Wistful birds with giant foreheads are reading thick books, wearing devil suits, balancing oranges on their heads and trying to find a good time to leave. A wild-eyed Zach Galifianikis is playing a tiny, grey piano. Meanwhile, a Yam Roll in cowboy boots is dashing about in a taxi and using his mild superpowers to defend Minamiko, the spicy tuna roll who pickles his ginger.
These characters fly into Jon Izen’s brain and out of his pen. His skill in rendering them into appealing protagonists has brought him success as an artist, animator and cartoon series director. The modest Izen – a devoted Dad with a cat named Princess Pickles – has won multiple awards, including the Audience Award at the New York International Children’s Film Festival for Black and White.
Black and White is a micro mini-series that was produced by March Entertainment and screened on multiple channels. “Hey David!” “Yes, Steven?” Black and White follows David and Steven – two faceless, long-limbed friends who meet by the tree for their mad hatter chats. “You’re crazy!”
These 30 second episodes are entirely addictive to many, baffling to a few.
‘They were hilarious to make. Pure nonsense!’ Izen created and directed 100 episodes. He animated the first 25; Graham Finley and Chris Cherkas animated the rest. ‘Great guys to work with!’
Yam Roll is a full-length series that Izen created with his good friend Jono Howard. “It was a blast to create as it was straight from my brain onto the screen. Literally an on-screen doodle.” The Yam Roll character came to Izen as he was doodling whilst eating at Minato Sushi on Oak and Broadway.
Princess Mimi, another show Izen created with Howard, was inspired by Mariah Carey. “I was trying to create a show that I thought Mariah Carey would buy due to the fact that she loves rainbows and butterflies!” Izen directed the short, designed the characters and did some of the animation. ‘The crazy talented Ivan Rusev did most of the animation. My bud Andre Plante scored sweet tune.’
Here, we see Princess Mimi with her tiny buddy, Grumpy Gus…
Growing up, Izen didn’t watch a lot of cartoons. He does remember being taken with Rocky and Bullwinkle when he was a young child. “It was so crude, yet so great! Past that, I think I fell into a Pee Wee’s Playhouse trance. I used to love it! So insanely brilliant.”
Izen describes his personal artwork style as “quick and dirty. I like expression of thought more so than the perfection of craft.” Many have fallen in love with his pensive birds. Why birds? “I can’t remember when or why I started but they became a simple avenue for expression with my art work.”
Izen’s “obsessive doodling” started in university. “It probably helped me make the decision to head over to Fine Arts.” He completed a BFA at the University of Manitoba, then studied Classical Animation at Vancouver Film School.
“The BFA offered me enough time to understand that my skewed brain was probably a good thing to cherish. By the time I went to VFS it was baked into my head.” Izen feels that the combined education has opened up a broader range of opportunities and encouraged him to always balance a mix of his own personal projects and industry work.
Here is True Love, a project Izen did with Sook-Yin Lee and Josh Hart for CBC’s DNTO.
And 9 Things I Saw Last Wednesday.
Izen’s broader resume includes animating on an R.E.M. video and serving as a lead animator on Disney’s The Buzz on Maggie and Warner Brothers hit show Mucha Lucha. He currently works as a Director at DHX Media where he heads up projects like Dr. Dimensionpants and the upcoming Super Noobs.
Though his first love is always doing the hands-on art, Izen does enjoy being on the other side of the camera as a director. “It is great being able to help shape a series and try and invest yourself and your sense of humour into a show. It is also a massive challenge when trying to balance all of the variables of production into the daily pipeline and still have some fun.”
With all of his experience, what advice would Izen offer to those considering a career in animation? “Yeesh. My usual line is just work hard, be nice. Cartoons are alright – but they don’t make you who you are. Success is not defined by having a show or the role you have at work. With some hard work and a good attitude, you will make some buds and probably have a good time in the industry. What more could you ask for?”
Yellow, a Children’s Music Video Izen created and directed by Izen for Renee & Jeremy’s cover of the Coldplay hit.
“Creating art is simply an outlet for all the noise that collects in my head,” says Izen. “It’s a way to express myself as well as a way for me try and figure out the world I live in.”
Written by Elizabeth Newton
Artwork courtesy of Jon Izen