Hi! My name is Adam “Addy” Afzali. I am a first-generation, non-binary, South-Asian/ European American Illustrator, animator, designer, art director, and VFX artist.
I started my artistic career at Pratt Institute. I applied to their Brooklyn campus for 2D animation but got waitlisted. I saw they had an extension campus upstate at Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, NY. I’ve lived in NYC my whole life and the thought of moving upstate was exciting at the time. Plus I really wanted to go to Pratt, so I applied there for Communications design with a concentration in graphic design, and got in! Living upstate was both beautiful and haunting. I remember it being so quiet at night, especially in winter, that I was able to differentiate the sound of a single car. I’m used to cars sounding like white noise because there are so many on the road in the city. It was a great place to start an artistic career. Since there was nothing really to do other than my homework. During my time there I switched my concentration to illustration. I was always drawing my projects and creating characters so it felt like a good fit. There I was awarded the Ryan Aumiller award for students excelling in Communications Design with grace and good humor. I guess they thought I was funny!
While at Pratt Institute I started getting into digital art. At some point, I transitioned fully to using the Cintiq tablets they had there. It was fun finally getting access to that technology. The work I was making during that time was pretty rough because I didn’t know how to use the software or technology. I felt as if my work didn’t compare to my classmates, but I always stood by my work, and conceptually it was there. Visually it was pretty bad. However, like any skill, it got better over time. During my last year, I always felt anxious because I didn’t know how my work fits into the commercial sphere. I was able to secure an internship with one of my professors, Michael Gerbino, at his company Archigrafika. That internship gave me a good footing with being a part of a company’s creative process. I learned the importance of keeping organized in the team drive and how to communicate with people while working. It was a great stepping stone, but it reinforced that graphic design is not the field I want to work in. I was fascinated with storytelling and animation and during senior year my first thesis I pitched an animated television show and illustrated the visual development for it. I was lucky that during my last semester at Pratt they created a class called Character Design. I immediately enrolled. That class introduced me to the world of working in animation and art direction. My professor, Cassandra Berger, worked as an art director for television shows. While taking that class my path as an artist became clear. However, I felt incomplete with my education. I still wanted to learn animation, so I applied to the Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema Arts at Brooklyn College for digital animation and VFX. My goal was to learn animation so I could have more skills for when I get a job at a company. I applied and got in. I found out I got into grad school the same day I found out I was being evicted from my dorm because of Covid. Life is weird like that.
I finished out my senior year in my bedroom, in sweatpants and slippers. That summer I was just trying to survive the pandemic. I was working at my family’s pizzeria and got a job as a screen printer at New York Printing Graphics in Redhook. Screenprinting was a great middle-ground between using the computer and working as a fine artist. There was a great, close-up view of the Statue of Liberty. I fell into a pleasant flow in life and everything seemed bright.
Then I started graduate school. My first semester was an interesting one. Feirstein was everything I expected but at the same time, everything I didn’t expect. When I first entered grad school, I was very intentional with wanting to illustrate my projects. That was the reason I enrolled after all. My first “animation” class was Digital Imaging & Compositing 1 taught by the After Effects grandmaster Casey Drogin. That class was to teach how to composite within After Effects, however, I used it as an intro to character animation and illustrated and animated characters for every project. That class wasn’t really meant for that and doing that made it harder I felt, but it still felt satisfying to see my illustrations moving. The final for that class I made a 2 and a half animated short. I felt very accomplished when I finished. I also felt burnt out. I put a lot of time into that class and slacked in my intro into Maya course. I fell asleep most of the time because 3D was never my interest and I was so closed-minded to the idea of doing it. My other two classes were a film history class and a creative writing class. It was a nice way to start film school.
That winter break I met Imani Shelton. She was a customer at the pizzeria and is an upcoming stylist and clothing store owner. At the time her business ClothedMinded was a pop-up thrift shop in Williamsburg Bk. She saw my animated work and hired me to make her an animated ad for her business. I took the little After Effects knowledge I had and got to work. The animation for the project was pretty rough, however, the concept was there and the art direction was there. I wish I had more compositing and animation experience back then because that project would have been wicked cool if I made it today. However, Imani loved it and I am forever grateful for getting to work with her. To this day I’ll work on a thing for her.
In the second semester, everything took a turn. For Digital Imaging and Compositing 2, instead of using After Effects, we learned Nuke, the industry-standard compositing software for live-action and 3D. I started getting worried that I would lose my After Effects knowledge so I enrolled in an extra class that semester that taught Motion Graphics within After Effects with Declan Zimmerman. I also started working at the Brooklyn college Magner Center, on top of working at the pizzeria. I definitely overworked myself that semester. It was worth it though. Taking that motion graphic class solidified all the After Effects experience I had and made me 100% comfortable using the UI and I got to the nitty-gritty with keyboard shortcuts. That class made me confident that I could make anything in After Effects. In my final, I wanted to only use After Effects and not illustrate in Procreate. I made a story about a ball going through a torture chamber. I think I was artistically letting out all the things I was experiencing from all the other classes. My Nuke class was very challenging. The UI was very different from Adobe’s and I just didn’t understand anything. The same went for my Maya class. Didn’t understand anything and I feel like the work I was making was horrible in my eyes. I wanted to give up so bad but I stuck it out. Toward the end of that semester, I started to feel more comfortable with Nuke. I was surprised and things were looking up. I ended up getting straight A’s that semester. I guess hard work pays off.
That summer was a fun one. I was living in Flatbush, Brooklyn with 2 good friends. My graphic design professor, Sally Thurer reached out to me regarding animating 2 characters for a film she was art directing. Of course, I agreed. Getting to work with her again was a dream. I designed and animated a cavewoman and a centaur. The rest of the summer I worked on personal character design work and random graphic design freelance jobs. During that summer my roommates and I had problems with our landlord and had to separate. A woman that worked at the pizzeria with me had an extra room available. I moved back to Flushing, Queens, after 5 years of leaving.
The Fall semester came at a weird time. I was adjusting to life back in flushing. It’s still the city but everything is so far. One thing I’ve learned while living here is to slow down. Definitely a theme I needed to live out. I started the semester while trying to deal with getting my family out of Afghanistan. The Taliban took control of Kabul and life seemed dark there. I did everything I could. I reached out to my representatives and used all the knowledge I was learning to make content for social media for people who might not know what to do and need assistance/help. Unfortunately, a majority of my family over there don’t have documents so getting them to enter The USA has been a struggle. I am still dealing with this to this day.
After that cooled down I was knees deep in the hardest semester of my life. (That seems to be the case every semester) I was taking a Nuke course, an After effects course, and 2 Maya courses. I was constantly switching gears in my head. At the beginning of the semester, I struggled a lot with Nuke. I felt like a failure because I forgot a lot of what I learned during the previous semester because I didn’t use it at all during the summer break. Again, feelings of giving up crept in. Thankfully, my classmate, Petter Lin, was a great support system and was there to immediately answer any questions I had while doing the homework. As the semester went on I needed less help with Nuke and started to problem solve on my own because I was getting comfortable again. While creating my final for that class my career goals shifted. I started to see myself actually doing VFX as a career. It opened my mind to do more than just illustration and art direction. That openness leaked its way into my Maya courses as well. One Maya course taught me 3D character animation and one taught Lighting and texturing. I enjoyed the lighting and texturing course because it applied a lot of fine art lighting techniques that I was used to. It just came down to learning the software. I had an easier time with that process because it was really straightforward. The 3D animation class was difficult. I never animated in IK before and it went against how my brain naturally thought. I am comfortable animating FK rigs in Maya however. I’m sure if I practiced more I would be able to eventually animate in IK in Maya. As of now, I have the abilities of a children’s 3D show character animator and I am proud of that. Baby steps. I’m grateful I went through IK in Maya because it made animating IK in After Effects a breeze. That brings me to my final class that semester, my 2D digital character animation class. The most anticipated class for me besides the thesis. I loved this class so much but hated it just the same. (My Gemini nature) I loved it because I felt like I was in my element. Drawing characters and animating on After Effects. Come to find out, like, in Maya, character animation is a tedious process and a lot of work. However, software-wise, I felt like I was home. Since I know After Effects pretty well, all those theories of animation applied so beautifully. Unlike in Maya, I didn’t have the software learning curve to get over, so I started to understand IK rigging systems because I was building IK rigs in DuIK and animating with them. The final for that class was 5 weeks long. I wanted to have a simple story so I can go heavy on the compositing. The final revealed to me my love for compositing 2D animation. It is the best of both worlds for me. Compositing and animating. What a dream. I ended up getting straight A’s this semester. A real shock but very deserving. After this semester, things career-wise became very clear. Before, I wasn’t sure where I belonged in the pipeline of a studio, but now I have a great understanding of where I best fit in. The skills I am learning are making me into a 2D generalist. I can illustrate, animate, art direct, and can work in 3D a little. Now it’s time to start looking where I can work.
Well, that brings us to the present. It’s currently winter break and I’m back on my freelance wave. Working on a website for Ron Sese, and making assets for Ducky & Patsy’s documentary. I’m also doing some VFX work for 2 student films on top of working at the Brooklyn College Magner Center. Always a busy time. If you got this far I very much appreciate you and have a wonderful day/night. :) -Addy