Inspiring Animators: Mike Milo
by Ajay Shukla
posted on 10-10-2019
Emmy Award-winner and 6-time nominated animator, director, writer, producer, and designer Mike Milo has worked at most of animation’s major studios including Cartoon Network, Disney, Nickelodeon, Smosh, Titmouse, Renegade, Marvel, Mike Young Studios, Hallmark, Warner Bros., Universal, Sony, Film Roman, and Hanna-Barbera. He has had 11 development deals and six pilots to date, and hopes to add to that this year. Some of the projects he was part of include directing Warner Bros.’ “Pinky and the Brain,” “Animaniacs,” and “Histeria,” Cartoon Network’s “Chowder,” writer and storyboarding for Disney’s “Phineas and Ferb,” storyboarding for “Fairly Odd Parents,” as well as producing/directing/animating and designing Smosh’s famous “Childhood Stories” series for YouTube (each of which has over 11 million hits). Most recently he was a story artist on Universal’s “Curious George” at DreamWorks Animation. He is currently directing the “Scooby-Doo” and “Guess Who?” series at Warner Bros. Animation.
I had the immense pleasure of talking with this wonderful artist and a great friend. His life struggles are an inspiration to me personally, and hopefully you will agree with me. Here are the excerpts:
What made you interested in arts and how did you get into animation?
I’ve always been interested in art. I can remember when I was about 5 and back in the day, publishers used to send brochures to showcase upcoming books they were releasing and one day a brochure came in the mail from Disney publishing called “The Art of Walt Disney.”
I was fascinated by the art and one page of the brochure had a Mickey Mouse model sheet with expressions and turnaround rotations of Mickey. I was astounded that someone could draw the same thing from different angles and I drew incessantly from that time on… until I discovered girls and suddenly could care less about drawing. My father owned a concession business where he managed and maintained multiple high end cafeterias from Simon and Schuster, Coke, Pepsi, Lipton and ADP and I was slated to take over that business but he went bankrupt before I could do so. I lost my job and the next morning was taking the trash out and tiny old Italian man was picking up the trash and he hired me to haul garbage so in one day I went from table to trash.
I spent a few years doing that and one day during a particularly cold and sleeting day in December I was hanging off the edge of the truck, my face freezing, beard filled with ice and I realized this sucked and I needed to do something better with my life. I remembered that old Mickey book and decided to enroll in night classes at a small art school in Dover NJ called The Joe Kubert school. I loved it so much that Fall I enrolled full time. MY first job in animation was for a Honey Nut Cheerios commercial which I inbetweened. From there I did a number of commercials and eventually got a freelance gig inbetweening Tiny Toons which had just started up. I sent my portfolio to WB for a full time gig and landed on a show called Tazmania at Warner Bros Animation and I’ve been working in the L.A. animation biz ever since.
What inspires you? Which of your projects are you most proud of and why?
I’ve been fortunate to work on many great projects but I think the most fun was on “Phineas and Ferb” because I had to write the story as well as storyboard it and then we also had to pitch it to the entire crew which was daunting but also a lot of fun simply because I was prepared and people laughed at all my written jokes and comedy and it was fantastic. I am also proud of my pilot “Flavio” which I wrote, storyboarded, designed, key animated and directed for Nickelodeon back in ’07.
Adobe Animate inspires me like no other program. It’s chock full of all the tools I need to make a film completely alone. I usually work with others, but I can run solo if I want to which is invaluable to me. Here’s a short I did that actually started as part of Adobe’s Twitch channel where I animated live in front of a camera for them and animated whatever I wanted. I animated almost all of this short live, the traditional way by hand, frame by frame. In fact, at the end you can see a list in the credits of all the viewers that were steady watchers during the segment that day. You can see all of the videos I recorded during the year if you like here.
What is you typical workflow like? How does Animate fit into your workflow?
My workflow might be a bit unique and it’s something I developed while I was a storyboard supervisor for Renegade Animation which is a small Flash house here in L.A. where I personally boarded over 50 shorts for them using Animate and developed the pipeline for others do it as well. Fantastic place to work by the way and the owners, Darrell Van Citters and Ashley Postlewaite are kind and nurturing people. I tend to use a symbol for the character’s head and then hand draw all the body poses. All the body poses go into a symbol as well and then I can call back to them over time and I end up drawing less. If I need an in between I just add an empty frame and in-between between the two poses that are already in the symbol.
Here’s a sample of how to rig a head rig in Animate:
What are some of the things you are looking forward to in the near future?
Well if we’re talking about my career I hope to eventually get my own animated series. I’ve had 11 development deals over the last 20 years at Cartoon Network, Warner Bros, Nickelodeon and Universal but I’ve yet to get a green light so as an 11 time failure I’d like to succeed at least once. Fingers crossed!
The short below was something I did in my spare time, but it too began as a piece of animation I did during the Adobe Twitch stream and I enjoyed it enough that I wanted to do more with it. Below is the result.
What would be your recommendation to someone looking to make a career in Animation?
The animation business could care less where you went to school, all they care about is that you have a great portfolio so if you do you can get a job very quickly. The thing is that it’s hard to have the discipline to GET that great portfolio without guidance usually in the form of school. If you can’t afford school do what I did and watch Bugs Bunny and Disney cartoons frame by frame and try to duplicate small actions they animated.
Learn to draw the human form because you cannot caricature it unless you know the source well enough. Learn how to tell a story (because all it requires to tell a story is to create a person who wants something and the struggles they go through to achieve it). Other important things are to make sure your poses have good silhouettes because that will make your scenes clearer.
Another tip is to learn to draw in the styles (yes you’ll need to be able to draw multiple ones) that the networks and studios are doing. I have seen thousands of portfolios over the years and so many have anime in them and while it’s a viable style no one is doing that these days (or a small few are) and it often shows me nothing I can use to hire someone. Yes I can tell from it if you can draw but you didn’t design any of it and it’s only one style and I need to know if you can truly draw what I need, not JUST mimic some other artist’s work. Versatility is what keeps an artist working.
Finally, content is king and in the animation business you can come up with one idea and find yourself suddenly an executive producer, leapfrogging all the years of struggle. I have had to learn every discipline over the years to stay viable. I can draw, animate, design, direct, storyboard, and write. In 2d, 3d, and Flash (Animate). All from the many pilots I’ve done over the years.
Thanks Mike. It was a pleasure talking to you.
As always you can reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will be keen to hear your feedback on this interview.
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