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10 Questions With Ashley Simpson, Character Designer for "Act Your Age"

Original teenage designs by Ashley Simpson. These inspired her final designs used for "Act Your Age"
Credit: Ashley Simpson
For Ashley Simpson, getting to work with her idols, Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh, on a momentous episode of Disney's Phineas and Ferb was a dream come true. She had no idea back in 2012 that her gift to Dan and Swampy of a drawing depicting the brothers as teens would lead to a character design job on the episode "Act Your Age", which consisted of a 10 year time leap for the gang. We spoke with her about her passion for drawing and animation, her experience working on the show, and where she draws her inspiration from. So read on to learn about this amazingly talented artist!

Ashley Simpson sketches while on a trip to Disneyland.
1) What led to your interest in drawing and animation? 

I've been drawing for as long as I can remember, though I always dismissed the idea of making a career out of it because of that age-old saying "you can't make a living as an artist". It was only after I saw Ratatouille did I decide that it was something I wanted to do. Storyboarding was my initial goal, but because you can't graduate with that as a major I went into animation.

2) Where have you drawn inspiration for your work from?

Various cartoon characters I love, movies and TV shows I enjoy, my faith, music, and also stories that are either told to me or that I've experienced. Pretty much anywhere and anything I see, hear, and feel can inspire me.

3) Can you describe how you got the character design job for "Act Your Age"? What was that like for you personally?

Haha! Funny you would be asking me this question since you were there with me when it started! I was at the San Diego Comic-Con in 2012 with the main goal to meet Dan and Swampy and after a few anxious moments in the autograph line I managed to give them a picture of Phineas and Ferb as teenagers. I didn't expect to get anything out of it besides them liking it, but then two months down the line someone on Deviantart decided to contact me. Since I had just had encounters with online trolls, I was cautious with how I responded. Eventually, the conversation dropped until November, and that's when Dan tweeted the picture I drew for him to prove that it was actually him contacting me. I couldn't sit still for weeks because of the excitement. I never imagined that I'd get the chance to work for Disney let alone on one of my favorite shows!

Drawing given to Dan and Swampy by Ashley Simpson.
Credit: Ashley Simpson
Dan Povenmire receiving the drawing from Ashley Simpson
at San Diego Comic-Con 2012.
4) What were your favorite parts of working on "Act Your Age"?

The storyboard pitch. Besides meeting everyone and hanging out with Dan and Swampy, every time I visited the US, the first pitch was by far my favorite part of working on "Act Your Age". I got to sit through the entire pitch and see how the storyboard artists present their work, and being in a room full of laughing grownups is just about the best thing ever.

5) What were the biggest lessons for you from working on "Act Your Age"?

To not be afraid of criticism, for one thing. I've always been a little worried about how my work comes out, and this time I would be getting feedback from artists working in the industry, and not my instructors or classmates. Also, laughing at the most embarrassing mistakes you make helps release the tension too, heh.
Ashley Simpson with Dan Povenmire and Jeff "Swampy" Marsh.
Credit: Ashley Simpson

6) What was it like for you to see your work on Phineas and Ferb?

I probably looked calmer than I was feeling in the room when I first watched the episode a year before its release. Dan and Swampy were there with me. I remember smiling like a big dork, but all of my excitement was contained by merely swinging my leg up and down where I was sitting. I was too excited to cry at the emotional parts, but I did a bit afterwards when I thought about the episode. Had I not contained myself, I probably would have been bouncing up and down while squealing with delight.

7) What are your favorite animated films and series?

Ratatouille is my absolute favorite animated film since it was my inspiration to become an animator. Too many other films for me to choose from since I love most that I've seen, but as for television series, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Looney Tunes, Veggietales, Ducktales, and Danny Phantom were some of my favorites growing up. More recent ones include Phineas and Ferb, Gravity Falls, Wander Over Yonder, Over the Garden Wall, and Steven Universe. Yeah, again too many to choose from!

"Horatio Caine" by Ashley Simpson

8) What pieces of your work, artistic and literary, are your personal favorites?

That's a tough one actually. I've never thought of choosing a favorite of my own works to be honest. A portrait I did of Horatio Caine from CSI: Miami is one of them for sure, and a picture I did for Over the Garden Wall is another. As for literary, most people may expect me to say The Seer, a trilogy fan fiction I wrote in my first year of university for Phineas and Ferb. But I think I'm most proud of my original work and the massive world I created with my own characters. I'm always a bit shy to show my own characters online, even though I've known for a while that some of them have a fan base already. But definitely my KICS (Kartoons In Christ's Service) series is my proudest works thus far, and all the characters belonging in that world.

9) Any projects you are currently working on that you'd like to share?

Not at the moment, really. I'm just playing with things here and there.

10) Any advice you'd like to share for aspiring animators?

Make contacts. I would not have had the opportunities I have now if not for the friends I've made in the industry. Go out and meet people, give your business cards, memorabilia, etc.! And don't be afraid to draw fan art! Some people believe that fan art isn't creative, but that's where everyone starts, in one way or another. It's just as creative as original art, just as long as you're not copying someone else's work down to the sketch

Be sure to follow this young talented artist as we are sure to see big things from her in the animation world! You can keep up with Ashley's work on Tumblr, Twitter, and Deviantart. To learn more about Ashley's experience on Phineas and Ferb, check out this featurette from Disney!