WORKING FOR WEBKINZ!

Today I was organizing my hard drives when I came across some fun OLD stuff: Pet of the Month Videos! After realizing I only had half of them in my possession, I turned to YouTube and there they were!  SEE ALL OF THEM!!!


I was the main person behind 7 of these videos and did most the work on them. This one, “Cat and Dog” is my favourite, because the musician cast me as the voice of the cat ha ha.

Anyways this post is about what it was like to work for Ganz, and why the vids are so bananas and why I totally love them and have no shame about the iffy animation and questionable fielding.

My job title when I came in was “animator,” which a lot of people had, because Webkinz is a huge online world similar to Club Penguin. You buy a plush animal and then now you have the animal online. Lots of people were needed to make these walk cycles for the various animals in the game and I needed money so I took it. But luckily, thanks to my comedy, on day one I was given a much more interesting assignment- could I take this Pink Pony song and make a video for it?

A lot of the people working there were just out of school and when they showed me the one previous video they’d made- Alley Cat- I was shocked. It was a small bit of footage repeated over and over, mostly pulled from the game version, and featured a flash symbol that wasn’t flopped properly- in that way where it becomes a line for a second. I had zero time to make the Pony video, but I figured the bar was pretty low and easy to improve on. And boarding was what I wanted to do!

I never knew who made that cat video, and I was the only one working there making any new ones. It was also my first boarding job. I would pitch the story (song was provided), then board it, then animate it myself. I’m just sayin’ it was a lot to do myself AND I was approving it myself. There was no director- no one on site that had more experience than me, and I didn’t have very much experience. (I did have help with the assets and there was also a huge library thanks to the game.)

The only person I had to worry about was the owner of Ganz, Mr. H Ganz, and he was blown away by my amazing videos! Ha ha. For sure it’s the most rockstar position I’ve ever had in an animation company. One time Mr. Ganz called me from a tropical island when he was on vacation to discuss the Koala. The vids got popular and after about half of them, they gave me some help by assigning me animators to get them looking a bit nicer.

I’d say the biggest improvement between before and after I got animators is that I actually have leica reels for the latter half. Before that, the schedule was so fast that I was boarding it right on the Flash timeline and sometimes just dropping in assets instead of drawing anything. “Here they’re sort of in the kitchen- I know what it will look like in my head.”

That was part of the fun though! And knowing the kids would love the videos no matter what was amazing too. They could watch them through the webkinz world or on youtube. I think while I was working there one vid got 900 views, which blew my mind, though now I see one’s at 364K which also blows my mind and makes it the most popular thing I ever did ha ha.

THOUGH the entire time I was there, I was haunted by the Alley Cat! I could never get more views- it’s still a mystery to me! Right now Alley Cat is at 400K so it’s still got me beat.

I loved Webkinz and got addicted to their game! Actually I had a friend who was already into it before I applied for the job. It may have influenced me landing there. You build a house for your digital pet- I had (have) about 9 digital pets and my house had many rooms. My friend and I visited each other’s digital houses. I was doing a lot of comedy stuff at that time too so I don’t know how I did it all while still remembering to feel my digital pets every day. When I started using real money that I earned at work to buy digital furniture, I knew I was in deep. I was afraid someone in billing would recognize my name and (rightfully) mock me. Now every couple years I check back and am glad to see the digital world at least still exists.

An example of a Webkinz digital room.

Anyways, after a while I started to get frustrated. First of all, the videos are super fun but not exactly impressive in a portfolio sense. I also didn’t feel I was learning anything. I could get away with anything (see Alley Cat- 400K) and no one would give me any notes. I wanted a job where there were senior people and directors who could help me improve. Also, my job title never changed even though I was heading up these things, which caused some problems when I needed the animators to stick to the (my) plan.

I am a strong woman, and I knew they liked me, so I clearly asked for what I wanted, mostly a title, and they said no. They said it’s a toy company, not a studio, and “animator” should cover anything that didn’t involve packing shipping boxes with stuffed dogs. I should mention that the manufacturing factory was in the same building and it was a strange place to work for that reason. They didn’t want the factory people to feel like the art people had special privileges, so the rules were strict. 9:01 was LATE. Literally, that one minute. And you absolutely were not allowed to spend your lunch at your desk. You had to leave. Oh, and most internet was blocked, except Webkinz.com of course.

Anyways, speaking of leaving, at the same time a design job came up at Nelvana so I took it.  It was a serious dip in employment enjoyment to go from making music videos to drawing props. But at Nelvana there were at least people in the building who knew how to board! I convinced an AD to take me under his wing and that’s how I got my first break into TV boarding.

Did you watch all the videos in the playlist yet?  Make sure you watch Moustache Louie and the part where they all ride moustaches in the sky. That was one thing I got teased for- moustache rides. It wasn’t meant to be dirty and I thought it was fun. I said it’s for KIDS and they won’t think anything of it. I’m pretty happy to see that in all these years on YouTube not one person has made a dirty comment! And that’s on YouTube! The dregs of internet comments!

All in all, working at Ganz was awesome and these videos make me laugh. Maybe someday Webkinz will make a comeback. Or those Wrinkles puppets- did you know they’re made by Ganz?  I love toys.

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