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Stephen M. Levinson's Blog

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Last day at CalArts. And Why.

October 9th, 2010

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So, today is my last day on the CalArts campus. I’ve already signed the papers and am withdrawn from the school. Today is the last day/night I can live on campus. The title of this post may seem odd as my previous post was about the animation I was doing here. The post before that was how excited I was that I got into CalArts. Sure, I’ve only been here for 4 weeks and it seems like a short amount of time to make such a big decision. Well, Jeffrey Katzenberg visited. I haven’t differed or taken the semester off, I’ve withdrawn from the school. And it was my decision.

Let’s backtrack a little bit. Alot. Ever since I was young I have always been looking to do some type of “business.” My first entrepreneurial business was teaching people how to draw. I was maybe 10 at the time and was in no position to be making a business out of it. You may call it delusional, but when I have an idea and am focused, no obstacle could come in the way of my goal.

After that “business” plan, I came up with the idea of purchasing iPod’s at wholesale and re-selling them at discounted market prices. I had lists of wholesalers, even a Sony PSP distributor who I had spoken to on the phone. Did these people have the iPods and PSP’s they said they did? Probably not. But the idea overcame me and my determination wouldn’t stop me, even when the PSP wholesaler said I was too young to purchase anything from him. I was 14 at the time. This business also went nowhere.

My next business venture was to purchase clothing, sports good etc at wholesale price and re-sell at a lower rate. See the pattern? These businesses never went anywhere, due to the lack of funding. I guess you need money to start a business, who woulda thunk?

My latest and most successful business to date is my company, Inkless Ideas LLC, which I am the President of :). I came up with the idea of a great screenwriting iPhone/iPad application called Scripts Pro. I hired a company to develop the coding and invested pretty much all my money at the time. The greatest $3,000 I have ever invested.¬† MANY issues arose with the app. Too buggy. Didn’t work how I needed it to. Crashed ALL THE TIME. Sure I was upset but I kept going at it. I initially invested $1500 but needed to invest another $1500 to fix the mess. I was skeptical, sure. There were several people who thought it was a sign that I should just give up the app. It really wasn’t working out. I didn’t give up. I knew exactly what it needed to do and didn’t stop until the program worked correctly. It got to a point where I needed to submit the app and to generate income to continue working on it. I submitted it to Apple in December. It was rejected. I had my developers re-fix some things. Rejected again. A total of 7 rejections by the time it was approved for sale. February 5th is was live! Scripts Pro soon became and still is the best screenwriting iPhone/iPad application out there. Well, that’s what my customers tell me. Currently Scripts Pro has over 10,000 users and is growing every day. Not a day without a sale. I can grow it into something much bigger than it is now.

Back to September and I was headed to CalArts, the school I had discovered on this very blog! What a dream come true! I could afford my tuition since my app had been doing very well and now had time to focus on my animations. I’ve been here for about 4 weeks-ish. The classes are great, the talent is outstanding and the teachers are phenomenal. There’s no reason to leave CalArts. So why am I?

Last week Jeffrey Katzenberg came to our school for a Q&A and to talk about his life and how he started. While talking, I realized how much I had in common with him. His father was also in the stock market and he mentioned that he always responds to his emails, all of them, I do the same for my customers. The ideas of business have always been floating around in my head, but I thought I would do the business thing on the side. After Jeffrey came, it just clicked in my head. What do I want out of CalArts? What is the reason I’m spending $30k out of my own pocket for?

I no longer want to do the actual animation. It’s an incredible skill to have and I’ve already been doing animation for many years. The students coming out of CalArts will hands down be the best animators, but at the end of the day, I want to see my ideas come to life with the help of the most talented people I will know. I want to produce. I want to bring talent together. I want to have an idea and collaborate with the best artists to make my vision come true. I want to lead a team, a production, a studio. I want to create feature films and I’m going to re-invent 2d animation. I know how I’m going to do it. I just can’t tell you :P

So, where does that leave me now? I will get the majority of my tuition back and move on. I’m heading back home to New York for a few weeks until I get a car and a place in LA and drive over. I’m calling everyone I know, setting up meetings everywhere, and going to get my foot in the door. Yesterday I visited Cartoon Network, I met a ton of awesome people and also got to see Pen Ward, Eric Pringle and Adam Muto again. It was great touching base with them after all the years. And I met Phil Rynda, who is an awesome talent, who just happens to be following my blog! How awesome! This blog has been and continues to be one of my greatest outlets. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it a million more times. Frederator is the best company I have ever discovered and have come close with. Now I’m going to look for internships and see how the business and production is run first-hand. There’s no better way to learn.

It will be an interesting journey as there is no direct path. If there was a school to become a CEO, everyone would be CEO’s. That’s the where it get’s a little blurry. Everyone seems unsure of how to become a “producer.” The answer is that there is no direct path. Sometimes, you have to appreciate the ordinary. Without it, there wouldn’t be room to stand out.

After his visit, I emailed Jeffrey Katzenberg and thanked him for all of his time, for coming down to CalArts and for speaking to us, telling him how he’s had a huge impact on my life. I sincerely thanked him for his visit. His response, “:-). Best of luck to you.”

Look out California, I’m ready for whatever you throw my way! Soon to be established, Inkless Animation Studios.

Sincerely,
Stephen M. Levinson

p.s. my new nickname around campus is either Leavin Stephen, or Stephen Leavingsoon LOL :D I like leavingsoon its clever!

A little animation test

September 17th, 2010

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This is my first traditional animation created at Cal Arts! I created it in my cube and brought it to the “lunchbox” to shoot it.

Stephen M. Levinson
stephenlevinson@alum.calarts.edu

Off to Cali!

September 4th, 2010

Cal Arts

Today I’m headed off to California, with my sights set on Cal Arts on monday for move-in! I’m soooo excited and can NOT wait to start! The first weeks is going to be awesome; Meeting everyone and having a good time! Gotta get a ton of stuff this weekend for school! Gonna be one hell of an experience and I doubt I’ll have time to blog about it being that my schedule is soooo freaking busy! From the time that I began commenting like a robot on the Frederator Blog when I was only 15, I never knew what would have become of my, almost spam-like-but-real-commenting.

Frederator is probably one of the greatest companies I have become close with. Fred has been extremely generous to me, taking my pitches when I was 15 regardless of an agent, unlike any other company. I have kept improving my pitches and I still do. Learning to grow a thick skin from rejection from a very young age has absolutely been a blessing. I’ve learned alot about animation, the industry, ¬†business, and this blog is where I discovered this thing called Cal Arts.When the 39 cartoon blogs started to pile up, I was nervous that I didn’t have anything to pitch and the slots would be filled up. They did regardless, but it was fun trying to squeeze my idea in! As the blogs and posts started, Frederator Blogs grew to a large community that I became a family with. It seems as though some of these creators had attended Cal Arts. I saw the blog post for it and looked into what it was all about. That blog post changed my life.

Fast forward a couple years. I had a meeting with Fred just to catch up. I was discussing my plans of how I was going to get into Cal Arts and live happily ever after. Fred said to me, “What happens when you don’t get in?” I wasn’t sure what to make of it at the time, mainly due to my ignorance, and assured him I was going to get in. Got the rejection letter in the mail a few months later. When I first applied I had absolutely no idea what the criteria for accepted students was. I had no starting point, just submitted a bunch of black and white life drawings. The rejection didn’t discourage me one bit. I decided to take the year off, since spending a year anywhere would have just wasted my money since I knew I was going to Cal Arts.I attended the Gnomon School of Visual Effects in the fall of last year (wow, I can’t believe that was already a year ago!) more motivated and determined than ever before. I was going to be in California, what could be better? I took several classes and improved my life drawing tremendously. I had a couple meetings with Libby Hux and found out EXACTLY what they were looking for in perspective students. I returned home from Gnomon in November and began putting my all that I had learned at Gnomon to work. While there I grew as a better artist, person and gained a lot more confidence. I re-applied to Cal Arts the following January, 2010.

My family and I recalled around the time I was rejected last year, which was in March. That was last year. March 7th 2010 approached and for some reason the mail was extremely late that day. We kept searching our mail box, 12pm, 1pm, 2pm, still nothing. Then around 3pm the mail finally came. I had gotten something from Cal Arts with the back envelope reading “Congratulations.” My mom yelled down, “I THINK YOU GOT IN!”. I ripped open the letter and read “Dear Stephen, I am delighted to inform you of your acceptance to the California Institute Of The Arts.” I was soo happy! We were all jumping up and down and for some reason I started crying. It was one of the greatest moments of my life. I was headed to California, to the Walt Disney animation school that I had been dreaming about for over 3 years. Me. In Cal Arts. They actually want me there! WOW!

I’ve met a ton of awesome people from the school already and on Facebook and I can’t wait for the amazing experiences I will have at Cal Arts.

Thank you Fred Seibert, and everyone else who’s helped and motivated me to push and reach my goals. This blog and company has been and continues to be one of my greatest outlets. I don’t know where I would be had I not discovered this blog and left my first comment on the website. Regardless, I’m moving ahead and will visit Frederator whenever I can!

Best wishes,

Stephen M. Levinson

stephenlevinson@alum.calarts.edu

I’ve been accepted to Cal Arts! Woo Hoo!!!

March 10th, 2010

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Today I received a GREAT letter! I’ve been accepted to the Character Animation program at Cal Arts for the fall 2010 semester! I was rejected last year but I did not give up! I worked my butt off on my portfolio and it has finally paid off! I’d like to again thank Fred Seibert, Eric Homan, Kat Kosmala, Gabriel Valles, and Tom E. Van Dell for your really great letters of recommendation! This is such a happy day! And would you believe, the mail was 3 hours late today!

AHHHHH!!! :D

Steve

Some unfortunate (non-deadly) news…

March 11th, 2009

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Hello everybody,

Yesterday I received an unfortunate letter in the mail. I didn’t get into CalArts. I would like to thank everyone who wrote me a letter of recommendation for taking their time out of their busy schedules to do so. A big thanks to Fred Seibert, Eric Homan, Gabriel Valles, Thomas E. Van Dell, Kat Kosmala and my animation teacher at school Mr.Karen.

While I didn’t get in, I’m not going to let it effect me too much. My plan B is to take the year off, go to life drawing classes religiously, continue freelancing, and try to get work in-studio in either NYC, CA or any other state with a job. Thanks again for everyone’s support, and I’ll be re-applying next year!

Yours Truly,

Steve