Updated: Apr 20, 2020
We recently got to do a remote interview with Jason Milov of Open the Portal Studios and wow was this an exciting one to get. Open the Portal is an animation studio that’s keeping classic animation styles alive by combining old-school stop motion with modern animation techniques. They’ve done advertising for big name companies like Vans, Staples, and Starbucks to name a few (there’s a WHOLE BUNCH more). They’ve worked with musicians like P!NK and, very recently, YBN Almighty Jay, Gucci Mane, and YBN Nahmir. They’ve also got a list of very successful independent films as well as an awesome looking studio where they create all of their work and it looks like they have some kick-ass hangouts, check it out on their site (I’ll link it at the end). As far as modern animation goes, Open the Portal is crushing the game and making sure that we don’t forget about some classic and fun animation styles.
Jason Milov was a friend of the founders of Open the Portal and came on early as a producer, a position he still holds. We got to take a journey through his artistic career, beginnings in hollywood working with big names like Family Guy, and finally how we got to Open the Portal, what’s going on and what’s coming. Once again, this was a super exciting interview to get and we can’t thank Jason enough. Enjoy!
1. What got you into art? Where'd you go to school and how was that experience? Just a basic background on your artistic beginnings.
I think I’ve always had artistic and creative inclinations but I didn’t necessarily start acting on them until my early teen years when I took up guitar and started making short films with my friends. Once high school came around, I was much more committed to the arts- playing in several awful punk bands, doing theater (first behind the scenes then acting), and taking filmmaking much more seriously. I was extremely lucky that my high school had some pretty decent funding for the arts so I was able to really explore and learn a lot within the arenas of TV/film production, photography, creative writing, ceramics, music, etc. By the time I went to college however, pursuing an artistic career seemed impractical and I still had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Instead, I chose to study Interpersonal Communications and Economics; two areas that I thought I could apply towards whatever career path I decided on in the future. But halfway through my freshman year, I realized I still very much needed a creative outlet. So for the rest of my college experience, I signed up for as many film and art electives as I could. It wasn’t necessarily a traditional path for someone who is now working in arts and entertainment, but it all really helped lay the foundation for everything I’ve done since graduating college.
2. You worked with Paramount as well as Fox Animation for a decent period of your career, what was that like? And what inspired you to go independent?
I had a great time working for the bigger guys. Paramount gave me my start in Hollywood and for that I will always be grateful. Before that, I was busting my ass as a PA on low budget sets, usually working up to 16-18 hour days with no pay. My first job at Paramount was a Studio Page, which was basically a glorified tour guide. But surprisingly, it was actually one of the best things that ever happened to me. I was able to expand my network overnight and some of my best friends to this day are from that Page program. I also had a surprising amount of access to all departments during this time and after 6 months or so, I was able to start working my way up at the studio working for various studio execs in animation, business development, and TV. Eventually I got offered a job at FOX TV Animation, working on shows like Family Guy and American Dad. This was an exceptional learning experience. I worked for one of the best Executive Producers in animation and learned first hand what it takes to produce an animated series at the highest levels. Although working at large established studios was a great experience, it’s never where I wanted to be long term. My parents are Soviet immigrants and I watched them forge their own paths in the world- building businesses from the ground up with their street smarts and bare hands. This is the only way I ever knew and never wanted to work just to achieve someone else’s dream. That never made sense to me and I always wanted to go independent.
3. How did Open the Portal come to be and what was the beginning like? How did it take off?
After more than 2 years at Family Guy, I was itching to find an independant studio where I could really get my hands dirty. During this time, I just so happened to meet an incredibly talented animator at a mutual friend’s birthday party who was about to launch his own animation studio. We kept in touch over the next few weeks and long story short, I quit my job at FOX and took a leap into the unknown, coming on board as a producer for the newfound Open the Portal studio. OTP was founded by three longtime friends, two of whom (David and Barrett) were in a band together, and the third (Micah) was their tour photographer. They didn’t know it then, but this is really where OTP was born. Their label didn’t have enough of a budget for music videos, so they started producing their own videos independently. David, who is now our Creative Director, has been animating since he was a kid and started producing stop motion music videos for the band. Eventually the band fizzled out but everyone kept collaborating on projects throughout art school. They picked up some small jobs for other bands and local businesses. After graduating, David and Micah continued to hustle and get more jobs through the door, working out if their shared studio apartment (with Micah’s wife). They started picking up steam pretty quickly and brought in Barrett, who was running a recording studio at the time, to handle all the audio. Once Barrett was part of the team, the guys moved into an old airplane hanger on the eastside of Los Angeles. This is right around when I met the OTP Three. I visited the hanger right when they moved in and instantly knew this was where I needed to be.
4. How is it working with big name companies like Starbucks, Vans, Quaker Oats, etc.? Are you on a tight leash during these projects or do you get a lot of freedom?
This type of work is completely different from client to client. Some have extremely strong opinions and others really let you do your thing. It’s always nice when you can build a solid relationship with a client and they put their trust in you and just let you run with it. But you’re also typically working with a brand that has been crafting their image for years, so it’s definitely a collaborative process either way.
5. What's the process like with Open the Portal's independent film work like Jeom? How do these projects come to be?
There are essentially two different ways that projects like this come about. The first is through supporting our network of extremely talented directors and frequent collaborators. JEOM was created by one of these directors, Kangmin Kim. He approached us with an idea and we all immediately loved it. Kangmin is a true visionary with a very unique papercraft aesthetic, as can be seen in all of his previous films. We gave him all the space, resources, and full support he needed to execute his vision for the film. JEOM went on to premiere at Sundance and win several awards along the international festival circuit that year. However, the majority of our creative endeavors are born, developed, and produced completely in-house. We have a growing number of IPs that we are developing and pitching with the help of our management team, who have helped open many doors for us in the Hollywood ecosystem. It’s a super exciting time for OTP, as our focus has shifted more towards creative work and commercial work is starting to be phased out.
6. Open the Portal has a pretty rad looking space, is all of the work done there? How did this big interactive studio grow and come to be?
Yes! All of our work is done completely in house. We have an extremely talented crew and roster of directors and collaborators. So everything from concept, creative, development, fabrication, animation, audio, post production, and everything in between is done on site at Open the Portal. The studio has several animation stages, a set shop, audio studio, editing bays, and is located on a large outdoor compound, which is great for constructing some larger projects. At first, the space was too big for us... but it was too cool to pass up. So we started out by renting our stages and offices to other creatives in our network. However, we started growing quicker than anticipated and soon enough had to take over the whole space for ourselves. It was truly a “if you build it, they will come” kind of thing.
7. Do you have any private work that you do outside of OTP, or are you all in on that?
Right now OTP keeps me pretty occupied. But some nights and weekends I dabble in social media consulting for brands, artists, and businesses! This is mostly word of mouth but if you’re interested, feel free to hit me up!
8. Any exciting new projects, events or just cool stuff coming up that you're excited about?
Beyond being an animation studio, Open the Portal has become one of the hubs for the creative community in Los Angeles. We regularly host events throughout the whole year, which include screenings, BBQs, parties, art shows, and more. We try to offer unique experiences at our events as well. Many times we’ll have interactive art installations, immersive experiences, animation stations, unique photo opportunities, etc. It’s been extremely rewarding having a wide variety of people attending and connecting at our events and it’s definitely something we will continue to do! Many of these are open to the public and if you’re interested in attending, you can sign up for our event newsletter on the Contact page of our website (opentheportal.com/contact). Our next event is taking place on 4/27. It’s an art show in conjunction with the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity. We’ll be displaying and auctioning off art inspired by the life and times of Chuck Jones, one of the main driving forces of LOONEY TUNES and many other classic cartoons and well known characters.
9. Finally, based on your artistic journey, any advice for art students or recent graduates just getting into the professional world?
I am definitely a believer that there is no single path to get anywhere, especially in the creative field. So it’s best not to compare yourself to others as you are moving forward. I’ve found that no matter what you are doing with your life (even if it’s not exactly what you want to be doing) if you take ownership of each day and feel proud of how you did it, the future will take care of itself. Opportunities will present themselves to you. No need to obsess over what your future will look like. I’ve never really been the kind of person with a 5 or 10 year plan. I just do the best that I can with what I have, which has both brought opportunities to me and more importantly, enabled me to create my own opportunities. All the best things in my life are things that I never planned for. Beyond that, I think one of the most important traits when going out into the professional world is having a no-job-too-small attitude. It’s all too often that you come across people who think they are too good or beyond certain tasks or jobs. It’s only when you have a positive attitude that you will be rewarded with bigger and better opportunities. Just don’t be an asshole! No one wants to work with difficult people.
Thanks so much for reading and we hope you not only enjoyed, but got some insight as well. You can find Open the Portal Studios online at http://opentheportal.com/, on instagram @opentheportal, and you can see their latest film, Jeom (https://vimeo.com/293288488), on Vimeo with the link. You can find Jason on instagram @jasonmilov.