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Doodling for a living: this week on The Green Room

Jim Feeley has always liked to paint, draw and doodle. But once he graduated from high school, art school wasn’t even anywhere on his horizon. He enrolled at Boston College and graduated with an English Literature degree. He didn't really think that his hobby would be a viable career.

Eventually, he moved across country to Los Angeles and worked for Film Roman— the studio responsible for shows like The Simpsons and King of the Hill. Once a week the studio would host a free drawing workshop. Even though Jim was working in production, he decided to give the workshop a try.

“So I started going regularly, and some people saw that I had talent,” recalls Feeley.

Through the relationships he established in that workshop, Jim Feeley was brought up to speed on the animation tools of the trade. 

“You need to have the talent, but then to apply that talent— like in any medium— you need to learn the tool,” Feeley says. “And the tool is animation.”

Feeley says characters for animations are not drawn like caricatures like you’d see drawn at amusement parks. Since the animation characters need to move in space, he says the characters need to be fully constructed— almost like they are built out of blocks.

“Not only does it need to animate and move in space, it needs to animate and move in space exactly the same with 200 different people drawing it,” he says.

Jim Feeley is perhaps best known for his work on the animated TV sitcom American Dad! which airs on TBS. Specifically, he’s the lead character designer for the show. When Feeley designs a character for the show, he needs to make sure that anyone who gets his model sheet can replicate the design. He says one of his favorite parts of the production is when the animators watch the actors read their lines. 

“So you get a feel for the characters, and then we get the scripts back to our desks and I start sketching what those character will look like,” says Feeley.

As for why primetime animated TV shows remain such a hit with audiences these days, Feeley says one of the reasons is because animation allows the creators to do more visually.

“Animation just allows you to get away with a lot more visually,” he says. “In a recent episode, the alien character Roger, wanted to trade places with Steve, the son, so he surgically removed his face and implanted it on his own. And that’s kind of hard to do on Everybody Loves Raymond.”

Check out the time lapsed video of Jim sketching what Kate Botello might look like if she were a character on American Dad!

Jim Feeley is teaching a couple of character cartooning classes at the Glen Arbor Art Association this summer. One class for children, and another class for adults

Dan Wanschura is the Host and Executive Producer of Points North.