Sean Donnelly is the lead director, writer, and animator of boutique animation unit AWESOME + modest

Based in LA, AWESOME + modest specialises in mixed-media animation for documentaries, music videos, and commercials. Donnelly is mostly known for his Comedy Central animated series Jeff & Some Aliens. The Strike Anywhere director thinks being surrounded by so many different styles of art subconsciously reminds him of the infinite possibilities that any project can go in. 

Here he takes us on a tour of his gallery of inspiration that keep his creative juices flowing.

Chinese Man’s painting

One day, I was walking in Chinatown in NYC, and I came across an old Chinese shoe cobbler outside on the corner. Plastered all over the wall behind him were lots of very cool, and unique drawings he had made. I asked him if I could buy this one of a man doing a high kick on top of a sheep, and he used a metal chisel to peel it off the wall and then handed it to me. I later learned that his name was Chung Man Keung, and he unfortunately died during the pandemic. A small publisher published a book about him and his work that I ordered and was able to learn a little more about him.

Miracle Musical, Hawaii part ii record

In 2014, I directed a music video for my friend and Tally Hall member Joe Hawley’s musical side project. It was called Miracle Musical: Hawaii Part II and he sent me this vinyl copy of the album. The video got a few thousand views and we all moved on to other things. Somehow, ten years  later, his music became super popular on TikTok, and now he has millions of monthly listeners  on Spotify. I just found out that this first edition vinyl copy I have is worth $3,000, so I put it in a  frame. You can check out his incredible album here.

Signed The Simpsons script

My friend and I developed an animated show with FOX, and they paired us up with Simpson’s writer, Joel Cohen, to be our Showrunner. He invited us to a table read of the The Simpsons one day, which was kind of the fulfillment of a lifelong dream I never even realised I had. At the end, a few kids and I lined up to get our scripts signed by Matt Groening and the voice actors behind all the classic Simpsons characters I grew up loving. I told the woman who voices Milhouse that I was a long-time Milhouse fan, and she wrote on my script that she was a “Short-time Sean fan.”

Catfish paintings

When I got out of college, I used to shoot and edit wedding and Bar Mitzvah videos with Ariel and Nev Schulman before they made the documentary Catfish. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s about how Nev fell in love with an attractive young woman online. The young woman told him that her younger sister was a painter and would mail him tons of her paintings, mostly of ballet dancers. Eventually, Nev went out to Michigan to meet her and learned that the person he had been talking to was actually a middle aged, married woman who was changing her voice when they talked on the phone. 

She was also the one making all the paintings. When he got back to New York, she sent him one final drawing, which was this one right here. It’s called Putting Myself Away, and it depicts her locking another version of herself in a chest. I have always been a big fan of this piece, and after I got stabbed in Belize while on vacation, Nev decided to kindly give it to me as a gift.

Tiny Sarah Jeanette piece

While I was working on a documentary project in Tennessee, I met a 21-year-old singer/songwriter named Sarah Jeanette. I was really struck by how authentic and raw her songs were, so I ended up making her a little music video for one of them. She gave me this tiny painting she made that’s about two and a half inches tall and a little duck she carved out of wood.

ECF painting

There’s a really cool organisation called ECF in Los Angeles that provides art instruction and studio space for people with developmental disabilities. I really liked the simplicity and boldness of this piece. When you buy art from them, you help support the artist and the organisation. They have a lot of great stuff at affordable prices, so check it out if you are in the market for some new art to fill your office walls.

PES sailboat

PES is an amazing stop motion animator who made the YouTube classics Western Spaghetti and Fresh Guacamole. Many years ago, he was getting rid of all kinds of amazing trinkets and things he had collected from various garage sales over the years. I knew him a little bit since we were both represented by Anonymous Content at the time. I walked around piles of amazing stuff in his NYC apartment, and for some reason this little cutout ship from the 1800’s called to me, so I got it.

Robert M Wolfe

Robert M. Wolfe was a very talented artist, musician, and collector of trinkets. He was riding a scooter late at night in LA recently when a drunk driver tragically hit and killed him. I didn’t know him well personally, but we had some mutual friends, and I had talked about trying to work with him on something, but sadly it never happened.

The Heavy Manners Library gallery in LA had a really nice show of his work, and they also gave away a bunch of the little trinkets he had collected throughout his life. That’s where I picked up this tiny church and some of these figurines. 

I thought it was a beautiful way to celebrate someone after they die. Whenever I notice it, it reminds me of the fleeting nature of life and to try and focus on what’s most important. I also got a maroon T-shirt of his that says, “When I die, I know I’m going to heaven because I’ve already been to Prudhoe Bay.”