Interview with Erica Hayes - Rooster Mag

Originally published on June 28th, 2017 on

Erica Hayes

Chicago, Illinois

Favorite McDonald’s dipping sauce:

Um … I like my McNuggets plain. I’m a monster.

Favorite type of noodle:
Angel hair.

Right or left side of the bed?

Last place your GPS took you to:
A friend’s house, which is sad, because I’ve been there at least ten times.

How did you discover storyboarding is what you wanted to be when you grew up?
I remember watching those behind-the-scenes specials they’d have for Disney movies, and that’s how I realized that working in animation was a viable career. However, I very wrongly assumed that the people animating were the same people storyboarding, and had to figure that out the hard way, in college. I switched majors a couple times before settling on Sequential Art, which covers the art of visual storytelling with special focus on storyboarding and comic art.

It seems like it takes a cartoon fan to be a story boarder. What are some of your favorite cartoons that you aren’t involved in?
I love Steven UniverseBob’s BurgersAdventure Time, and was also a big fan of Gravity Falls. My all-time favorite animated series is Avatar: The Last Airbender.

What’s a typical day like for a story boarder?
You roll in around 10 a.m., get some coffee, and sit down in front of your Cintiq to work on whatever sequences you have been assigned for a given episode. Depending on how many storyboard artists per team there are, this usually means you’re working on a third or fourth or even half of the entire episode yourself. You’ve got your script for reference, and usually an audio track that you plop into Toon Boom Storyboard Pro — and you’re off! If you can storyboard at least a page or two a day, you’re in good shape. Then you leave the office around 7 p.m.

After graduating from art school, how did you find yourself working for cartoons shows on major networks like Adult Swim/Cartoon Network?
While I was still in college, I got an internship at Nickelodeon Animation Studios, which I flew out for and completed before flying back and finishing school. It was a great experience, and I made some pretty solid friends during that time, people I’m still close with today. After graduation, I reconnected with those people and one of them very graciously allowed me to live on their couch while I looked for a job. One day, she forwarded me an email that said a studio called Starburns Industries was looking for storyboard artists for a new show called Rick and Morty. I applied, took a test, and the rest, as they say, is history!

Fans sometimes have a hard time differentiating the show from the people who work to create it, almost like celebrities. Do the questions and comments feel overwhelming at times, especially since you work on a cult favorite?
It’s definitely surreal being a part of something so hugely popular, but in general, I’ve had nothing but positive experiences interacting with the fans, both in person and online. Obviously there are a lot of questions that I can’t answer, and they’re usually pretty respectful of that. The strangest thing I’ve been asked is if I can somehow put them or one of their designs into the show, which, obviously I cannot. I don’t have that power. But in general, they’re all super nice and their excitement makes me excited, because I’m a fan, too.

When you’re not working on a new season, is there any other type of art you find yourself creating recreationally?
I hate admitting this, but I don’t do much recreational art these days because whether it’s Rick and Morty or another show, I’m pretty much always working. I take on freelance too, which just adds to my lack of free time. When I do have a day off, I like to spend it doing something other than drawing, like hanging out with friends, playing video games, catching up on a show or book, having a date night with my boyfriend, etc. I am in the process of trying to develop some content of my own, but again, time is my enemy.

Is the animation industry more of a male dominated field or does it only appear that way from the outside?
It’s still a male dominated field, but it is changing. Plus, more and more women are majoring in fields like art and animation, so it’s only a matter of time before this industry is a little more balanced.

What is your favorite episode that you storyboarded from Rick & Morty and why?
Season 3 episode 1 is probably my favorite so far. We had just come back from our hiatus and we were so full of energy and really gave this premiere everything we had. My director, Juan Meza-Leon, wanted this episode storyboarded like a feature film, so we really went for it. I was assigned the “Summer and Morty”plotline, and I had so much fun with the dramatic angles and lighting. It was a blast. Hard, but a blast.

Fans freak out over the littlest details — like Summer’s hair flip — which must be pretty cool for you. How do you decide what you’re going to add and have you ever had something cut that you really wanted to see included in the final product?
I guess I just try to visualize the character acting in my head before putting it down on the screen, and sometimes even physically act it out, like little hand motions or facial expressions that I myself would do in any given situation. This is the case with most storyboard artists, I think. I’ve caught people doing this in front of their own screens on more than one occasion! You just put a little of yourself into your work, and that’s what makes it so fun. And yes — I’ve definitely had things cut that I really loved. I’ve even begged writers to keep things in, usually to no avail. But that’s the name of the game, unfortunately.

Did you hear an old McDonald’s Szechuan sauce just sold on eBay for nearly $15,000? What’s it like being apart of a pop culture movement to bring this prized sauce back, and do you think McDonald’s is gonna budge?
It’s absolutely nuts, and I really have no idea. But that would be pretty cool, because I do not remember ever trying said sauce, and just like everybody else, would like to.

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