I’ve heard someone say before that if you can’t remember how you met a friend, you’re destined to be friends with them for life. I have no idea how that makes any logical sense, but I do know that I can barely remember how I met Sean Tate, and yet we’re still good friends to this day. We both attended the Art Institute in Philadelphia and got to know each other somewhere between watching random Youtube videos in the computer labs and debating about how Philly Hip Hop will always be inferior to New York Hip Hop.
Oops. I was never supposed to let those words leave my lips. It’s ok, though. I’m just joking. Kind of.
But that topic of conversation was all in fun and even after I came back home to New York, we stayed in touch and would make a point to hang out anytime I was in Philly. He encouraged me to be a little more public with the fact that I could rap, even when I wanted to keep it a big secret (and to some extent, I still do), and he introduced me to the best cheese steaks in the city – Max’s Steaks in North Philly. Matter of fact, that should be the new standard of friendship. If you can’t remember how you met a friend, but he treats you to a cheese steak from Max’s, you’re destined to be friends for life.
Yep. My friendship can be bought. With cheese steaks.
Sean showed me where he grew up in North Philly, a neighborhood that didn’t exactly have the best reputation, but that influenced him greatly as an artist all the same. “I find myself incorporating many of my life experiences in North Philly into my ideas, like character personalities, environments, and events,” he says. But the real trigger to Sean’s appetite for pursuing a career in animation was a popular Super Nintendo video game featuring work by another of his greatest influences: Akira Toriyama, the mastermind behind Dragon Ball. In case that incredibly corny hint didn’t jog your memory, or in case you’re just unfamiliar, the game was Chrono Trigger, an RPG developed by SquareSoft back in 1995. “Its pretty ironic but it wasn’t until I played a game called Chrono Trigger in middle school that I decided to do animation!” Sean says. “That game was so dope that I wanted it to be an animated movie or series, and I began coming up with cartoons similar to it.”
Drawing much of his inspiration from Japanese animation as well as creators such as Lesean Thomas, Aaron McGruder, and Don Bluth, Sean has developed a style of illustration that is immediately recognizable as his own. Even if you subtract all of Sean’s biggest influences, what you’re left with is a guy with a Wacom tablet and a colossal imagination. His web comic entitled Oh Snap!, produced under Ground Up Studios, features a sword-wielding pirate in slippers named Jazz and her band of thieves as they sail the world trying to sell hair care products. In some really weird way, it works. “Oh Snap! was originally designed to be an animated series, but the idea was so dope that we wanted to see how it would come out as a comic first,” Sean explains. “There are a number of concepts behind Jazz’s design. She is kind of made to resemble African and Japanese culture, 80’s pop America, and the hood! I wanted to take a ghetto-natured character and put her in a Final Fantasy-like universe. So that’s why the world and ideas behind Oh Snap! are so bizarre.” Sean pokes fun at the people he was around and things that he experienced growing up in North Philly, but as long as I’ve known him he has also been heavily influenced by Hip Hop, African culture, and black history.
I saw many of those influences when I came to Philly and Sean showed me his concepts for his latest series entitled 4 is 4. “It’s planned to come out the middle of next year. It’s another one of my fantasy series based on ancient African culture with a little bit of Hip-hop influence in it,” Sean says. But it looks like the premise for this one is going to be kept under wraps until we’re a little closer to it’s release.
In the meant time, Sean is producing work with Ground Up Studios, a small Philadelphia based multimedia company specializing in 2D and 3D animation, VFX, Illustration, Comic Books, Graphic Design, and Concept Design. “Henry Wilson, one of Ground Up’s staff, was the one who pulled me in,” Sean says on how he became a part of the Ground Up crew. “I met Henry back when I was a student at the Art Institute. They had a comic book club, which Henry was a part of. He is someone who I respect and look up to as an artist, mentor, and friend.” Ground Up Studios will be the production team behind Sean’s Oh Snap! animated shorts to be released next year.
I guess if you could break down Sean’s experience with animation and comics into a randomly invented analogy, comics would be the vacation spot, but animation is what he calls home. “I enjoy doing animation more than comics. Although animation requires a series of frames for one scene, from my experience of producing comics, I learned that there are a lot of things that goes into a comic to make those still images look good,” Sean says.
However, his experiences in producing work as a freelance animator have not always been easy. “One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced was producing an enormous project within a short deadline,” Sean says. He worked on an animated commercial for Pastry Pop Stars, a division of Vanessa and Angela Simmons’ Pastry shoe line for children. “It was kind of crazy because I pretty much produced that project as a one man army!” Sean says of the experience. “In fact, Kia, don’t be surprised if I contact you for some animation work in the future!” he laughs.
To which I give a firm no thanks!
But Sean has clearly proven that he can handle the pressure of producing animation as a one man battalion or as part of a creative team. I definitely wouldn’t mind collaborating with him on a project in the future. For right now, though, he has his own goals of seeing his creator-owned properties produced for television. If there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that you will see Sean’s work in some form, whether it’s behind the scenes bringing his concepts to life, or right in your face on the big screen. After interviewing him and gaining more insight into his life as an artist, there was only one possible question left:
When can you treat me to another cheese steak?
Thanks for reading as always. Until next time!
Sean Tate is a freelance animator and illustrator who is currently an integral part of the Ground Up Studios team. He is open for commissions and freelance work for animation, concept design, logos, and more. You can contact Sean with the info below:
Sean’s email: Seanime4@gmail.com
Studio email: firstname.lastname@example.org