Thinking of a master plan ….
I promised my self when we relaunched FWD 360 last year re-branding everything from our first launch in 2010 and changing names from Full Grind in 2007 that I had to take it back to the original vision I had.
Merging the world of my 9 year old kid brain who watched cartoons and played Snes all day, memorised by war stories from the older hustlers in the ends, writing rhymes in my mini note pad, dreaming one day of being on the Box music Television….that stage in my life when I thought nothing was impossible… Mixing that with the young dude in his late teens who traveled Europe doing shows coming back to the ends telling everyone what we could do if our grinds were focused, setting up a media company, falling numerous times at projects and creative ventures, feeling that weight of being an adult, paying bills, grinding crazy sleepless nights to keep it all afloat.
I owe it to the 9 year old me who still controls my imagination some what. That kid imagination which still makes me believe for that split second before my adult brain kicks in that I can triple back flip out the top floor window land on my neighbors green Nissan Micra, B Boy stance and walk off like it was nothing…….I owe it to that 9 year old version of me who still makes me think and act upon creative, insane ideas no one else around me seems to understand or even think is possible.
So this brings me perfectly to LeSean, A creative, designer, director and a true visionary. Some one who has accomplished seemingly impossible feats, created his own lane of dopeness, climbed a high mountain of creativity and shot a flare gun in to the night sky to let us know this is where we can get to.
MA: What does Creativity mean to you?
LeSean: Creativity, to me, means possessing an innate ability to materialize ideas, thoughts and possibilities that can be used as a tool to communicate with others, proactively solve problems and entertain people (ourselves included).
MA: Growing up in the South Bronx , Birth place of Hip Hop Culture and Birthplace of legendary New York street gangs. How did this influence your art work, vision and approach to design?
LeSean: Quite a lot. I look back and felt as a kid born, raised & growing up in the projects of NYC–particularly in the South Bronx during that time–skews your perception of what’s considered “normal” to the more rural parts of America that exist outside of the city. Not speaking for others, but growing up with the culture as it itself grew, played an integral role in how i approached energy, expression and interpretations of ourselves and the “black experience” so to speak in my work and how the larger, collective consciousness of mainstream American media depicts us. I think Hip Hop culture magnified that and I believe it shaped my idea of how to draw comics and tell stories visually. It certainly played a role developing the Boondocks, especially since The Boondocks, although taking place in a fictional Chicago suburb, is inherently an “East Coast” Hip Hop show; lots of NYC fashion, slang and Boom Bap-isms music-wise.
Being raised on a healthy diet of Saturday morning cartoons as well as comic books as a kid didn’t hurt either as they also played a role in shaping my view on how minorities (African Americans in general) were translated in animation, a realm we don’t have as much presence in compared to it’s live-action counter part.
There’s a lot of fans, admirers and followers not from the culture who like to take an on-the-nose, revisionist approach to it and appropriate it to express themselves and point of view, but to me, its impact on my work always came down to the roots of what started it all, as you mentioned, the gangs but also drug dealers and first-generation, disenfranchised children of post-civil rights/Reaganomics America.
MA: What was your role in Boondocks Series and what did that entail? What do you think is the cultural impact and legacy of the show, its characters and content ?
LeSean: I was Co-Director and Supervising Character Designer of Season 1 and Supervising Character Designer of season 2. My job entailed designing all of the characters, their look, feel and outfits. As co-director, I handled storyboard direction on season 1 as well.
As for the cultural impact, I would say it’s huge. I think The Boondocks represents todays generation of adult TV animation in America from a particularly African American POV. Next year, November will make The Boondocks 10 year anniversary since we premiered in ’05. That’s a long time. Like Static Shock, The Proud Family and The Cosby Show before them, I think The Boondocks is a show that kids today can identify with and have been watching since they were in elementary school. It’s a show that many consider a part of their childhood, even though they have no business watching it at such a young age haha.
The blending of our love of anime, hip hop culture, black culture and irreverent social, political and racial satire introduced an experience not seen before in American TV animation and I’m very glad to have been a part of such an honest, well-produced and polarizing work.
MA: Ideas to creation. What’s the work flow you go through from developing animations? What software do you use? How many stages do you go through before you are satisfied with an art piece?
LeSean: Well the way we work on Black Dynamite, it all starts with a script of course. Once the script is finished, it’s handed to myself and the other crew and we get a read through before beginning designs, which are characters, props, BGS and any costume changes necessary. While this is happening, the actors begin voice recording from the script.
After the designs are done, along with the locked radio play, storyboarding begins. Episodes usually having 3 storyboard artists per act. Although Black Dynamite unlike standard kids shows 3 act structure, has only 2 acts which would equate to two 1 and a half acts divided by 3 storyboard artists. This process takes roughly about 4 weeks (2 weeks for rough boards for directors notes, then 2 more weeks for clean up boards notes included).
Once the boards are done, we begin to build what is called an “animatic” which is basically a moving picture book out of the storyboards. Here is where we add the meat and potatoes of the writing, with more gags, jokes and timing. Then the materials are shipped off to our corresponding animation team overseas in South Korea. I would fly out there to supervise the animation production for months at a time to maintain production quality.
When it’s all done we proceed with post production (editing, music sound effects). The entire process for one episode takes anywhere from 7 to 10 months with several episodes being produced at a time, depending on the show and challenges. It’s a long and involved creative process.
MA: For animators in this industry trying to get their ideas picked up by a TV Network, What advice would you give them and steps they could take to be successful?
LeSean: Know your audience. Also, it’s important to know the network you intend to pitch to and stay up to date on the industry climate and it’s rapid changes. As for being successful, there’s no one way to go about it. Success is really in the end about someone believing in your content enough to see monetary value in it. But you get there by incredibly hard work ethic and know-how.
HOW TO GET INTO ANIMATION – LESEAN THOMAS
MA: Black Dynamite feels so necessary and needed on many levels as an animated series. What’s your specific role in the series?
LeSean: Thanks, I’m very proud and fortunate to be able to make another show, and be able to speak about things from our POV. I’m Creative Producer/ Show Director (Supervising).
MA: I can tell you’re deep into music. Would you say there is a link between your artistic creations and the music you listen to? What musicians, albums and styles of music inspire you?
LeSean: Definitely. Although, I listen to music only at certain times. During the initial creative process where things have to materialize from nothing, I enjoy silence. For my process, it’s hard to listen to music with lyrics, or aggressive sound that distracts me from thinking, so when I’m building ideas, there’s zero music, so I’m able to concentrate on what I’m doing even more.
However once I’m comfortable with my ideas down and begin the actual process of final picture, Music guides me there. And who I listen to depends on what I’m feeling at the time. it could be movie soundtracks, scores, animated TV series soundtracks, to Hip Hop from the early 80s all the way to now. The albums I”m currently listening to are Flying Lotus:Until The Quiet Comes, Run The Jewels, The Roots: And Then I Shot Your Cousin, Anything Curren$y, School Boy Q: Oxymoron, Phantagram: Voices. But also Death Grips, Thelonius Monk, Motown classics, Zero 7, Hocus Pocus, Kanye, Joey Bada$$/ Pro Era. Like any creative person who bumps music, it really depends.
MA: A few years back i remember watching the “Seoul Sessions” piece you filmed with Creative Control TV whilst living/Working in South Korea. Since moving to South Korea How have you developed as a person and artist? How has this move impacted your newer projects, animation style and skill level?
LeSean: Thanks for watching those. The last episode was released several months ago and I’m still getting lots of questions and thoughts on it. I’m glad I was able to put some energy out there in regards to what I do. So much of our jobs are behind the scenes and closed doors and there still isn’t very much comprehensive knowledge out there on animation film-making so I was glad to share a little of it and it reached people in a way I thought it would.
As a person and artist, I owe quite a lot to Seoul. It changed me personally in a way I would have never imagined had I stayed in the states and not embark on that learning pilgrimage. I feel like it’s made me more conscious, aware and responsible not only from an animation production perspective as far as working in a system largely reliant on OEM productions (Original Equipment Manufacturer) go, but as well as a Producer and Director. For me, it’s important to know the entire process of what I do if I am to be considered an expert in it.
From a style/skill level point, I have grown much. I sponged from so many great animators illustrators and animation directors over there and I think it shows in my style if one would look at my work in ’09 and now. As for my personal projects, it’s allowed me to build upon relationships with studios, talent, execs and presidents abroad that I otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to do, relying on the network studio hierarchy. It pits me in lieu with animators and creatives not just in Korea, but Japan and France as well, pushing my reach beyond our shores to collaborate in a much larger and creative way. I owe much to my time living there and if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
SEOUL SESSIONS: Ep1- “Who, When, Where & why?”
MA: In this digital technological age how do you see the art of animation evolving?
LeSean: I see a lot more independent voices rising in this day and age thanks to the advent of technology like the internet. Also with the help of growing social media platforms like Kickstarter and Indie GoGo, it allows creatives to speak & connect directly with their audience, bypassing middle men and focus groups to determine whether ideas are worth being made.
To quote Yasiin Bey, we’re living in marvelous times. Globalization and technology has shrunken the world. It’s brought us all closer together and particularly speaking as artists, we’re now connecting globally at a rate unheard of in our history. It’s exciting.
MA: Through your art, life and personal journey what legacy do you want to leave ?
LeSean: One of transparency and sharing. I want to share as much as I can; sharing what inspires me as well as what I’ve learned in the process. As far as legacy goes, there have been several, seminal creators of color throughout American animation history who have helped pave a way for voices like mine to be heard today; For starters, Frank Braxton, the first African American animator to be hired to work alongside animators at a major studio (Warner Brothers/Disney, etc) Floyd Norman, Bill Cosby, Bruce Smith, Dwayne McDuffie…all of these guys have shown me it’s possible to make it in this field and say and create whatever we want in this medium.
I feel in order for me to honor myself and their past & continuing contributions, it’s only right that I continue share that enthusiasm and craftsmanship they displayed in their works which inspired in me, with the newer generation, however big or small a scale. I’m blessed and hope I can contribute a bit more before my time is done.
Failing your way to success: LeSean Thomas at TEDxSinchon
Much Blessings to LeSean for building and connecting with us!
Peace and Crumpizzles.
All art used was created by LeSean Thomas.
Follow LeSean on Twitter @LeSeanThomas
Follow FWD 360 on twitter @FWD360Online
And Follow me on Twitter @MicAssassin