Student Spotlight: UI animator shares passion for cartoons

A love of cartoons and childhood video projects set the groundwork for UI animator Jacob Smithburg to pursue a career in animation.

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Grace Smith

Cinema and journalism major Jacob Smithburg poses for a portrait with his animations on screens behind him in an editing lab located at the Becker Communication Studies Building on Monday, April 26, 2021. Smithburg is an animator who spends hours working projects that he is interested in. “Go with the flow, do the work, follow your gut,” Smithburg says. “Be adventurous. Experiment and push the boundaries of a given medium! Go buckwild! Own it! Weirdness is the brand, baby! Also get a fun pair of socks. It’s thrilling. It’s fun. You’ll love it. Go bananas.”

Jenna Post, Arts Reporter


Jacob Smithburg had been an animation hobbyist before he fully understood animation. Whether it was making stop motion videos using Legos and action figures or creating moving drawings using the Flipnote app on his Nintendo DS, Smithburg said he liked using his creativity to bring characters to life.

“In elementary school, I would do flipbooks all day every day,” Smithburg said. “I did the bouncing ball flip book stuff before I even knew really anything about animation or that you can work in animation.”

Smithburg said that while growing up, cartoons largely affected his art style. The Cartoon Network show Adventure Time was perhaps the most influential, he said, because of its whimsical art style and expressive characters, which appealed to his love for character design.

“I want to be able to look at a character and go, ‘I know exactly what they want, what their motives are, what they’ve been through,’” he said.

Smithburg said that while animation was an obvious career choice in hindsight, he first attempted to pursue environmental science at Iowa State University. While taking courses, he realized that the field didn’t allow him to be creative, so he ended up doodling more in class than taking notes.

He then transferred to ISU’s College of Design. During his summer off, he became a camp counselor, where he found that working with children allowed his creativity to flourish. He said that the camp made him question what he wanted to do with his career, and he decided to take a gap year.

While job hunting during his time away from school, he came across an animation internship through Disney.

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“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do because that summer camp and just like having so much creative freedom,” Smithburg said. “I got back home from this camp and I saw this Disney position open kind of applied on a whim.”

Smithburg said he was surprised when he was contacted for an interview with Disney for animation. While a bigger fan of Pixar, he was still excited for the opportunity.

Shortly after the interview, he received word that he’d been selected for an internship. Not long after that, his internship was canceled because of COVID-19 spreading across the U.S.

He then decided to attend the University of Iowa for a cinematic arts degree. During his free time, he’s learned new animation techniques and software using YouTube tutorials. He said the university doesn’t offer many animation classes, so YouTube has been a more valuable resource.

Cinema and journalism major Jacob Smithburg poses for a portrait with his animations on screens behind him in an editing lab located at the Becker Communication Studies Building on Monday, April 26, 2021. Smithburg is an animator who spends hours working projects that he is interested in. “Go with the flow, do the work, follow your gut,” Smithburg says. “Be adventurous. Experiment and push the boundaries of a given medium! Go buckwild! Own it! Weirdness is the brand, baby! Also get a fun pair of socks. It’s thrilling. It’s fun. You’ll love it. Go bananas.” (Grace Smith)

He used YouTube to learn an animation program called EbSynth, which he used to turn actors into animated sea creatures in his play for the Ten-Minute Play Festiva

“I feel like I know every aspect of pre-production for animation, video game design, and all of that, so I’m always like, what else can I do? What else can I learn?” he said.

The now-junior said that he enjoys trying new hobbies, which makes it difficult to decide exactly what he wants to do post-graduation.

“I don’t know where I would feel most at home,” Smithburg said. “I’m always like, ‘what’s the next thing?’ And I hate to tie myself down.”

What Smithburg is sure of is that he wants to work with a creative team who isn’t afraid to be innovative in their animation.

“I just want to have fun and work with people who want to create together,” he said. “That’s the big picture.”

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