by Soul Surplus Staff
May 12, 2018
Digs "digsBot" Coker is an animator, art director, and producer based in Chicago, IL. At a young age, he began a self-taught career in freelance animation and - thanks to a supportive and widely talented online community - has developed a variety of skills and styles. He is mostly known for his animated work on Eligible Monster's Comicstorian Channel and Disney Digital's Polaris: Lore In a Minute. He is also currently working on an upcoming new solo web series, set to debut 2018. We had an opportunity to speak to him about his creative journey, and what we can expect in the near future.
Ever since I was a little kid, I drew all the time. My Dad would even let my younger siblings and I draw and color on the walls. Crazy idea for some parents, but I truly think that was something that helped open my mind. My introduction to comic books was also through my Dad. I remember the first books we read were Astérix the Gaul and the Fantastic Four. I was immediately hooked into the comic book world, especially of superheroes. I would stare at the art of the pages and try to replicate it. Go to the library and leave with 20 comic books, reading it down to tee. I'd learn about the superheroes, supervillains, the writers, and the comic book artists.
Then, I remember going to my cousin's house, and Cartoon Network came on the screen. Granted, like a lot 90s babies, we had a large array of Disney movies--Lion King, Hercules, Tarzan. All of which I watched immensely. But comic books were my foundation, and seeing Cartoon Network having the "Timmverse" DC Animated Universe -- Batman the Animated Series, Superman the Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited. That was what ignited me to want to be an animator. Seeing the comics I read coming to life, with the art style lead by Bruce Timm, along with another animator/artist I admire, Darwyn Cook, paying homage to Jack Kirby's art language, got me good. That was what made me want to be an animator.
I didn't know how to be one as a kid, but I drew all the time. So I would draw scenes from the shows, make my own comics, and would give them to other kids in my elementary school. They all liked it and they always asked, so what happens next? And I was back to my desk, scribbling away the next issue. It wasn't until the end of middle school, with the internet and technology advancing at the time, I learned I could animate like the pros on the computer. I remember asking my mom for a Wacom Bamboo Tablet for my birthday from Best Buy. I never forget it. She got it from the store and once I got home, plugged it into our iMac, got Flash Professional 8, and I've been animating ever since.
With the online community, like Newgrounds, I taught myself how to animate. I entered online animation challenges and contents like NATA and LoopdeLoop, befriended many other high school kids from across the globe, where we all would teach each other tricks and tips to animate. It was a very cool thing. And many of those kids now adults, I still consider very awesome creative friends. This was the time before Youtube. Sites like Newgrounds had and still does have a very strong creative base. At the foundation of it, it was just a place where teenagers and young adults posted their work, it was critiqued, and we would give each other advice. It was the best way for me to learn how to animate, illustrate, direct people for voice acting. Those same tips I still use today. That experience back then was invaluable.
Now I am always studying things, especially the "Timmverse" world I grew up on. I bought all of the shows I watched as a kid on Blu-ray, watched all of the director's cuts. Listening to how they were able to animate a scene, or get a shot with only a certain amount of frames, etc. I have it playing in the background constantly, always picking up something new. Animation is a part of me, and with the power of the internet now, its cool to just watch things online to learn and even share your work. Pitching to studios is still a thing, but now putting stuff on youtube is essentially pitching to the world. And if it's heavily liked, that already means your winning.
Wow, being able to be tapped from them, was something I was forever grateful for. The path I took to be an animator is very unconventional. It was a lot of hard work, determination, and DIY. I remember in high school I made an animated film for a scholarship for college. I never got it accepted for it. For the college I went to, I applied for their art program, it was very strict, you had to have a certain amount of art pieces and what not. I applied for that and checked the mail every day. I remember it didn't arrive and I asked my Dad if he saw anything. He told me he did, but he held on to it. I remember my Dad saying, "They said no, but I don't want to you read that letter thinking you can't do it. That school doesn't realize the mistake they made. An institution can't tell you or me that you aren't a creative person. I refuse to believe that." Took the words to heart, and all of the "no"s just motivated me even further. I've been tapped by a big studio to pitch a series as well, they said no too. I was a bit bummed, but shrugged it off. I remember one of the judges at the studio who saw that pitch, contacted me later and said. "Please don't let the "No" stop you. Your pitch was the most memorable to me and had such an amazing voice. How you presented it too, was something I've never seen before." He provided me tips and gave me more insight as to how things like that work in the industry side of things. It was great, but I knew the way to get what you want is to be open and be in those environments. I went to a bunch of comic book, online, and digital media conventions. Talking, listening, and just putting my name out there.
For Comicstorian, I currently do all the animation for him. That is a dream. I write and animate superhero ideas with him that is seen by millions of people. Many famous voice actors, producers, and even comic book studios have seen the work I've done for him and that already means the world to me. I met him at an Expo and I remember he just yelled, " I need an animator for an idea, I do comic book review stuff." I didn't watch or know anything about him, but the word animation and comic books went in my ears. I ran over to him and let him know I was down for anything. It was at a time to when I just finished college. I did any and all gigs for freelance animation work. After that moment, it's been great and I'm so thankful. Comicstorian and his team, associates, are people I consider wonderful people, friends, and awesome co-workers. To sum it back to the original question haha, being tapped by them was awesome. And lately I have been tapped or I go reach out to companies, clients about what I do. It motivates me to make sure, that my work is truly improving. I'm happy to see that an animation I made now compared to 3 years ago --there is a 200% change for the better. Now because yes, I do practice and study way more, but I work with amazing people. I have a wonderful crew of people I'm fortunate to call my team when a project arrives that helps. And that work will spotlight them. I care about spotlighting people and companies that always give me a chance.
You're currently working on a web series set to release later this year. What's even more awesome, is that you've released teasers for the upcoming series via your Twitter, while using some of our compositions as background music! Can you tell us what to expect from the new series?
Yes! Haha so digsBiTS is something that's been brewing in my mind for a long time. I always wanted to create something to post on my channel, but I didn't know the best way to go about it. It actually took a solid year for me, stepping aside from client work and the day job to assess, "Hmm..how can I go about this? I've always wanted to make something that is truly me. But I can't do this myself." And since this is something that has my name in the title, it makes me very, very picky about the vibe I want to display. From the images, video clips, sound, and topics discussed in the show. Since I am working on a number of things, this show is something that definitely will not be a weekly upload thing. If it is, it would be for that month or two, then after some time, more episodes will come to light. I even wanted to be more of a Quarterly show. But haha, that can always change! This show in the best way is me. It really myself talking about art/design/music videos, etc, things I admire and/or things I have worked on with others and I explain how I got to it. And it also involves other animated bits too! I'd like to say this show is a director's cut, or a peek into how I think and work with other creatives. Little "bits" and "byte" sized chunks, layers with the sounds and music that describes me. What I love about you guys, Soul Surplus, you really helped me give a proper audio language, for this visual language of this particular show. I have a lot of ideas in my head constantly, I think this show will help me be able to put them in "bits", and will help me learn new tools for storytelling. Even future projects for clients, or more wishfully, projects I'd love to work on with other people. A lot of people have been willing to help me for this and I can't thank them enough. I hope people will enjoy it and also check out the people who helped me make it! What you can expect is great, great sound, accompanied with animation and film. digsBiTS is assortments of media, explaining how other media is created and/or analyzed.
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