Interview #23: Scott Benson

Scott Benson is the perfect person to spend a rainy Tuesday morning with. He's got enough creative ideas to turn any gloomy day into something exciting.

We met at Penny's Diner (formerly Tom's Diner) on the South Side. I was excited when Scott suggested we meet at the retro, 50's inspired joint—I felt right at home seeing as my first job ever was at The South Side Soda Shop in Goshen, Indiana. Crazy coincidence South Side is in the title, right? I still get asked if it's located in Pittsburgh...

Scott is super clever and has a great sense of humor. It definitely shines through in his work as an animator and illustrator. He was nominated for Yinzpiration by my friend Stephan Bontrager—when I saw the videos that Scott made for the organization Stephan works for, Riverlife, I knew I'd really like to meet the man behind the animation.

Perhaps the most yinzpirational piece I have ever seen:


This one shows Scott's sense of humor... he even did the narration along with his wife, Bethany!:


Enjoy Scott's Q&A. I suggest you check out more of his work on his very own Vimeo page. It might just make your day a bit brighter...

Name: Scott Benson

Job title: Animator/Illustrator

Twitter: @bombsfall  (This question actually spurred me to start one. I promise it will be worth following.)

Blog: Bombsfall Blog


Neighborhood you live in: The South Side for the next 2 weeks, Park Place as of June

Coffee Shop Drink of Choice: Something cold and caramel-y

Current Shampoo Preference: I think I'm just using Head & Shoulders, but we do use this awesome peppermint wash stuff plastered over with this.

Why do you choose Pittsburgh as your home? 
Neither my wife and I are from the area but for various reasons ended up in western PA and got married. Pittsburgh was the nearest city. Five years ago we moved to the South Side. It was cool, walkable, and we had dozens of friends who lived in the neighborhood. We liked the restaurants, the shops, and the Southside Works theater is top notch. Also: we are artists, and Pittsburgh is inexpensive.

Who do you spend your time with? 
Both my wife, Bethany, and I work at home, so we hang out most of the time. We work on a lot of things together. It's lovely. There's also a rotating cast of characters that we run into in the South Side as well—Dan Rugh and the kids at Commonwealth Press, Dylan and Denman Rooke (twins who are both incredible guys and artists) and our friends over at In the Blood Tattoo.

What are your favorite aspects of your job?  
I am never happier than when I am making something. There's this feeling you get when you've stumbled onto something good. Animation can sometimes feel like the art of repeated minutia. Is this movement smooth enough? Is it too smooth? Will anyone other than me even notice? If they notice, will they care? I tend to loop bits of animation and watch them dozens (if not hundreds) of times to figure out if they work or not. When they work, it's just the best feeling. They can also take a very long time to make, and there is a massive degree of satisfaction to say "Here it is. It's finished. I'm going to upload it now." I've been fortunate enough to garner a bit of a following online, which was wholly unexpected. Posting a new piece for the awesome people who care about my little work is incredibly exciting. Communication is awesome.

That's another bit that I like - getting to connect with other artists, mainly animators, directors and illustrators. There are an infinite number of people who want to "be" artists, but so few who actually do things, make actual art. I think that's true of many things—everyone wants to be, very few want to do.

Being part of the online animation community connects me to all kinds of people who make things, and people who make things are great. Animation is something that a lot of people want to do, especially when they are young, but it's such a rarefied field (even today) that few actually get to do it. I wanted to make cartoons when I was a kid, but quickly got that silly idea out of my head. To be doing it now and making some sort of living at it is just great.

Do you have a soul food? 
Hmm... the taco? Tacos are great and underrated as anything other than 2am drive through food. I would love to see the tacos enjoy the weird fashionable ascendancy that cupcakes inexplicably enjoyed a few years back. I guess "inexplicable" is a strong word. Cupcakes are popular because they are delicious, and so are tacos.

What are some of your recent personal goals?
To be frank, I'd like to increase my output, pay rent with a bit more ease, have a bit more in savings, and do good work. Above all, do good work. My wife and I have a little cartoon/handmade plush thing we do together, Tadly Waldorfington. It's weird and it's great. It centers on a shape-shifting octopus named Tadly, who is an explorer, and his best friend Abigail the cat, who is an historian. It's not for everyone, but it's for us and people like us.

Tadly has a Facebook page that's updated every week with illustrations, Abigail's book reviews and Tadly's explorer news. Getting that up and regularly updated was our goal for the spring and that's been a big success. We've made three animated shorts for Tadly in the past year, but this summer I want to complete the next big, long episode of that series. It's a big undertaking and it sits, heavily, right at the top of the personal goals list... crushing all below.

I'm also working on a new, semi-serious short that's gotten big and complex and impossible and lovely. I plan on tying a rope around it and dragging it back down to earth by the end of June.

Also, I'm going to start selling a whole load of prints this summer and that's taking up a decent amount of time trying to plan and execute. So much to do... so much to do.

What are your favorite Pittsburgh restaurants? 
Carson Street Deli. I love that place. It's staffed with the most agreeable bunch of people and they make fantastic sandwiches. Thai Me Up is a date-night favorite as well. Green curry with chicken. Yes ma'am.

Describe your ideal day. 
Wake up, hang out with Bethany and our cat, Ico as I catch up on emails/clients/news/blogs/etc. Work/run errands during the day. Dinner at Thai Me Up and then a long walk at sunset. Hopefully we bump into some of the many friends we have in the area. This is followed by short nap. My entire family are evening nappers. Wake up, hang out, read something, play a video game. My internal creative engine officially starts firing sometime around 10pm or so. I work pretty much from 10:30pm to 5am or later every day. I'm actually writing this at 4:25 on a Monday morning. The ideal part would be that I got something accomplished during that time that I feel is actually worthwhile, that is actually good. Something that, when I wake up, I can call Bethany over and say "Check out what I made last night", and maybe post it on the blog and get the reactions of others. My ideal day is this mix of spending time with the wife, learning things, enjoying where we live and making things. Making things and learning things is best.

What is the most memorable live show you have seen in Pittsburgh?
I haven't been to many live shows in the past few years, despite spending a solid decade in bands playing the punk scene earlier in my life. The first show that pops into my mind was at Nick's Fat City, which is now Diesel on East Carson Street. In 2004 or so I saw The Slackers play two consecutive sets there, something like 2 and a half hours. Brilliant. We also saw Jonathan Coulton at the Rex earlier this year and there are few things more pleasant than leaving a great concert and walking one block to your apartment.

What do you think Pittsburgh will be like in ten years? What do you love most about the city? 
I'm honestly not sure. My time in the South Side makes me worry that it's going to increasingly become one big college town sprawling out in the infrastructure of a former industrial giant, drunkenly chanting the names of local sports teams. But that's probably a bit severe. The greater connectivity afforded by inexpensive technology makes it possible for people like me, who do very little work in Pittsburgh proper, to live here. That's true everywhere, but you see the effect greatly in small cities. We travel a lot during the latter half of the year, and I see it all over the place. There are these clusters of artists and makers who carve out spaces in small cities. There is ample space, rents are relatively low, there is stuff to do and the cities are overjoyed to have them. That's great for everybody involved. We've really seen the return of the cottage industry on a massive scale in the creative class in the past 10 years. I hope to see that type of thing steadily increasing, and for Pittsburgh to host a growing "cottage community," as it were.  Such things keep a city going and give it ever-new types of culture.

As far as what I like about Pittsburgh: I like that Pittsburgh really feels more like a big town than a big city. It's accessible, nothing is very far away, but it still has culture and great places and interesting people. We try to catch The Nutcracker downtown during December, and it always amazes me when I look around me, in a gorgeous old theater surrounded by thousands of people watching a ballet. We're here, in what is essentially the middle of nowhere. It's not part of a larger metropolitan corridor. If you drive 30 minutes southwest or east, you'd never know it was here. I like that. It's this old brick and metal city hidden in a valley, crammed into wherever there isn't a river. And it has a ballet and a symphony and a public radio station and impressive museums and so forth. The rest of the world is rumbling around somewhere out there beyond miles and miles of sprawling Pennsylvania, but Pittsburgh is right here, in this little valley, enduring. Good for you, Pittsburgh. May we all do likewise.