Character Study

Crestwood resident works
as animator for ‘The Simpsons’

Sowell’s ‘Piggy Nation’ cartoon
and new book available

By Helen E. McKinney
Contributing Writer

CRESTWOOD, Ky. (January 2012) – Having the ability to bring animated characters to life is something that comes easily to Shane Sowell. Whether on-screen or in the pages of a newspaper or book, he is constantly developing a character that will give everyone a good laugh.

Shane Sowell

Photo Provided

Crestwood, Ky., resident Shane
Sowell began his career in animation
while attending college at UCLA.

“I think what drew me most to animation was the life that is captured in the medium,” said Sowell, 28. “Originally from South Bend, Ind., he graduated from Adams High School in 1997 and attended Columbus College of Art & Design in Columbus, Ohio.
While in his senior year at Columbus College of Art & Design, Sowell snagged his first animation job by working as a freelance ink and paint artist on “Disney’s 101 Dalmatians II: Patch’s London Adventure.” After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts in 2001, Sowell then began an internship at Film Roman animation studio while studying for his Master of Fine Arts degree in animation at UCLA.
His big break came while working on his internship when he began working on the Emmy-Award winning shows “The Simpsons” and “King of the Hill,” carrying out various pre-production tasks.
“Most of my time was spent on ‘King of the Hill,’ and I got to know the crew pretty well,” said Sowell, who now lives in Crestwood, Ky., with his wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Alyssa.
As his graduation date approached, Sowell applied for work on “King of the Hill.” He was hired the Monday after graduation. He worked on the series for a couple of seasons before rumors surfaced that it might be cancelled.
“Looking for a new show to go on to, I naturally applied to work on ‘The Simpsons’ and was one of the few lucky ones that they hired from the old ‘King of the Hill’ crew,” he said. After living in California for five years, his wife was transferred through her company, Amgen, to Louisville in 2007. Sowell was given permission to continue working on “The Simpsons” as a full-time freelance artist, which he still continues to do.
Sowell was part of the crew that brought “The Simpsons Movie” to the big screen this past fall. The TV series was originally created by Matt Groening 20 years ago as a series of crudely drawn shorts. It has evolved into the longest-running comedy in TV history.
Although he wasn’t initially chosen to work on the movie version of the popular TV show, Sowell ended up creating and revising storyboards for 11 months. He added additional main character poses and acting to specific scenes.
“Technically, we are actors with pencils; the acting seen in the scene comes from and out of the animator that worked on that particular scene,” he said. “To many people, the characters are ‘real,’ and to be able to be part of creating that experience still amazes me. The most rewarding part of the job, though, is hearing and seeing the reaction of the fans.”
Sowell has a new project under way as he has been instrumental in creating a chapter book, “Piggy Nation: Let’s Go Camping.” Sowell worked on this project with Richard Rosser, a working relationship that actually began when they created “Piggy Nation: A Day At Work With Dad.” Rosser had worked on children’s programs for Nickelodeon and The Disney Channel.
“The general theme that runs through the books is identifying Piggy (rude) behavior,” said Sowell.
He said Rosser created Piggy Nation “after dealing with a piggy event himself. After his mother-in-law was waiting patiently for a parking spot, another driver swooped in and took it from her.” As a result of wanting to do something, Rosser created a Piggy Ticket that someone could leave on the windshield explaining they had exhibited some kind of piggy behavior.
Friends encouraged Rosser to take Piggy Nation further, and he created a children’s book. “After searching for an illustrator for a few years a friend of mine recommended that we work together,” said Sowell.
Currently, the pair produces a weekly Piggy Nation comic published in two newspapers and carried on several online publications and blogs.
“Working with Shane is an absolute joy,” said Rosser. “Shane is an incredible artists, illustrator, designer and animator. Our creative styles really complement each other. He brings the characters of Piggy Nation to life with such subtle expressions.”
The idea for their current book, “Piggy Nation: Let’s Go Camping,” came directly out of a two-hour writing workshop Rosser taught for a Girl Scout troop. The book was published in time for a Los Angeles Girl Scout Expo, Girltopia, held in October 2011.
Not content to stop anytime soon, Sowell is now working on the illustrations for a second picture book. Rosser is writing the next chapter book. “The concept of Piggy Nation seems to resonate with children and adults alike,” said Rosser. “Everyone seems to understand and love the concept of Piggy Nation.”

• For more information, visit www.PiggyNation.com.

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