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Background and Layout Artist.
Currently on Helluva Boss.
Previous: Animaniacs, Smiling Friends & Rick and Morty (Studio Yotta)
Final Space
Monster Beach
Mystery Skulls Animated
One Week Ultimate Werewolf
Jazza's The Tale Teller

Greg Bartlett @zeedox

29, Male

Background Artist

Melbourne, Australia

Joined on 2/8/06

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zeedox's News

Posted by zeedox - 8 days ago


On two different productions I’ve had a very fun and interesting task: designing a process for painting fog or mist to be applied to a large number of backgrounds.


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(Stills from Mystery Skulls Animated: The Future and Shopkins: Wild)


It’s a deceptively simple task but it comes with a couple of challenges. It needs to:

  • Match an artistic vision set out by a director/art director/client.
  • Use as few steps as possible so it’s easy and fast to replicate
  • Look good in all kinds of situations. How does it look in both close ups and wides? How about when characters are in the foreground or in the background underneath some of the fog layers? How about when the ground is visible, how does the fog meet the ground?


The first time was for the feature film Shopkins: Wild that I worked on as a background artist at Studio Moshi in 2017. The opening sequence took place inside this dome filled with mysterious pink mist.


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The design for this mist didn’t click until I experimented with a circular brush with softness added to the edge and the brush size affected by pressure sensitivity.


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By giving the brush a set opacity, the volume of the mist could be built up with brush strokes. This was done across several layers, with each layer using a different shade of pink/purple and various amounts of blur to create the final look.


Following this method, it took 5-10 minutes to add new mist into a background. Very useful since this sequence had several dozen backgrounds requiring it.


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The second time I had task was as background lead on Mystery Skills Animated: The Future. A large portion of the animation takes place after the fog has appeared. With quite a few background artists working on it, providing detailed instructions was key to keeping the fog consistent. Small differences in the look of the fog between backgrounds could stand out which is why consistency was so important.


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(Background Paint by Huyen Ngyuen, layout by myself)


I put together these detailed step by step guides of how do draw each of the fog layers: foreground, midground and background fog.


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There were a few other additional steps including dropping some pre-made adjustment layers on top of background objects to make the colours a little bit more purple and mysterious. Changing the colours through adjustment layers allowed lots of reuse to happen between the fog and non fog scenes.


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(Background Paint by Magpie Raven Blackford, layout by myself)


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Hope you enjoyed this post! Check out my last one: How I ditched Flash and learned to paint in Photoshop with a New Years Resolution


Follow me on Twitter or Instagram for more updates on what I'm working on.


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Posted by zeedox - 3 weeks ago


I’ve taken a pretty unusual path to become a background artist, in the way that for over a decade, I used Adobe Flash almost exclusively to draw backgrounds.


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One of my backgrounds created 100% in Flash


It all started in my high-school days when I discovered Newgrounds around ‘06 and this little program called Flash that we’d been introduced to in multimedia class. With these I could make something and show it to the world. The possibilities were endless! I spent a lot of my free time making flash project, always trying to improve every time.


Around the beginning of the 2010s I became interested specifically in pursuing background art as a career. I also started making money creating background and environment assets for flash games. This further reinforced Flash as my drawing tool of choice. This culminated in 2015 and 2016, when I painted almost all the backgrounds in Flash for an animated short ‘The Tale Teller’ by my friend and long time collaborator on many flash games and cartoons, Jazza.


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Some of my Flash backgrounds from the Tale Teller (2015-2016)


I’d become a bit TOO comfortable with Flash and I had all my techniques and tricks I’d developed over the years to work around a rather unintuitive program for background painting, and I became known for the obscene amount of gradients I liked to use.


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Another background I created entirely in Flash CS3


But now in 2016, in the real world, the flash game market was dead and 2D animation backgrounds are almost always done in raster programs. So it became vital to ditch Flash in favor of Photoshop to pursue a career as a background artist.


My plan to ease myself off of Flash involved a very smart 2017 New Year’s resolution. I was going to do 240 30-minute studies in Photoshop.


I had a few rules. I was going to use Anki, which is flashcard software I could re-purpose to show me pictures to draw that I’d saved earlier. Conveniently Anki also kept a record of my number of studies. I could only do a maximum of 2 studies in a day. This meant I could always catch up if I fell behind, but I still needed a sustained, consistent effort across the year.


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The explicit purpose of these studies was to become more comfortable in Photoshop, not to make pretty looking studies. Meaning that if I spent a lot of that 30 minutes looking at a tutorial or changing my keyboard shortcuts or fiddling with photoshop settings, Great! That’s the point.


All of the studies I’m showing are cherry picked out of the best ones I did and all of these are ones I painted closer to the end of the year when I got a little better. I’m generally not a fan of sharing my studies on social media (unless I’ve specifically set out to make a pretty piece to share.) I find making something that looks nice and maximizing learning to be competing goals. I want to resist the temptation to add unnecessary shading or clean up to make something more presentable when doing so doesn’t add to the specific thing I want to learn from the study. And studies should be a bit cringe if you’re really trying things way outside of your comfort zone.


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So how did I do?


I failed, but very successfully! I completed 200 out of the 240 by the end of 2017, but I didn’t make it for the best possible reason. In August I got my first studio job, where I worked on the film Shopkins: Wild at Studio Moshi as a background painter. I was very busy, particularly in November and December and couldn’t keep up with the studies. But as the entire thing was done with the goal of becoming a background artist, I can’t imagine a better outcome!


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A Shopkins Background I did the final linework and color in my first studio job.


Today I’m even more at home drawing in Photoshop that I ever was in Flash and it seems crazy now to even want to paint backgrounds like that using Flash. But a part of me is proud of how far I managed to push that program in the end.


If you liked this post, check out my previous one: Q&As from Instagram

Follow me on Instagram or Twitter to see more of my work.


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Posted by zeedox - March 17th, 2021


Every now and then through my Instagram stories I invite anyone to ask me a question. For this post, I’m going to share a few of the most interesting or my favorite questions people have asked.


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I just got my first job as a background artist and I start tomorrow, I’ve already gone in for introductions and stuff and everyone’s really nice but I’m still super nervous! 😅 Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?


Congrats on the job! Don’t worry about being new, everyone’s usually very understanding.


Always have a notebook handy and take lots of notes. You’ll never know what you’ll need to remember later on and don’t assume you’ll just remember every instruction you’re told.


The most important thing is following instructions. You might be instructed to do things in certain ways for reasons that won’t be clear at first. You’ll be popular with your leads/art directors/producers if you’re easy to manage and work with.


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(Shopkins Wild [Studio Moshi] was my first studio job and everyone was very friendly!)



What’s your most and least favourite thing to draw/design?


The obvious answer: I love drawing background and I’ve got no interest at all in characters


But more specifically out of the things I do draw, I love doing interiors of interesting locations such as the plane below.


Painting lots of trees can be fairly tedious, especially if there’s lots of them and I’m trying to make them all look natural.


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(This plane interior from Surfaces x Elton John 'Learn to Fly' [Studio Showoff] is the kind of perspective challenge I like most)



Best advice you ever got for pursuing art as a career?


Back when I studied at TAFE (a tertiary education institution here in Australia), everyone (both lecturers and industry people) stressed the importance of your portfolio, and also what really only counted is the initiative you took and the projects you did BEYOND just your class assignments and curriculum.


That turned out very true, a lot of my participation in making projects on the side that I would publish on places such as Newgrounds formed that initial experience and connections that started me on the trajectory of my career.


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(A background I painted in 2010 for ‘Comet’ a personal project I was working on during my last year of TAFE. Publishing cartoons to Newgrounds meant I had valuable experience actually finishing projects)



Have you ever had to paint a background within a background?


Best example I can think of is this painting in the guest bedroom of One Week Ultimate Werewolf. I painted it first and then warped it into perspective!


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If you inherited $15 million that had to be spent on a personal project, what would you make?


I’d make a 2D animated comedy show (a 12 episode season) that’s a variety show with lots of different characters and segments, maybe a bit of an Animaniacs vibe.


I’d recruit ideas for characters and segments from creative communities like Newgrounds and well as pay artists to come up with pitch ideas.


I know it’s not really my own ‘idea’ as the question might imply, but I’d rather find people with better ideas than me and hope that I bring enough to the table with my background specialty (plus a cool 15 million dollars in this example) to be a part of it.


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(backgrounds I’ve made for Smiling Friends created by Michael Cusack and Zach Hadel, and Flashgitz. Great examples of content creators with great ideas I’m excited to have worked on)



If you liked this post, check out my previous one: Behind the Project – Rick and Morty


Follow me on Instagram to catch the next time I open up questions, or check out my Twitter.


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Posted by zeedox - February 23rd, 2021


Back in 2019 I had the amazing opportunity to paint some backgrounds in the Rick and Morty season 4 premiere episode for Studio Yotta, who animated the ferrofluid sequence.


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It wasn’t a particularly large job, Yotta needed me to paint five extra backgrounds for them. Four of those five backgrounds were very straightforward. If it weren’t for the fifth one, I don’t think this project would have made an interesting enough ‘Behind the Project’ post.


I was provided with key background PSDs for reference, so it was just a matter of copying the design of the sky, clouds and ground in my layouts and painting the backgrounds by replicating the structure of the key backound PSDs, layer by layer, colour by colour, blend mode by blend mode. About as cookie-cutter as background paint can get really.


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Except for the fifth shot. Oh boy.


I was given this rough animation of Morty transforming, with the camera panning, rotating and zooming around to work from. How do I even begin? Fortunately for me, earlier that year I’d worked a large studio job as a layout artist and had some new skills to put to good use.


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To start, I grabbed screenshots several frames apart from the rough animation and started lining them up to wrap my head around exactly how the camera was moving. It was easier to begin working off the animatic rather than the rough animation since it had perspective grid lines, giving me a better indication of the intended movement of the camera.


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After placing all these screenshots, it became apparent that the resolution of the file would be too large to paint easy. I saw a solution. I could break it up into two backgrounds, and when the camera was zoomed in close on the sky, one of the backgrounds could be swapped out for the other one and it wouldn’t be too difficult to make these two backgrounds match up exactly in the transition area.


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Next up was doing the rough. I noticed that one of the reference backgrounds was an exact match of the angle of background B (the left side). It was lower resolution than my background, but I can reuse it’s line work in my layout and trace over it when doing my final lines, saving myself a bit of work.


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With the challenging part out of the way, time to do the final line and colour.


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If you enjoyed this Behind the Project, Take a look at my last one about being a background lead on the short HBO Backstories: Watchmen.


Check out more of my work on Instagram or Twitter


Previous post: My Process – How I Create an Illustration From Start to Finish


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Posted by zeedox - February 9th, 2021


In this weeks post, I’m going to show you my personal workflow and all the different steps I take to create a background or illustration from start to finish.


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Before I begin anything I usually gather reference images from the internet and have them open on my side monitors.


Roughing out my illustrations is usually done in two phases. First is a step I’ve come to call the “rough-rough.” Using large brushes and erasers (sometimes several hundred pixels wide) I very loosely sketch out the composition. I’m also feeling out the perspective, especially where to place the horizon line. Even though I don’t draw them in, I’m also thinking about the placement of the vanishing points. My perspective is always going to be a bit off in this step, but the more practised I get in freehanding perspective, the easier job I have cleaning it up in the next step.


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Up next is the rough. If it’s needed I’ll switch to Clip Studio at the beginning of this step to draw in a perspective grid and some details easier to do with the perspective ruler tool. I like to make my roughs reasonably detailed and leave nothing ambiguous so that the painting stage later on is as efficient as possible. The rough is usually the first step I send to a client for approval.


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Sometimes at the end of the rough I’ll do a value pass to plan the main areas of contrast and lighting. I use a multiply layer on top of the rough.


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In a 2D animation background pipeline, the layout stage comprises of the rough, plus technical setup of the background, camera placement and more. Layout’s something I’ll talk about in more depth in a future post.


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Next up is my colour rough. My process for doing colour roughs involves drawing a bunch of flat shapes and quickly throwing down colours. Then I can see what isn’t looking right and slowly make adjustments until I narrow down onto the final colours. I often preview my colour roughs in grey-scale. Often if a colour rough is not working, it’s because the values are off.


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A strong colour rough means I don’t need to think as much during the final paint, and I can work faster and focus on rendering technique and polish. Getting my colours figured out here means I can have a cleaner layer structure in the final illustration. This is super important for a key background for animation where many other angles also need to be painted. A minimal layer structure makes the background so much faster to replicate.


The colour rough step is most important for designing a new location and can be skipped if there’s an existing design/key background already. It’s usually the next step I’ll send to a client. Between the detailed rough and a colour rough there’s no surprises to the client how the final piece is going to look.


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Time to paint the final illustration. I typically do this using a variation of one of two different methods, lineless and lined backgrounds. Lineless backgrounds are done mostly by drawing shapes and then shading them using transparency lock or clipping layers.


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The lined background method involves two steps, the clean line and the final colour. In some studio pipelines they are both submitted separately for approval or may even be done by two different background artists.


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When I was a less experienced artist I was a lot less structured with my processes and would wing it a lot more. Today my workflow is an influence of things I’ve picked up from working in studio pipelines and methods I’ve found to make higher quality work with a more predictable and consistent result, which is important when working professionally.


Previous post: Behind the Project: HBO Backstories - Watchmen


Check out more of my work on Instagram or Twitter


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Posted by zeedox - January 20th, 2021


Welcome to my first in a series of posts I’ll dive into a bit of behind the scenes of a project I’ve worked on.


Back in 2019 I was the lead background artist at Studio Showoff on the short ‘HBO Backstories: Watchmen.” This was a pretty intense project as it was my first time in a lead role.


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The bulk of the backgrounds were done over a 3 week schedule. I started several days earlier than the rest of the background team. I needed to prepare so that I was ready to instruct the background artists on how to paint in the style and have work ready to assign them.


My first step was to figure out actually how to replicate the style from the Watchmen comic book. This was a reasonably kind style for a first go a being a lead as the comic book provided a wealth of reference material, and the colouring only dealt with flat colours and a limited palette, removing a few variables. I sat down one sunny afternoon in the park looking through the entire book, making note of style features I want to replicate and taking plenty of photographs.


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The next part of the puzzle was finding the right brushes and processes to mimic the style, but keeping the instructions as streamlined as possible so it’s efficient and not confusing to explain to the background team. I modified a brush to create a brush that quickly paints in striped shading as seen in the Watchmen style.


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I then painted the first test background and put together a rough background design document with all the instructions for layout and paint. With the background artists starting in a just a couple of days I didn’t have much time to second guess my decisions and I had to trust my gut feelings on a lot of things.


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One big decision I made was to split up the background pipeline into both layout (roughs) and background paint meaning I could check layouts and assign each step to a different artist. On smaller projects (and on a couple of previous Showoff projects) it’s common for background painters to work directly from whats in the animatic, but I like the flexibility of having a separate layout stage and it’s how I organize my own personal freelance projects.


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As the lead, I had more of a birds eye view of the project with regards to things like continuity between backgrounds or what specific angles the camera meant to be facing on different shots, so it was often a time saver to do some of the layouts myself and then assign the background paint to someone else. I also got to to play to the strengths of my team: one of my artists, Jon, I’d worked with before on a layout team in a studio so I knew I could trust him with certain layouts. Another team member, Jackie, is a super talented designer I admire, so I’d often assign her backgrounds I’m excited to see her take on and I think she would come up with something cooler than I would.


One of the things I didn’t expect is just how much time assigning and checking backgrounds and giving notes to the background team would take away. It’s given me a newfound appreciation for any lead on a project afterwards plus I’ve thinking about how I can improve the skills involved in effectively communicating and instructing ever since.


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Another thing that stood out to me working as a lead is how much more trust the directors put into me and how much more hands off they were. Sean and Ivan did flag major things with me, but for the most part there was much less oversight compared to previous Showoff projects or productions at other studios. That makes sense of course, as my job is to save them time so they can focus on other things. Being able to approve your own backgrounds though, that is a time saver, heh.


The last notable thing about being a lead was whenever I was checking work deciding what to approve and what to send back for a revision was always tricky. You can’t be a perfectionist, so I always asked myself ‘Is this fix an efficient use of the artists time and my time?” It’s another thing I’ve been thinking about how I can do even better next time I’m in a lead role.


Watch the full video below:



Previous post: Animaniacs, Elton John, Smiling Friends & more: My 2020 Recap


Check out more of my work on Instagram or Twitter


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Posted by zeedox - January 4th, 2021


Hey Newgrounds, I hope you had a great new years!


It's been a while since I shared what I was up to. Even though I was fortunate to have plenty of work and a job easy to do remotely, 2020 was undoubtedly a challenging year trying to stay productive and positive amongst all the uncertainty and chaos.


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I started the year working on a really cool job for Studio Yotta back in January. I painted about 50 backgrounds for the anime fight sequence in episode 4 of the Animaiacs reboot which came out in November. At this time Australia was on fire and some days bushfire smoke blew over Melbourne creating an eerie thick fog and hazardous air quality. Little did we know things were about to get much crazier.


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When the pandemic really started picking up in March, I was renting a coworking desk at a local animation studio, Studio Showoff and doing my own freelance. Things went from 0 to 100 so quick that on a Wednesday, my friend Colin who was also renting a desk took his gear home which seemed overcautious at the time. But the next Monday was my last day I would work in the studio.


On April 1st, Smiling Friends came out! I worked on it back in 2019 as a background artist for Yotta.


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During the first lockdown I worked on some fun things: A music video for Studio Showoff for the song 'Learn to Fly' by Surfaces and Elton John, another Showoff music vid for the song 'Boxes' by Gavin James and some Flashgitz toons.

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Australia as a whole did a very good job suppressing the virus. Restrictions were starting to ease, there was talk of the borders between states opening up again and I finally could catch up with some friends one time. Here in Melbourne that didn't last long. The virus jumped from quarantined international arrivals into the wider community and spread quite far. While life was back to almost normal for my family back in Adelaide we needed even stricter lockdowns. Mandatory face-masks at all times outside your home, no visitors, only essential shops like supermarkets, can't travel further than 5km, 8pm curfew, the whole nine yards. It felt like my world had shrunk and I only ever left my apartment to go to the supermarket or a walk around the park. During lockdown 2 I did some work for a studio called Mighty Nice and I worked as a background lead on Mystery Skulls Animated: The Future.


HBO Backstories – Watchmen was also released. It’s a short I worked on back in late 2019 as a background lead at Studio Showoff.


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Now our hard work from the lock-downs has paid off. With very minimal covid transmission in Adelaide or Melbourne the last few months I've been able to travel interstate and I had a very normal Christmas and caught up with a lot of friends. It’s a very nice reset after 2020.


I recently updated my portfolio BackgroundArt.net with some of these recent projects if you want to check out more of my art from them.


I'm working on something really cool and very secret right now that I've called Project Codename "Fusion" and a few more exciting things are pencilled in for the future too. Happy new year and yay for 2020 being over! Have a wonderful 2021.


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Posted by zeedox - February 15th, 2020


Hey, I'm a background artist and I wanna throw my hat into the ring for the FF7 Collab.


If you're applying to/in the collab, and you want me to paint backgrounds for you, hit me up! I can work to any style you'd like me to.


I'm a background and layout artist by profession (Working in both local animation studios and freelancing for companies like Studio Yotta) and I've put a few samples of BG work below, or go to BackgroundArt.net


Don't hesitate to get in touch! These collabs are tons of fun and I'd love the chance to participate in this one.


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Posted by zeedox - May 24th, 2019


Hey Newgrounds!


Checking in with some updates on what I've been up to since it's been a while due to how busy things have been!


Four months ago I moved to Melbourne for a 3 month contract as a layout artist on a really cool show (can't tell you which one yet, sorry!). It was a super cool learning experience being trained in layout and it's a skill I'm hoping to use a lot more in the future.


Since that finished a couple weeks ago I've been back to working full time on a really big and exciting freelance project. I also decided to stick around in Melbourne a bit longer to see what other opportunities I can find here, and also since I've been having so much fun being around so many creative people here.


I'm also renting a hot-desk for the next six weeks inside an animation studio! I've always been interested in giving co-working a shot. Should be a fun change of pace from working out of my bedroom! Check out the view from my desk below:


I've also been posting weekly updates in Instagram stories every Friday for over 6 months now. They've been a really enjoyable way to let people know what I'm up to.


Planning on focusing hard on my freelance project (which I've been calling Project "Chocolate Cake") for the next six weeks, but after that I hope to find a little bit of time to do some backgrounds for something just for fun.


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Posted by zeedox - February 9th, 2019


What's up Newgrounds. I've got a big news update!


In my start of January post I mentioned I was in crunch mode on something BIG, something I've been referring to as project codename "Chocolate Cake"! It's the biggest and most exciting freelance project I've done yet. But just a couple weeks ago, things got a lot more crazy.


I got offered work in an animation studio as a layout artist!


The only way I could do it was by first negotiating a big extention on project "Chocolate Cake" which thankfully I was able to.


I didn't have much time at all to prepare, move interstate and find somewhere to stay. I started last week. I was pretty nervous starting last Wednesday as I've never done layout in a studio setting and there's a lot to learn in so little time. I'm excited to go back to work next Monday even if it will be very full on week. I'm excited because I'm gonna learn so much from it and layout experience will be super valuable on my quest to draw backgrounds.


Of course I'm also gonna have to put in the hours on the side on project "Chocolate Cake" I'm gonna be busy busy BUSY. But I'm excited about where I'm gonna be at if I survive these next 6 months. Working on those DREAM PROJECTS!!


also.....


3PM the day before I left Adelaide to go to Melbourne, look what arrived just in time! Finally got my copy of the board game I did art for, One Week Ultimate Werewolf. Now I just need to find the time to learn the rules!


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