I only recently heard about Joshua Leonard, but I had no idea about his inspiring life story until we sat down for this interview. Joshua is currently doing freelance animation work for Nickelodeon, but he is perhaps most well known for Team Supreme — a group of differently abled super-powered kids!
Joshua started our conversation with a little behind-the-scenes look at working with Nickelodeon, and we talked a bit about different animation styles and how long it can take a concept to go from idea to reality. Joshua also talked about growing up as a military brat, his early animation influences, and about evacuating Hurricane Katrina to make a new start in Atlanta. I don’t want to give away too much about our conversation, but make sure you stick around for Joshua’s words of wisdom in the second half of the interview, as well as an update on the status of Team Supreme! Joshua’s work has already caught the eye of some major players, and I’m so proud to be able to share what he’s doing here on Revision Path!
Maurice Cherry: All right. Tell us who you are and what you do.
Joshua Leonard: Yeah. My name is Joshua Leonard and I’m a 2D animator and a character designer and I’m the creator of Team Supreme, which is an animated series in the works right now.
Maurice Cherry: All right. We’ll definitely get into talking more about Team Supreme. What’s your kind of average day-to-day work with like right now?
Joshua Leonard: Well, I wake up, first thing first, go to the gym, workout for about an hour, come home, do some character design work. I do freelance for Nickelodeon right now, really just working on Team Supreme. That’s really it. And the Joshua Leonard Foundation, we’re getting that up and running, so I just try to stay as productive as I possibly can-
Maurice Cherry: Okay.
Joshua Leonard: … until everything starts to kind of really take off.
Maurice Cherry: So with the freelance character design stuff for Nickelodeon, can you talk just a little bit about that, like what you’re doing with that?
Joshua Leonard: I can’t give the names of the show, anything like that. So basically, I graduated from the Art Institute 2018, summer 2018, and I posted something on LinkedIn, I think it was an artwork and it went viral. And one of the recruiters from Nickelodeon hit me up as I was walking into Home Depot where I worked and offered me a freelance position on an upcoming show. So I took that and it’s been a blessing ever since, man. So I really just… whenever they need character design and stuff, they kind of just reach out. So it’s not like a guarantee, but when it’s here, it’s great. So I’m real grateful for it.
Maurice Cherry: And that came just from a LinkedIn post?
Joshua Leonard: LinkedIn, man, yeah. I love LinkedIn. Social media, in general, is great for me. As long as you run it as a business and professional, I think it’s the way to go.
Maurice Cherry: Okay. So with Nickelodeon kind of just contacting you when they need you, I’m pretty sure, because I’m curious about this too, what does character design look like for a studio like that? Talk to me about the workflow. What does that look like?
Joshua Leonard: Absolutely. One thing that I do like about Nickelodeon, and I appreciate them coming to me, they like my art style and specifically, for the show that I’m working on, there are some African American cartoon characters. So that’s one thing that kind of makes me stand out, especially on LinkedIn. A lot of my followers and connections on LinkedIn like my art style. So that’s what Nickelodeon was looking forward to, and also Disney. So it’s pretty dope how they look for a specific style that would fit their certain cartoons, because a lot of these shows look the same, a lot of them shows use the same character design. And so I guess sometimes, you got to go out of the box and get different looks and styles. But what they do, they gave me a real slat image, real bland, real simple, almost like a children’s book for the artwork. It’s real simple. So they asked me to put my style onto this style that was already [inaudible 00:02:50] in the book, and that’s what I did, kind of just really hooked it up in my style. And they loved it.
Joshua Leonard: And when I went out there to Nickelodeon and when they took me on a tour and all of that, because I’m in Atlanta and Nickelodeon is way out there in Burbank, when I got out there, I was expecting to see my artwork on the wall. I would joke around with the whole team and just kind of laugh about how my artwork’s probably going to be on a wall with red X’s crossed through it, but they actually showed me a clip of the cartoon that they’re working on and developing and they made it and everything and it was my character. So it was so dope to see my actual character designs come to life like that. And it was in 3D too, so I’m like, “Man, you got to be kidding. This was [crosstalk 00:03:34].” So to see that, man, and like I said, I just graduated in 2018 and it’s just been a super dope ride, man, so far. So I’m real grateful for that.
Maurice Cherry: Wow. So that’s interesting that they start off with something simple, and then I guess you just have to redraw what they have or are you putting your own particular styles and things onto the images?
Joshua Leonard: No. No. So what it is, when I say I’m drawing, say, their character has a beard, he’s kind of buff and he’s wearing this outfit, that’s what I’m talking about. Now, I can draw whatever I want as long as he has the beard, this outfit, as long as they know it’s going to be this character, I can do whatever I want with it. So I’ll put them in a different pose and sometimes, they may want the character turn around, where you got to draw the front side, three quarter back. So it just depends. I’ve done a bunch of facial, different facial expressions and stuff like that. So it’s fun, man. I love it.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. So it sounds like it just varies pretty much based on what they have, what they need to get done.
Joshua Leonard: Right.
Maurice Cherry: Let’s switch gears here just a little bit. I do again want to go into talking about Team Supreme and especially about the Joshua Leonard Foundation. I’m curious to hear about that, we’ll talk about that later. But tell me about where you grew up.
Joshua Leonard: I’m actually a military brat. So I was born in Miami and we left Miami after hurricane Andrew, went to Alaska. So I lived in Anchorage for a little bit, then we moved to Maryland. So I was in PG County for a little bit, then we went to Biloxi, Mississippi, where hurricane Katrina hit, so I got evacuated to Atlanta. So I kind of grew up everywhere, but born in Miami.
Maurice Cherry: Okay.
Joshua Leonard: But, yeah. So now, residing in Atlanta until I have to go to LA to really start production on the shelf. So.
Maurice Cherry: When did you move from Miami?
Joshua Leonard: Oh, man. Hmm.
Maurice Cherry: Hurricane Andrew was like, what, ’90…
Joshua Leonard: I think it was in ’90…
Maurice Cherry: ’92, ’94? [crosstalk 00:05:30].
Joshua Leonard: ’92. I think it was ’92. I’m not quite sure. I don’t really remember. I was a lot younger at the time, but I just remember riots. There was a lot of riots out there at the time. Yeah, it was rough. It was rough at the time in Miami.
Maurice Cherry: With all of this moving around because you’re, like you say, a military brat, moving from city to city like this, was creativity something that was a part of your childhood during this process?
Joshua Leonard: Yeah, definitely. So I’m the baby out of two more older brothers and one of my older brothers, he taught me how to draw Garfield when I was really young, I think I was in kindergarten. And I’ve always, once I learned how to draw Garfield, I just never stopped, never stopped, always drawing in class, getting in trouble drawing and even moving around a lot. I just, I never stopped. I’m real good at sports. I got recruited in D1 Football, track scholarships, play baseball, basketball, but I never stopped drawing. I always had that kind of that thing to fall back on. Even though as a kid, I knew I would be an artist, but I thought I was going to be a professional athlete, which I could have, blew my knee out. So everything happens for a reason. I’m grateful for that. I’m doing what I’m supposed… I’m put here to make this cartoon and change these lives. So I’m real, I’m thankful for that.
Maurice Cherry: What were some of your favorite animated shows and movies and stuff growing up?
Joshua Leonard: Yeah. So I came from a strict background, obviously, military, but mother was real religious, so I wasn’t allowed to watch a lot of crazy stuff. So I grew up on Looney Tunes, Chuck Jones, some Disney, some Nickelodeon. I watched Doug, I’m a big Doug fan, but mainly Looney Tunes. Man, I love Chuck Jones. I love the style that they put in into the Looney Tunes characters. And that’s kind of what made me fall in love with animation, like the frame by frame animation, because I’m a traditional animator. I do the frame by frame stuff, which takes forever, but it looks the most beautiful. So.
Maurice Cherry: When you say frame by frame, what do you mean?
Joshua Leonard: That is drawing every single frame, right? If you pause a film and it’s just step by step by step by step, that means every single drawing. So if I’m drawing somebody waving, I have to draw every single drawing. Right now, you’re seeing a lot of puppet animation on TV where they can just move the hand and then do this and it doesn’t look as good.
Maurice Cherry: Hmm.
Joshua Leonard: [crosstalk 00:07:52] which shows are kind of puppet animation because they’re real stiff when they move. And then you can also tell when Disney does their frame by frame animation, Cinderella and all that stuff, Aladdin, that’s all frame by frame. It’s beautiful to look at.
Maurice Cherry: Is the switch from frame by frame to puppet, is that just how the industry is going? Or is that because of technology?
Joshua Leonard: Yeah, it’s both. It’s both.
Maurice Cherry: Okay.
Joshua Leonard: So you have studios that is cheaper doing puppet animation. Because what you’re doing is basically 3D, except you’re doing a 2D character. So you have a… that’s where I would come in at, I would design a character, flat 2D character, and if somebody else would come in and rig it, and then rigging it is adding the bone structure inside it is, that way, they can move the puppet. You can grab this little elbow right here and make him raise his arm or make a wave or whatever it’s going to be, but, yeah. That’s why it’s a lot easier than drawing every single picture. You just draw one character and then you can move him around like a puppet.
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Joshua Leonard: But I like old school, frame by frame.
Maurice Cherry: I really, when I was growing up, I really like, I like Looney Tunes. I really like Tex Avery.
Joshua Leonard: Tex [inaudible 00:09:02]. Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, [crosstalk 00:09:04].
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. The Tex Avery cartoons, the wolf and droopy dog. I love [crosstalk 00:09:08].
Joshua Leonard: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. They had the good punch lines and yeah, they were definitely ahead at that time, Tom and Jerry, all of that stuff was really dope to me. So, [crosstalk 00:09:17].
Maurice Cherry: So because of that, I’m curious, how did that play a role in the development of your style of animation? You said it’s frame by frame, but did you get other influences from those series?
Joshua Leonard: I mean, frame by frame animation is frame by frame animation. It’s really, if you have to draw every single movement, you’re getting, you grab them from everywhere. But definitely, Chuck Jones, Disney, obviously, Fleischer brothers, Tex Avery, so yeah, I studied all of that stuff and it’s so many more. Aaron Blaise, he did a lot of stuff. I think he did the character design for the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, animated the Beast, so a lot of other animators that I studied, the cartoons that I watched and learned from. But yeah, definitely.
Maurice Cherry: So your brother teaches you how to draw Garfield, right? So he shows you this one character. When did you I guess first know that you are good at art, period? When did you first [inaudible 00:10:16], “Oh wait, I could do this, not just as the one thing that my brother taught me.”
Joshua Leonard: I think that’s about when, because I was real young. I mean, we’re talking about kindergarten. So I don’t know if I was five, I don’t remember how young I was, but once I drew that, I mean, it was just a straight headshot of Garfield and it’s easy to do. So ever since then, I’ve always taken an art class or some type of, anything dealing with art, I was taking it, but elementary school, middle school, high school, always to the art class and always aced the art classes.
Maurice Cherry: So you’re in Miami, you’re moving again between all these different cities, you’ve got this passion for art and animation, when did you I guess really decide you would pursue it? Because-
Joshua Leonard: Yeah.
Maurice Cherry: … if you mentioned earlier that you wanted to be an athlete-
Joshua Leonard: Right.
Maurice Cherry: … you got drafted D1, where was the split there between athletics and animation?
Joshua Leonard: Absolutely. So like I said, I was always… I come from an athletic background and so I think around probably high school, maybe 9th, 10th grade, I was getting a lot better at art. I was still trash, but I got a lot better. But I was still an athlete and I was still getting recruited and all of that, but it was a fallback thing. I knew I would go pro or do something like that, but at the same time, even me being a pro, I was going to still open up an animation studio or something like that. Probably high school while I can definitely learn a little bit more. But also, living in Biloxi, Mississippi, there’s not much to do out there. They got the military base. I actually started off as a graphic designer because there’s no animation in Mississippi. So that was kind of a hinder for me and I didn’t like that, but I do love graphic design as well, not as much as animation, obviously, but I do, I still love fonts and character fonts and all of that type of stuff and motion graphics and regular graphics.
Joshua Leonard: But when I came to Atlanta, that’s when it really got like, okay, this is why I’m here. This is what it’s going to be. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. And you said that happened as a consequence of hurricane Katrina.
Joshua Leonard: Right. So what happened was 2005, I think, hurricane Katrina came.
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Joshua Leonard: Yeah, 2005. So I got evacuated here. My daughter was also born during hurricane Katrina, so Katrina hit [crosstalk 00:00:12:35]-
Maurice Cherry: Wow.
Joshua Leonard: … August 29th, my daughter was born September 6th. So I was homeless. Yeah, I lived right on the beach. I was going to William Carey College in Biloxi Gulfport, and when I came back, it was nothing there, man. It was a slab. It was crazy, man. All those big mansions on the water, they were gone. They were gone. Have you big old 20 foot deep holes. And I mean, crazy, crazy, looked like the end of the world. But like I said, everything happens for a reason. So as bad as it was, I’m grateful for it. I mean, it was bad, like a movie almost. You couldn’t get water. You can only pump a certain amount of gas. I mean, it was a lot of people going crazy out there. But talking about bathing and the same bathwater as everybody else in that house with, I mean, it was rough, man. [crosstalk 00:13:25].
Maurice Cherry: Wow.
Joshua Leonard: So I got evacuated to Atlanta, daughter was born and I kind of just followed her and her mother back to Biloxi to kind of help them out. And now she’s here. So I came back and I’ve been here since 2014. Been the best, best thing ever. Ever since I moved to Atlanta in 2014, Atlanta has been so good to me. It’s been really, really a great move for me.
Maurice Cherry: Oh, that’s good. That’s good. So before that move though, between you sort of getting to Atlanta, had your daughter, then you went back to Biloxi, were you still working on animation during that time there or were you just focused on getting back to Atlanta?
Joshua Leonard: No. At that time I was just, I think I was just working.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Joshua Leonard: So I started working at Home Depot. Yeah, the animation really started when I was in Atlanta. When I came, when I got evacuated here, I started to go to the Art Institute to see if I can get in. I didn’t get in, in 2005 during hurricane Katrina. But I was just glad, because I had too much debt, that’s the reason why, I had too much debt at the time. But just, when I came to Atlanta, then know they had a SCAD out here and art institute and all these animation studios, I was like, man, this is perfect. But I said, man, I’m going to do what I love to do and that way, I don’t ever have to retire. And that’s why I stayed with it and I don’t have to get… I don’t have to tackle these big old 230 pounds running backs anymore and get hit by big linebackers anymore. I can stay healthy and just draw, man. So, yeah.
Maurice Cherry: What was your time like at the Art Institute of Atlanta?
Joshua Leonard: It was good for me. It was good for me. And a lot of people, they have different, you read a lot of bad stuff and you read some good stuff. I think it depends on the person. I remember, man, when I went 2014, shout out to Mr. Myvett who was my president of that school at the time, he told me, kind of pulled me to the side, because I was on President’s List the whole four years I was there. I graduated with a 4.0 top of the class, I was the commencement speaker, me and Rep. John Lewis. We spoke, but I remember Mr. Myvett kind of pulled me to the side, he’s like, “Man, look, this school, you have to brand yourself. That’s what this school is good for. You got to brand yourself.” But I took that to heart and that’s what I did.
Joshua Leonard: I remember, I would go to class with sweatpants on and an Under Armour shirt, but I sat in the front, right up front, passed everything, straight As. And the more I did it every quarter, the teachers are like, okay, [inaudible 00:15:52], I got the tight shirts on with the muscles, okay, get straight As. He’s not playing around.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Joshua Leonard: And I kind of let my teachers know, I was one of the oldest one who was in there anyway. And I remember talking to kind of my younger peers who weren’t really getting that work done, I’m like, “Man, you don’t even have to work after this. You just go home and play video games. Why aren’t these projects done?” I got to go home. I mean, I get off out of class, man, I worked full-time jobs. So I get up at 3:00 in the morning.
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Joshua Leonard: And then I have all my stuff done and everything like that. So I’m trying to tell him, “Man, this school costs way too much money for you all to be playing around.” So I kind of went in there with the mindset, I’m out to kill all the competition I can up here while I’m here and everybody will know that I went to this school and that I did well at this school. And I loved it, man. I would tell my teachers, “Look, you might not be able to tell this person that their work is trash, but you can tell me. You got to be honest with me. This is going to make me [crosstalk 00:16:47].” So some kids didn’t like that. Teachers would get in trouble because they were too honest to the kids. I’m 100% with that. You got to… truth hurts, but you got to, if it’s trash, you let me know.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Joshua Leonard: And they will let me know. I feel like this could be better. I said, “Okay, no problem. I’ll go back and change it. Let’s make it better.”
Maurice Cherry: So once you graduated, do you feel like the Art Institute kind of prepared you for the animation industry? Did they sort of get you ready for the next step of life?
Joshua Leonard: Yeah, absolutely. Because even as a freshman, I was already doing work for big time animators. I wasn’t getting paid, but I worked on a short film called Mila, which is not out yet, but what I did, and people, especially younger kids, I guess they think I’m joking on, I mean, LinkedIn and stuff like that, social media, all I simply did, I remember seeing a post on it on Twitter. It’s a short film, shout out to [inaudible 00:17:46], she’s the one that’s producing it and she worked at Dreamworks. So now, she’s over [inaudible 00:17:52] up in Canada, so big time animator that kind of mentored me that I met on social media, and all I did was send a message. I said, “Hey, I’m a…
Joshua Leonard: And all I did was send a message. I said, “Hey, I’m a freshman at the Art Institute… I love to help out any way I can.” Boom. And they wrote me back, “Hey, okay, well this is a kind of a free opportunity when I… This is just people that want to help out.” And I’m like, yeah man, absolutely. This is how I’m going to learn. These are industry people and that’s what I did and it’s been the best relationship even to this day. So matter of fact, if it wasn’t for [inaudible 0:00:00:27], she’s the one that helped me with my resume and because I had, my website was pure animation. She’s like, “Nah, take that off, you’re a character designer. That’s what you’re going to be known as a character designer. That’s what you’re the best at. Take the animation off, do this stuff.” My animation won best of show and all of that. You’re a character designer, trust, me, you do this. And once I changed all this stuff, that’s when Nickelodeon hit me up. So I was like, maybe [inaudible 00:18:51].
Joshua Leonard: Super dope, man. But yeah, I feel like Art Institute really helped me out. Me, specifically, like I said, the teachers were a 100% honest with me. So that’s what I was really grateful for. You have some teachers say, “Man, you can’t graduate from here and then get a character design guy.” I did, but I don’t think he was talking to me specifically because like I said, I went in there to kill all the competition. I wanted to really, I wanted them to know who I was. And anything I could do, I was asking questions. Anything, I can do this. It was too much money. You spending all that money, you better get as much as you can out of it. Ask everything you can, learn as much as you can. That’s what I did. But yeah, I felt like they really helped me out a lot.
Maurice Cherry: And I mean it sounds like you had a mission though also going-
Joshua Leonard: I did.
Maurice Cherry: … into school-
Joshua Leonard: Yeah, I did.
Maurice Cherry: Just to kind of give you just a little bit of background. So I’m in Atlanta too. I don’t know if I mentioned that or if I said that earlier-
Joshua Leonard: No, I didn’t know that.
Maurice Cherry: I’ve done some advising at the Art Institute of Atlanta. So they have this thing called the… What’s it called? The Professional Advancement Group or something like that. It’s something where basically the faculty at the Art Institute of Atlanta, they talk to designers and folks in the industry that are in Atlanta and they sort of like talk to them to get a sense of what are the things that we should be teaching students. The industry is changing a lot. And so schools can often be very lax at keeping up with that.
Maurice Cherry: And so they’ll ask us, “Well, what are the things that you’re looking for when you’re trying to hire? What are the skills that you want to see in? If it’s the web, of course the big thing is UX and product design or something like that. And there are people that come through that are traditional like visual designers, graphic designers, and the conversation tends to get more about, at least from what I’ve seen when I’ve went to talk to them, the conversation ends up devolving into just like nostalgia about their time there. Or it’s teachers complaining that the students don’t have enough initiative to do more things. And I’ll tell this to students too, when you’re putting your portfolio together, for example, depending on the position that you’re looking for, you have to be able to tell a story.
Maurice Cherry: You have to be able to show your thoughts behind why you’ve done certain things, what the certain decisions are that you’ve made in particular designs that you’ve done. Because otherwise it’s just a picture book. And anybody can take, like there’re all kinds of mock-up things that you can get on the web for free or for cheap. And you can just throw your logo in there and it makes it look like you did a professionally shot campaign or something. And that’s not the case. What was the rationale behind that? Why did you make these decisions? Did you talk with the client? Did this serve the business goals? And I mean that’s of course if that’s what you want to do with design, but it’s sort of boiled down to making sure that students go into school having that initiative that they need to get something out of this experience other than just a degree. And it sounds like for you, you went into it with a plan, pretty much.
Joshua Leonard: Yeah. And I feel like that’s, you had to, you had to, man. Because I mean that’s the mentality I had. I want to learn as much as I can, I’m spending this much money, I’m going to use every outlet I can. And I did work. I mean this was as a freshman man, I was doing work for NFL players, logos, anything that I could put on my resume as a freshman. I had business cards already. I wasn’t playing around man, I really wanted to brand myself at the school. And then once the school started noticing, they started getting behind me. Like, this interviews. I was getting interviews and they would put me on stuff and I mean just everything. Plugging me in certain things and it was really good for me, really good for me. So I’m real thankful for it.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. And so you’re here in Atlanta, a lot of the big animation studios are out on the West coast. You kind of alluded there a little bit about having to move from Atlanta to Los Angeles. Is that happening in the near future?
Joshua Leonard: So here’s what it’s going to be. People that don’t know the animation industry is less than 3% black in it. It’s really bad. The diverse is getting better, but it’s still really bad. I have Leonard Studios here, I have an LLC right now. So after I go out to LA for Team Supreme and we start production, I might have to stay out there for like two, three years. I’m coming back to Atlanta. I’m building a studio out here. I’m doing my Tyler Perry thing out here. I want a big facility, animation. I mean a real, real, that’s where I’m going to be investing my money in. I’m already looking at buildings and land and that was my thing like. And the crazy thing about Atlanta and LA, LA shows me a lot of love as far as jobs and stuff. Like I said, Disney had me out there, gave me the tour.
Joshua Leonard: I was going to be a character designer for Devil Dinosaur and Moon Girl on Marvel, but they went another direction, which is, that’s perfectly fine. I’m thankful that I got the opportunity to go out there. They gave me a tour, I got to meet everybody. Just for them to consider me. That was major, stuff like that. I did the special Olympics. Special Olympics flew me out to LA and I was in a high rise all the way at the top in a suite and I did an interview live with all these celebrities. Kobe Bryant’s sister was there with her daughter. I think she’s a chef or something like that. But I mean like LA showed me a lot of love. I can’t get a job out here in Atlanta at an animation studio.
Maurice Cherry: Really?
Joshua Leonard: [crosstalk 00:24:29] It’s crazy man.
Maurice Cherry: Wait, wait, wait, let’s talk about that actually because… So I’ve done, for folks that have listened to the show for a while, they know that, well, one thing that I try to do is I always try to talk to folks here in the city because Atlanta is this weird outlier in the-
Joshua Leonard: It is, it is.
Maurice Cherry: … creative industry and that for design animation certainly there’s something about Atlanta and the city and the culture that breeds this immense amount of creativity in a lot of different fields. In music, art, fashion, film, TV, et cetera. And there are certain industries that have taken advantage of that. Most notably probably television and film, but then like Zine or even like what you’re talking about with animation, it’s still something where you have to go to like New York or LA or somewhere else to get the opportunities and they’re not here. Which you would think Atlanta has Cartoon Network and Adult Swim. You would think, well I mean, that’s one company, but. I didn’t know that it was that… Is it bad? Is it really bad out here for animation?
Joshua Leonard: Did you know a lot of people don’t know this, there’s over 90 animation studios in Georgia.
Maurice Cherry: Wow.
Joshua Leonard: In Atlanta. Yeah. Yep.
Maurice Cherry: Wow.
Joshua Leonard: And I’m a part of a group called [inaudible 00:07:47]. So it was a lot of SCAD members and that’s the thing. I think that’s why I don’t really get looked at out here like that because I didn’t go to SCAD. I almost did. I’m like, Art Institute, way cheaper. I’m going to have to go here instead and we had SCAD teachers and all that. I know everybody over there at SCAD and, but yeah, and that’s, it’s crazy because you see a lot of SCAD people at these companies, Turner and Cartoon Network. And so I think it is, I’m still black for one. The animation industry is still going to be extremely hard for me to get in and I get that.
Joshua Leonard: But at the same time I have no problem with somebody who’s better than me. I will, 100%. You know what? You’re right. That was the right move. You’ve got a good dude right there. He’s better. [inaudible 00:26:31] But-
Maurice Cherry: Do you think-
Joshua Leonard: … and that’s how I have a chip on my shoulder right now.
Maurice Cherry: You do?
Joshua Leonard: I feel, oh yeah, absolutely, absolutely. And that’s why I’m building this studio. That’s where the whole Tyler Perry mentality came from. Like you know what? Man, if I can’t get hired, these other companies is going to have to… We’re going to have to battle. We’re going to have to battle and my cartoons are going to be better. That’s what’s kind of frustrating. I’m like man, with Team Supreme, not one studio in Atlanta? I would be jumping on this. But do you know what studios come? LA, Canada, all the other ones.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. There’s big animation in Canada. [inaudible 00:27:08].
Joshua Leonard: Oh, Canada’s huge, Absolutely, yeah, they’re huge. And then Toon Boom, is a shout out to Toon Boom. They sponsor me. So I get software from them. But yeah, I mean it’s crazy. Atlanta has been great to me. Don’t get me wrong. I love it. I love, I’m real grateful for all my connects out here. Because I know a lot of people in the industry, especially the music industry, but the animation part of it is still kind of tricky. Still, kind of tricky. I’m like, man, look, I will be a janitor at Cartoon Network or Bento Box. Just get me in the door. I’ll leave artwork all over the place so they will be like, “Man, who does this?” I’ll make myself known. It’s, you can even get in. But then I got, I know people that just graduated that got hired at Bento Box this year. It’s like eh, it’s kind of frustrating. But at the same time I’m very patient. I know I have a good brand on my hands so I just stay with it, man. Just stay with the [inaudible 00:28:01].
Maurice Cherry: Do you think, because we’ve got an Art Institute and there’re other schools that have design programs and such. Do you think there’s maybe too much talent here and not enough work? Well clearly, There’s not enough work is what you just said, but. Do you think there’s too much talent here?
Joshua Leonard: No, I don’t think, I mean I think it’s a lot of talent, but I just think that… Here’s the thing. So my portfolio day, we didn’t have any studios come out to our portfolio day. I’ll be honest with you. None of them came. But-
Maurice Cherry: And what year was this?
Joshua Leonard: This is 2018 and I’m not mad at that because if the seniors are not putting out work that’s good enough, like the years before. Why would you waste the time? So I did my due diligence on my own. Like I said, I branded myself. I was like, look man, here’s my portfolio. Boom. As a, I think I was a junior, I got paid $6,000 to do a 32-second commercial for a client. This is, I mean I’m still in school and working full-time and running Leonard Studios, LLC with the NFL players doing this stuff and I was the best thing.
Joshua Leonard: And that’s just from social media. Me, posting artwork, $6,000 man, it’s easy. It took a while because I did… It was frame by frame animation. But I mean it is a lot of talent here. I still think it’s kind of cliqued up. I still think it’s kind of cliqued up with the whole SCAD and artists 2 thing. I do think it’s two different monsters and that’s fine. That’s fine. I’m all about being fair but I do believe certain studios will look out for their friends and their guys. That’s unfortunate, but it’s life, man.
Joshua Leonard: Well, I mean that same thing happens too, unfortunately in the design industry, that whole pipeline, companies and schools and like if you didn’t go to that school then you don’t get in. I’ve been in the design industry for a long time and I didn’t go to design school. I went to Morehouse here in Atlanta, majored in math, like I have no formal design background at all. Everything has been self-taught. And luckily the design industry is lenient in that way and that you can make a living without having actually gotten a degree of some sort in the field. But there are opportunities, I know that I’ve been shut out from because I didn’t go to design school and I’ve heard it explicitly. I’ll give you another example. I went to, not I went to, I had a job at AT&T, this was in 2000. Actually this might’ve been about the time you first came to Atlanta, this was in 2006. And I got a job at and AT&T in Midtown at the big tall AT&T tower.
Joshua Leonard: And everybody that was on the design team went to Art Institute of Atlanta. They were graduates, friends, et cetera. And I was the only one there that did not go to Art Institute. And I remember that first day, I’m like doing a tour and everyone’s, “Hey, what’s your name? Blah, blah, blah. Did you go to Art Institute?” That was the first question, not where did you go to school? Or when did you graduate from Art Institute? I said, “No, no, no. I went to Morehouse College.” “Oh, where’s that?”
Joshua Leonard: Oh, wow.
Maurice Cherry: I mean, well, like if you look out the window.
Joshua Leonard: Right, it’s right there.
Maurice Cherry: You see that green roof way off in the distance? That’s Morehouse. It’s here. So I get that. I totally understand that thing. But wow, I didn’t know it was still so pervasive. That sucks.
Joshua Leonard: It’s tough, man. And you know it was crazy. I got a couple friends that work at the CNN Center, so I got a good buddy of mine that he’s up there and he always sends me stuff. He’s like, “Man, you can do this way better.” Yeah, I could. And he like, “Man, look, send me your resume. I’m going to do this, Boom. I’m going to drop it off.” And we’ve done that like three times. Nothing. The one thing I do think I’m put here, actually, I know I’m putting it to create this cartoon and do this Team Supreme stuff.
Joshua Leonard: And I believe that’s why I keep getting shut out as far as Atlanta goes with animation [inaudible 00:13:50]. So it kind of gives me a little more motivation to just strictly grind on Team Supreme. Like I said, we got the book coming with some crazy technology attached to that. Just came from the Children’s Hospital of Atlanta yesterday. So we’ve got big partnership with them. I went and spoke at Novartis, which is a big pharmaceutical company in New Jersey, so they pay me, I went out there to speak at the disability mentoring day, had a blast. So it’s a lot of outside stuff that I get more… I like a lot more anyway, as it pertains to Team Supreme, it’s starting to really move.
Maurice Cherry: Let’s talk about Team Supreme then. Because for folks that may not know or may not have heard of Team Supreme, can you just tell us a little bit about what it is?
Joshua Leonard: Yeah, so Team Supreme is a cartoon that I’m creating about a group of kids who have a disability, but the disability is their superpower. So imagine a Marvel, but all of the characters are inclusive. So I have a character that has spina bifida. I have an amputee, I have a deaf character, my main character has autism. I have a deaf character, blind, sickle cell. So basically I wanted to create a whole universe of these inclusive characters, every type of disability, diabetes, anything and all these character would be the forefront instead of kind of hidden in the background, so. And that’s kind of where Team Supreme came from. I was like, man, you know what, for me being a person of color and growing up you didn’t see a lot of characters that look like us. I’m like, man, not only am I going to make a character that looks like me, I’m going to give him a disability and make this age a cartoon about disability and special needs.
Joshua Leonard: Because I know everybody in the world knows somebody or has a family member. This will be so big that it will touch so many souls. And not only just motivate kids, but it’ll help the parents. And so that’s what it’s about. So I’m actually still developing it. I have Lena Waithe and Hillman Grad on board as producers and-
Maurice Cherry: Nice.
Joshua Leonard: … and Jason Weaver. So everybody knows Jason Weaver from Lion King. He plays Simba, he’s in ATL, big mentor of mine, great friend, shout out Jason Weaver. Shout out Lena and Richie. I have a writer that writes for the show Quantico. So shout out to Jazelle and she’s actually partially deaf. So super dope and I’m super excited about the next steps, which is us pitching to a bunch of studios, Disney, Nickelodeon, Netflix. So we moving forward.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. When I told people that I was interviewing you, the main question they asked me is, “when is Team Supreme coming out? When is it getting animated? When is it coming out?”
Joshua Leonard: Can you tell folks about the development cycle when it comes to animated works?
Maurice Cherry: Yes, I can. That’s a great question because it gets frustrating and I get it. Because this is, man I think I started touching on Team Supreme around 2014, kind of teased it and it went viral. Even that next year, they like, “When is it going to be available? When is it going to be out?” And I remember I was in two car accidents back to back days when I was at the Art Institute. The first one I was at a red light in a car, just totaled my car in the back. Had to stop. So I had to get five epidurals. So as I’m home I had my Cintiq on the bed and I’m drawing.
Maurice Cherry: So what I did, I animated a little one-minute clip. This is old, old and that’s what you’re seeing in the little preview and that’s why all the characters look totally different. Because I was still developing, I’ve learned some stuff. I was still learning how to animate so I was playing around with it. So the development process is long in itself. That can take a year or two. And then you’re talking about a cartoon like mine that’s so important and serious that you don’t want to step on any toes. My cartoons taking longer to make and create and develop because I have to make sure everything is 100% true to life. And it’s correct. The words that we use are true and the proper.
Joshua Leonard: Correct. The words that we use are true, and the proper words. We have to consult with people that have a disability, and specific disabilities to our characters. That’s another thing, so you’re talking to doctors and nurses and medical field industry people. It’s a lot of studying and stuff like that. Then you have to get the cartoon picked up, and that can take another year, or another two years just doing the contract, going back and forth with contracts and stuff, so it’s a lot. But my team is really excited about the next step, which is the pitching part of the process. We’re really close. Yeah, we’re really close to getting it picked up, and I’m really excited about it. Yeah, it’s a long process. It’s a long process, but I think for this show people will appreciate the length of this process, and see how important it is, because we don’t get everything right. So yeah, I’m really excited about it, but I apologize for the wait. Just bear with me if you can.
Maurice Cherry: I didn’t know UPS was going to be coming this late. I’ve been waiting around all day for them.
Joshua Leonard: Yeah.
Maurice Cherry: What was the last thing you were saying just now?
Joshua Leonard: I was saying that I just apologize for the wait, but with a cartoon like mine, everything has to be 100% correct, and I want to make sure it’s done right. I was saying how I think people will appreciate that we took this extra time to really consult with all of these different people. Disabilities are not just … Just making sure we’re getting everything right.
Maurice Cherry: It’s interesting you mentioned that it’s changed over time. Is that a worry when it comes to the development process, that you started out with things looking one way, and then maybe your personal style changed over the years bit by bit?
Joshua Leonard: Yeah. What happens is, I’m not worried. That’s just the development stage. You start off with some trash character designs, and I have a ton. Once I put out the Team Supreme, the art of Team Supreme, you’ll see all these bad designs, and these bad character models. The original, I had these kids, they were super young, kindergarten young, real cute, and big heads. But as I kept getting better with the drawing, more anatomy and stuff like that because I studied some more stuff, I started to get better, and just found my style that I really wanted to stick with, with this thing.
Joshua Leonard: One thing I was tired of seeing was the same look for cartoons, and they kind of joke around. I forgot what they call it, the [cow arts 00:02:30]? Just straight arms, the hands, real simple, but I get it. Kids don’t care as long as the writing is dope, and it’s colorful and fun. I get it, but hopefully we won’t have to do that for this one, because my characters, they’ve got meat on their bones, the fingers and the joints and all of that. But yeah, where I have the characters at now is where I’m happy.
Maurice Cherry: Got you. As folks who know, who have listened to this show for a while, I’ve personally had my own, I guess you could say, graphic novel idea that I’ve had for a long time. I’ve been like oh, I really need to find an illustrator to collaborate with, because I want to write the characters. I’ve come up with the characters, whether it’s just a matter of oh, well who do I find that can do the designs or something like that?
Joshua Leonard: Right.
Maurice Cherry: When it comes to that kind of process, because you’re the artist, how long did it take you to find a writer, to be able to get everything together with Team Supreme?
Joshua Leonard: Well, I’ve already … A lot of this stuff was done by me in the beginning. We had a whole … Team Supreme was supposed to be a short film. I was going to do a short film, and that’s why I was trying to raise the money so I wouldn’t have to work for a year. I was just going to animate the whole show for eight minutes by myself, backgrounds, everything, storyboard. I was going to do it all by myself. I didn’t raise enough money with the Indiegogo campaign. I think I ended up raising $6,000, which I’m super thankful for. I’m real grateful for that, but we had to go a different route. That’s kind of where we’re at right now.
Maurice Cherry: Yeah. Just so folks know, the animation, all of that, it takes time.
Joshua Leonard: Yeah.
Maurice Cherry: It’s not as simple as … I wouldn’t say as simple as one might think. I don’t know how simple they think it might be, but I guess maybe because we see so much animation now these days, I feel like we see much more animation now than we did when we were kids, between television and especially now with feature films and stuff. Animation is big now.
Joshua Leonard: It’s big right now. Yes, absolutely. Yeah, so frame by frame animation is what I was going to do. That commercial I was telling you about, the 30 second commercial? Just for 30 seconds it took me three months, but that’s me still working full time and going to school, just doing it whenever I could, after a weekend or so like that, but that was the whole process. I had to do tons of character design, I had to do character turnarounds. When you’re talking about a book or something like that, it’s still difficult to do. Then a lot of people don’t realize how expensive this stuff can get. Some people charge by the hour. Some people charge like, “Hey, do you want this? This is going to be a flat rate, $1,200,” or whatever they charge. I don’t know. I think as somebody … If you have your book, as long as everything is in detail you’ll save a lot of money, because you’re going to save the artist some time. I get a lot of people, “I need a logo.”
Joshua Leonard: “Well, what do you want?”
Joshua Leonard: “Man, I’m not even sure.”
Joshua Leonard: “Well, you’re going to spend extra money, because I’m going to have to do extra designs for you.”
Maurice Cherry: Yeah.
Joshua Leonard: What I usually do, I sketch something out. I don’t care if it’s stick figures. Sketch something out just so I’ll know where’s that in your mind, and then I’ll work around that. I’ll hook it up for you. That usually saves them a little bit of time. But as far as book illustration, I’ve never done one for a client, just because I don’t know … If it’s a serious client and they really understand the process, how the money and stuff works, and time and all of that, then I may think about it. But most of them want 34 pages for $500, which is not … The work is not worth the time I put into it, because it is a lot. You’re talking about backgrounds and painting and coloring, and character designers could add as well, so it just depends on the artist, I think.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. Okay. Let’s kind of switch gears a little bit. We’ve talked a lot about Team Supreme. We’ve talked a lot about just your story in general. I’m curious to know at this point where you’re at right now? Are you satisfied creatively?
Joshua Leonard: I am, yeah. I’m very satisfied. For me, like I said, just being out of school for two years, I’ve done probably more than a lot of people. I’m so grateful for that, because I know if I was in Biloxi I wouldn’t … Team Supreme still probably would have popped off, but I don’t even know if I would have made it happen if I was out there. You know what I mean? So where I’m at right now, I’m really grateful, man. It’s pretty dope. I have a lot of celebrity support behind it, so yeah, I’m very happy where I’m at.
Maurice Cherry: What keeps you motivated and inspired these days?
Joshua Leonard: Definitely my daughter keeps me motivated. Other artists keep me inspired. Seeing these kids, especially yesterday at Children’s Hospital, stuff like that is dope to me, man. I did not even want to leave. I met a little kid up there. Little kid had his fire red hair and he had fibrosis, I think he had. He came up with these little characters. He was telling me, “Yeah, I come up with these ideas for villains and good guys and bad guys.” I mean, really young kid, man. He might have been seven, and just his imagination was so dope. As they’re taking me on a tour of these places, they showed me this other little kid that drew two different pictures. One was him as a regular kid, and he has sickle cell, little [inaudible 00:43:47] kid. Then on the other side, it was him as a superhero. I was like, “That’s what Team Supreme is, man. That’s exactly why I’m doing this, because you guys do have super powers.” Seeing stuff like that, super inspiring, super motivational.
Joshua Leonard: Even when I’ve seen … If you guys are not familiar with Shaquem Griffin, he’s the one went to, I think … I know he’s from Florida, but he’s an amputee. He’s a linebacker, and he plays ball with half an arm. I remember he was in the combine, and they really doubted him. He wasn’t that good, and this and that. Then this dude ran a 4 340 at 230 pounds was unbelievable to me. To see that with just one arm, how in the world? 4 340, that’s Olympic speed, and if you’re 230 pounds running that fast? Super power, you know? Stuff like that, man, is really motivational to me, and very inspiring.
Joshua Leonard: I’ve seen a dude doing climbing a rock wall attached to his wheelchair. He had his seatbelt on the wheelchair, and he pulled the whole thing up on the rock wall.
Maurice Cherry: Wow.
Joshua Leonard: Man, crazy, crazy stuff. I’m thinking in my mind, why hasn’t anybody done anything like this? My thing is, I think it was out of fear. “Oh, I [inaudible 00:45:03]. If I don’t do it right, they’re going to rip you apart.” But that’s why I’m here, man. This is my project. I’m going to make it happen.
Maurice Cherry: Where do you think your life would’ve gone if you weren’t doing animation?
Joshua Leonard: Is that if my knee wasn’t messed up?
Maurice Cherry: Well, yeah. So you’d have stayed and been an athlete then basically?
Joshua Leonard: Yeah. I definitely would have played pro baseball and pro football, for sure. Like I said, my whole family is very athletic. My dad was a top running back coming out of Texas, blew his knee out. I’ve got a cousin Ray Butler that played for the Colts. Ike Forte, my uncle, he played for the Redskins and the Patriots. I’ve got a couple of cousins at Southern Miss right now. I’ve got one in high school that just graduated. One thinks he’s going to be going pro. He’s 6′ 4″, 350. Athletes are here, so yeah, I would definitely be a professional athlete somewhere.
Joshua Leonard: Oh, then in 2005 Hurricane Katrina came, but I was training as a boxer for the 2008 Olympics. But Hurricane Katrina messed me up, so I had to get evacuated out here and all this stuff, so it was a mess.
Joshua Leonard: In 2008 my best friend got murdered, so it really … That’s more motivation and more … Yeah, he was robbed and murdered in 2008, so that really motivated me and kind of inspired me to keep going. Matter of fact, Brent is the main character. He’s the dad in my cartoon. That’s that big dude you see.
Maurice Cherry: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Joshua Leonard: Everybody thinks that’s me. That’s not me. That’s my best friend. That’s me keeping Brent Jackson’s name alive. Good dude. He had a great heart, and he was real [inaudible 00:46:35], big dude, man, so that’s just me keeping him alive, and that’s how he was. He loved people, loved kids, but that’s where I get all my inspiration from, and motivation.
Maurice Cherry: What advice has stuck with you the longest? It can be life advice, career advice, anything like that.
Joshua Leonard: Life advice? Always stay humble. That’s from my dad, and he’s a big inspiration to me. Grew up poor in Texas, retired in the Air Force as a chief. He’s got three master’s degrees, a bachelor degree. He always gives me just life tips, right? “Hey, whenever you make it to the top, don’t forget to send the elevator back down,” stuff like that, so it stays with me.
Joshua Leonard: Let’s see. Career advice? Yeah, definitely just staying humble. You’ve got to … I was told animation studios and the industry doesn’t like those real shy people, especially an animation studio. They want to have fun in there. What I remember going to Nickelodeon, the first thing I noticed, everything was bright, colorful. Everybody was smiling. It was amazing to me. Then I went to Disney and they had puppies in each … People could bring their dogs to work and stuff like that. They want people with these personalities that fit. But man, I’ve gotten so many good career advices. Wow, that’s tough right off the top, man. That’s tough. I’d have to think about it a little bit more, but I’ve heard. That’s a good one. That’s a great question.
Maurice Cherry: Where do you see yourself in the next five years? I know Team Supreme is still in production right now, but we’re in the future now. It’s 2020. Come 2025-
Joshua Leonard: Billionaire.
Maurice Cherry: Okay. What is Joshua Leonard working on? What’s he doing? He’s a billionaire?
Joshua Leonard: No, I say that to say this. Money comes and goes. I’ve never really been … You obviously have to have money to survive, but like I said, that’s where being homeless comes in at. I appreciate the little things, so money, with $1 billion I’m all about helping people. That’s where the foundation and stuff come in at. The money’s going to come, especially with Team Supreme and what I do, speaking to students and kids and all of that stuff. I’m going to create the [steam 00:48:50] program. We do the field trips, I want scholarships, all of that type of stuff.
Joshua Leonard: But yeah, five years from now Team Supreme is probably going to be starting to work on a live action. It’s going to be major, man. This is a major project, and it’s limitless, really. It really is. But I just see Team Supreme really taking off real heavy, a worldwide household name. I mean worldwide. I get emails from Africa, Australia. There’s people thanking me for creating this for their son or their relative that has any type of disability, so super dope. I’m really excited about the next five years.
Maurice Cherry: Nice. Well, just to wrap things up here, where can our audience find out more about you and your work, and everything online?
Joshua Leonard: My website where they can find all the Team Supreme stuff is leonardstudios.com. That’s L-E-O-N-A-R-D, studios, S-T-U-D-I-O-S, dot com. Then social media is, ImJoshuaLeonard, and it’s just I-M-J-O-S-H-U-A-L-E-O- N-A-R-D. There’s two Joshua Leonards out there. There’s the one that … There’s the white guy that did the Blair Witch Project, so that’s not me.
Maurice Cherry: Okay.
Joshua Leonard: A lot of people-
Maurice Cherry: This is on Twitter or Instagram?
Joshua Leonard: This is on all levels. Yeah, it’s the same. As a matter of fact, if you add the … If you add that on Instagram, my Instagram has all of my sites on it, so you’ll be able to find the Team Supreme page, the Leonard Studios page, all of it, the website, email, anything.
Joshua Leonard: I also mentor kids or anybody. If you’ve got questions and stuff, I’ve got the email on there. I’m always open to give back and help people, so that’s about it, man. My main picture is me in a suit. I love wearing tailored suits, so you’ll see.
Maurice Cherry: All right, sounds good. Well, Joshua Leonard, I want to thank you just so much for coming on the show. One, for sharing your story. I had heard about Team Supreme a while ago, and I had seen the viral clips and everything. I was like, “Oh, this is pretty dope.” But to hear your story and to hear it in your own words, to talk about how you managed to overcome not just setbacks that have happened in life to you physically and professionally, but just even the emotional setbacks … Sometimes, especially in this industry where there’s not a lot of people who look like us, there’s not a lot of role models or people that we can look to for things. Still having the perseverance to move forward and to succeed, to not only do that, but just bring people up with you as well, to inspire the next generation, I think, is really, really awesome. Thank you for coming on the show. I appreciate it.
Joshua Leonard: Thank you so much for having me, man. I appreciate it. It was a lot of fun.
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