Justin Rasch is an American artist, director and animator with 24 years of experience in stop-motion, Computer Graphics (CG), and 2D animation for video game television and film. He currently works as a Senior Cinematic Animator at Blizzard Entertainment.
From “Snow White“, “The Grinch” to “World of Warcraft“, animation has come a long way since centuries ago. We’ve seen it going beyond all boundaries, shaking off its association with Children’s TV and becoming a respected and accomplished art form.
In celebration of International Animation Day on 28 Oct 2020, we are thrilled to have sat down with YouTube sensation, Justin Rasch, the “Animation Beast” whose works of extraordinary can be found in various action and fight scenes he animated throughout his career.
Watch the video below to hear about Justin’s journey as an animator!
Justin: It’s hard to say for Animation, but for artwork – right away. When I was a 3-year-old kid, I started seeing creature features from the 60s and 70s, and all the cinemas in the 80s with the special effects and stop motion creatures in films. I was COMPLETELY mesmerized. A few films came out (Secret of Nihm, Land before time) that really inspired me. I was just drawing all the time.
I grew up in a small town in Florida and later moved to Miami where I saw Disney on how they did animation. I saw people flipping papers and I was like, ‘WOAH, THAT’S AMAZING!’ I knew it was real, it (animator) was a job.
At that point, I started researching. There were-creature effects magazines like ‘Cine-effects’, ‘Starlog’, and ‘Fangoria’. I would grab onto little nuggets of information on animation. By the time when I was 8 to 10 years old, I was very deep into comic books and animation. In any kind of special effects film stuff, I could see and figure out the magic behind it.
Justin: Me and my brother were both artists. We both wanted to do special effects and we found this one art school in Pennsylvania called ‘Art Institute of Pittsburgh’. It was the very first art school that had mask making, miniatures, and armatures, and product design. All kinds of weird little things – anything that we saw growing up that was in movies and monsters movies. The program that I first started was called Industrial Design. It was more based on practical effects.
Justin: In 1993, Jurassic Park came out. I had never seen animation that looked that good before in creature effects. I was like, “WOW, THAT’S INCREDIBLE”
So I went down to my guidance counselor the next morning and decided to switch to Computer Animation. I had to make sure I find a job and I definitely see that’s the future of special effects.
And it changed everything.
While there was this new frontier of movie making and animation, I ended up learning the computer. Of course, the world exploded with computer animation afterward. When I graduated, I had a 2D training and a couple of quarters in a 3D studio. I understood the computer too and did really well with it. For whatever reason, it clicked in my brain.
After I graduated, I was hired by a Japanese video game company called Konami. I grew up playing Konami games. Prince of Persia, Contra, Castlevania were huge when I was a kid growing up in the 80s. I never would have guessed I would be working for them. They had a great offer and stability. Through this new medium, they were taking artists and bringing them into the 3D world.
Justin: I saw the technical people being pushed out by the artist. At first, there were a lot of people who only knew how to use computers and computer software. Then people like me, a new generation of trained artists, moved into that. There was really a big difference in visual quality, animation, design modeling, and the environment – whatever the artwork was. The scribe-based 2D animation people got left behind too because they didn’t want to learn the computer.
I was in this weird place – new and young enough to be open to the computer. I also love 2D and have the talent for 2D artwork. That was a huge piece of evolution as far as staying up to date.
Justin: Now I’m 46 and I have been in this business for 24 years animating. My brain is still developing with new tools and new software. Now, I do nothing but animation.
All that I have to focus on is being the best animator I can be. That knowledge of the craft is the same as it was back in the 60s or 50s. What makes a good animation work in 2D, Computer Graphics (CG), and stop motion are exactly the same. I also learn a few tools but way less than I used to because it’s so specialized.
Justin: In CG, the misconception is the computer does everything which of course is not true. The artist is behind it especially at the highest levels.
The artist is behind every choice – every frame, every lighting, every texturing – everything. So the computer does not do all the work.
Justin: It’s more efficient in a lot of ways but it actually isn’t faster. The tools allow so much noodling. There’s so much back and forth with people changing their minds and directors in there. It actually takes just as long, if not longer. This is as opposed to something like stop motion which people think is incredibly slow. It’s done when it’s done. You get what you get. It has to be a fail, or it’s a go.
Stop motion is way faster than CG. This is a huge surprise to so many people. I’ve been working in Blizzard in the Cinematics department for 5 years. We spend WAY more time on our Cinematics than we ever do in a film or a major feature. Especially on television which is like “BOOM” you are slammed into through footage like crazy.
Justin: I have been doing this for 24 years. I have worked at many different studios, and many different mediums as far as television, film, and video games. Blizzard is by far the best place I have ever worked. I don’t have an idea of why they have a bad reputation online. But they treat everybody so respectful.
They absolutely care about quality, which is not common. Blizzard has the financial stability enough to really care. They will not release something if it’s not ready. They care about the artwork. It’s REALLY REALLY refreshing. For me, as an artist, I’m doing so much amazing work that I’m proud of, really proud of.
They care about your life quality. Again, how many studios care about your life quality? Very, very few. Blizzard is a wealthy company. They have the luxury of treating their people right. They don’t want to crunch your life away. I’m just so impressed by this company.
I remember when I got hired, my supervisor was like,‘This is the last job you are ever gonna have’. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, thanks.’ But in my head, I was like ‘Pfff. Whatever. Sure, It’s the last job and I’m gonna do a million things’.
Now that I have been here 5 years, I’m like ‘Wow, this is nice, I’m pretty impressed’.
Justin: The variation at Blizzard Cinematics is so special. Oftentimes you work as an artist. For me, I prefer to do all hand key work. I have typically always done that in my career. If you are on a project for too long, you might get bored as an artist. I might go to another studio because they are doing something I really like.
Blizzard has five games at all times. We have five completely different art styles and storytelling devices. I’m getting to do really cartoony stuff, sometimes hyper-realistic stuff or superhero exaggerated stuff. My tastes are so rich and varied in what I get to do.
I just feel very grateful again that I don’t have to get bored. They are developing new things all the time. For new projects, they care about new styles. When they need something that tastes different. That brings more variety to me as a cook.
Justin: It’s really interesting. I have been working at home now for about 6 months. I am amazed at how little has changed for us. The Cinematics department has not lost a step in speed, which shows how well we were kinda organized. I still go to the dailys. I still go get directed. We still have the same deadlines. We are just doing it with no slowdown in Cinematics.
Since the Game teams are a lot more interactive, they probably dropped some productivity. It’s a lot more kind of convoluted. But at Cinematics, we haven’t missed a beat – I’m amazed.
Justin: Yeah, right now, frame by frame, for Blizzard at least. I don’t do motion capture. So, zero tech outside of that. Sometimes on the higher end productions, there may be some simulation, for clothing or hair. Even then, they don’t always make you use the simulator.
You can hand animate it if you are a freak like me who just wants to touch everything. It looks good if you are able to prove that you can do the quality. They don’t even run the scenes all the time unless they have to.
Justin: I’m an old guy so I play a lot of old games. I’m 46 years old and I came from the mid-70s to the 80s. I grew up playing Atari, Nintendo, and Super Nintendo, and then Genesis. Then I got into Playstation, Playstation 2.
Of course, I would play games specific to what I was working on very often. If I was working on an Uncharted type game, I would play Uncharted. If I’m working on a God of War game, I would play God of War.
I’m finding less time in my life to invest in a 60-hour game. My children are old enough like 28 years old. When they were growing up, I would live through them by watching them play the games and then kinda check-in on playing moments.
I have arcades in my house. I have a Dragonslayer cabinet, Donkey Kong. In my gymnasium, I play a lot of quick games, Pacman, Donkey Kong, Street Fighter… I can get a game in and not have to spend 60 hours unless it’s something I’m working on.
Lately, I have been playing Hearthstone because I’m directing a new Hearthstone short so I really need to dig into this game. The last game I played all the way through is the new God of War because I have so many friends that worked on it. and I was also thinking of doing some animation stuff with it.
Justin: Oh dude, that would be amazing. I haven’t heard that rumor yet. It’s bubbling out there but I did not hear Peter Jackson’s name, I just heard a few of the actors that they are trying to get attached to.
I don’t know, and I couldn’t tell if I did know.
Blizzard is very aware that they have major fan bases and awesome worlds they’ve created over the years. They definitely are interested in expanding that stuff. The first Warcraft movie was a huge hit in China, like massive. It made a ton of money. It didn’t do so great in America, or in the UK, or Europe regions but in China, it was huge. Just the amount of money I made in that region alone made it very likely that they are going to do it again.
Of course, people want the Peter Jackson version for a new Warcraft movie. So, we’ll see. I won’t be surprised at all. They are definitely very aware that their licenses need to move into new regions, outside of video games.
Justin: I just joined social media recently – TikTok, Instagram, and Twitter. It was really challenging for me as an older fellow to go into that world. I don’t know how to present myself. It wasn’t like my culture of how I grew up.
My friend encouraged me to do it because “this is the future”. I saw some of my friends had big success going to where they became independent artists. Also, I constantly get approached by and asked for advice on animation, stop motion, or video games.
I started a YouTube channel ‘Justin Rasch Animation’ and uploaded episodes about my experience as an animator. I try to answer some of these questions that I get all the time so that people can just start going there. It’s still in the very early stages. I don’t have a lot of followers or anything like that, but it’s starting to move.
When I joined TikTok, my stuff exploded. It really showed me the power of the Internet. I’m getting pieces of animation that I did 8 to 20 million views. I have never had anything get seen that much. This is what I’m responsible for as an artist completely. So I decided to explore this.
Justin: I’m putting stuff up on my Instagram ‘@justin_rasch_official’. Me and my wife started running a studio in our garage. We got our first professional gig from TikTok and Instagram. It was something for me as a dream. I got approached by these brands and to consider, “what would I choose?”.
I thought about it and there was something that as a kid I would love to bring to life. So, I reached out to that company. They were huge fans of my work. We got the deal. I was like ‘Wow, the Internet is so powerful, this is amazing!’ We are in the middle of that production right now and it’s going to come out in October.
I know it’s just the beginning. We are getting contacted by more brands that just want to wear a shirt or talk about a product. They are going to send us free stuff – all from just sharing my stuff and occasionally doing some artwork for my channels. So I see social media in the long term as an incredibly big piece for young artists and myself.
I think it’s also more direct and authentic. When I do this stuff, my stuff, I’m the director and I get to make all the artistic decisions. It’s very rewarding to my heart.
Justin’s story is indeed intriguing and inspiring. We admire his passion and drive in his animation career and are amazed at how he always keeps learning to reach his aspirations.
Interested to find out how you can leverage the power of animation for your marketing strategy? Stay tuned for our next blog!