Saturday, September 09, 2006
Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?
Well, I grew up in the small town of Davis in northern California. Like most kids with aspirations of being an artist, I drew all through out my childhood, and took art classes in high school. After my junior year in high school I attended the summer program for Animation held down at CAL ARTS. The program was known as CSSSA (California State Summer School for the Arts). It was a program that introduced high school students to the world of animation and art. It was my first experience with animation and I fell in love with it. Anyways, after that summer I knew that I wanted to work in animation and I wanted to learn at CAL ARTS. I wasn’t accepted right out of high school, but after a year of junior college and days filled with drawing I was accepted.
Once I finally got back to CAL ARTS I knew is was in the right place. However it wasn’t until my second year that I realized what exactly I wanted to do in animation. It was in three of my classes with three different, yet very amazing teachers that I began to find my niche. John Mahoney for film design and illustration, Dan Hansen for layout and background design, and Rik Maki for character design. After my first year I realized that I did not enjoy the animating process as much as I did the animation design process, I decided that my second year at CAL ARTS I would focus my studies on designing for animation.
It was in John Mahoney’s film design and illustration class that I really fell in love with the process of designing the whole film for an animated style. He would have us study color and composition stills from films, constantly have us explore new techniques of drawing with different mediums, and always preached gathering reference from classic artist and cultures to help us expand our artistic knowledge. The character design class I took with Rik Maki as the instructor, really blew me away. It was through taking that class that I knew I wanted to be a character designer. Every week for three hours we would draw from old animation model sheets and photo’s of animals in books. He would lecture us on pose, size and shape, silhouette, gesture, caricature, and attitude. I also had the privilege of interning at James Baxter’s animation studio last summer. Not only is he an amazing talent, but he is so good at explaining the fundamentals of animation. As part of the internship, we had to do a dialogue test with a classic Disney character. For my test I chose Lampwick from “Pinocchio,” the notes that James gave on my acting, staging, and gesture was an un-believable help.
How do you go about designing a character, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?
First I usually have an idea of what I want before I start sketching. You know, say I want to draw a Viking, ill I have that in mind before I put the pen down on the paper. Then if a Viking is what I’m shooting for, ill go and get some reference. Ill try and find as much as I can on the subject or idea. The thing about photo reference, is that there are so many details you might over look, that are actually very true to the type of character that you’re going to be creating. For example, I’m sure that not all Vikings wore hats with horns and big bear skin coats, they may have had other ways of dressing, different kinds of weapons, it’d paying attention to those detail that will give you a more accurately styled character, and give you new ideas to play around with. So once I’ve got that stuff covered, and explored I then start to scribble around. I’ll try and explore different shapes to help me push the design in a unique way.
As I begin to find some shapes that I’m committed to, ill start to work out the face and gesture of the character. Again, still being very loose, for me I don’t like to fall in love with a drawing too early on because, as you’re exploring the character things are going to change. At the same time though, if I have a drawing that may not be quite right, but has the feeling and emotion I want, ill keep it, and use it as a piece of reference for finishing the design. Then as I have a rough sketch of what I like, I will usually put down a fresh piece of paper, over the top of the sketch, and start to flush out the character. Get the gesture right, play with the shapes, and make the silhouette read clearly. For me, this is usually when many things change, because you’re really trying to plus out the drawing. The basic idea of the character stays the same, it’s getting the design to have an emotion and a clear read that’s both fun and hard about this stage for me. By the end of this phase, ill put down one final sheet over the drawing and tie it all down in a clean image, and decide whether I want to color it or not. And that’s how I work things out.
What is a typical day at Pixar for you, and who are the people you work with?
Unfortunately I’m going to have to be vague, just because I'm not sure how much I can say and what I can and can’t talk about. Since our film is not yet out in theaters I have to keep a tight lip about some things. I have a list of on going assignments for our film that I have to juggle between deadlines. In the art department we have to be ready to design everything from props, sets, graphics, gags, and characters. So pretty much what ever the story calls for we have to be ready to design. So pretty much the day for me starts at nine in the morning, I have some cocoa puffs and soda to start the day of on a healthy note. I work on my assignments and projects that have to be done first, than I call it a day around six. Any where between 9 am and 6 pm I can get new assignments from either my manager of production designer so we always have to be ready to take on more work.
What are some of the things that you have worked on?
Well I’m new to the business so I haven’t worked on many things, but here is the short list anyways. Last summer I was an intern at the James Baxter Animation studio in Pasadena, CA. There I helped do a few rough in-betweens for a commercial and worked on my own animated dialogue test. After that was over I was hired up here at Pixar and have been working as an artist on Ratatouille. And finally in my own time I worked on my own short illustrated story for the Afterworks 2 book. That was a book that a bunch of us artists up here at the studio put together as a way to tell our own stories and showcase our own individual styles of creating story telling art.
Is there a character design you have done that you are most proud of?
I guess I would have to say that there are two that I’ve done that I like. The first was an old lady that I designed for my 3rd year student film at CAL ARTS. It’s not really the best design, but it was the first design that I animated that was real flat and graphic. I actually had a teacher who told me that I wasn’t going to be able to animate it, that it would be too hard and I should do something easier. Then I showed it to my teacher John Mahoney who I spoke of earlier and he loved it. He said though that because the design was so out there and pushed, that if I was going to animate it, I was going to have to style the animation in a flat way to work with the design. I stayed up all night and did a walk cycle with the design, where I kept the body as a still image and just animated the legs in a creepy sort of spider like way. Seeing that design come to life in the styled way I animated it got me excited about animating again and I feel became the first design I did in my “own” style. The second would be the little Yeti character I draw, not really a reason why other than I just like drawing him.
What projects have you done in the past, and what are you working on now? (if you can tell us)
Well, it’s funny, I wish there were loads of things I had worked on, but I’m really new to the business, so the only thing I’ve really worked on has been Ratatouille.
Who do you think are the top character designers out there?
You see that’s tough, because there are so many talented artist and inspirational designers that it would be tough to sum them up in a list, so I’ll just name a few artists that always inspire me. I know he is no longer around, but I would have to say Ward Kimble was the best there ever was. His understanding of color and design is simply genius. Whenever you see something he’s been apart of you just can’t help but find it inspiring. Carter Goodrich always seems to have the best characters around. Aside from the fact that they always have an amazing design to them, they also have such a great personality behind that very design. When I look at his work it feels like a living breathing character. Nico Marlet’s work is just flat out un-believable. The way he uses interesting and unusual shapes in his designs make them feel like they are moving on the page. His ability to turn is drawings in 3-d is better than any one’s I’ve ever seen. The design work that Ricky Nierva has done up here for the studio is some of the best that’s ever been done. Looking at his drawings and his art is so inspiring, that you can’t help but become a better artist just by seeing his work. And finally I’m not sure that there is anyone with a wider range of design than Teddy Newton. From the designs he does with just pen and paper, to the cut out work he did for the Incredibles, there’s nothing he can’t do. He has the most amazing way of plusing out every story gag and character design to it’s maximum potential. All in all, these guys are in a world of there own, with the exception of Ward Kimble, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting all of them, and not only are they the best artist and designers out there, they’re all really nice people as well.
Could you talk about your process in coloring your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?
For me, I’m torn, because I love Photoshop, but it’s hard for it to compete with real life mediums. So since I love both, I combine the two. Often I will do the drawing in pen or pencil in my sketchbook, and scan it in to paint it in the computer. But as I'm painting it in the computer, I like to scan in painterly textures and real media, like pieces of cut out, or textures from real life, and collage it with the Photoshop painting. For me, it gives me the best of both worlds, cause I can fiddle with it as much as I want in the computer, but I have actual real life mediums in there as well, that the Photoshop filters can’t provide
What part of designing a character is most fun and easy, and what is most hard?
For me the part that I enjoy most about designing a character is playing around with the initial idea of what I want to draw. Scribbling and drawing funny sketches is easy and fun because there is no pressure. Once you have a rough little sketch of what you want, it’s flushing out the design that’s hard. All things start to become important for the design to be appealing. Shape, silhouette, graphic appeal, and character. It’s working all those elements into the funny little sketch that makes the design work, at least for me, and that’s the hardest part. Transforming a sketch into an appealing design with character.
What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?
Well, I really want to get into doing children’s books on the side. I love the freedom of being able to try new styles and ways of story telling. It’s a bit harder to do that in animation, simply because you have to factor in the filmmaking process which is definitely nothing to sneeze at. Don’t get me wrong, I love animation, it’s just that when you want to do something that’s shorter, illustrating a children’s book provides you with the opportunity to stylize your story telling with out having to make the images animate.
The other thing that keeps me creative is seeing artwork from other artists. When ever I need a little inspiration to keep the creative energy going ill look through art books, children’s books, advertising magazines or on the internet for art.
What are some of your favorite character designs which you have seen?
For me it’s the character designs in the old Ward Kimble shorts that are my personal favorites. They are the best designs for stylized animation that I’ve ever seen. The cave men in “Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom” are awesome, as are all the little character designs from the montages in that short. I also love “101 Dalmatian’s,” the two bad guys in that film are just great. And Syndrome from “The Incredibles,” I think he is my favorite design for a villain ever.
What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?
In school I kind of developed the reputation for being the guy who loved drawing monsters and zombies and creepy stuff, but as of late I’m really into drawing things from the atomic time period, all that 40’s and 50’s time period stuff is really fun to draw. I’m also getting into drawing old mythology stuff, the characters and stories from that genre are so strong and interesting, and it’s fun to put a new spin on them.
What inspired you to become an Artist?
For me, it was just watching cartoons and animated films when I was little. “Fivel an American Tale,” (I think that’s how you spell it) was my favorite when I was little. I used to watch that tape all the time, I think that’s what got me hooked on animation. And then in art school, I saw the Monsters Inc. book, and that’s what inspired me to want to become a development artist in animation. Seeing all those character designs and stylized environments changed everything for me. Before I had seen that book I had wanted to be an animator, and after I saw that book, I knew I wanted to be a designer for animation instead.
What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?
I’ve had the pleasure of working around some great talents, and I’ve picked up a few things along the way from great designers. One is to pay attention to all the details. In design, you can’t just be careless, and let things go un-explained. Everything in your design needs to read, and read clear. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a character or a prop, when someone looks at a design of yours , if they can’t understand it right away, than certain details need to be addressed. For example, is the silhouette reading? Are the shapes of the character to distracting? Is the emotion wrong for the design? Can you make the design work if it needs to be turned? These are all factors of the design process that I’ve learned to be really important to pay attention too. The character can’t just be a cool looking shape, it has to work, with the story, the style of animation, and the overall look of the film. And that’s another thing I’ve learned. A character design is not about drawing the craziest, coolest looking drawing you’ve ever seen. It’s about designing around the needs of the character and the characters role in the story. A good character design should give you a clear reading of who the character is with just a drawing, never having to explain it in words.
What are some of your favorite websites that you go to?
Well, I happen to love sports so I always go to espn.com, but I don’t really think that’s helpful for this interview. I love the cartoon modern and cartoon brew web pages, they always have the best stuff for design and animation. Blogs are huge, just browsing through them is always inspiring
If you could have the skills or talents of any artist, who would it be, and why?
That’s hard, because again there are too many artist out there that would be too good to pass up, but if I had to pick one artist and his/her talents, I would like to have the color knowledge and painting genius of Eyvind Earl. In my opinion he is the best painter and color stylist for animation that I have ever seen. From “Sleeping Beauty” to “Toot Whistle” he’s a true genius when it comes to his craft. That’s a power that I would love to harness if I could.
What wisdom could you give us, about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?
I’m not sure that this counts as wisdom, but I’ll share my thoughts anyway. When you’re working professionally, always be open to notes and suggestions. Things are always changing, and you can’t fall in love with your work. I learn the most from my mistakes and from my peer’s suggestions. It’s always good to have a fresh set of eyes to take a look at your work, so always show your work around and see what people think. There are usually things that you may over look, which a friend will point out.
And always push your boundaries and grow as an artist through experimentation. For me it’s been through trial and error, hard work and determination that has helped me grow and developed as an artist, and I think that’s the best advice I can give. So work hard, work hard, work hard, and work hard.
If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?
I have a blog that can be found at n8wragg.blogspot.com that’s where I show case my artwork for now, until I can get my web page up and running.
And I have also set up an e-mail for people who would like to contact me for buying prints and or originals. Pretty much any work of mine that someone would like a print of, or the original (should I still have it) is for sale, and could contact me at:
Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbook, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?
I have work that’s in the “Afterworks 2” book, which can be found in comic shops around the country, or on Amazon under “Afterworks 2”. Also, should anyone see a piece of artwork of mine on my blog, on this blog, or in the afterworks 2 book that I’ve done, and would like either buy the original (should I still have it) or a print, they can contact me at email@example.com and we could talk about what they are interested in.