Shawna Mills aka Lazy Mills
Chaos to Calm..a lesson in opposites
Scratch that. I met her at this past weekend’s New York Comic Con. Don’t be jealous.
…But back to my story. I can tell you how I came across Shawna’s work, back before I had any earthly clue who she was. I was on the phone with a friend and the conversation went something like this:
Friend: “Have you seen that girl Shawna Mill’s work? She’s awesome. Her name is Lazy Mills on Deviant Art, I think. You should check her out.”
Me: (in the middle of stuffing my face with some sort of high calorie snack and chasing said snack with a glass of wine) “Ok.”
This was a while ago, and once I saw Shawna’s work I eventually moved on to get lost in the sea of artistic addiction that is Deviant Art (seriously, I think DA is sprinkled with lucrative amounts of crack). But I never forgot Shawna’s vivid and eccentric style and her ability to use exaggerated characters and poses and bright graffiti-inspired visuals to create animations that are nothing short of engaging. She was one of the artists that I wanted to write about when I started this blog, so of course the first order of business was to find out how she got the nickname Lazy Mills.
“It started out when an old college friend told me to join an art community (DA) and I couldn’t come up with a screen name I could memorize,” Shawna says as she laughs. “I was known for being sorta lazy and unmotivated. I really put little effort into what I did. Fell asleep in classes I should have gotten A’s in. I lacked energy or the motivation for gaining energy. I was a lazy person. So the name came naturally and I remembered it easily.” And thus, Lazy Mills was born. To see her work, however, you would never know it. Want to know another interesting yet ironic fact? Shawna actually used to hate animation when she first learned how to do it in high school. Again, to see her work, you would never know it. “ My first animation was really good for a first. But I lacked the interest,” she admits. It wasn’t until college, where Shawna started making Photoshop animations for fun, that she came back to the medium, this time to stay.
Underneath the layers of quirky animation and exceptional characters, Shawna’s style is expressive and lively with bright colors reminiscent of the graffiti you can find in any of New York’s boroughs. I found that her influence growing up in NYC is as deep as the people walking the streets. “Street performers, Graffiti, the A-holes, the fashion. It all has it’s place in my development,” Shawna says. “It’s a great place to find yourself. Be real with yourself. And I only focused on my art, so my heart was put on paper and freely so. The diversity and odd happenings of NYC made it feel safe to be controversial as well.”
While I wouldn’t call it controversial, Shawna’s style is certainly atypical of American animation…and for the better. Her work reminded me of the energy and style of some of Gainax’s productions like FLCL and Gurren Lagaan, so naturally I had to ask if she pulled any influence from the popular Japanese studio. “I am inspired by those productions. I don’t know the names of the artists themselves. I’ve said that once before – I NEVER pay attention to artists. I could really care more,” she laughs. “I don’t like being insulting, but I see only what inspires me. The works come first. I got a lot from FLCL, the Gorillaz, DeadLeaves. The rest of my inspirations came largely from people of DA and people I knew personally.” As for the eccentricity and life in her animations – well, that’s all Shawna. She is the exact opposite of her Lazy Mills moniker on paper, bursting with energy through her animations. “I’m Lazy and I do lack stamina, but once in a while I surprise friends when I burst out like a cartoon with my bad jokes and punching arms and junk,” she says. “So yeah, I am very animated. Not too openly to everyone however. Chaos to calm. It’s me, for sure.”
Shawna’s ability to push her chaos to calm personality into her work has turned out well for her in the animation arena, though that doesn’t mean it’s always been a walk in the park.
Working for companies such as Titmouse Inc. and Marroni Electronic Entertainment, where succeeding in a team oriented environment is crucial, was very different from freelancing for Shawna. “I am not used to the lack of direct communication. I got the feeling I wasn’t getting all of what I needed to know at times when ever I worked with a team. I’m a hands on person. I need to know what I’m failing at. Flat out. So I can focus on fixing it. I got that a lot better with freelance,” she says. But Shawna admits that keeping organized could be overwhelming when it came to freelance clients, so working with a team was something she always wanted, even though the lack of communication could be intimidating at times. “I’ve joined MEE and I’m the 2D artist for a 3D game. I like a team. I like being hands on in just the right amount and still being informed of the rest without dealing with the rest.”
So based on the quality of work that she produces, I thought that Shawna and animation were skipping through grassy meadows together holding hands. Then this statement came:
“I really needed to stop animating. Right before I got on MEE, I was ready to go into acting or gardening or…. pickpocketing…. ANYTHING else but animation.”
But you two are so perfect together, I thought.
“I loved that my animations were liked,” she continues, “but the truth is, I’ve always wanted to do concept work.” She lets out a smile. “And at MEE I’ll be doing just that. It’s the path I was hoping for.” But don’t let this throw you. Shawna admits that she can never escape animation, and she’s still keeping her services open for any future opportunities.
And this girl has an undoubtedly bright future ahead of her along with a growing list of accomplishments. Having recently been featured in Black Comix, a book highlighting African-American independent artists and comic book creators, Shawna remains humble and even a little surprised by the experience. “I went to the release, and It was so cool for me. I thank everyone for including me in on it. When I am approached by such amazing people, I get shy.” She laughs then adds, “But it’s always an honor when I’m talked well about by such accomplished people.”
As skilled as she is, Shawna still considers herself a duckling of the game. “I would love to work under Sandford Greene and Lesean Thomas. I say under because I’m a student before I’m on a level. These people are fascinating to me. I want to know what they know and work as well as they do,” she says. Her list also expands to include people that she knows personally, including Courtland Ellis of multimedia studio, The Fictory, who mentioned that Shawna is one of his biggest influences.
I know I’m supposed to be objective as a writer, but, seriously, who wouldn’t want to see that? Just tell me which stars need aligning to make that happen. Anyway…
I asked Shawna if she had any parting advice for anyone that is looking to break into the animation field. After interviewing her, I know that any answer other than the one she gave just wouldn’t be her.
“Oh advice. I’m no good at giving real world advice. I do know the codes I lived by and what helped me. One: do what ever you want.
Seriously. The world can suck, but if you have a pen and pad, you can go and do anything. When they say it’s silly of you, do it bigger and louder so it’s so ridiculous that it’s genius. You should have a good amount of stubbornness and openness. It’s important. Your ideas and innovations go a long way, I believe. And if you can, do a lot yourself. Wait for no one if you can. Don’t sit still if you see something you can do to make something great. Over all, stop seeing what you can’t do. Only see what you can do, or you’ll be stuck.”
She laughs and adds, “Yeah, my type of advice giving is much more fit for being a life coach than I thought. “
I’ve learned that Shawna is a girl that excels when it comes to opposites. She gives pretty good advice for someone who says she’s not good at giving it, and has some of the best work I’ve seen coming from an admittedly lazy animator in…well…ever.
Still, Shawna is an excellent example of how far humility and passion can take you. In an industry that is defined by the typical, I’m confident that she will continue to break molds simply because she creates what’s in her heart to create, and what she produces certainly strays from the ordinary.
When they say it’s silly of you, do it bigger and louder so it’s so ridiculous that it’s genius. Lesson learned.
Shawna Mills is a 2D animator and concept designer from New York, NY. She is currently 2D Art Director for Marroni Electronic Entertainment and is working on an official sketch book entitled N.A.P. (Not A Pro). She is also accepting freelance work for both animation and concept design. Shawna can be reached with the info below: