I recently had a chance to interview artist and content creator Phil Machi about his latest projects and upcoming event. Here's what he had to say...
C: Hello Phil, thanks so much for letting me interview you today. So, let’s start with a quick and easy Q and A. Who are you and what do you do?
P: Hi Cherdon! I would enjoy nothing more! Well, actually, I'd probably enjoy a few other things like ice cream, and maybe a slice of pizza. But this Q & A is good too! My name is Phil Machi and I am a cartoonist and animator. I host a weekly talk show about animation and the people who make it possible called Stay 'Tooned!
C: Awesome! Where can people find your show?
P: Sunday nights people can toon in LIVE on Twitch TV. They can even participate in the live chatroom where (on occasion) my Special Guests will join them. It's at Twitch.TV/PhilMachi. But if they want to catch up on previous episodes and other fun bits, those are on YouTube at: www.youtube.com/c/PhilMachi. And if people really love the show and want to support it, the podcast (and rewards) are here: www.patreon.com/PhilMachi.
So yeah, there are three versions of Stay 'Tooned! ...which keeps me busy. hahaha!
C: Excellent! So, what’s your show like? It is reviews, interviews, talk show? Whatcha got going on?
P: It's a nice blend of celebrity interviews and reviews. I'll bring in voice actors, writers, even composers! It makes for a wonderful mix of personalities and talents.
C: So, the show really covers a lot of aspects of animation. That’s interesting. What kinds of animation do you cover? Films, TV, kids and adult?
P: This is one of my favorite aspects of doing the show. There is such a wide spectrum of animated filmmaking available! From foreign films to stop-motion to traditionally drawn TV series: and it's ALL up for grabs!
C: Wow! That seems like a big undertaking but it sounds like you have a clear focus. Of course, I’ve watched the show so I already know how great it is. But I am curious, what compelled you to create this?
P: First of all, thank you for watching! That's a great question. You know how they say "necessity is the mother of invention"? It was sort of like that. I have a somewhat long-standing history with radio style entertainment. When I was asked early last year to be the guest on a budding radio app, it inspired me to get back into that medium with my own show. I knew I had to talk about SOMEthing week after week. Since cartoons are already something I obsess over on a daily basis, the combination seemed like the perfect choice!
C: I see. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. That’s great! I commend you for rushing to the challenge. So tell us more about this cartoon obsession? You make them?
P: Lifelong obsession, I'm afraid! Ha! I've been drawing cartoons since I was about 8. Mostly I've been making comic strips like you'd see in a newspaper but here and there I've tried my hand at animation. I even went to college for animation! Most folks these days know me for a series of books called "Retail Sunshine." It's a comedy following a group of stylized stick figures who sell consumer electronics and it's been going on for over 11 years now. More recently, I'm animating a short cartoon about those characters which will hopefully lead to a series of some kind.
C: Drawing cartoons at 8? That’s really young. So you’re working on an animation now? Please tell us more!
P: Sure! It's about a minute long and serves as a sort of "opening credits" like you'd see for a half hour TV show. It introduces the audience to the characters and type of scenarios they could expect to see in a full episode.
C: Can you talk about your process a little?
P: I'd love to! I have a real passion for traditional animation like the way the classic Disney films were created. This cartoon is being hand drawn on paper, scanned into my computer, and then composited together. I'm using some video editing software to combine all the frames together and sync them to music. It's super time consuming but very rewarding. The film gets made and remade in sense. It all starts with an animatic - rough sketches set to music meant to block the major actions. Then come the pencil tests where more accurate drawings are lightly drawn to hone in on more refined lines. From there drawings are inked and colored. To call it repetitive would be an understatement!
C: Yeah, you aren't kidding are you. Why torture yourself like that? Just because you love it?
P: I would say love is the primary motivator, yeah. That and I'm just a big glutton for punishment! HAHA! I think part of it relates to my fascination with how traditional animation and stop-motion can exist in their own form apart from the film itself. You can watch a film but it is intangible. However, the drawings in traditional and the puppets in stop-motion, are still drawings and puppets. In a sense, I find that the film becomes more grounded that way.
C: So tell me more about Retail Sunshine.
P: Absolutely! That series came along at an interesting time for me. I had just published my first book of cartoons based on my "Livestock" series that started in high school. So for about 11 years that cast of characters received the majority of my attention when it came to drawing. The series still remains true to my heart but it had certain...restrictions...that made it so I couldn't expand my humor to reflect my daily life of working in retail. Livestock had become so complicated with tons of panels crammed into a single page and fully rendered characters. The problem with that was the amount of time I was taking for a single "strip" which at that point, Livestock was arguably evolving into something else entirely. So, I went to the opposite end of the spectrum. Crude, simple drawings placed in the setting of a retail electronics store. This would be a setting where I could feel free to talk about modern technology and blatantly poke fun at society in a much more blunt way.
Retail Sunshine was born out of a necessity to create quicker and be less intricate. The funny thing is, in the end it wound up being just about as complicated as Livestock in its own ways!
It allowed me to have more fun with my joke telling, sure, but it also played on my perfectionism. Retail Sunshine evolved into a strange blend of minimalism and geometric design.
C: Oh really? How exactly was it more complicated?
P: Over time I grew tired of intentionally drawing so rough. The issue here was, I liked the general concept of Retail Sunshine but felt that it wasn't reflecting my proper artistic senses. So, gradually the characters and settings tightened up to the point where people ask me frequently if the series is drawn on a computer. Well, it isn't and I have the original drawings and hand cramps to prove it!
C: What a fascinating journey! Will the Livestock series ever return?
P: Thanks! Well, the truth is I actually started to make a graphic novel a few years ago and got about 7 pages into it before getting side-tracked by the Retail Sunshine book "Orientation." So, yeah, I'd love to bring those characters back. I recently dug up an old design I made around 2001 for a Livestock sticker and uploaded it to TEEPUBLIC to be used on T-Shirts and such. It will be interesting to see how people respond to it.
C: Oh so are you saying we can buy a shirt with your livestock characters on it?
P: A shirt, a tote bag, a phone case: sure! There are a bunch of items like that and along with the 5 designs I've recently published on that store I have a whole bunch more on the way! My goal is to hit about 20 designs before the month is through.
C: That's cool! That's a lot! I understand you need some votes. Can you explain that a bit more?
P: Right! So, I'm throwing a big event next Friday, the 19th called "'Toon In, ATX!" to celebrate the first full year of Stay 'Tooned! It's listed on the Austin event page "DO512" but because there are so many events that happen here on a daily basis, people can upvote to increase priority listing. If I could get more people to upvote soon, it means LOTS of folks will have a better chance to know about my party. To get your FREE tickets and of course, provide an upvote, go here - https://do512.com/events/2019/4/19/toon-in-atx
C: So how many books do you have available currently?
P: There are three in circulation of the four. That fourth one (which at some point I would love to reissue) is the original Livestock book: "Animal Apathy." The three available now are "Orientation", "Silver Lining", and "'Twas the Day After Turkey" which are all Retail Sunshine themed.
C: Wow! You’ve been busy! So let’s talk a little bit about being an artist and making an online video series. What do you call your show, a web series or podcast?
P: Yeah, busy is an excellent word for it! Even when I'm not visibly busy I feel like my mind is constantly active in pre-visualization which tends to guide my actions. What IS Stay 'Tooned! that's an excellent question. I've been wondering that myself lately! I think it's a little bit of both although that was never the plan. It began exclusively as a podcast and when I moved it to YouTube I treated the video element secondarily. Sort of like the audience was a fly on the wall who would passively watch me make art. Since then I've added an animated introduction, upgraded my camera and moved it so I am looking directly at it, and even introduced a "cold open" segment that exists separately from the podcast. There are also video promo spots (typically under a minute) which have been really rewarding to produce! Often I'll shoot and edit all within a single day's efforts. A sort of, guerilla-style film-making project.
C: Sounds like you’re really grinding out the content. Have you found it difficult to stay on course and maintain a regular posting schedule?
P: I've stayed relatively consistent actually. Performing the show LIVE has given me something to plan and get excited for. Recently, I've incorporated Facebook Event-creation surrounding my celebrity Special Guests. It builds hype and awareness all of which increase my own excitement. Making it an event gives everyone something to look forward to which makes it a priority. And when something's a priority, keeping on task moves from optional to non-negotiable.
C: I like your approach! its certainly good for you and motivating for us. As you know most of our audience comes from a filmmaking background so I wanna ask... Is there anything that’s been a struggle or has been particularly challenging with this project?
P: I'd say two things come to mind immediately: First off, my skills as a writer have improved. Closing the gap between understanding what sounds good on a script vs. how it sounds when it comes out of your mouth. In short, writing conversationally and keeping it authentic. Second, multitasking as a director. When I'm conducting interviews, one of the most challenging things is keeping my vocal responses prompt, appropriate, and entertaining. This is especially hard because during the interview I'm watching audio levels, considering which direction I want the conversation to move in, paying attention to the time, thinking of new questions, and keeping my overall demeanor relaxed. That last one is key because it makes for a better interview when everyone is enjoying themselves.
C: Those are some really important things to consider! What is your experience making all this stuff in Austin? What is your experience being a content creator in Austin?
P: Austin has a lot of opportunities and great locations for backdrops. Something I love about it is the amount of passion and overall acceptance. It's not uncommon for art to be happening here on a daily basis so (for the most part) when I go out to film something, everyone is generally excited and supportive!
C: Oh that’s wonderful to hear. So you’re just wrapping up Season One of your show right? What’s in store for Season Two and when should we be looking for it to start?
P: Season One concludes on the 14th with my VERY Special Guest, voice actor Townsend Coleman! For Season Two (which might start up in May depending on a few things) I want to come back with a BANG! There's going to be a special video promo and I'm planning on incorporating other features like episodes filmed live at various locations, and even Specials where I provide video tours of animation studios!
C: Awesome! It sounds like you have a lot of great stuff planned for Season Two. 43 episodes in Season One, right? How many for Season Two? 43 seems like a lot of episodes for just one season. How did you decide on that many?
P: It's actually going to end up being 44! Like a lot of things that happened in the past year, the decision for number of episodes in a season was not planned. More or less, this is a good stopping point for me. I can take a few weeks to step away, develop some other things and conceptualize how best to move forward. So, going forward, I think I'll have more of a defined season schedule and it will be decidedly less than 44.
C: Haha! Yeah I think less is perfectly understandable. Creating video content for the web is definitely an adventure! So let’s back track and talk about the animation you’re working on. What can viewers expect?
P: Thanks for asking! Yeah, so I've had a lot of requests to make Retail Sunshine animated over the years so, I think people will be excited to see it. Like most of my illustrations, I approach drawing characters with animation in mind. So, viewers can expect to see the comic strip come to life! The characters and jokes will be inspired by the events seen in my books. This first experiment is animated to music and is made traditionally. Which in this case means I'm drawing it all out on paper and scanning those images into my computer for compositing.
C: That’s painstakingly fabulous! Old school! What motivated your decision to animate in such a traditional way? Especially with so many new digital ways to create animation?
P: I grew up fascinated with the process of traditional animation. How, you can look at a single image on paper and somehow when viewed in succession, it comes alive! It's something that never gets old to me especially when a single frame may not LOOK as if it came from the animation. A frame can appear very briefly and works quite well in context but when frozen, it can look totally bizarre! The point is, I love hand made cartoons. There's a real artistry visible. You can get a sense of the individual who drew it (I think) more than if it were created digitally. There's beauty in the imperfections.
C: Right on! I think a lot of people will appreciate your choice and will want to support that kind of work. I look forward to seeing it. So, speaking of support, I noticed you are on Patreon. What kind of perks are you offering patrons?
P: I am indeed! There are some pretty nice perks there now but I am absolutely going to be re-evaluating those for Season 2 (and I listen to feedback from fans). The current perks include unlimited streaming of every Stay 'Tooned! podcast (which is further edited, mastered, and includes music not heard during the YouTube show), access to the unedited livestreams, and even personalized videos from me!
C: Very cool! Well, I know you’re an artist, animator and on-camera host, but you’re also an actor, right?
P: Oh for sure! Got my start in musical theater years ago. It took a back seat for a while but Stay 'Tooned! has really scratched a lot of creative itches for me including being on camera. I've made a few short films and at some point would like to return to that medium more.
C: Sweet! Did ya hear that, directors? Phil is available! Better get him while you can! Before he goes big time! Where can we see your films?
P: HAHA! Yeah, I'm definitely up for more acting if people will have me. Sadly, my films are only available via purchase from me directly. They're not on any website at this time. This is one of those things I'd like to address going forward but recently I did a little acting for a short film by Scott Anson and that should be coming out online very soon. Of course, you can catch me on YouTube and I do believe on YOUR channel too, right Cherdon?
C: Well yeah but what kind of interviewer would I be if I included a plug for my own channel!? What’s Mr. Anson’s film called, so we can keep an eye out for it?
P: I'm all about mutual plugs for one and all! Artists supporting artists after all. Scott's film is called "Snapped."
C: Definitely! Well then lemme just say, you are awesome on camera and always a delight to work with and I can’t recommend you more strongly than I already do. Thanks for being in our videos, Phil! Excellent! We will stay tuned for Snapped! Next I’m compelled to ask... Since I’ve seen your show, I already know how good your questions are. Your in-depth interviews go to places I don’t see other interviews going. What kind of process do you have for coming up with questions and how long does that usually take you to prepare for an interview?
P: Oh wow, well hey, thank you so much! You guys are so much fun to work with and I always look forward to our next film adventure together. I'm so glad the interviews come across that well! One of the major motivations for me in creating Stay 'Tooned! was to achieve something in interviews that I rarely see: a lot of substance. So many interviews are fluff pieces and there are always questions I WISH the interviewer would ask. This usually leaves me wondering about what I consider to be the good stuff. So, there are three main components to how I prepare. First, I look up previous interviews in an effort not to put repeat information out there. Next, I ask questions that automatically just come to mind when observing that Guest's work. Lastly, and this might be the most important one, I ask questions that I would want to be asked as an artist. Part of what is so exciting about sharing art with an audience is the chance to be understood so in an interview, I try and give my Guests lots of opportunities to be known.
C: Well you do an excellent job and I can only hope others wanting to do interviews can follow your lead. Your process really makes for some fascinating interviews that you won’t see elsewhere. So you wanna tell everybody about your upcoming event?
P: Absolutely! 'Toon In, ATX! is a FREE event (and kid friendly too) from 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM on Friday, April 19th. I'll be conducting a live interview with Joe Rothenberg (a local Austin animator), signing limited edition Stay 'Tooned! prints, and there's even going to be a cake cutting ceremony! It all happens at Ao5 Art Gallery on South Lamar in Austin. I hope to see lots of people there partially so that I can convince the powers that be this is all worth doing again next year!
C: Well. I think that about wraps up our interview. Is there anything else you'd like to share with our readers?
P: Thanks for having me, Cherdon, this was really fun! I'd like to invite readers to discover my work at www.retailsunshine.com and remember that animation is a vital and vibrant art form. It deserves to be celebrated and preserved which is one of my mission statements in making Stay 'Tooned! Austin's film community is thriving and I hope something people come away understanding better after attending 'Toon In, ATX! next Friday. I think everyone will be surprised to learn just how much film making is happening right here in Austin, animated or otherwise.
C: Phil, thanks for a great interview! And keep up the good work!