by J.T. Buchheit
For many people, it would be a dream to work on an animated television show. Professor Michael Gurau of the graphic design program, has lived that dream, working on “Futurama” and “Family Guy,” among other shows.
Gurau began his work on “Futurama” shortly after graduating from the California Institute of the Arts in 1998.
“When my second year was wrapping up, ‘Futurama’ was starting to gear up and nobody knew about it,” said Gurau. “A buddy of mine tipped me off to it … so I went down and applied for the show. I think I was the third person to get hired at the time.”
Gurau started his “Futurama” work as a production assistant, eventually taking a pay cut to work in animation, and become a character layout artist.
“[A production assistant] does everything under the sun,” said Gurau. “… On the production side, there’s tiers, where it’s like production assistant, production manager … and you’re juggling 50 duties all day, and you’re doing a ton of stuff. So if you watch dailies and screenings of the episode almost done, you’re helping put it together, you’re helping with storyboard, it’s like you have a hand in every little piece of the thing.”
Once Gurau began to work in character layout, he noticed a large difference between the jobs, especially concerning the amount of duties one is required to have. He preferred working as a production assistant due to the variety of tasks one helps with.
“When you work in character layout, you’re sitting at a desk all day long and just doing the two scenes given to you for that week,” he said. “… You’re not contributing as much. You’ve got a person doing character layouts, you’ve got a person doing character design. … Everyone just sits there and does the same thing. It’s just a production sweatshop, essentially.”
While those who desire to work in the animation industry may think it will be a blast, Gurau mentioned that like most jobs, it can become a chore.
“What I also found was that this is just a job,” he said. “Once you start doing something for money and it becomes a job, some of the novelty wears off. It’s not as creative as you think it is, and so I found that I was more fueled and excited to go home and do my own work.”
When Gurau began working on “Futurama,” he didn’t think it would last long. The ratings were poor, and audiences didn’t find the show to be especially hilarious. However, the showrunner, Matt Groening, demanded the show be kept on the air.
“I remember Matt Groening constantly threatening FOX that he was going to pull ‘The Simpsons’ if they didn’t keep renewing [‘Futurama’],” Gurau said. “… And that’s their cash cow. They make money hand over fist off that show. … Under any other circumstances, I don’t think it would’ve been picked up.”
Gurau eventually left “Futurama” due to toxicity in the workplace. He later transferred over to “Family Guy,” where he was a production assistant. Multiple cancellations eventually turned workers away from the show, including Gurau.
“I was on another thing at the time and didn’t go back,” he said. “I know quite a few people that did, and it was at that time that the show finally took off. I don’t know what changed, but a lot of it had to do with their attitude with Seth [MacFarlane]. All of the sudden they loved him. He was the golden boy because you had all the spin-off shows, he was hosting Grammys, he was doing roasts. The guy’s everywhere.”
Gurau later moved from Los Angeles back to his hometown in Kansas to be with his ailing mother. Shortly after he returned, he came to the college and took classes in graphic design in order to expand his repertoire, eventually teaching in the department. He decided to bypass the animation classes due to the amount of new technology required.
“I’m not a huge fan of the computer stuff,” said Gurau. “… It’s kind of a shift in the industry, and if I was to try and step back into that, I would have to learn some heavy-duty computer programs.”
This will likely be Gurau’s last semester teaching at the college. He looks to work in studios in the field of graphic design and hopes the skills he learned while animating the shows, as well as taking classes at the college, will help him in the future.