Local Filmmaker Profile: Rick Mischel

As promised, we’re continuing to bring you monthly interviews with local filmmakers, and for February we had the pleasure of sitting down with a legend in the animation world.

If you haven’t already, meet Rick Mischel. With 30 years of experience in the animation industry, Rick has been an Executive Producer at Sony Pictures Animation, served as CEO of Bardel Entertainment, overseeing a team of over 400 artists and productions for some of the industry’s leading broadcasters and IP owners, including Fox, Nickelodeon, Netflix, Disney, and Warner Bros. Additionally, he received an Emmy Award in 2020 as an Executive Producer for Bardel’s work on Rick and Morty. (No…he is not the Rick from Rick and Morty. And yes…I asked).

Now, he’s taken the Okanagan by storm by acquiring Yeti Farm Creative Studio and rebranding it, Artists Animation Studio! As CEO and Founder, he oversees a team specializing in 2D animation for television series and movies, online episodes, advertising, and games.

So naturally, we had a few questions for him:

QUESTION: Arguably you have one of the coolest jobs in the industry and worked on some amazing projects over the years. Can you tell us some of the films you’ve worked on?
RICK: Sure! In reverse chronological order, Rick and Morty, along with Dragon Prince and Diary of a Wimpy Kid The Movie – all at Bardel. At Sony I produced the Hotel Transylvania Television Series, and the Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs television series – those were based on the movies. And while I ran Sony Studios in Vancouver, I worked on all the Sony Pictures animation features. So, the Smurfs, Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse, Hotel Transylvania 1, 2, and 3, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 The Movie. I’ve got to work on some amazing projects in my various jobs. I’ve been very lucky, and it’s been great.

QUESTION: What was the very first film you worked on?
RICK: When I first started in animation I was an acquisitions executive and I would go and buy animated programing for distribution in the U.S. and Canada, and the first show that I actually produced was a Christmas special based on the book The Littlest Angel, which was a popular children’s book. I think it was first published in the 1940’s. We animated that book for the first time and created this heartwarming Christmas special that was animated in Vancouver, actually.

QUESTION: What was one of the highlights of your career that you can share with everybody?
RICK: The highlights for me are the times of major challenges which called on skill sets that I didn’t even know I had. Those are the things that are most fulfilling to me. When I came to Mainframe Entertainment, in 2003 in Vancouver, the company was struggling financially, and I had to use all my instincts and skillset to turn that company around with a great team of people. It wasn’t me alone. I had a great executive team that helped me but leading that company to a turnaround was really one of the most fulfilling things I could have done. I think a close second would be building Sony’s Animation and Visual Effects Studio in Vancouver from scratch. I was the first employee of Sony Pictures Imageworks Vancouver. So to see that grow to 700 people and be part of that, and the level of work that came out of that studio was really an amazing experience. And now, of course, I‘m hoping this experience, where I’ve acquired this studio in Kelowna, will be that kind of fulfilling experience. For the first time, I’m now running and managing a studio that I own. So that’s a real different and positive thing.

QUESTION: Let’s talk about Artist’s Animation Studio. What prompted you to take that step?
RICK: I guess I’m either very brave or very crazy. One or the other. I love the animation business. I love working with the artists. I love all the creativity. I wasn’t quite ready to coast along as a producer and I wanted another challenge. I wanted to have something of my own that I could build the way I always wanted to build it without anyone else causing me to compromise or do things in a way I didn’t want to do them. The opportunity presented itself because the founders of Yeti Farm Creative Studio were ready to make a change, and because of its size, it fit my resources and abilities, and so I grabbed the opportunity and here I am.

QUESTION: What makes working in the Okanagan different than working in other communities?
RICK: There’s a great work/life balance here and a friendliness and lack of ego with those living and working here. We’re all in it together and want to build our distinct entertainment communities with a united effort.

QUESTION: What are the benefits of working in the Okanagan? What do you like about it?
RICK: There are now a great critical mass of very talented animation artists who have come from Vancouver or other parts of Canada and the world over, as well as graduates of our animation programs here in the Okanagan. So we have a great talent base to draw from. Now add our enhanced regional tax credits into the mix and that makes us very competitive in delivering high quality animation at a competitive price to our clients. Finally we have the beautiful surrounding area with recreation, wineries, restaurants and a general high quality of living here in the Okanagan.

QUESTION: What would you say is the most important thing for anybody to do when they’re starting a production company (of any kind)?
RICK: That’s a good question. There’s a lot of challenges big and small to starting a production company. Make sure you have a good infrastructure set up. Make sure you have good accounting, good human resources, and a good banking relationship. All that stuff that you don’t want to think about every day. Don’t just jump in without having those things set up. That’s number one. And two would be to get your mission set. Think about what it is you want to do with this company. What makes you different? What makes you distinct? Who are you in the marketplace? Write that out and know it. Know your mission. I put that right onto our website because I wanted our potential clients to see that and what we want to do. And number 3 is just hustle. You got to get out there and network, and hustle for the business. Whether it’s pitching projects or looking for service work, every day you have to hit the ground running.

QUESTION: You mentioned your studio will be specializing in 2d animation. Can you explain what that is?
RICK: Yeah, there’s basically two different kinds of animation basically that you’ll see in any animated program whether it’s a television series or a feature. There’s CGI animation which is mostly all the animated features you see in a theatre. Those are CGI movies or sometimes they’re called 3D Animation. They have a depth of field when you look at the animation. Then there’s 2D animation, which is what we do, and that’s a little more flat. Like Rick and Morty, is 2D animation. A lot of the adult animation shows like Rick and Morty and Solar Opposites, Archer, and Simpsons, and Family Guy – those are all 2D animation styles.

QUESTION: So why did your studio decide to go with 2D?
RICK: Well, that’s 10 years of legacy of the studio, Yeti Farm Creative Studio, which I’ve acquired and renamed but we still wanted to honour the legacy of the studio. In fact, one of the founders has stayed on as our Head of Animation (Todd Ramsay), so that’s what we have been doing. That’s what we’re good at. That’s our niche in the marketplace. We do 2D Animation really well so we want to stick with that.
QUESTION: What can somebody do if they want to become an animator?
RICK: Training is obviously the first thing. To be trained in a good program. There are some great local schools in the Okanagan that have really good animation programs. We hire a lot of people that come out of programs like that and continue their training so that’s a good way to start in the business. And while you’re at that program, you’re going to put together a reel of work you do while you’re in school and that reel is important too, because even though it might be short stuff and simplistic, it shows how you look at things and what your talent is.

QUESTION: Is there a specific software that is industry standard?
RICK: In 2D it’s Harmony by Toon Boom, and in CG it’s Maya. It’s the number one software used in 3D studios.

QUESTION: How does someone write for animation?
RICK: I think the best way is to pick a few shows you like in animation and write a few spec scripts for those shows. Two or three samples. And then it’s the same thing for any other television writing, you find an agent, or pitch yourself to production companies that make shows. Get it in the hands of development coordinators at those companies that develop shows. We’re a service company so we don’t develop shows. Clients come to us with their shows that are already developed.

QUESTION: What do you think 2024 has in store for the film community in the Okanagan?
RICK: I think we’re rebounding now and throughout 2024 from the doldrums of Covid and the Writers and Actors Strikes in the US with increased production, demand for strong visual artistry and competitive locations and services. I’m seeing a big uptick as the industry ramps up again and we’re ideally situated to be an attractive location for that increased activity.

QUESTION: What piece of advice would you give someone looking to get into film in the Okanagan?
RICK: Aggressively market your skills sets to the right employers. Make sure we know about you and what you can do in relation to our particular businesses.

QUESTION: Any final thoughts that you would like to add?
RICK: Very happy with the help of Jon Summerland and the commission in their promotion of this region. I owe my first visit to Kelowna to Jon’s outreach effort and now happily spend most of my time here in Kelowna and in Naramata.

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