Jay Shipman didn't figure out what he really wanted to do until he was in his mid-30s.
The Jefferson City native, who graduated from Jefferson City High School in 1999, is now working in Los Angeles in the field of animation. Despite always having a love for art, it took him a while to get there.
On Friday afternoon, after school released for winter break, a group of students gathered in the art room at Calvary Lutheran High School to hear from Shipman about the journey that led him to working in animation.
After high school, Shipman went to William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, where he double majored in art and communication, plus a lot of political science classes.
"If you can imagine majoring in art and communication, and taking all of your electives in political science, you can see that I was really majoring in indecisiveness," Shipman said. "I had my passion which was art, and I had my other passion which was political communication."
After graduating, Shipman worked briefly for a photographer, then decided to follow his interest in political communication by working as the communications director for the Missouri Association of Counties for eight years.
But he wanted to get back into art.
"When people would ask me how things were going — 'They're going great,' but in my mind there's the word 'but.' What was that 'but?' I found out that 'but' was doodles on the sides of my notes at board meetings," Shipman said.
After that, he worked for a voice-over company and started getting into performances with the Little Theatre of Jefferson City.
One day, after emailing a former professor about his role as Mercutio in "Romeo and Juliet," the professor responded with a quote from Victorian-era author George Eliot, which changed everything for Shipman:
"It's never too late to be what you might have been."
Shortly after, Shipman had an epiphany as he was driving to visit some friends.
"In my mind was, 'What combines acting, writing and art?' Animation," Shipman said. "That was the day I knew it. It hit."
He decided to pursue a graduate degree in animation. The only problem?
"Building the (school) application was great, because guess what? I hadn't animated anything before," Shipman admitted to the students. "But I realized, what's animation but moving pictures?"
So, Shipman set up a canvas and painted, took a photo, and repeated. Eventually, he had a stop motion film.
"I took the tools that I knew, and I applied it. You don't always have to go into a formal area of education and get a piece of paper," Shipman said.
After applying to several schools, Shipman was accepted into a program he never expected — the animation workshop Master of Fine Arts program at the University of California, Los Angeles.
During his time in the program, Shipman completed a short film each year, which was no small feat. Each second of animation is made up of 12 frames, or 12 individual drawings or photos. A four-minute film took him hours of work each day for almost a year.
"It's very much a marathon, a distance race, when you're doing an animated film on how much time goes into making it, whether it's 3D, or stop motion, or 2D on television," Shipman said.
Most recently, Shipman worked as the puppet coordinator for a holiday-themed film with Chiodo Bros. Productions for the streaming service Netflix, which comes out in late 2020.
His role was to supervise different artists within the puppet department, whether they were making the framed "skeletons" or designing the character's hair.
Phil Jones, the art teacher at Calvary Lutheran High School, said he wanted to bring Shipman to the school because he knows some of his students are interested in careers in animation, and he knew Shipman could talk to them about how to get there.
"I hope they can learn that they can make their dreams in art come true just like he did," Jones said. "I hope that they can learn something about animation that I never had the opportunity to learn when I was in high school.
"I hope, more than anything, that they learn their art can be a passion that they can make a living from in the future."
Jones said he takes the opportunity to get a professional artist in front of his students whenever he can.
"I feel like that's the best kind of experience they can have in high school, is to see that art isn't just something you get to do on an off period in high school, it's something that is a life-long skill," Jones said.
Shipman shared with the students they shouldn't shy away from pursuing a career in the arts if they want.
"If you're thinking about animation or a career in the arts, it is not crazy to think that way," Shipman said. "You don't have to go into a certain field that someone tells you is a 'safe' path to go into. I want to encourage you, if you want to pursue something like that, it is totally within your reach."