Artist - Ken Priebe

Canadian Animation Artist Interview with Ken Priebe

A Brief Animation Biography
Ken A. Priebe, from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, studied art, filmmaking & animation (BFA) at University of Michigan School of Art & Design and classical animation at Vancouver Institute of Media Arts (VanArts). He has taught animation courses at VanArts and for the Academy of Art University Cybercampus, done animation workshops for children, and worked as a 2D animator on several short films for Scholastic/Weston Woods through Bigfott Studios. He is also a writer, illustrator, puppeteer, animation historian, and author of two instructional animation books: The Art of Stop-Motion Animation and The ADVANCED Art of Stop-Motion Animation. Ken lives with his wife and two kids in Delta, BC.

Ken A. Priebe Animation Reel

What part of Canada are you from?
Well, I'm actually from Grosse Pointe Michigan, right across the lake from Windsor, Ontario so although I was American first, I always lived very close to Canada. I've been a dual US/Canadian citizen now since 2005.

Ken Priebe

What inspired you to create animation?
When I was a kid my dad showed me how to make flipbooks with a pad of paper, so I did some of that just for fun, and I dabbled in computer animation a bit in high school, but the real turning point for me actually wanting to do film animation professionally was while I was in university and I caught Wallace & Gromit's "The Wrong Trousers" on television. It was perfect timing, as I was in a place where I had the means to enrol in film classes and pursue doing stop-motion animation using 16mm film. So I did lots of it there and made several student films combining live-action with cut-out and clay animation. This led to me being hired by a local animator named Steve Stanchfield who was running his own studio there in Ann Arbor, MI and that was my first industry job.

How would you describe your artistic style?
That's a loaded question, since I've also been branching out into book illustration, where my style tends to be more detailed than anything I would be able to animate. One of the things I picked up working with Steve Stanchfield was catching his obsession for 1930s cartoons, so lots of my characters are drawn with black beady eyes inspired by the look of those films. I've picked up lots of inspiration over the years from the golden age cartoons of the 30s, 40s and 50s in particular, so I tend to like drawing stuff that has the same feel. I also love drawing monsters, so I'm inspired by illustrators like Maurice Sendak and the amazing work that Mercer Mayer did back in the 70s.

The Wise and Ancient Tree

Can you share a piece of art work or script segment that no one has seen before?
Sure, here's a little elf character from one of my old sketchbooks.  My daughter named him "Lokey-Gock" when she was a bit younger, so that's probably still his name.

What role do you play in the creation of animation?
Typically, just a character animator, old-school and hand-drawn with pencil & paper on an animation disc. At the time of this interview, I'm currently working on my 10th short film for BigFott Studios, who I've been involved with since 2006. All of these films have been directed by my friend Galen Fott, a fellow VanArts graduate, who started his own studio in Nashville and adapts childrens' books into animated shorts for Scholastic/Weston Woods. Based on an animatic and matching the character design from whichever book we're doing, I do all the pencil animation on my light-table and ship the drawings off to Galen so the digital inking & painting can be done by other artists. Sometimes I feel like I'm one of the only people still animating on paper these days.

What is one project that you are proud to have been involved in?
Well, I'm proud to have worked on all of the films for BigFott Studios, which are ultimately released to DVD and marketed to schools and libraries. One of them, Scaredy Squirrel (based on the first book by Melanie Watt), has even shown up on NetFlix. The Scaredy films are probably my favorites, but what I most appreciate about them is that I can share them with my two young kids, and they have grown up watching me work on them, so they have a first-hand glimpse at how much work goes into the animation. Plus they're just great films for them to watch over and over again. It's a real blessing to be able to work on something that's good for them to enjoy.

What project are you working on now?
In addition the new film for BigFott, I am currently in the final stages of something completely different, as I have also been transitioning and branching out into creative writing and illustration. For the past couple of years I have been obsessively working on a book called Gnomes of the Cheese Forest and Other Poems. It's fully illustrated with black & white ink drawings, and is essentially a collection of 103 poems that I've written.  It's sort of a mash-up of different stories & ideas based on random parts of my life, unfinished projects or just weird things that showed up in my sketchbook while working on it. I'm self-publishing it and hopefully it will be released this Fall. I have a blog that shows a bit of behind-the-scenes and for documenting, anticipating and sharing information about the book:   I also have ideas for a collection of short stories and at least one novel that will likely follow after this one.

Drawing in progress from "Gnomes of the Cheese Forest and Other Poems"

Who is one of your favourite Canadian animators?
Richard Williams is the first one who comes to mind, especially the work he did on his original vision for The Thief and the Cobbler, which I'm a big fan of.  I was lucky enough to meet him a few years ago, and he is such a nice guy, dedicated artist and talented draftsman.

What is one of your favourite animations and/or animation books? 
Oh gosh.....way too many to mention. My favorite animated film would probably come down to The Nightmare Before Christmas; that film is better now than it was when it came out.  It's absolutely timeless and just gets better with age. But I also love the films of Tomm Moore: The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, and another rare favorite of mine is John Korty's Twice Upon a Time. I could keep going but I digress for now. Sorry, I have to mention Allegro Non Troppo too.  I should watch that's been awhile.

For animation books?  Also difficult to say, as you have how-to books, "art of" books, and history books to consider.  One that really stands out for me is the book that Disney released about Lilo and Stitch (another one of my favorite films) because it took a different approach: more than just your standard "Art of" book it actually contains stories from key people who worked on the film about what inspired them as they made it. Really great stuff!  I'm also rather mad-obsessive over children's books in particular these days, and I've discovered a few graphic novels that I really love, like Luke Pearson's Hilda series and David Nytra's Secret of the Stone Frog.  

Who is an up-and-coming or relatively unknown Canadian animator that everyone should check out?
Oh, it's hard to pick just one....working at VanArts full-time as Communications Manager (my day job) I meet so many other talented students in the animation department and it's neat to watch them come and go, and start working in the industry. It's a good time for them right now.

Are you involved with any animation organizations in Canada?
Not at the moment, but I have been involved in past years with the Vancouver SIGGRAPH Chapter and the group that is now Spark CG Society. I was part of the group that launched the first Spark Animation festival back in 2008, which still happens every year.

Have you written any books or blog posts about Animation or Canadian Animation? 
Here is a link to the "Books" page on my website, which includes the two books I've written on stop-motion animation. The first one is out-of-print but can be found in e-book format. The second one is still out there and easier to find.


Do you have other interviews online about your work in animation?
This interview I did with CGTantra is still online:

To see more of Ken's work and to follow what he's up to check out the links below.
Main Website: