STAMFORD – Last week I introduced you to this guy, who is producing his own web series right out of Stamford. Let’s continue the theme of young-professionals-who-create-their-own-opportunities-in-entertainment-arts. Today I present you with another Stamford native whose latest stop motion animation movie has already gone viral on YouTube, has appeared on network TV, and has caught the attention of some major players in the gaming industry.
His name is Alex Kobbs, and he’s 23.You can watch his video, which is less than three minutes, here:
“I have some very big opportunities coming up in 2012 that you will hear about soon,” Kobbs said in an email interview. “This is what I love to do and I can’t ask for more than that. I try to take it one day at a time. Right now, I just want to make more animations that people will want to watch.”
In this interview, he talks about how to make it in the industry, and why he loves it.
TYD: How did you get interested in stop motion animation?
AK: When I was a kid I had a lot of construction toys. Lego, Rokenbok, Brio, K’nex…just to name a few. I wasn’t very sports-centric so I spent most of my time creating models in my room. However, I eventually realized that I wanted to do something “more” with my creations, and share them with the largest amount of people I could. Luckily for me, I also watched a lot of stop-motion movies and TV shows such as Gumby, Thomas the Tank Engine (live action models with stop-motion elements), Disney and Cartoon network clips, stop-motion Christmas specials, and the 90’s Nickelodeon “splat” adds.
All of these influenced me at an early age, and their production concepts were easy to grasp. I think when I was around 12 years old, I received the “Lego Stephen Spielberg MovieMaker set” (http://guide.lugnet.com/set/1349) which allowed me to experiment and learn the fundamentals of animation. Since I loved it so much, I gradually moved on to buying better software, a better camera, and more Lego bricks. Eventually, my skills and the quality of my animations had improved so much that I decided to start releasing the short films online, and I’ve just stuck with it ever since.
TYD: Did you take classes/ major in a specific field in college to learn how to do stop motion, or was it always a side hobby?
AK: Stop-motion was mostly a side hobby for me, but it led me to pursue a job in the entertainment industry. I eventually did go to film school at Fitchburg State University, but I decided to switch my concentration to animation during my Junior year. The problem was that I was so engrossed in the film curriculum that it wasn’t easy to change. I ended up earning my B.S. in Communications/Media, but I took more Graphic Design and art classes in my final semesters. My professors were also incredibly helpful in allowing me to pursue my own animation projects in film class, while the other students worked on their own stuff.
TYD: Are jobs with established companies easily available in this field?
AK: As I understand it, stop-motion animators are treated more like independent contractors in America. A studio might need an animator to work on a show for 8 months, but then the animator is left on their own to find more work. He or she then has to decide is they want to purse another stop-motion job, or supplement their time by working on something like Web-design until another animation job pops up. While I’m sure that this isn’t the case with everyone, it’s the scenario that I’ve read to be the most common for up-and-coming animators. It’s just a sporadic and chaotic lifestyle that I wasn’t comfortable living.
TYD: Did you decide to make your own movies out of entrepreneurial zeal or because you couldn’t find a job at an established company?
AK: I made my films because I wanted to make the films that I wanted to see. So many times I would think to myself “wouldn’t it be great if someone made that out of that and based it on that thing I’m into.” Finally, I realized that I’d have to do it myself if I ever wanted to see it. Luckily, I sort of fell into the business plan I’m in right out of college. I never really tried to look for a “real job” at an established company because I didn’t feel like it was for me.
TYD: Can you describe the way you post your movies now? (the system in which the ads/ clicks bring in revenue.)
AK: Unfortunately, I can’t give any specifics about how the revenue system works. All I can say is that right now I’m working with a company that specializes in video game media. I have full creative control to make almost whatever I want (usually based off popular video game franchises) and I submit the video. But trust me, there’s a system.
TYD: What are the benefits of working for yourself? Do you feel like you get more creative leeway?
AK: The benefits of working for myself are enormous, and far- outweigh the negatives in my opinion. I have full creative control and make my own schedule. I work when and how I want, and manage everything myself. As long as I push myself to get up and work in the morning, there are few negatives.
TYD: How do you find mentors and guidance when you need help?
AK: My mentors are usually other artists I discover online or I meet in real life. My guidance usually comes from my close friends, many of whom are from college and work in the film industry. They are my artistic support system and they deserve a lot of credit for helping me out with my projects. I’ve also had some great teachers and professors along the way. For example, I might not be doing what I’m doing if my college film professor, Zak Lee, hadn’t allowed me into his senior class and let me do my own thing while the other students followed the regular curriculum. I owe him a lot for that.
TYD: What are your future plans?
AK: Right now I am concentrating on making more films of a high quality in a short amount of time, but I have some very big opportunities coming up in 2012 that you will hear about soon. This is what I love to do and I can’t ask for more than that. I try to take it one day at a time. Right now, I just want to make more animations that people will want to watch.
TYD: What advice do you have for others who want to start their own entrepreneurial creative effort?
AK: First, find some good books on your subject. The #1 book in my animation arsenal is Your Career in Animation by: David B. Levy. The books can lead you in the right direction and give you a guideline as to how a certain career choice will look once you get started. Don’t just buy them and let them sit there either. Read them!
Second, work your a** off.
Third, be friendly to everyone and talk to everyone (because the random guy you meet in line for coffee might be the person with the hook up). The more friends, the more contacts. The more contacts, the more opportunities. This is coming from someone who was very, very shy and introverted for most of his life. After I learned to be more social and open with others, my entire life, including my career, started to move in a positive direction. I know it sounds a bit like “hippie” talk or something out of a Barney episode, but it’s all a good karma, bad karma thing. The more value and positive feelings you give off, the more will be returned to you (including your business venture). If you don’t know where to start, look into “Social Dynamics” and either study the concepts yourself or take some college courses. Public speaking courses help too.
TYD: Do you mind me asking what your ballpark figure is? Would it be enough to live in Stamford?
AK: The revenue I get from my work is only sustainable if my films do well. The system doesn’t really work if I have a long string of consistent flops, but that has yet to happen. It’s enough to live in Stamford, just depends where you’re living.
I have to give my friends Nick Novotny, Dan Prostak, and Joe Tornatore a big shout out. They help me with the post-production on a lot of these films and I can’t thank them enough for their help. I’ve also gotten amazing support from my brother, Thomas Kobbs, my Mom and Dad, and my friends Ryan Silvie and Mike Buaf. There are a lot more that would take too long to mention, but to them I say thank you for all your help. Also…since this concerns Stamford residents, I want to give a big thank you to all the employees at the Hobbytown USA store off of High Ridge Road. The owner is the best, the employees are the best, and I go there for a lot of the supplies I use on my films.