Art studio alum sees his doodler's dreams come true

Sam Spina has always wanted to make a living out of his doodles. Now, after finishing a short cartoon for Nickelodeon, he works every day as a storyboard artist on Cartoon Network’s “The Regular Show.”

His short cartoon titled “Hole” can be seen on the Nickelodeon website.

Nickelodeon has a pretty amazing shorts program where anyone can submit their ideas,” says Spina, ’09 art studio. “Out of the tons of pitches they received that year, I was one of 10 that were made. I’m very proud.”

Spina came to Carolina as a graphic design major who didn’t find his passion for comics until his last semester.

“I always just assumed comic books were superheroes and other stuff I didn’t care about. My illustration teachers, Marius Valdes and Jim Arendt, assigned a couple comics projects that sparked my interest,” Spina says. “The month I graduated, I started working on my first mini-comics, and soon it was my life.”

Valdes remembers Spina as a talented student.

“When I gave an assignment to create a visual narrative for a local comic book anthology, he blew everyone away in the class with one of his first comics,” Valdes says. “He clearly had found his voice as an artist and storyteller.”

Valdes says he has kept up with his former student after graduation, following his "diary comics" about his life.

“He was dedicated to making new work every day and that led him to a great opportunity to make his work known nationally,” Valdes says. “It's been very exciting as a teacher to see him grow and I use Sam often as an example of how dedication and passion for your work can lead to all sorts of opportunities.”

“Hole” is Spina’s first animated short and he says he created his characters and story based on growing up in the American Southwest.

“I grew up in Arizona and dug a hole on the side of my house with some neighborhood friends one summer,” he says. “I remember thinking we had a huge underground secret hideaway, but looking back at pictures, it was only like waist-deep.”

Spina was there with Nickelodeon overseeing every step of the project from writing and storyboarding to voice-recording sessions and the final mix.

“There are so many steps that go into making a cartoon that I never even considered,” Spina says. “I’ve gained so much respect for everyone in the cartoon business; it was so awesome getting a backstage look at how cartoons are made.”

Spina now gets to see that process upfront and personal everyday as a storyboard artist for Cartoon Network’s “The Regular Show.” And, he hasn’t forgotten his alma mater or the professor that turned him on to comics, agreeing to talk via Skype with Valdes’ class.

“The design majors were a tight-knit group,” Spina says. “We spent a lot of time in the computer lab together, and even if I finished the project I was working on, I would just stay and draw in my sketchbook and hang around with my friends. Now if I’m up all night drawing for work (or just for fun), I get that feeling of pulling all-nighters in McMaster and being inspired by my friends.”

Watch it

You can watch Sam Spina's short "Hole" on the Nickelodeon website.

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