, for sure. And is there like a tool or software you may be bought which simplifies your life in this maybe in the planning or something you work with?

Tod Polson  

Ah no. But but it’s it’s a good question because it’s something I was talking about. With my with my Mark, earlier today because we’re, he’s using something called Trello. I am using that as well. Yeah. And he recommended it for me too, because, you know, I have little sticky notes and things and stuff on my calendar and stuff. And if I have more than two projects, I’m just done so. So I’m going to try that. And then we’re playing with something called our tele, and then sync sketch. And those are just because because we’re working remotely, so often, just coming up with ways that we can, you know, share artwork and sketch on each other’s artwork and things like that. And, you know, and we’ve been using shotgun a lot, like at saloon, we use shotgun. And that’s been great. Because I can just type up my notes and then send artwork and talk to the artists directly. It’s been really good. So

Iva Mikles  

yeah, that’s really cool. Yeah. Because if you, like work with so many artists, as well, and if someone would want to do what you do now, and or get where you are now, what do you like? What would you advise them to have in portfolio or where to start with?

Tod Polson  

Well, I think just, I, I know, this sounds kind of cliche, but just, you know, follow your heart. And, and what I mean by that is just the things that interest you, if you, if you put those into your portfolio that’s going to, that’s going to get you into the kinds of projects that you want to get into eventually. It’s like this thing with mark it with this Jane Goodall, Mark marks. The reason mark is living in Thailand is because he’s so involved with animal conservation here. And he, you know, he’s helped Gosh, with he and his wife year, both have helped with a lot of different animals and things like that. But he, he actually would wanted to become a biologist. And he got stuck in animation. And he’s just an amazing animator, and storyteller, so he’s, this project, he’s mixing his loves is perfect for him. So, you know, those, those kinds of projects don’t come along very often, but when they do, you can make something really, really special. And that’s, that’s where the art part comes in. So I, I just get a little frustrated, even even at animation workshop where people all you know, they’ll, the the artist of the year, you know, there’ll be the, like flavor the month that backs Baskin Robbins, but there’ll be someone that everyone really loves. So all their work looks like that, you know? Yeah. And maybe I’m guilty of that, too. But you know, I try, I try to get them to look at other things as well. So I think it’s easier with the internet now, because it’s just so much out there. And, and, and often they’re showing me new artists as well, which are fantastic. So that’s the other benefit of teaching.

Iva Mikles  

That’s true. That’s true. And from studying and teaching, do you have some books would you recommend?

Tod Polson  

Well, the noble approach is a great and I think, and not, not to talk it out. But I think people think it’s about Maria’s design work. And it is. But mostly it’s about how you can approach any type of design for any kind of project and put yourself into it. So a lot of these things I’ve been talking about are things that Reese passed down onto me. Yeah, and I really love that the Preston Blair book, cartoon animation. It is still a great one. The Richard Williams book, which I can’t think of right now.

Iva Mikles  

But we can put it in the show notes at the end. So you can send it to me and we found it and then people can just check it out through link.

Tod Polson  

Animators work. I mean, yeah, but it’s, it’s a good one as well. So you know, so and more more than that, it’s just, I think just read a lot of different types of things. Like I really into biographies and things like that, and that really inspires my work a lot. And I think all these different things, you know, whatever, whatever book you’re reading is going to feed into this like system and it’ll make you a better storyteller. So I think a variety of things is is is best not just about animation, but just about everything. So I don’t know if that answers your you were talking More about animation type, but

Iva Mikles  

also doesn’t have to be animation type book is more like when you when you have a book which you would give as a present something that you you know, you really believe in, as you said, like, this is something people should read? Because it influences you.

Tod Polson  

Yeah. You know, from my classes I use the novel approaches a textbook. That’s one of the nice things about it. So. But, yeah, and

Iva Mikles  

so and what, what keeps you motivated? Because when you have now so many projects as well, I guess it’s easier as well to jump from project to project, maybe that can be a motivation, or do you go to nature or something which kind of keeps you from procrastinating? Well, I,

Tod Polson  

I actually try to keep two projects always going at the same time on purpose. Because when I get stuck on one, or I feel like I’ve taken it to a certain place where I, I need to think about it more than I can jump on to the other thing. So that’s, I mean, in that project, sometimes it’s a film project, sometimes it’s a book project, you know, just different different types of creative things. And I think, I think that really helps a lot.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, for sure. I like to do it as well, because some people like to keep only one project. But for me, I like to do even just more illustrations and more project at the same time as well.

Tod Polson  

It takes longer, but I think the results are better. You know, I don’t know, maybe some people look at my personal films and go, I don’t know what he’s talking about.

Iva Mikles  

And can you share also, like a worst career moment? And what you learned from it?

Tod Polson  

Worst career moment? Well, there was a time just a few years ago, actually, when I moved back to the US for a while and moved back to Wyoming. And then suddenly I didn’t have work for gosh, a year almost, is just like trickles of freelance and things like that. And, you know, living in my parents house, which which was great. But yeah, just suddenly, there was just no work and, and I really questioned, you know, my own abilities. Am I growing as an artist Am I you know, so that was that was a hard time. And, and luckily, my wife is very understanding. And she’s also very talented artists. So she, she pushes me pretty hard. But But yeah, that was a hard moment. And also, the when my, when Maurice died, that was also a very difficult moment, because we’d had so many plans together, you know, and he was when he died. He was 91. I think so. You know, he promised me he would live to 100 that I believed him, you know, so it wasn’t his fault that he passed on. But, you know, he was just so youthful. So when he passed away, I was it was like a void. I was like, Oh, now, now I have to make the decisions about where I’m going to go with my career. And so that’s when I came to Thailand. You know, it was all all about that same time. Yeah.

Iva Mikles  

So what do you think would be like a key takeaway from these stories for for a young artist?

Tod Polson  

I think just keep going. And, and I think, and this is something that teachers say all the time, but Finish, finish your projects, whether it’s a book, whether it’s a film, a personal film, I think it’s important to finish those things. Because, you know, actually, at the end of every project, you’re, I think you’re gonna hate it. Because you’ve grown, you’ve grown so much as an artist to the arc, even if it takes a year or two years, you’ve grown, you know, you’re much better artists than you were in the beginning. So you look back, but you got to finish it, then you have something that’s, that’s your art, you know, just keep going.

Iva Mikles  

Yeah, I think that’s really good advice. Because sometimes people are just scared to continue because they don’t see the improvement right away. And yeah,

Tod Polson  

they Well, are they what I usually see it in a lot of young people’s well, and older people’s work, too, but they’ll be working on a project and it’ll look great. And then and then they’ll say, Oh, but I could design it a little bit differently and it would look better. So they go to the beginning again and then they say Oh, I can rework the story in the do go to the beach. So it’s like, you know, 20 years go by and, and, and I’ve got a few projects that I’m guilty of that too, actually. But you know, I think just, you know, get it as good as you can and then stick with it and finish it. And then knowing that you’re going to learn, like my last film. I don’t like it very much. But it was the, the, the escape of the gingerbread man was my last like, personal project. That was years ago. But I learned more from that project than any of the others. Because I’ve never really worked in three CG that way before. So. So So for growth wise, it was the best film for me. But yeah, so

Iva Mikles  

you so you’re developing in that sense? That’s right. That’s really cool. And so is there something you wish you knew before you started your career?

Tod Polson  

Yeah, I think I think that I got bumped up too quickly. I don’t know if that makes any sense. I started directing. When I was still in college, like, I won a contest for Disney to do bumpers for their TV show called home improvement. And then I was directing things for Sesame Street, like when I was still in college. And so I didn’t have to go through the steps. And so I missed, I think I missed a lot of stuff, technically, that I could have been a lot better at now. And also, I wish I had focused, because I was going to be an animator in school, right? And then then everyone just hired me to be a designer. So I wish that I had focused more on like illustration and things like that as well. But those are things that you pick up along the way, you know, so

Iva Mikles  

yeah, for sure. You never know. Yeah, that’s, that’s true. It has always been the focus shifting when you were like designing color screens, and you work as a designer. And then when you work as an art director, what is is the focus different, or you work kind of the same way,

Tod Polson  

it’s kind of the same, the biggest difference is that, when I work with it’s always a difficult balance, when you’re directing or directing is that you want, you want to bring the best out of the people you’re working with, you really want because, you know, obviously they have heart in talent, and but you want them to to do the things your way to write. So getting that balance is is difficult, and it’s why teamwork is so good. And if you can work with the same people from project to project, you get to gain that trust, and, and things like that. But I’ve found that if you can inspire people to give the best of themselves and help them to feel creative and help them to get the project, you’re gonna get much better work than if you had just like, you know, dictated every note in the song. So,

Iva Mikles  

yeah, for sure. And how do you then find people which feeds the kind of the vision or the brand you’re trying to communicate?

Tod Polson  

It’s, it’s, again, difficult sometimes. A lot of the, it’s interesting, a lot of the people that I almost all the people that I get hired by our people that I went to school with, so so, you know, we went through that, that process and then more recently, the people I get hired by or students of mine, like from the workshop, so, yeah, okay, that was interesting. So we built relationships before we had a working relationship. So a lot of times, I’ll, you know, I’ll have students over there and this year, we’re having take five interns from the workshop come to Thailand, and they’re going to be helping us on a couple of our projects and things like that. So you know, some of them I think, will be a really good fit and some of them I’m not so sure but there’s some potential there so we’ll just see where it goes and you know, give them a chance you know, yeah, definitely

Iva Mikles  

because then you build like networking and then you then you see maybe you can like join forces with someone for one project and then with others were different. For sure. Yeah, for sure. So that’s really cool. And we didn’t talk about the your brand and the vision and mission through

Tod Polson  

through your brand.

Iva Mikles  

How do you kind of position yourself on the on the market or what is the vision you’re always communicating through your work?

Tod Polson  

Well, you know, it’s interesting. I I’ve never seen my work as a brand or, you know, I did when I was younger because we were trying to market the noble tails, which is, you know, and I’ve had some series and things I’ve tried to pitch and do things like that, but that’s a, that’s a good question. I’ve, it’s never been that important to me to be seen as a brand. And I know that in illustration or design, you know, they say just, you know, set a style and go with it. But I’ve never really thought about that. And maybe, maybe I’d be a lot more successful. I don’t know. Oh, yeah.

Iva Mikles  

Because, you know, I was always thinking like, as well, when you have, you know, business and in marketing. And also, when you are artists, you are kind of promoting yourself. And I was wondering, like, kind of the vision, you know, what you have when you are creating your artworks?

Tod Polson  

Right, um, you know, I don’t really have an, it sounds, it sounds like a dumb career statement. But I don’t have a grand overall plan, I just, I just want to, there’s a couple of films that I really want to make, you know, like, like heart projects. In the, like, the protocols, this protocol sub projects is one of those, and the Jane Goodall project is one of those. So, right now I’m in a really good place, where I’m getting to do the things that the type of projects that I want to be doing, but but I don’t think I, I worked my way to get there. It just sort of I’ve, you know, just did the things I always loved. And they just sort of fell into place, you know?

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. I mean, yeah, that totally makes sense. Because if you put your heart in the project, then it reflects on every project they work on.

Tod Polson  

Right. Jorge told me something very interesting, though, he said, because he works a lot with Guillermo del Toro. And Jorge was saying something about Jorge. Anyway, I won’t go into the details of it. But he said, Guillermo, because Guillermo had made his first feature, and he felt it was really good. But no one went to go see it, because no one knew about it. So that’s when that’s when Guillermo knew that it was as important to market yourself to brand yourself. And so I think I think Jorge is learned a lot from that. And I think that’s exactly what he’s doing. You know, he’s, he’s amazing how he puts himself out there. I don’t have the energy to do that, I think, in my head, but the thing is, is he’s getting to do the kind of projects that he wants to do, but he had to spend a lot of time I think, doing projects that nit he necessarily didn’t want to do as well. So

Iva Mikles  

do you have an agent or assistant or someone who helps you with your project and personal organizing?

Tod Polson  

My wife? My wife, Katie keeps things keeps everything flowing, especially when I’ve got a heavy project going. But no, it’s just just kind of winging it. And luckily, you know, like, at the saloon, we have a really good structure. On my own stuff. I have a lot of help from from on my wife. And yeah,

Iva Mikles  

so I have the same from my husband as well. He’s helping me with everything. Wow, also.

Tod Polson  

Yes, fantastic. Yeah, I think I think you need a partner that understands, you know, understands your needs, and the things you want to do and helps you do those things. And, and she has things that she wants to do, too, that I’m trying to help her with, as well. So

Iva Mikles  

yeah, that’s really important. If you think like for the future plans, like, where would you see yourself like in five to 10 years? And if you would, like accomplish everything? What do you want all your dreams? What would you be doing?

Tod Polson  

Well? I think I think I would just like to keep making films and telling stories. And no, that’s not very interesting. But I’ve, I’ve, I’ve got so many stories that I’d love to do and take a crack at that. I don’t think that I’ll be able to do them at least at the speed that I do them. But I’m hoping, you know, we have our little studio, sculpt product or pictures that we’re able to start and we just we just started it really this year. So we’ve got our first two projects and we’re just trying to get those kind of going it’s slow start But I hope in five or 10 years, that we could just have a small crew. And they could I could keep working on development stuff with saloon and other places and then continue to make these these shorts and and maybe even longer form things that kind of our Zen projects, the things that, that move us, you know, I don’t want to be coming out source studio or anything like that. So,

Iva Mikles  

yeah, and for your crew or for your team, maybe in the future, would you like to have them working with you? Or more like remote positions? Or how would you imagine that

Tod Polson  

it’d be great to have a small team that you work with every day, I missed that. And that’s, that’s one of the downsides of working in Thailand is that I have a few friends around. But like Mark is a 12 hour drive south, you know, and he’s in Thailand. And so I missed that sense of community. So when I go teach, or when I go over for meetings in Ireland, I get a little bit of that. But it would be nice to have, like five or six people that you can bounce things off of all the time. And then bring in friends. One of the things, the great things about Thailand is in the middle of winter, you can invite someone over from Europe, and they’re going to come or America, and they’re going to come over for a month and you know, no problem. So

Iva Mikles  

yeah, for sure. If you want to come skiing, you know, to Switzerland, you can come here and we can go to Thailand. I have no problem with that.

Tod Polson  

I love Switzerland, actually, it’s beautiful.

Iva Mikles  

But it’s true that you can definitely like get people to die. Let me know winter.

Tod Polson  

Yeah, we have people calling all the time say, Hey, you guys got a job. But you know, I need it. They want to they want to come over for a bit. So

Iva Mikles  

yes, yeah. So maybe you can create your project only during the wintertime.

Tod Polson  

That’s a good idea.

Iva Mikles  

You will have so many people working on it. And last question I would like to ask is about the future as well. And like, if you think about it, what would you like to be remembered for in 100 years?

Tod Polson  

remembered for? In 100 years? Well, if anyone does remember me, I’d like it to be stories that I told some stories that touch people’s hearts touch people’s lives. That made them think a little bit made them laugh a little bit. And if I could, if I could do that, then that would be that would be pretty. Pretty big, I think. Yeah. Yeah. So because a lot of these films are forgotten, you know, in books and different things. So. But um, that would be nice, you know?

Iva Mikles  

Yeah. Because I think people will definitely remember more things when they can think about it, or if there is some emotional connection, for sure.

Tod Polson  

Yeah, for sure. Because the thing is, is right now there’s a lot of content, there’s a lot of stuff being made, and 100 years, if we’re here at all, all anyone in the planet, but there’s gonna be a lot more, a lot more people a lot more stuff. So, you know, like the computer stuff that’s cutting edge now and in 10 years is going to look old fashioned? I think so. But the stories that have heart like Toy Story still is a great film because it has heart it, you know, it touches something in you. And so those are the types of stories I’m interested in, even even in my little short things. You know, that’s that’s difficult. That’s difficult to pull that off. So, yeah,

Iva Mikles  

so but congrats, do your work. I really agree. I mean, it’s amazing. And I think you influence a lot of people with your creations.

Tod Polson  

Well, thank you. Yeah. That’s, that’s nice.

Iva Mikles  

So thank you so much for being here and taking time from your busy schedule.

Tod Polson  

Sure. Thanks for having me. And thanks for remembering me. That’s been quite a few years. So yeah, but

Iva Mikles  

I mean, it was amazing. I mean, when we met in Lego, and the workshop was so good that I really enjoyed it. And it was one of the first workshops that I actually enjoyed. So thank you so much for doing it.

Tod Polson  

That’s great. That’s awesome.

Iva Mikles  

And do you have some last parting piece of advice for young people?

Tod Polson  

Well, I think I’ve said pretty much everything that I’d like to say. But I, I guess just if I had to say anything would just be to repeat. You know, I think just to try to find balance in your life. Look at things outside of animation for inspiration, and art, music, travel, and travel is a huge thing. You know, do all these do all these things because taking time off from your art is actually going to make you a better artist. Yeah, I really, I really, really believe that.

Iva Mikles  

You’re the Yeah. Thank you so much again. Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, and thank you guys for joining and don’t forget to inspire each other and help each other to succeed. Hope you guys enjoyed this interview. You can find all the resources mentioned in this episode at artsideoflife.com. Just type a guest name in the search bar. There is also a little freebie waiting for you. So go check it out. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a review on iTunes, hopefully five stars so I can read and inspire more people like you. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to Art Side of Life podcast, because I post new interview every single workday. If you want to watch the interviews, head over to artsideoflife.com/youtube. Thank you so much for listening. Don’t forget to inspire each other. And I will talk to you guys in the next episode. Bye.

Announcer  

Thanks for listening to the Art Side of Life podcast at www.artsideoflife.com

Hi, I am Iva (rhymes with “viva”). I am an artist, illustrator, founder of Art Side of Life®, and Top Teacher on Skillshare. Since 2009 I've worked as an illustrator, character designer, art director, and branding specialist focusing on illustration, storytelling, concepts, and animation. I believe that we are all creative in infinite numbers of ways, so I've made it my mission to teach you everything I know and help either wake up or develop your creative genius. Learn more about me.

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