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From South Park to Curriculaville: Meet Jeff Gill, Emmy Award Winner and Huntress SAT Animator


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From South Park to Curriculaville: Meet Jeff Gill, Emmy Award Winner and Huntress SAT Animator

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Give it up for Jeff Gill, our very own Senior 2D Animator. Like everyone here at Huntress, Jeff is highly passionate and exceptionally talented. But unlike most of us, his resume includes some peculiarities—he's worked with Eric Cartman, brought curious creatures to life for Netflix, and secretly doubled as your dancing elf (keep reading, it’ll all make sense). Oh, and he's won a few Emmys. Yes, he's kind of a big deal.

Jeff joined the Huntress Security Awareness Training (SAT) team in February 2023, and ever since, he's been wowing us with his brilliant character animations and visual storytelling. In fact, he's taken some fairly dull cybersecurity concepts and helped turn them into memorable, entertaining episodes that have helped countless individuals protect themselves and their businesses from hackers.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Jeff, and with every answer to every question, I reached the same conclusion—we’re not just lucky to have him because he’s a skilled animator, but also because he’s such an inspiring human.

Let’s start at the beginning. What sparked your initial interest in animation? 
I’ve always been a big fan of animation, and grew up watching all things Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and Disney. As a kid, I assumed when you grew up you had to work at a job that required you to wear a suit and do boring things. But one day I saw a Nicktoons “behind the scenes” segment, and there was this guy wearing a Hawaiian shirt with toys all over his desk, and at that point I said, “That! I want to be THAT when I grow up!”

So as a kid discovering his love of animation, did you find any creative outlets in your everyday life? 
When I was younger, I was always doodling in the margins of my homework and turning the corners of my textbooks into flipbooks. My math teachers would talk to my mom about how I was constantly drawing Garfield or Snoopy on my tests. Fortunately, my family has always been extremely supportive, and they like to brag to those same teachers about how I now do that sort of thing for a living. 

Was it just the drawing you enjoyed, or was there a storytelling aspect in your art? 
I’ve always enjoyed the ability to tell stories using pictures and without words. The fact that you can communicate an idea across language barriers using only pictures and motion always struck me as something extremely powerful. So, to be able to use that as a tool for education, entertainment, or expression has always been extremely appealing to me. 

Is there an artistic achievement from your childhood that helped inspire confidence in your skills?
Definitely. In fifth grade, I won a contest in a local newspaper for the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Trot. I submitted an illustration of a turkey running so fast that its tail feathers blew off, exposing a somewhat bare butt. That drawing was printed on hundreds of t-shirts, buttons, mugs, and all sorts of knickknacks. That showed me that even a goofy drawing of a poorly drawn turkey can be seen as having value. 

You mentioned drawing non-stop in grade school, but did you ultimately go on to do the same in college?
I did. I always knew I wanted to pursue a career in the arts, so I studied Animation at the Savannah College of Art and Design. While having a degree isn’t typically a requirement for what I wanted to do—it’s actually way more important to have a portfolio that showcases your skills—I found it extremely valuable to surround myself with other budding artists and gain access to tools and equipment that I wouldn’t have on my own. 

Having exposure to film equipment, printmaking labs, and other artistic facets really gave me the opportunity to find new ways of not only making art but also creating animation, which was really exciting.

HIPAA Hippo is among Jeff's favorite characters to animate

How did you break into animation professionally? 
During college, I had a few internships at animation studios, and after graduation, I moved out to LA with the hopes of finding a job. My first studio gig only lasted a few months before the company funding the project pulled the plug. After that, I frantically reached out to my limited list of contacts and connected with Evan Speridellis of JibJab. I met him a few months earlier at a college career fair. As luck would have it, he remembered my reel and brought me in for some freelance work, and from there I went on to animate for a variety of productions, including South Park. 

During each hiatus, however, I’d reconnect with Evan to see if there were any other opportunities for us to work together. After a few years, he convinced me to join their team full-time, which led to many amazing creative opportunities.

You’re in LA, having fulfilled your dream of becoming an animator, but were there ever any setbacks that made you doubt pursuing this profession in the first place? 
Oh, sure. In general, when you’re working on projects that aren’t your own, you’re always at the mercy of whether or not something will get greenlit, renewed, or outright canceled. There were many times when I’d conflate being unemployed with being untalented. However, it’s important to remember your state of employment is more a reflection of industry trends rather than a personal lack of skills.

So what brought you to Huntress? 
I learned about Huntress through a job posting on LinkedIn. It mentioned wanting to find someone with a strong character-animation background in AfterEffects. Having worked in AE for over a decade, animating and rigging characters while also developing tools to make the process simpler, it seemed like a perfect match. 

My experience with Huntress has been incredible, and everyone who works here has been extremely enthusiastic about the work I get to be a part of. There’s a real feeling of transparency from the higher-ups and camaraderie amongst the SAT team that’s made my time here extremely rewarding in many ways.

Can you walk me through a day in your life at Huntress? 
Hmmm, each day is a little different depending on what part of the process the team is working on. Once an episode has been approved and its assets have been designed, I start by taking those images and creating what’s called an “animatic” by estimating how much time each action might take to determine individual shot lengths and overall runtime. Once that’s approved, characters and environments will be prepped and organized to be imported and rigged into AE for animation. Main characters can sometimes require multiple rigs with various angles in order to properly communicate the desired actions, and they’re given more attention for subtle movements that flesh out their personalities. 

Animating baby dinosaurs for the Reporting episode

When everything’s set up, the rigs are posed and animated based on the storyboarded panels provided by the design team. This process takes the most time because getting the correct poses and movements requires adjusting dozens of different attributes. Once finished and approved, I’ll address final notes and renders before everything gets uploaded to the website for folks to watch!

With all that work you put into each episode of Huntress SAT, is there a notable achievement that stands out for you?  
While animating is certainly my passion, I also enjoy storyboarding and creating a narrative without dialogue. For our HIPAA episode, we knew it’d be very information-heavy so would best be told with more of a motion-graphics approach. I pitched a concept that featured two characters that would reappear throughout each video, giving a nice balance of educational facts that needed to be taught with visual narratives to add some light-hearted humor. Bringing that idea to life was a blast, and it’s been extremely satisfying to hear how successful we were in making a mandatory training video about medical laws even remotely enjoyable.

With all that goes into making one episode, and yet with everyone at Huntress working remotely, how do you guys develop new ideas? 
Most of our team’s collaboration takes place through Slack and Zoom. When a new episode is proposed, we all have a chance to come up with ways on how we might go about wrapping a story around it. None of our concepts are ever the same, and the end product tends to be a mix of all our best ideas.

Our SAT creative team, while working thousands of miles apart, still feels close enough that we might as well be family. We’re always giving feedback to each other with the goal of improving the final product, and we know we can depend on each other to be organized, timely, and creative. New episodes are a great experience for sharing ideas and working together to develop creative ways of turning potentially boring topics into entertaining stories.

Obviously, everyone loves DeeDee, but are there any other characters that you’ve created or are proud to work with? 
Absolutely. The HIPAA Hippo was extremely fun to rig and animate because of how different its features look compared to characters in other episodes. I also really liked animating the baby dinosaurs in the Reporting episode and making them come to life. Oh, and Bot Head from BEC2 was also fun because of the little head turns and twists that were noticeable by having, well, a box for a head.

And how about lessons? Any favorites so far? 
I think HIPAA would be my favorite because of the playful interactions between the hippo and Weasley. I really liked how “cartoony” some of their actions were. Being able to pair that with some of the more standard motion-graphic segments was also a great balance to showcase multiple things within a single episode.

HIPAA Hippo and Weasley (up to no good, as usual)

Let’s go beyond Huntress. Any notable creative accomplishments outside of SAT? 
I was part of the core creative team that created content for the children’s edutainment brand StoryBots. Within each episode I’d wear multiple hats, such as animator, director, storyboard artist, writer, voice actor, puppeteer, and loads of other random but creative roles. 

Prior to that, I helped build the content library for JibJab as their Director of e-Cards. You know that platform where you can upload photos of your face into live-action videos? If you’ve ever received one, there’s actually a good chance you’ve seen my body dancing around underneath your head! 

In addition to that, I’ve also worked for three seasons as an animator on South Park, which received various awards as well.

How did you transition from TV to security awareness training? 
My background in StoryBots, where I created educational content that teaches complex subjects in easily digestible ways while still being fun to watch, actually made my transition into Huntress SAT pretty seamless. The production team may be smaller here, but there’s still just as much thought and care going into each episode before it finds its way to the viewer.

Can you give me a sneak peak of your next big idea for Huntress SAT? 
Nope [Smirking laugh]

Jeff (and friend) with an Emmy

So you won an Emmy? That’s impressive. Tell us more. 
For my work with StoryBots I’ve actually won multiple Emmys, including for the series Ask The StoryBots, StoryBots: Answer Time, and A StoryBots Christmas. These awards were given for Writing, Directing, and Best Animated Television/Broadcast Production for Preschool Children. 

Like many StoryBots projects, I wore many hats during the creation of each series, so being recognized with an accolade for something you put so much of yourself into was incredibly rewarding, albeit it somewhat surreal. 

Before we close, what would you tell someone who wants to do what you do? 
There are lots of ways to tell a story. But not everyone has the patience for spending hours, if not weeks, to create a single shot of animation that can go by in the blink of an eye. However, if you’re one of those people that can get lost in all of the fine details of, say, lip-syncing or micro-expressions, and not go insane listening to the same audio clip thousands of times over and over again in the pursuit of making something idiotic like a rock with googly eyes sing a Broadway tune while wearing a ballroom gown, then I say go for it.

And welcome to the club!

If you’d like to see Jeff’s work in action, start your free trial of Huntress SAT.

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