Mike Perry is an Emmy-award winning animator, but more overtly, an artist of many hands. Mike is involved in painting, sculptures, books, installations, silkscreens, and more. He covers a lot of ground and artfully reconstructs how a person experiences space in a subtle, yet dynamically psychedelic-infused way. Celebrating the human body, shapes, and the “vastness of the cosmos”, Mike creates grandiose, yet chill dreamscapes that both pop and re-energize the human experience.
After animating for Comedy Central’s Broad City, Mike’s studio won an Emmy award from the Television Academy for “Motion Design Jury Award” for Broad City’s “Mushrooms” episode. We linked it above for you to watch.
Among his many other successes, Mike has a thoughtful, charismatic voice and care for the world and atmosphere around him. He delivers speeches and expresses the demand for animation and thoughtful reconnection with one another as both individuals and a community. He’s worked with publications like Tidal Magazine on covers and worked on murals for various events and his community. His work has been featured in studios in Los Angeles and New York City. He also has an online shop you can stop by and pick up a sweet print from.
At the Other Art Fair in Brooklyn this past year, Resource Magazine was able to catch up with Mike on his inspirations and work:
Resource Magazine: I wanted to get some background on you. Where you started and where things picked up. I know you and you seem to be very much known for the Broad City integration. Did you do all the art for Broad City or did you come in for the season premiere?
Mike Perry: No, I did all the titles. My relationship with film has been since Day One. So they filmed the show and Comedy Central reached out and said: “Hey, we would love to have you be a part of the show, do you want to make some stuff?” And I was like “Yeah!”
They wanted one specific title and I had so many ideas for those titles that I flooded them with ideas. And the pitch meeting was the best meeting I’ve ever had in my career because I basically pitched and got job security. They were looking for one single title and all of a sudden I got ten. And then it basically defined my relationship with the show. Every season we would do ten new titles. Right now, I’m working on Season Five! So, ten more titles.
RM: How did they even find you? What were you doing at the time and how did they locate you?
MP: I mean, I’ve just been like hustling for fifteen years now? Just basically trying to be an illustrator, artist, trying to do work. And I actually met Abby in 2007? 8? Something like that. And we were down there for an AOL project and we hung out and that was it! Honestly, it was a couple days of having fun in Miami and we hung out and couple years later the phone rang and it was Comedy Central and they said “Abby really wants you to do this project” so, there it is! I mean, yeah, my wife is always like, “it’s a good thing you’re a really good person because if you were an asshole you wouldn’t have gotten that job.”
RM: That’s a great quote. One of the things I want to lead this story with is, well, a lot of our audience is photography and video based. How do you take what’s video and what’s real life and bring that into an animated reality?
MP: I mean, ultimately, it’s about performance and humans. You know, in animation. When we did the Broad City “Mushrooms” episode, that’s all about capturing the performance, right? So you get this beautiful audio track of the actors doing their parts trying to perform the scene and our job is to take that and turn that into an actual performance. It’s a dance. Like, how do these characters move; how do they exist in space; what is their relationship with each other?
That’s what I think is fun about the challenges that we have as an animation studio, we do these things. How is it that we’re communicating these ideas, like, what is it in the performance in these characters that brings them to life? And it’s been amazing because I’ve grown this massive respect for character animators. There’s animators and then there’s character animators. Character animators are a very specific kind of human. They’re so talented in such a specific way. They’re able to not only perform the scene but draw it also.
I mean, ultimately, it’s about performance and humans.
So, they’re doing the performance of the actors and knowing how they exist in space and how they are moving, every detail…and they’re able to draw the f*cking drawings! Do the drawings that make these characters move! And it’s incredible. It’s amazing, I’m a novice, I don’t really know what I’m doing and animation has fallen into my universe. I’ve embraced it and I’m constantly learning and trying to understand what it is and what it does and its powers. Working with these character animators are so inspiring because what they understand about the human form and the human body is so intimate and different from my relationship with that same content.
It’s a dance. Like, how do these characters move; how do they exist in space; what is their relationship with each other?
RM: Even in the animated world, just beyond converting reality into animation, you were actually answering a dragged out subconscious-altered reality. Did you have any inspiration for what that would look like?
MP: By the time I got my first call from Abby about making this piece, I had an image in my head. I did a drawing, I just knew this is what it looks like. And they were like Boom! Let’s do this.
RM: Did you have to get into what you would think they think would be in their heads?
MP: No, I don’t know. I consider myself a pretty open-minded human who dedicated a lot of time to empathy and understanding what it means to be alive on the planet. So I don’t know. I feel like they send a few keywords and my brain just went Tick Tick Tick Tick and I just knew what it looked like.
RM: So, in the process of doing that, does the audio come first?
MP: The script comes first and there’s a really beautiful version of an early, early animatic—an animatic is just a sketch of an animation—and its an amazing version of the episode that maybe we’ll leak to the internet in twenty years. This guy, Isam, who is the best animator in the world—as far as I’m concerned—and was the technical animator on the episode and basically did a voiceover recreating the whole script and then timed our animation to that. We didn’t have the script yet, we didn’t have a reading yet, but we needed something to time to. It’s all about timing. Basically, having this much story and this much time, it’s how you fit the story into that amount of time.
MP: It becomes like, you know, an editing process. If you want to tell this big story, you have to cut it into an actual, physical duration. And the element of time is such an exciting part of creativity. I mean, you make a painting and it captures a single moment in time… like this is the moment, this is the one thing that defines the entire time. And animation is not like that, it’s about all of the times combined to tell the story and its such a different way of thinking about everything.
Animation is powerful. Time is powerful.
It pushes me to think about everything differently. Even when I draw some type. I’m making a flyer or something, I could do this as an animation, and all of a sudden the flyer becomes a living, looping thing versus a still thing. Animation is powerful. Time is powerful. I mean, our culture, our media and society loves things that move and who doesn’t? It’s hard not to.
How is it that we’re communicating these ideas, like, what is it in the performance in these characters that brings them to life?
RM: So, for that premiere episode, did you have a team of animators working with you? How many people would work on something like that? How do you implement your style?
MP: Four key people were on the project the whole time. We had three extra bonus help. There were five…ten people working on it? I hire people who are really talented and are good at their jobs. One of the things that are so weird and cool about animators is that they’re capable of grasping a language and working within a language.
And the language is really fun to define. I did a lot of concept drawings that are like this is what the world looks like, this is how things work, this is how things move. We did lots of video animation tests so we could figure out space and gravity. From there, it was about letting everybody do their thing. Animators are really amazingly talented humans. It’s such a specific skill that I hope the world loves and respects as much as they should.
RM: Was there ever a moment that somebody was drawing in a way that didn’t reflect how you would’ve done it?
MP: No, I mean, one of the things I’m just going to reiterate, these people I’m working with are brilliant. The decisions that they’re making are dedicated to the project. There are commentary and criticism about the process, we have to make the best of the impossible. Ultimately, their vision is connected to mine’s because we’re doing this as a team. And it’s incredible to be able to work with professionals. It’s one of the luxuries living in this great city. To be surrounded by such talented humans.
RM: Ok, so here’s a weird question. I feel like, so far, I know quite a few illustrators and animators and I notice that there’s always something in their work that’s very reflective of their personality. I want to know what that is for you. What is “you” inside of your work?
MP: Hmm. I believe in humans, I believe in the future, I believe in society. I’m an optimist. I’ve been an optimist my entire life. I believe in the betterment of humans. I think they are filled with beautiful potential and have the ability to do phenomenal things.
I like art, I believe in art, and I believe in the power of art.
And I grew up in the ’80’s, I don’t know. I like pop. Pop culture. Actually, I don’t like pop culture or participate in it, I like the idea of pop as a concept. Fluorescent colors, I’ve always like fluorescent colors since I was a child. My mom sent me a childhood photo of me and I had a fluorescent green hat on, fluorescent pink t-shirt on, and purple jams on with white vans. I’m like, “Yup, this is who I am.” The work I make is reflective of the person I’ve been for my entire life. I like art, I believe in art, and I believe in the power of art. I believe in the power of creativity. And it’s really important to invest in ideas and creativity.
The work I make is reflective of the person I’ve been for my entire life.
RM: Beyond Broad City, where do you see yourself going as an artist, or what do you want to be. In your lifespan, what’s your vision for your art?
MP: The fact that I get to do this everyday is amazing. If I can sustain a lifestyle where I get to do art everyday, then that’s a great goal and I feel like that’s enough. I think all these opportunities and things that are happening are incredible and I have to be grateful for them. And I am thrilled about the path that my career has taken. I have to celebrate the privilege it is to be a creative person every day and make stuff. And that’s magical, so hopefully I get to do that for the rest of my life.
RM: We talked earlier on the phone…you’re not really into Instagram stories?
MP: I don’t do them at all. Maybe I should, but I just don’t
RM: Yeah, you should! You have around 80,000 followers on Instagram. Why do you think people are following you? What is their draw and how did you accumulate that following?
MP: I have no idea. Hopefully, I just try to be a good person and make good work and share the things that I’m making with the world. The fact that people are excited about it is exciting and I’m just grateful for it. I think Broad City is not a bad way of connecting with the world. I study graphic design and graphic design is a kind of art for everybody. Introducing you to creativity in a placemat, or road sign.
I have to live up to my role as a creative person and make good work and just do the best that I can.
So, I can’t help but be excited being able to reach a massive audience. It’s beautiful and really special. And it’s a privilege that I’ve been able to have for four years now almost five years. Those numbers are huge. That’s millions of humans. I have to live up to my role as a creative person and make good work and just do the best that I can.
RM: Alright, so what are your top five favorite animations? Cartoons or animations?
MP: I love that Bugs Bunny thing where its the opera, you know? There’s a chair that goes into space super high. Umm, I love a lot of Pink Panther. It’s very surreal. Very, very surreal. There are some episodes that are so fucking trippy. I love anything by Sally Cruikshank. She’s an amazing animator. I think it’s because she’s from the ’80s or ’90s. Shit’s crazy. It’s like so beautiful. Now you can do so many tricks. There was a phase of animation where you couldn’t do any tricks you just had to do it with drawing. And I think that’s something I always value. There’s a Disney thing, a sports analogy. Probably from the ’50s, but they break down sports into this really interesting map of how they work, but its a joke. It’s a really interesting animation. There’s another good one, From my childhood, I remember loving that Rikki-Tikki-Tavi story.
MP: Big Mouth I’ve never watched. Rick and Morty is hilarious, and the Simpsons is at times just the most brilliant thing ever. There’s this thing we do in the studio: we eat lunch together and basically watch something on TV and watch the Simpson for four years everyday. Just Season 1, 2, 3. We did a couple years where we jumped around. Then one day we decided we should just start from the beginning and watch the whole thing. Rick and Morty is hilarious, and the Simpsons is at times just the most brilliant thing ever.
RM: What about Instagram accounts. Do you follow anyone specifically for inspiration or other animators you like?
MP: To me, its about friends or some sort of relationship just so I can keep tabs with what they’re doing. I get it, it’s a fucking powerful tool. It’s a beautiful thing and it completely changed the game. It’s a different world. The benefit of age is seeing what it was before Instagram and seeing now what it is. It’s weird.
RM: It’s crazy. I still feel like everybody right now is still figuring out how to use it. What it’s for, what are impressive numbers, what are not. Nobody knows, really.
MP: I love it, but the benefit of Instagram is you can communicate with everybody everywhere, but ultimately it’s still about human connection. Trying to have face-to-face conversations with these people. You can’t do that with everybody, it’s exhaustive. The joke is like, I always get emails from students daily like “Hey, my professor said we should do a writing assignment where we interview our favorite artist and we would love to interview you.” It’s flattering as fuck, don’t get me wrong, but the joke for me is if I answer all those emails, I would never get any work done. And then you would not like what I did because I’m not making anything! And it becomes this like, where does it end?
RM: One last thing. We were talking before about that moment where you’re on vacation. In Fire Island, you put down the sketchbook. I want to know why that’s important. To get into that mind frame of putting away your work even though your work is something that is simultaneously your passion.
MP: It’s about energy, right. One of the things I’m learning as I age and get more tired is that I have to understand my relationship with the energy I have. So, one of the things I found in Fire Island this year is that I couldn’t replace what I felt that I had to recharge. So, finding the headspace to recharge. I connected it and took it. It really charged me up. I came back from the trip just charged.
…Finding the headspace to recharge. I connected it and took it.
Ripping with energy. I wrote that energy and crashed hard. I got that stupid cold that everybody’s getting nand it just slammed me, knocked me down. It’s hard because I pride myself over never missing a dealine and I value that as my reputation as a creative person and thet industry that’s aggressive and filled with timelines. Being sick and not feeling well isn’t a great place to be when you have shit to do. If I don’t take care of myself and maintain my energy correctly it’s not going to pan out.
One of the things I’m learning as I age and get more tired is that I have to understand my relationship with the energy I have.
RM: Alright, anything to advise the future animators?
MP: Embrace patience. Its the virtue that is actually a virtue. Animation takes forever, its a test of patience.
Mike Perry is still animating for Broad City which is set to continue for Season 5. His past exhibitions and prints are listed at the bottom of his biography. You can keep up with more of Mike’s work on his Instagram and online shop where he posts gifs, videos, and other creative curios for your enjoyment.
All images © Mike Perry and Mike Perry Studios