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­ Q: I hope you could give a few tips on character development. I’ve been thinking of how to go about creating characters with character. The kind that one glance will give you a bit of the character’s personality. Thank you!
A:  Here are a few pointers that really have helped me over the years in getting started when designing characters.  I did not invent any of this.  These are pointers that I received from people I really admired when I was first getting started in my career.  I will go into further depth on this topic in the late spring, after I’m able to share my character design work on the film Epic.
•Design “from the inside out”
Many years ago I had a conversation with Ricky Nierva and he mentioned a lesson he received from the great Maurice Noble.  He said you should design characters “from the inside out”.  The way I interpret this is that you have to understand your character’s personality and fuse that essence into the design.  Before the pencil hits the paper I always like to ask myself a few questions.
Who is the character?
•What are their likes, dislikes, strengths, fears, etc.?
How has their life affected their appearance?
•How do they choose to dress themselves?
•What are the intangible components that make a character who they are?
•Drawing from your imagination
I had the pleasure of working with Iain McCaig and Peter DeSeve.  Both of these guys are truly brilliant draftsmen and infuse a lot of character in their work.  I found that although their drawing styles are very different, their approach was pretty similar. I’ve modeled my approach after them with respect to drawing from my imagination.
•Draw what’s in your head
When I start a concept, I do not worry about making a pretty drawing.  I want to get the ideas out of my head and access all of the ideas in my head, before going to outside sources, such as reference. This is the time to be creative, without having to worry about the aesthetics.
•Reference
Once I’ve gone through all of these rough “ugly” drawings, I begin to think about gathering reference.  I DO NOT gather reference first.  When I gather the reference before scrawling down my ideas, I risk losing some of the spirit and creativity that I get from those rough sketches.  
•Putting it all together
Once I have gone through the paces of rough sketches and reference gathering, I focus on making a really nice drawing with the spirit and gesture of the rough and the authenticity of the reference drawings.
•Drawing from life
I’ve found that one of the most helpful tips in drawing from my imagination is to practice drawing from life.  You will have a much bigger internal Rolodex of shapes and designs, if you take note of what is around you and bring those drawings from life back into your designs.
The Big Shape
I will go into more depth on this in a future post, but thinking about the big shapes is very important to designing characters.  One way to think of this is to imagine you are in a dark poorly lit hallway with a light at the end of it.  Imagine your parents, siblings or a close friend was at the end of it.  Provided your eyes are working properly, there is probably a good chance you would be able to identify them by their silhouette, posture and how they move.  When we design characters, you should think about the “big shape”.  What is the silhouette of the character?  How do they stand?  And how will they move?  Our characters are not static; we want to infuse them with life.  That means thinking about all the big shapes and all the little nuances that make them unique.  When we imagine many of the great character designs of the last century standing at the end of a darkened hall (Mickey Mouse, Batman, Darth Vader, Bugs Bunny, etc.) there is a good chance that you will recognize them too because they have an iconic and distinct silhouette.
Good luck, I hope this helps.

­ Q: I hope you could give a few tips on character development. I’ve been thinking of how to go about creating characters with character. The kind that one glance will give you a bit of the character’s personality. Thank you!

A:  Here are a few pointers that really have helped me over the years in getting started when designing characters.  I did not invent any of this.  These are pointers that I received from people I really admired when I was first getting started in my career.  I will go into further depth on this topic in the late spring, after I’m able to share my character design work on the film Epic.

Design “from the inside out”

Many years ago I had a conversation with Ricky Nierva and he mentioned a lesson he received from the great Maurice Noble.  He said you should design characters “from the inside out”.  The way I interpret this is that you have to understand your character’s personality and fuse that essence into the design.  Before the pencil hits the paper I always like to ask myself a few questions.

Who is the character?

•What are their likes, dislikes, strengths, fears, etc.?

How has their life affected their appearance?

•How do they choose to dress themselves?

•What are the intangible components that make a character who they are?

•Drawing from your imagination

I had the pleasure of working with Iain McCaig and Peter DeSeve.  Both of these guys are truly brilliant draftsmen and infuse a lot of character in their work.  I found that although their drawing styles are very different, their approach was pretty similar. I’ve modeled my approach after them with respect to drawing from my imagination.

Draw what’s in your head

When I start a concept, I do not worry about making a pretty drawing.  I want to get the ideas out of my head and access all of the ideas in my head, before going to outside sources, such as reference. This is the time to be creative, without having to worry about the aesthetics.

•Reference

Once I’ve gone through all of these rough “ugly” drawings, I begin to think about gathering reference.  I DO NOT gather reference first.  When I gather the reference before scrawling down my ideas, I risk losing some of the spirit and creativity that I get from those rough sketches. 

•Putting it all together

Once I have gone through the paces of rough sketches and reference gathering, I focus on making a really nice drawing with the spirit and gesture of the rough and the authenticity of the reference drawings.

•Drawing from life

I’ve found that one of the most helpful tips in drawing from my imagination is to practice drawing from life.  You will have a much bigger internal Rolodex of shapes and designs, if you take note of what is around you and bring those drawings from life back into your designs.

The Big Shape

I will go into more depth on this in a future post, but thinking about the big shapes is very important to designing characters.  One way to think of this is to imagine you are in a dark poorly lit hallway with a light at the end of it.  Imagine your parents, siblings or a close friend was at the end of it.  Provided your eyes are working properly, there is probably a good chance you would be able to identify them by their silhouette, posture and how they move.  When we design characters, you should think about the “big shape”.  What is the silhouette of the character?  How do they stand?  And how will they move?  Our characters are not static; we want to infuse them with life.  That means thinking about all the big shapes and all the little nuances that make them unique.  When we imagine many of the great character designs of the last century standing at the end of a darkened hall (Mickey Mouse, Batman, Darth Vader, Bugs Bunny, etc.) there is a good chance that you will recognize them too because they have an iconic and distinct silhouette.

Good luck, I hope this helps.

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 and A (part II)

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.

•Design principles

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 and A

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,

good luck.

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.

Color Keys from Horton Hears a Who!, Sequence 230_VLAD
I am going to be going through the vaults for the next few months with some older work, because I am unable to show any of my artwork for Epic, until it comes out on May 24.  I’m really excited to share my work on Epic, since I started working on the movie in 2007.
In the meantime, here are some keys from Horton Hears a Who!  This was one of my favorite sequences in the movie to work on.  It was so fun to shift into a limited low key color palette, after having keying so many sequences, where we painting high key and saturated.  The biggest challenge with this sequence was maintaining continuity with the light source in such a complicated set.  My inspiration for lighting this set was the movie Alien.  It was a really delicate balance to push the whole interior set into shadow, but at the same time provide just enough light, that the audience could understand what was happening and the animator’s performances would not be lost.

Color Keys from Horton Hears a Who!, Sequence 230_VLAD

I am going to be going through the vaults for the next few months with some older work, because I am unable to show any of my artwork for Epic, until it comes out on May 24.  I’m really excited to share my work on Epic, since I started working on the movie in 2007.

In the meantime, here are some keys from Horton Hears a Who!  This was one of my favorite sequences in the movie to work on.  It was so fun to shift into a limited low key color palette, after having keying so many sequences, where we painting high key and saturated.  The biggest challenge with this sequence was maintaining continuity with the light source in such a complicated set.  My inspiration for lighting this set was the movie Alien.  It was a really delicate balance to push the whole interior set into shadow, but at the same time provide just enough light, that the audience could understand what was happening and the animator’s performances would not be lost.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Visual Development
This is some very early Development work for Ice Age:Dawn of the Dinosaurs.  We were trying to define how the atmosphere of the lost world would differ from the Ice Age world above the ice. In this treatment, we tried to make the world really warm and humid, as though the whole place had become a giant greenhouse.  Rudy the dinosaur was originally conceived to be a neutralized blue/violet tone.  Eventually we opted to make him an albino dinosaur as a nod to Moby Dick.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Visual Development

This is some very early Development work for Ice Age:Dawn of the Dinosaurs.  We were trying to define how the atmosphere of the lost world would differ from the Ice Age world above the ice. In this treatment, we tried to make the world really warm and humid, as though the whole place had become a giant greenhouse.  Rudy the dinosaur was originally conceived to be a neutralized blue/violet tone.  Eventually we opted to make him an albino dinosaur as a nod to Moby Dick.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs-Tango Sequence color keys
This was a somewhat tricky sequence to color key.  The two main light sources (blue moonlight and the red-orange lava) are complimentary colors.  Since complimentary colors neutralize each other, the paintings were feeling a bit grey and muddy.  To correct this issue, I decided to make the romantic moonlight the dominant light source and reduced the lava to being contained accents of saturated color.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs-Tango Sequence color keys

This was a somewhat tricky sequence to color key.  The two main light sources (blue moonlight and the red-orange lava) are complimentary colors.  Since complimentary colors neutralize each other, the paintings were feeling a bit grey and muddy.  To correct this issue, I decided to make the romantic moonlight the dominant light source and reduced the lava to being contained accents of saturated color.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs-Love Sequence color keys

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs-Love Sequence color keys

THEME BY PARTI