Color Keys from Ice Age: The Meltdown
When we paint keys for a film, one of our responsibilities is to try find lighting scenarios and color pallettes that will compliment the story. From the keys on top, you can see that the first few sequences are very bright and blue. At the beginning of the story, everything is going great in the Ice Age world and there is not a sense of imminent danger. We wanted to have the color palettes in typical range of an Ice age movie. This palette goes away at the beginning of the second act, as the palettes go warmer and the time of day, transitions to night. When we get to the night sequences, the group is divided and feeling distrustful of eachother. We chose to have a really foggy sequence to highlight the lack of balance within the group. By sequence 480_DRAIN, we are well into the third act and the characters are all in grave danger. We chose to go with a really sickly green gray sky, to highlight the fact that the Ice Age world was in peril.
As color key artists, we have to think a lot about the light sources. It is way too expensive and unrealistic to cheat the lighting in every shot, not to mention shifting light sources all over the place would affect the continuity of each shot. That is why we try to find lighting solutions that will work for every shot and maintain a sense of continuity.
Q: What do animation studios look for in an art department/ visual development portfolio?
A: This is hands down the most frequently asked question I receive. It can be really frustrating to prepare a portfolio and be unclear on what artwork to include and what to leave out. I’ve been there as a student trying to figure out what to show a studio and now I see a lot of portfolios from helping evaluate prospective employees. Hopefully these points will lend some clarity.
•Drawing! Drawing! Drawing!
The number one thing we look for in a strong portfolio are strong draftsmanship skills. We have to generate a lot of ideas on a short deadline and if you are hampered by drawing issues, you will not be able to focus as much attention on the ideas themselves. If you want to work at a 3d animation studio, you really need to understand form and construction, so that you’re able to visualize your designs in 3d space.
•Quick Sketches or tight detailed drawings?
We love to see a variety of drawings with various levels of finish. Seeing quick sketches will help us evaluate how quickly you can put down ideas. However, we also have to be able to get really specific with our drawings and be able to polish them up when needed. We’d like to see that you can do both.
In addition to having strong drawing skills, having a thoughtful sense of design is really highly valued. How do you put together shapes? Do your character designs have dynamic silhouettes? Do you understand how to vary shape sizes to create greater visual interest? When you’re designing a set, does your work have a cinematic quality? How are your composition skills? Do you understand the ideas of creating a visual hierarchy so that you are able to direct the viewers eye through an image? If you are matching strong draftsmanship with thoughtful design, you are well on your way.
•A Focused portfolio
Without a doubt one of the toughest parts of putting together a portfolio is having it feel focused, especially for students. When you’re in school, it’s great to try a lot of different things to gain a broad range of skills and to develop some versatility. However, when you send your work to a studio it is important to focus the work towards what you want to do. It seems like common sense, but it is surprising how many people mention that they want to design sets, but they have nothing but character designs in their portfolio.
My advice would be, if you want to be a set designer, focus your portfolio with a really heavy emphasis on sets, and support those images with some really strong character design and color work, if you have it. At Blue Sky just about every artist in the department has one specialty (characters, sets, or color) and is also very capable in at least one other discipline.
•You will be judged by the worst piece in your portfolio.
I’m sorry but it is true. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen someone ruin an otherwise beautiful portfolio with one bad piece. The reason why those paintings can be so damaging during an evaluation is because they call into question the applicant’s sense of taste. It makes us wonder whether they think a really bad piece of art is of professional quality. I’d rather see a portfolio that is a little thin, than one that has one piece too many.
•Answer questions with your portfolio
When you are putting your portfolio in order, put yourself in the head of the person looking at your work. A great portfolio answers questions. What I mean by this is that we evaluators are looking to see whether you can do the job well. When we look at a great portfolio, all those worries begin to go away. Always starts with some of your best work. If the first pieces are really nice finished paintings, we will know that you can paint but might wonder whether you can draw. On the next images hit us with some really dynamic gestural sketches. At that point we might wonder whether the applicant can tighten up a drawing and do orthographic turn arounds. So show us some really great turnarounds and put those questions to rest. If you do a good job putting together your portfolio, you will keep answering questions and we’ll be eating out of the palm of your hand. Then once you have our attention, finish the portfolio off with another really nice piece that puts an exclamation mark on the whole thing.
I hope this is helpful. I know putting together a portfolio is a lot of hard work, but you just have to keep going. Good luck!
Chronicles of Narnia, Concept Art
These pieces created back in 2003 for the Chronicles of Narnia, when I worked in the art department at Industrial Light + Magic. When this project entered the studio, I jumped at the chance to work on it. I was a big fan of the books as a kid and I was given a lot of creative leeway. We did not work on the project for a very long time, because a bulk of the concept work went to another studio, but I loved every second of this project. I get very nostalgic looking at these images because it reminds me of the times I got to work with some great friends and talented artists like Dave Nakabayashi, Christian Alzmann, Aaron McBride, Carlos Huante, Brian O’Connell, Eric Tiemens and Iain McCaig. Every big studio has a lot of talented people. However, the incredible collection of talent at ILM in the late 90’s early 2000’s was pretty unbelievable. I was really lucky to be able to learn from those guys.
Q: Thanks for starting this blog. It’s great to see all these pieces. I’d like to be more adventurous with my colour - have you any suggestions for how to expand your colour horizons?!
A: One of the best exercises I had when I was learning how to work with color was to do a set of small comps. Each painting was 4”x4” and I did a black and white version, along with about 8 or 9 color versions of the same image. I tried painting one high key , low key , complimentary color scheme ( i.e. cad orange, ultramarine, and titanium white), Limited palette (i.e white, cad yellow, cad red, ultramarine and burnt umber, split complimentary palette ( green, red-orange and red-violet), and a highly saturated comp. I also tried one in the color palette of another painter. In this case I think I tried it with a palette similar to Sorolla’s. I learned so much about color from making small comps. Here are a few of he things that I found were most important.
•Making a lot of small paintings is really valuable for getting experience with color.
•You can be really creative with your color choices, IF the value structure of your painting remains strong.
•You can actually create a lot of color with a limited palette. If you pay attention to shifting temperatures (warm and cool colors) with your greys and combine that with a full range of saturation, you might be supised by how much color variation you can have in your painting.
•Its important to think about how colors will change depending on the color and quality of the light source and also the local color and material of the objects you are painting.
•Creating contrast is key. It is so valuable for artists in everything we make or design—Not just contrast of value (light and dark), but contrast of temperature (warm and cool colors), saturation (grey vs. high saturation). Lights will feel lighter if they are near a dark shape and a saturated color will feel more intense if it’s next to a neutralized color or a color that falls on the other side of the color wheel.
One other exercise that is really helped me was to take an environment or landscape and do multiple paintings of the same space at different times of day. It is a similar exercise to what Monet did with his paintings of haystacks or Rouen Cathedral. This exercise will give you a greater sensitivity and understanding of how light changes through the course of the day.
I hope these help,
Here are a couple of character callouts that I did when I first got to Blue Sky Studios in 2004. One of my favorite parts of being in an art department for feature films is that we get to work with a lot of different types of artists. When we design characters, we work really closely with Modelers, riggers and animators. When we design sets, we get to work really closely with story, pre-vis, layout and modeling. When we create color keys, we are working with the lighting department and when we create callouts like the images above, we get to work with the fur and materials departments, who do an amazing job putting color, texture and material to all of the models that are built.
These charts are indicative of what we give to the fur and materials artists. we try to give them examples of texture and color as well as the break up of fur and feathers, so that the character will feel more believable. Once we kick them off, we have a really collaborative relationship with the fur and materials artists, who ultimately take our designs and make them better.