Name: Casey Drogin
Hometown: New York City, New York
Random Facts About Me: I have a fake tooth that is grafted to my jaw with cadaver bone.
One sentence about why I make films: To improve as a storyteller and technician.
1. Can you give us some background on how you first got into filmmaking?
As a kid, my parents took me to see the 1999 Godzilla movie. The movie is a real waste but I was head-over-heels for big, scary monsters. I remember wondering how they actually made the movie. For months and months after, I only drew pictures of Godzilla. Helicopter battles, underwater fight scenes with blue whales, birthday cards for Grandma, whatever.
The pregnant woman entering the house from Casey Drogin’s animated short film Primordia
I guess the point is that my immediate response to the Godzilla movie was to explore that idea myself. I wanted to make my own Godzilla story, to figure out what made that movie so badass to seven year old me and replicate it.
What lured me to animation and VFX was that it was all one big cool secret. I wanted to know how to fool people, to hide the seams and envelop people in a story.
2. I first met you at NFFTY in Seattle, Washington. You were screening an amazing animated film called Primordia. I was blown away by the quality and artistry of that film. Can you describe to us the process of making that film and how you learned the animation skills that you used to make this film?
I have thalassophobia or a fear of the sea and open water. Biological origins alongside primal instincts like fear, maternal love, and the food chain were themes I wanted to explore. The bottom of the ocean seemed the perfect place.
Primordia was originally planned to require upwards of 11,000 individual drawings. I had to figure out a way to work quickly without compromising the final look. I spent about six months working out storyboards, character designs and a script. I didn’t want to lose time animating anything before realizing it was unnecessary to the story.
I immediately liked freelancing because it allows me to work with all kinds of teams with a range of skills. It opens me up to jobs and techniques that I would have never known about otherwise.Casey Drogin
The following six months were devoted to animation, compositing and sound design. I worked 60-100 hour weeks and knew what I wanted from the beginning. That kept me grounded in the story and dedicated to completing it. At that point, I had around five years of experience with programs like Flash and After Effects. I had also been drawing essentially my whole life and, by that point, I was fast enough to be able to take on nine minutes at 24 frames per second.
3. Are you working on any projects now that you can tell us about?
I’m in commercial-land at the moment, which gives me the opportunity to work with some amazing teams. I’m currently animation director for a NASCAR spot, which will use 3D aerodynamic simulations to showcase why their cars are very fast.
Casey Drogin with his award certificate received at the 2015 First Run Film Festival for Primordia
I’m also excited to contribute animation for a poaching documentary, When Lambs Become Lions. The director, Jon Kasbe, is now in Kenya filming with poachers and rangers. It’s a tense situation over there. As the wildlife populations dwindle, the livelihoods of the poachers and rangers are threatened, which leaves them directly in each other’s paths for providing for their families.
4. I was looking at your website and was absolutely blown away by the list of companies you’ve already worked with at such a young age. Google, VH1, ESPN, Pixar. Just amazing! How did you transition into the world of professional filmmaking? Can you describe how you got involved with these companies and how that collaborative process worked?
While in school, I applied for a part-time job at a small animation studio, Ace and Son. It was a small fourperson shop, but the owner gave everyone a solid amount of responsibility with projects. That was a perfect intro to the professional pipeline as well as teamwork. Up until then, I had only worked on animated projects by myself.
The initial sketch (left) and final rendering (right) of the spiral staircase from Casey Drogin’s animated short film Primordia
Once I graduated, it was suggested that I should pursue freelance work with bigger studios such as Mixtape Club and Hornet. These were much larger houses with 20+ people and individual departments and directors. That completely amped my idea concerning large-scale teamwork. I was also working alongside a few NYU (New York University) professors who freelanced professionally. Because of their involvement, there was less of a hindrance to ask questions and make sure I was doing my job right the first time.
When you work fulltime anywhere, you usually have one role in the pipeline. It’s easy to stagnate and harder to meet new people with different skillsets. I immediately liked freelancing because it allows me to work with all kinds of teams with a range of skills. It opens me up to jobs and techniques that I would have never known about otherwise.
5. Do you have any stories about unexpected / surprising things that have occurred on a production of yours?
While at Mixtape Club, we were finishing up character animation for a Times Square billboard. I was psyched and very nervous.
When we wrapped, the client came by and took our portraits. For a couple days, those pictures of our faces were plastered across the largest billboard in North America, right there in Times Square. It was their way of thanking us for all the hard work we did. That was a major moment for all of us.
Faceless, the principal character from Casey Drogin’s animated short film Imperial Triumphant – Krokodil
6. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to a young filmmaker who wants to start taking his or her first filmmaking steps?
People skills are more important than a portfolio. Get back to people quickly, even if you’re unavailable. Always recommend someone else if you can’t do it. That will pay off in ways you can’t predict and reinforces the collaborative nature of the industry.
Efficiency is key. Take the time to organize your files and organize your projects. Have a system set in place. You don’t want to be searching for a file at 4:00 am. You need to know where every shot, image and email lives at all times. This will save you and your team much energy.
Finish the movie. It’s never going to be perfect. Know the difference between fine tuning and indecision. The best part of making any film is the lesson you learn for the next one.