TJ Sullivan: From Milford to California and a career in animation

TJ Sullivan grew up in Milford and discovered his artistic talent at a very young age. He attended Jonathan Law High School and then studied art and illustration at Central Connecticut State University, and got his first job animating medical videos. Finally, he moved to California to receive his dream job of animating cartoons for DreamWorks studios.

Being an animator requires a great amount of work, responsibility and most important, patience and time. An “animatic” for television shows and movies is an edited version of illustrations, which appear as a comic book along with a written script and the voice animators’ recordings. It takes about six months for one episode to be made because important aspects of the show, such as camera layout, are done abroad after many reviews. Once the product is shipped back to the studio, the finishing touches are made and the episode or movie is ready to air.

At the young age of five, Sullivan's mother, Joan, had noticed her son's extraordinary talent.

“I went through boxes of TJ's art work and saw his drawings of Snoopy and Garfield,” Joan said. “I saw drawings of his through each phase of his life and I could see him getting better and better. I saw his whole life of drawings in his boxes.”

Sullivan has been very successful in his career and is proud of his creations. A spin-off television show has been made from the popular animated film, How to Train Your Dragon. Sullivan is the director of this new show, and has animated a series, “Back at the Barnyard”— a spin-off of the movie, Barnyard, which he also animated.

Another show he worked on is titled, “Beware the Batman.” He animated the last episode’s concluding shots as well as the opening title sequence of the television show. This title sequence was so impressive, he received a Daytime Emmy nomination.

“It was great getting some recognition after the long hours and time spent away from the family,” he said. “It was exciting, and even more so when my parents were able to come to the ceremony with us.”

Not only does Sullivan animate movies and television shows, but also comic strips. In fact, he has his own website at called “Going Boldly.” He loves working on this and finds it a great way to unwind.

“It follows a patch designer for NASA who has a Gremlin that constantly causes trouble,” Sullivan said. “Of course this was before the shuttle program was mothballed, so I’ve been working on some new strips to deal with that.”

Like any career, animation can be challenging especially because it is very time consuming. It can also cause stress when one wonders how successful a new movie or television show will be.

“The industry is in flux right now as well, with a lot of jobs being outsourced.  So it’s tough not knowing where your next gig will land you,” said Sullivan.

However, Sullivan has fun while working, and enjoys giving his animated characters personalities. Therefore, acting is required from him, which helps him to learn his characters he has created. He has fun doing his job and loves the appreciation he receives.

“There’s nothing like hearing a kid laugh at something that you animated.  You’re doing something you love, and it can be a lot of fun,” said Sullivan.

Sullivan's mother is very proud of her talented son and has seen his love of art through his hard work.

“The job of an animator can take many long hours, and he's willing to put all his time into it,” she said. “He has a certain level that he [expects], and goes out of his way to achieve it.”