A Conversation with Mike Jones, Animation Program Director

By | September 20, 2022

Mike Jones is an associate professor and the program director of animation at Daemen University. 

Jones is an experienced animator in both CG and hand drawn animation as well as a storyboard artist. Prior to joining Daemen, he lived for 29 years in Los Angeles, creating animation art for Walt Disney Feature Animation, DreamWorks, Cartoon Network, and other major Hollywood studios. Among his many animated films are The Lion King, Mulan, The Simpsons Movie, How to Train Your Dragon, and Kung Fu Panda 2.

What is one of  your favorite things about teaching animation? 

One of the things I really enjoy is when the first-year students are doing drawings on paper and then take them to the downshooter to make a movie for the first time. They get to see an inanimate object they have just been drawing actually move and come to life. 

That is what animation is – it is the illusion of life. It is thrilling because you can see in the students eyes that they understand that they have created something amazing. 

What do your students do after graduation? 

We have had great success with our students. Some currently work at Dreamworks, Fox, Netflix and Disney.  We also have several students who work at Fisher Price/Mattel, which is in the Buffalo area. 

In addition, we have a group of students who graduated in 2020 that decided they wanted to stay in Buffalo working remotely. This has given them the freedom to work per contract and also begin building a grassroots animation scene in our area.  This group competed in a film competition for a video game called “Among Us”  where they won 2nd place. Their film has garnered 11 millions of views on YouTube and they are now working on a sequel.

Can you tell us how the Animation Department at Daemen is growing?

When I started at Daemen five years ago, our freshman class was about 10 students – now we regularly have double that amount.  In addition, the department size was about 40 when I started and now we have 86, which is really exciting. This builds the collaborative, creative feeling amongst the students. Animation is a collaborative art form, so a larger cohort size helps them to bounce ideas off each other and check each other’s work. 

What is something you want people to know about the Animation Department? 

The faculty who work here are working professionals from the animation industry. You can go into a lot of other colleges and universities and what you may get are professors who did their graduate degree and then immediately started teaching. They’ve never been out in the industry.  

I’ve been in the industry for 30 years. Last year, I worked on an AR mobile app and the year before that I worked for Netflix. All of our instructors are doing industry work. Our storyboard teacher is the character designer for “American Dad.”  Our students are getting the knowledge of experienced industry professionals and it prepares them to go into the industry themselves. 

What is something unique the students get to work on? 

Each spring, we have a “24 Hour Jam” where the animation students come together in groups and make 60 second films. Everyone on campus gets to vote on their favorite film when they are finished. It is a really cool event that the students work hard on. We always let everyone on campus know about it and it would be fantastic if we could break our record of 151 votes, so be on the lookout for the announcement in the spring to support them.

Jones was recently featured in last week’s edition of  “Good Morning, Daemen.”