Imagine you’re walking along a street in a big, busy city. Despite all the noise and movement, something shiny catches your eye. It’s a key. You pick it up and realize it’s the most unusual and ornate key you’ve ever seen. You take it home, toss it in a drawer and forget about it. …or maybe you display it, so you can share it with others. After all, the key is a beautiful work of art in and of itself. Now imagine, one day, a good friend comes over for coffee. They notice this beautiful key you have displayed and they say to you: “I think I know where to find the lock. It’s on a door just down the street. Wanna go see what’s inside?” A single piece of Concept Art is a key. Some aspiring Concept Artists spend all their time collecting keys but never bother to unlock any doors. They scroll the Internet, collecting single pieces of Concept Art and toss it all into a hoard file on their hard drive. Sometimes they’ll share it on Social Media but, either way, they’re not learning anything about what it really means to be a professional Concept Artist. Your random collection of keys won’t unlock anything on their own. You have to find out what’s behind the doors and why. I know it can be overwhelming to research the history of Concept Art and stay relevant in such an innovative industry… …but this list of The Best New Concept Art Books will help you do both. Watch The Episode: [download the mp3] Introduction: Hello, my friends and welcome to The Visual Storytelling Podcast – where I help Artists and Writers find healthy, fulfilling careers in Animation, Games, Comics, Film and Illustration. I’m your host Chris Oatley. I’m a Visual Development Artist and Illustrator – most notably for Disney – and if you want to become a professional Visual Storyteller like the guests on this show or many of my students, check out my courses and resources here at ChrisOatley.com! Join the notification list for my free mini-course: You’re A Better Artist Than You Think You Are: How To Improve Quickly Without Ever Picking Up A Pencil …and I’ll follow-up via email when the next session opens! The Art Of ‘God Of War’ Creative Director Cory Barlog and his team at Santa Monica Studio created a relentlessly intense, story-driven epic and saved the God Of War franchise in the process. The book is not just a collection of Concept Art. It’s a record of the commitment to believability that separates professionals from amateurs. Bonus Features: Clay Maquettes, Comics as a Style Guide & What to do when your reference is lost to history! [ buy the book ] ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’: The Art of the Movie What could have been “just another superhero movie,” became a project that basically every Animation Concept Artist wishes they had worked on. Into The Spider-Verse from Sony Pictures Animation pops and pulsates with a kinetic style that brings new meaning to the term: “controlled chaos.” The book shows, in multiple ways, how the Concept Artists defied genre conventions by using the most conventional tools available: Value, Color, Gesture and Texture. Bonus Features: Concept Art All-Stars, Story Sketches & Big pages with full-bleed, gatefold spreads! [ buy the book ] The Art Of ‘Missing Link’ …speaking of defying Animation conventions, the Laika styles are always a surprise. Though wonky, Laika-esque stylizations are common in Visual Development portfolios, they almost never demonstrate the refinement and meticulous focus found in an authentic Laika production. The Art Of Missing Link is a showcase of nuance with exhaustive color and texture reference, subtle variations of shape language and an enlightening lack of arbitrary angularity. Bonus Features: Character Designs with production-ready puppets side-by-side & Behind-the-scenes photos of the stop-motion sets! [ buy the book ] The Art & Making Of ‘The Dark Crystal: Age Of Resistance’ We live in The Age Of Superfluous Reboots. …and it’s rare that any reboot (or remake or sequel) surpasses the original. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (from The Jim Henson Company and Netflix) does so in both story and scope. Any purveyor of the high-fantasy genre knows that epic scope is a fundamental tenet of worldbuilding. They also know that scope is very hard to control. The Dark Crystal Concept Artists found a brilliant solution to their scope problem: Focus the design process with the perspectives of the three main characters. Watch the series (Seriously… Watch it. It’s uhMAYziiing.), read the art book and consider how every aspect of the design process relates to one or more of the protagonists. …and then apply this lesson to your own projects. Bonus Features: Numerous photos from the Jim Henson Creature Shop, Brian Froud & “mMMmmm!” [ buy the book ] ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild’: Creating A Champion + The Art of ‘Super Mario Odyssey’ Big games deserve big books. The Breath Of The Wild book features Character Designs (with multiple costume changes), Lighting Keys, Prop, Environment and Set Designs, Character Paintings, Orthographics and a worldbuilding guide that will blow your mind. The Mario Odyssey book trades the focus on production assets and worldbuilding for an emphasis on Art Direction. (I love when Concept Art books show the ugly stuff. …because that’s such a significant part of the job.) Bonus Features: Draw-overs, A comprehensive history of Hyrule & Almost eight hundred pages of Nintendo’s mysterious process! [ buy the Zelda book ] [ buy the Mario book ] Star Wars Icons: Han Solo You might think there’s nothing more to learn about Star Wars. However, this first installment of the new Star Wars Icons series, focuses entirely on the development of one single character – Han Solo – and in doing so, inspires new admiration for the franchise as a whole. Bonus Features: Ralph McQuarrie Concept Art with pencil sketch overlays, Nightmarish versions of Chewbacca & Why Han Solo and The Millennium Falcon are the same character! [ buy the book ] They Drew As They Pleased Vol4: The Hidden Art of Disney’s Mid-Century Era + Awaking Beauty: The Art Of Eyvind Earle Until Mary Blair arrived, Walt Disney was famously consistent (or notoriously conservative – depending on who you talk to) when it came to stylistic experimentation. That’s not to say Walt never explored style. Almost every sequence in Fantasia and Tyrus Wong’s influence on Bambi are notable examples. But the openness represented in the work of Disney’s mid-century era is arguably unprecedented. They Drew As They Pleased Volume 4 is a picture of Disney-in-transition. The artist biographies, paintings and sketches featured here offer insight about how to innovate without breaking the brand. …which is the responsibility of every Concept Artist (unless otherwise directed). Eyvind Earle – who inspired the ground-breaking design of Sleeping Beauty – is noticeably absent from the book. Author Didier Ghez devoted more space to lesser-known artists because The Disney Family Museum would soon publish Awaking Beauty: The Art Of Eyvind Earle. While the aforementioned book about Han Solo offers new perspective on a familiar franchise by focusing on one character, Awaking Beauty does the same by focusing on one artist. Bonus Features: How Mary Blair found her visual voice & How Eyvind Earle tried for fifteen years until finally getting hired at Disney! [ buy ‘Drew As They Pleased’ ] [ buy ‘Awaking Beauty’ ] The Big Bad World of Concept Art for Video Games Author Eliott Lilly developed an impressive resume as a Concept Artist for AAA games (Doom, Call Of Duty) until pivoting his career to focus on writing and teaching. Graciously, Eliott invited me to be a contributing author for the most recent volume in his Big Bad World Of Concept Art series. With advice on portfolios and self-promotion, how to pass art tests, interviews and salary negotiation, staying relevant and work/ life balance, these books are an essential resource for artists trying to break in or move to a new studio. Though the title indicates a focus on Video Games, almost all of the advice applies to any kind of Concept Art career. [ buy the book ] Sign-Off: Find me on Instagram and Twitter. If you liked today’s lesson, please share a high star rating (and, if you have time, a positive review) on our iTunes page at: ChrisOatley.com/iTunes Join the notification list for my free mini-course: You’re A Better Artist Than You Think You Are: How To Improve Quickly Without Ever Picking Up A Pencil …and I’ll follow-up via email when the next session opens! If you liked this post, check out my original blog series on my Top 10 Essential Concept Art Books (Part 1) and (Part 2), my series about Visual Development Portfolios and learn more about the power of shape language in Good Character Design Goes Deep! If you follow one of my Amazon links on this page and complete an order, my team and I will get a small commission (a percentage of the total order) and that commission will help to support the production of this show. Review copies of the Spider-Verse, Missing Link, Dark Crystal, Han Solo and both Disney books were provided by their respective publishers but these reviews accurately represent my own personal opinions. Our Theme Music was composed by Seth Earnest, produced by Seth Earnest and Chris Oatley and performed by Seth Earnest with guitar work by Storybook Steve. Our Album Art was designed by Maike Oatley with Chris Oatley. Until next time, my friends, remember: Books are meant to be read. …not just decorate your shelves. The post The Best New Concept Art Books (2019 Edition) :: VSP #4 appeared first on ChrisOatley.com.
In this short audio announcement, Chris Oatley shares updates on the return of his Composition & Color Theory course called Painting Drama and his appearances at CTN-X 2019! Click through to hear the announcement… http://traffic.libsyn.com/oatley/VSP03b-Announcement-PD2020-CTNX2019.mp3 [ download the mp3 ] [ subscribe ] *The gorgeous illustration at the top of this post is by Alex Burke a.k.a. “WhiteTreeFox” and was created for one of the homework assignments in ‘Painting Drama.’ Hey, everyone! Chris Oatley here with two quick announcements: FIRST: The long-awaited return of my course Painting Drama: Composition & Color For Visual Storytellers is coming very soon! Many Oatley Academy alumni who have gone on to create successful careers in the entertainment industry credit Painting Drama as a major turning point. Subscribe to my notification list at ChrisOatley.com/pdemail and I’ll follow-up with more information about the course, the important dates and directions about how to apply. Due to the significant demand, I’m currently planning to offer Painting Drama twice in 2020. Once with a start date in January and once with a start date in June. Pascal Campion – world famous Visual Development Artist and master of emotional color and Chris Bradley – my good friend and theme parks concept artist who recently worked on several marquis projects for Walt Disney Imagineering and Universal Studios are both set to join as guest instructors in the January session. …along with one more guest instructor with whom we’re still working out schedules. So, to get all the details as they develop, subscribe at ChrisOatley.com/pdemail [ UPDATE ] Applications are now open at ChrisOatley.com/app! —— …and SECOND: I’ll be at CTNX 2019 this coming weekend – November 23rd and 24th. I decided not to manage a booth this year so I could focus more on spending time with my students and other friends from the industry – especially those who don’t live in SoCal… BUT – I will be giving two different talks. One is on Saturday the 23rd and one is on Sunday the 24th. Both talks are at 10:30am My Saturday talk is titled: Don’t Be A Disco Yeti: How To Troubleshoot A Struggling Animation Career and my Sunday talk is sort of a remix of a few different lessons from my free, online mini-course called You’re A Better Artist Than You Think You Are: How To Improve Quickly Without Ever Picking Up A Pencil. I was sad to miss Lightbox Expo this year because of a preexisting family commitment, but I’m really looking forward to meeting some of you again or for the first time. So yes, at 10:30am on both Saturday and Sunday morning, you can find me in Theater 3. And please, come say “Hi!.” I’m not scary. I promise. I always get these emails and tweets after a presentation where listeners tell me they couldn’t get up the courage to come talk to me and I understand that. I’ve been there before but I promise – I’m happy to meet you and make a connection. So please, if you feel like you need an ice breaker, just use this podcast as an excuse: “Hey, Chris, so you said on your podcast to be brave and come say hi. So here I am – being brave.” ..and we’ll take it from there! —— I mentioned that one of my CTNX talks is sort of a remix of my free mini-course called You’re A Better Artist Than You Think You Are: How To Improve Quickly Without Ever Picking Up A Pencil. If you’d like to sign up for the free, online course, just go to ChrisOatley.com/think …and I’ll follow-up via email when the next session opens. —- Our next episode of The Visual Storytelling Podcast will help you fill out your wishlist for the upcoming holiday season, so stay tuned for that fun episode. …and, until then, remember: Most human interactions are SOME kind of awkward. But on the other side of the awkwardness, there is SOME kind of reward. The post [Announcement] The Return Of ‘Painting Drama’ & CTNX 2019! appeared first on ChrisOatley.com.
Disney Storyboard Artist and Director Natalie Nourigat describes her book I Moved To Los Angeles To Work In Animation as “part Autobio Comic and part ‘How-To’ guide.’” It’s hilarious, emotional, beautifully illustrated and I now consider it required reading for every aspiring Animation professional. Today, Natalie joins me for a lesson inspired by her book: 4 Ways Animation Artists Can Mentally Prepare For The Move To Los Angeles! Click through to start the lesson… Watch The Lesson: [download the mp3] [download the bonus segment] Lesson Transcript: The following is a transcript of the full lesson (with links to each resource mentioned). Introduction: Hello, my friends and welcome to The Visual Storytelling Podcast – where I help Artists and Writers find healthy, fulfilling careers in Animation, Games, Comics, Film and Illustration. I’m your host Chris Oatley. I’m a Visual Development Artist and Illustrator – most notably for Disney – and if you want to become a professional Visual Storyteller like the guests on this show or many of my students, check out my courses and resources here at ChrisOatley.com! Join the notification list for my free mini-course: You’re A Better Artist Than You Think You Are: How To Improve Quickly Without Ever Picking Up A Pencil …and I’ll follow-up via email when the next session opens! Tip #1: Step Up To The Mic In the following segment, Natalie tells a version of her origin story that focuses on a single, significant decision: The decision to confront her own fear of failure and actually tell people about her dream of working in Animation. Is it finally time to share your dream with people you love and trust? …or if you’re lucky enough to have realized one dream already, maybe it’s time to share something even more ambitious. The point is: Speak up. Whether it’s time to invite help or offer it, speak up. Here’s Natalie… ——– [Natalie] I grew up in Portland. It’s a great city. Lots of artists there… There are art jobs there… …and I had the dream of working in Animation when I was younger. …but I gave up on it because I didn’t know anybody who did that. I didn’t go to a school for art or Animation and once I found out what the good schools were and where you were “supposed” to go, I felt like it was too late for me. I’d already spent three years at a state school. I had no funds left for further art school, and I was like: “Oh, okay. Well, that’s it. It’s over. You don’t need a degree to do Comics, so I’ll do that.” I love Comics. …and still love Comics. I miss Comics sometimes. I was a Comic Book Artist for about five years after college. …but I saw a lot of Comic Artists that I knew (in their late twenties/ early thirties) taking jobs down in LA and reporting back that life was pretty great there. [LAUGHTER] They had health insurance and salaries and they were buying houses and they knew they were going to be employed six months later… [LAUGHTER] …and this desire to work in Animation reignited itself when I thought maybe it actually could be possible. Then I was like: “Oh wait. Is that still an option?” Well, I hid that desire for a long time because I was sure I was going to fail. ..and I didn’t want anybody to know that I was trying to do something that I would probably fail at. So I didn’t tell anybody that I wanted to work in Animation. …not for a long time. …and that was a big mistake. …because once I admitted it – once I said it out loud – and told people that that mattered to me – that it was something I was trying to do, they were like: “Oh, well, I can help with that.” You know… …connecting me with people and resources. …and giving me more relevant critiques to my work. …and it actually ended up happening pretty quickly after I admitted it out loud. Like: “I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know if it’s possible. I’ll probably fail a lot. …but I want to work in Animation.” …and a few months after saying that, I got my first freelance gig on Bee And PuppyCat. …and a few months after that I was doing story tests. …and I submitted to LoopdeLoop. …and I finally got a training position at Disney Feature in Storyboarding. …and that was what convinced me to take the leap and move down here. Even though it was a three month contract, I bought a car and rented an apartment, and I was like: “Well I’m in it now. I’d better make it work.” Tip #2: Keep Track Of Multiple Storylines While there is no “right way” to plan a move to Los Angeles, it’s amazing to me how many people move out here with no plan at all. One of the most effective planning strategies is one you can implement right now: Collect stories. Collect stories from the successful, creative professionals who made the move and made it work. Natalie’s book and the decade-long archive for this podcast are great places to start. …but wherever you search, keep in mind that stories can do more than inspire. They inform and support and apply. ——– [Natalie] As I was going through that first year in LA that was really difficult, I was taking notes on everything, just kind of in the back of my mind. …what was happening, how I felt about it and: “How would I turn this into a comic?” “…maybe this is nothing. Maybe this is something…” I self-published at first. I put it online as a PDF. …and I feel like that was the biggest response to any comic I’ve ever done, at a publisher or independently or online. …because I think the topic interests people. …and it picked up steam in press, which was really nice. I reached out about print options, and Boom! was interested. …and I’ve worked with them before. Shannon Watters – over there – is awesome. …and she pitched me a couple of her ideas for ways to improve the book …from the PDF version to the print version. …and I just thought she had great ideas. …and I joined them as a partner for the print version. [Chris] What were some of the changes that you worked on with Shannon? [Natalie] She said she really liked the book, but one pitfall – that I couldn’t fix alone – is that it’s just one person’s perspective. …and that’s not a great way to tell somebody what the whole reality is, right? …and I say that up front. It’s one person’s perspective. …but she said: “Why not interview other people for the back of the book? …add a new chapter. Get those other perspectives.” …and she was right on the money. She was so right. [Chris] Yeah, that whole section is just a treasure trove. [Natalie] Aww. [Chris] Your caricatures of everybody… It’s so good. [Natalie] I would like to say: If you have read the book and you think: “I have a different experience.“ …or: “I have something to add to this.“ …or: “I am international and you don’t talk about coming to the US at all.“ (…which is true, because I’m not an expert on that.) I want to read your book. I’m not being sassy. I’m being sincere. I really want to read your book. …so if you think that there’s more to add to this story (which I 100% believe there is) do your own “I moved to LA.” Tell your story and get it out there, because it can help people. We need so many more data points than one in order to know what to expect in coming here. Tip #3: Buy Some Rose-Colored Sunglasses Los Angeles is still the most viable location for launching a career in Animation. …so you might land here whether you like it or not. I’ve grown to love it, but it’s not always easy to love. In the following segment, Natalie shares some balanced perspective for those who find LA overwhelming… ——– [Natalie] I think LA feels out of reach for a lot of people. If you grew up around LA or around entertainment or in California, maybe that sounds weird. …but if you grew up far away from it, it can seem like this mystical, far-off land. …and really unreachable. I think people responded to seeing: What’s the reality? What’s the everyday life? What are some of the mundane details about living here? What were your expectations? …and then, in reality, how did it differ? …because I think the move is scarier than the industry – for a lot of people. [Chris] Yeah, that’s so true. Isn’t it? [Natalie] I think so. [Chris] What do you say to these folks who are intimidated by the “city in the clouds” that is Los Angeles? [LAUGHTER] [Natalie] It’s growing on me. …but I try to be honest and talk about things I like and things I don’t like. …because I’d hate for somebody to get the sugarcoated version and then show up here and be like: “Natalie, you said it was nice! I’m miserable!” [LAUGHTER] [Chris] “It’s so hot!” [Natalie] Yeah, it’s hot. There’s not as much nature as I’m used to. [Chris Oatley] Oh… Trees. [Natalie] Exactly! There’s a ton of concrete, barbed wire, broken streets… [LAUGHTER] You have to drive everywhere. There’s traffic and smog. …but there’s also a beautiful coast, a beautiful desert, mountains, national parks within driving distance, weekend getaways, the entertainment capital of the world…. You can go out and see A-list comedians for five dollars on a Friday night. Any food from any culture you could possibly want – you can find it here. …and it’s good! So there’s good and bad, and I try to listen to what they’re worried about and what matters to them and then be honest with them. So it’s ultimately up to them. But I hope people don’t write it off just because it seems difficult or far away… I hope they give it a serious chance. Tip #4: Aaaaand ACTION! There’s a specific combination of decisiveness and focus that I call “boldness.” Boldness isn’t self-destructive. It’s neither impulsive nor pretentious. …nor is it passive. …and it is essential to a long, successful career in the LA Animation scene. ——– [Chris] When I first moved to LA, I worked at coffee shops all the time. …like everyone in Los Angeles does. [LAUGHTER] …which is why it’s so hard to get a table! …and you walk into the coffee shop and there are all these laptops out and they all have Final Draft open. [LAUGHTER] …and everyone’s working on a screenplay. [Natalie] Yes! It’s surreal. You think you’re being punked or something. [LAUGHTER] [Chris] It doesn’t seem real, but it is real. …and I was really inspired by that. I loved that. I was like: “Oh my God! This is what I do back in the Midwest! …but I’m the only one!” I remember sharing this with somebody. (I don’t remember who it was.) …but they were like: “How are you liking Los Angeles?” “Oh, it’s great. I was at the coffee shop the other day. I came in, everybody’s on their laptops with ‘Final Draft…’ It made me feel sane! …like I’d found a place where I belong…” …and they were like: “Oh yeah, you’ll get over that. It’s just a bunch of amateurs and wannabes and blah-blah-blah…” [Natalie] Aww… [Chris]…and I was just like: “Here’s the thing. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. Depending on the individual… …but people move to Los Angeles because they’re pursuing a dream.” Right? Oftentimes – some people move for different reasons. …but all of those people with Final Draft open in the coffee shop? They made a decision in their lives to change the status quo and go try to be creative for a living. …and most people don’t do that. Most people just abide the job they hate. They abide the town that feels like a soul-sucking, unfulfilling experience. I hear from people all the time who are in that environment, and they’re trying to make the leap. …and I don’t know how you don’t applaud and admire that. …because you gotta try. You gotta try. I’m not prescribing recklessness. I’m not prescribing thoughtlessness. It would always be assumed that your actions have consequences or that your actions affect the people who love you. [Natalie] Yeah. I’ve met a lot of people who are married with kids. …and they’re like: “I think it’s just going to take a little bit longer for me because I have all these other considerations.” …but I’m so inspired by them being able to handle all of that responsibility and pursue this dream. That’s so incredible. I can’t imagine… [Chris] Damon Lindelof, I heard him say, one time: ‘That’s the thing about a career in entertainment. You have to be willing to make bold moves when you see an opportunity.’ [Natalie] It’s scary! [Chris] Yeah, it is. It can be terrifying. …and I think it’s definitely not for the faint of heart. I understand why people don’t do it. …but, that said, people in Animation generally want you to win. They want you to do well – and you, Natalie, even talk about that in the book. People want to promote you and want to see you succeed. I didn’t have negative suspicions about working in Animation, but I certainly was overwhelmed by how helpful everyone seemed. [Natalie] Same here. I hear that 100%. I was like: “Well, I wasn’t expecting back-stabbing, but I wasn’t expecting them to be this nice and supportive of other artists.” [Chris] …and people make it happen, right? When you work in Animation, you learn that people break in all the time. …and here I was – out in the Midwest – thinking they hire four people a year. …and it’s like: “No no!” [LAUGHTER] Especially right now, it’s a great time to be breaking into Animation. [Natalie] Oh gosh… It is. [Chris] …with streaming and everything. [Natalie] Apply to everything! Apply to everything. There are not enough artists right now for the jobs. It’s nuts. [Chris] Yeah, it is. It is absolutely bonkers. I haven’t seen – in my entire career – I don’t think I’ve seen a hiring frenzy like this. I’ve seen ones that were similar, but this is massive. …and so, yeah, people do it. That’s the thing. People do it. [Natalie] If this is your dream, and you feel like you’re too old or you didn’t go to the right school or it’s just too hard, I just want to say that I believe in you and I hope that you keep pursuing it. …and only you know what’s right for you. …but if this is your dream, don’t count yourself out of it. However long it takes, it’s just a matter of time. Sign-Off: Natalie is @TallyChyck on Instagram and I’m @ChrisOatley. Download the bonus clip where Natalie talks about the differences between Comics and Animation Storyboards. If you liked today’s lesson, please share a high star rating (and, if you have time, a positive review) on our iTunes page at: ChrisOatley.com/iTunes Join the notification list for my free mini-course: You’re A Better Artist Than You Think You Are: How To Improve Quickly Without Ever Picking Up A Pencil …and I’ll follow-up via email when the next session opens! Our Theme Music was composed by Seth Earnest, produced by Seth Earnest and Chris Oatley and performed by Seth Earnest with guitar work by Storybook Steve. Our Album Art was designed by Maike Oatley with Chris Oatley. Until next time, my friends, remember: There are no bold results without bold decisions. The post 4 Ways Animation Artists Can Mentally Prepare For The Move To Los Angeles: With Natalie Nourigat :: VSP #3 appeared first on ChrisOatley.com.
Is there more to you than what other people see? Character Design is a fundamental aspect of Visual Storytelling. …but there’s much more to Character Design than the visual aspects. Disney Visual Development Artist James Woods – best known for his Animation Character Design work on Mary Poppins Returns – joins me for today’s lesson: Character Design And The Illusion Of Life. Click through to start the lesson… Watch The Lesson: [ download the mp3 ] [ download the pdf ] [ download the bonus clip ] Lesson Transcript: The following is a transcript of the full lesson (with links to each resource mentioned). Introduction: Hello, my friends and welcome to The Visual Storytelling Podcast – where I help Artists and Writers find healthy, fulfilling careers in Animation, Games, Comics, Film and Illustration. I’m your host Chris Oatley. I’m a Visual Development Artist and Illustrator – most notably for Disney – and if you want to become a professional Visual Storyteller like the guests on this show or many of my students, check out the courses and resources here at ChrisOatley.com! Before we begin, download the PDF Guide and the mp3 for this lesson. You can also download a deleted scene where James talks about the difference between working alone as a student and working in the studio environment at Disney. …and if you like today’s lesson, please share a high star rating (and, if you have time, a positive review) on our iTunes page at: ChrisOatley.com/iTunes Tip #1: Think Like An Animator Before James became a Character Design wunderkind, he struggled with Animation studies that didn’t quite fit. As you listen to James’ origin story, consider how his training as an Animator informs his current profession as a Character Designer. (Oh, and if you don’t understand how Animators think, don’t worry. At the end of the lesson, I’ll share a link to my resource list so you can keep learning…) ——–   [James] Growing up, I would watch all of these Disney films. My parents would hand me and my siblings a stack of paper to keep us occupied. [LAUGHTER] We would all sit around and have our box of felt-tips and crayons and draw as we were watching the film. I would have the VHS covers kind of lined up in front of me – The Little Mermaid and whatever – and I would start drawing from there… [Chris] Yeah, I liked the covers. And The Little Mermaid cover was one of those that I also drew. [James] Covers are all of these characters in their “hero moment.” …where it’s them at their greatest. [Chris] Yeah, right. [James] And from the age of four, I’d said – watching The Little Mermaid, or something: “I want to do this.” My parents, luckily, kept all of these drawings, which I did as a kid. …and I had this really big back catalog of all of these terrible trace-overs, or weird, egg-shaped Ariels, and whatever… [LAUGHTER] …which, for some reason, going from Egg-Ariel, my parents thought that there was some promise in this. [LAUGHTER] …and so they bought me all of these color-by-numbers, like an undersea coral reef scene or something… My teachers could see that I was easily distracted or wasn’t engaged in, maybe, the more academic side of schooling. …but I was very keen to be drawing posters for the classroom. So from there on, I guess, I was always known as “the kid that drew.” But I had no idea about anatomy, or really what it was to be a free-thinking artist. …but, I think, when I was fifteen, in art class, my art teacher knew that I had an interest in Animation. I was very keen on becoming a traditional, 2D Animator. So she brought this local Animator in, who went to the same school, but had gone into Stop-Motion Animation. He was an Animator on Corpse Bride, and all of these kind of things. And that was my first encounter with a professional who put the whole thing into context for me: “Oh, this is actually… It’s a job. It’s a lifestyle.” …and so that really inspired and kick-started me into wanting to take Animation seriously. At this point, I went home and was like: “I’m going to make my first short film!” The film never got made, but I spent my weekends trying to figure out how to animate – terribly. I was not really grasping it. [Chris] But you were obviously searching. You were exploring Animation and, perhaps, even exploring Character Design a bit. …but what did you know you were looking for? What were you conscious of? [James] It was always a keen interest in character. I don’t think I ever crossed over into painting or drawing environments. But to me, it was just really interesting to – it sounds so cheesy… …but creating that kind of life on a paper where you felt like there was something existing inside of this drawing, like a backstory, or whatever it could be… [Chris] The Illusion Of Life! Yeah! [James] Yeah, exactly. [Chris] That’s what brought us all here. [James] A university in the UK called The Arts University Bournemouth, has an Animation program. So I went there for three years, learnt all of the basics: Ball-bounce tests, flour sack and whatever… If we had these assignments like “the yawn,” I would put together a really simple character to animate. …but it was just just a stock baby yawning. …or a stock kid doing a baseball pitch. …but on the side of it, I eventually found Character Design to keep my traditional side alive and interested. So I was dabbling with Character Design whilst doing these 2D tests. …not really thinking that I could become a Character Designer because I didn’t really know what it meant to have a voice as a Character Designer. Eventually, I picked up some steam with that and saw that I was really enjoying Character Design. I was able to experiment and broaden my design vocabulary to a point where I thought: “Oh, maybe I could pursue this…” So I went through school here in the UK. Graduated in 2013. Then, in summer of 2013 (after a couple of years of applying) I got accepted into the Disney Summer Internship at the studio here in Burbank. I came out here for eight weeks in summer 2013. I had, I think, probably to date, the best summer I’ve ever had. [giggle] Just learning, being immersed in the environment… I guess, coming from the UK, where we don’t really have a big Animation scene, it was my first time really being exposed to, not just one Animator in a building, but a whole bunch of Animators, and a whole bunch of people in the Art Department, and it being this fully-functioning Disney entity… I spent eight weeks as a Character Design mentee. …which was great. I super-encourage everybody to apply for that. And don’t be discouraged as well… It took me a couple of years to get accepted. I then returned to school. I went to CalArts for a year, before having to discontinue the school for personal reasons. Then I, luckily, landed my first freelance job in my last year of school, doing four weeks on Moana, which was my first feature. That was really cool. Especially since, as a kid, The Little Mermaid was my favorite film. I would watch it every day. So it felt like I was coming around full-circle, getting to work underneath Ron and John. I really lucked out with that freelance gig. So I was here for four weeks. Then I went back to the UK for about two years while freelancing for Paramount Animation Studios. …until coming back out here in 2016 to work on the Mary Poppins sequel. In May of 2017 I was offered the role at Disney Animation as a full-time Character Designer. Tip #2: There’s A Lot More To Character Design Than Drawing A drawing of a character is not the same thing as a Character Design. …a drawing of a character represents one, small moment. …while a Character Design is an aggregate. Of course, there are visual aspects of Character Design: Proportion, poses, clothing, color… …but it’s the invisible aspects: Experiences, opinions and energy. Motion and emotion… …that combine to create The Illusion Of Life. ——– [Chris] Some of the best Character Designers I know have some sort of Animation background. They have moved a character around in space. How did learning The Principles Of Animation – the flour sack and whatnot – change the way you designed characters? [James] I think it’s really important for Designers, or students coming up, to have a grounding in Animation, because, to me, a design really comes to life when you’re thinking about a character in motion – as if you’re animating. In my cube at work, I have keyframes and in-betweens pinned up on my walls because I want to be reminded of the character’s thought process from A to B. …and try to install that in my drawings. Having that Animation background definitely forces you to think about the particular quirks and nuances they might have in their pose or expression. …because nobody moves back and forth in the same way. They have a specific way of going from A to B. Not in a pantomime sense where it’s an over-exaggerated kind of: “I’m feeling sad today, so I’m putting my fists to my eyes. …and I trace the tear down my cheek with my index finger.” [LAUGHTER] …but it’s just figuring out how that character, in their mindset, would go about that in their unique manner. …and I think a design, to me, is successful when you can look at it and imagine how that drawing or character would sound when they’re breathing. If you were to run up to this design and push them, would they fall over? …or would the design just bend around your hands because there’s no physicality or solidity to them that feels real? [Chris] Yeah. We’re talking about a character who is alive. …and has a life outside of that rectangle – that window of the paper – that you’re looking through to see their life, right? …or the screen – if you’re watching a movie. [James] Exactly. So much of it is posing and emotion which, I think, makes up the design. …and then the actual aesthetic of them is the “icing on top.” [Chris] Yeah, that’s awesome. In my Character Design class – the students are always sort of shocked and disoriented by this – but in the first assignment, I give them the designed character. Literally, I give them a model sheet and say: “Use this character.” …and then they act out – they draw the character in different poses – and act out a Shakespearean soliloquy without any direction. So they get to decide how melodramatic, or how tragic, or how comedic their performance is going to be. …but everybody uses the same character. …and they’re going: “Why the heck am I doing the same character in a Character Design class? I’m supposed to be designing characters…” …and that’s when I say: “Because there’s more to the design than the visual aspects.” And that’s the first assignment. You identify the spirit of this character. As a Character Designer, the thing that is going to separate you from the rest of the people just making pretty character drawings, is that soul. No matter what you’re designing, you have to put that soul into the design. Tip #3: Design Characters From Observation If you want to make your characters seem more alive, draw from life. James and I both learned more about Character Design from quick-sketching random strangers in coffee shops than we did in our art classes. Here’s how you can make the most of this essential practice… ——– [James] I think, as a student, I grew the most when I would take days and days at a time just sitting and drawing people in cafés. It’s like drawing gym. You’re working out your drawing muscles. Having to get the idea of that person, get that pose, get that action down immediately… …with no fuss around your line. You only get that “snapshot chance” to get them down. So, obviously, you have to use artistic license for a lot of the rest of it. [Chris] Right. [James] There was an element of caricature if that person was sat down for a long time and I was able to play with their features, or exaggerate aspects of them, or whatever… Maybe, without even knowing it, that was me (I guess it was) Character Designing at that time, too. But, a lot of the time, when you’re character sketching, the person is in and out… [giggle] Bish bash bosh! Get it done! [LAUGHTER] I can’t stress that enough. I think a lot of people, when they want tips about drawing for Animation, think that there’s a secret shortcut. They’re going: “How did you do it, specifically?” There’s no shortcut. It doesn’t matter if you have a Moleskine Sketchbook… [LAUGHTER] …or a cheap whatever… A Moleskine feels great to draw on, but it isn’t going to suddenly amplify your drawings by whatever account. But sit down with whatever you have. I used to sit down with a little – almost like receipt paper – pad and had a cheap ballpoint pen or whatever… Just draw, and draw, and draw, and draw. [Chris] Lined notebook paper! I would draw on spiral notebooks because the nice sketchbook put mental friction in there. [James] Right. There’s that pressure to get it nice. And then if you do a crap drawing, you have to tear that piece of paper out! [Chris] Right! [James] Lo and behold, anybody should [giggle] go through your fancy Moleskine and find [giggle] a crap drawing! [Chris] Yeah, right! [LAUGHTER] [James] So I mean, it’s about losing ego. It’s just about making as many crap drawings as you can. So, [giggle] eventually – two-hundred crap drawings down – you’re going to have one cool one, and then it will become more frequent. You’ll start to get a grasp of people, behaviors, all of that kind of stuff… …which then informs your Character Design later on. [Chris] Oh yeah. [James] Because you’re observing all of these people around you, and drawing from those experiences, and injecting that into the experiences of the fictional characters you’re creating somewhere down the line. [Chris] Yeah. [James] But, at the heart of it, it’s all drawing. Whether you’re drawing in a café for the sake of figuring out posing for Animation, or Story, it all just comes down to drawing. …and really tightening-up the connections between your fingers, and your eyes, and your brain. …and it all pays off across the board. So yeah, to every student, I just say: “If you can’t get to a figure drawing class, just get a sketchbook. …and don’t be afraid to sit down in whatever coffee shop, or whatever shopping mall, and just sketch.” All day. Every day. …for years, and years, and years. [giggle] [Chris] Yeah, right! Sign-Off: James is @JamWoodser on Instagram and I’m @ChrisOatley. …and if you haven’t done so yet, download the PDF Guide and the mp3 for this lesson. The PDF Guide contains a full transcript of this lesson, images, links and, a resource list for those of you who want to design or develop characters that seem more alive, but don’t (yet) have any Animation training. You can also download a deleted scene where James talks about the difference between working alone as a student and working in the studio environment at Disney. The scene didn’t fit within the focus of this episode, which is why it didn’t make the final cut, but it’s really inspiring and insightful nonetheless. …and if you liked today’s lesson, please share a high star rating (and, if you have time, a positive review) on our iTunes page at: ChrisOatley.com/iTunes Our Theme Music was composed by Seth Earnest, produced by Seth Earnest and Chris Oatley and performed by Seth Earnest with guitar work by Storybook Steve. Our Album Art was designed by Maike Oatley with Chris Oatley. To learn more about Character Design, check out Good Character Design Goes Deep and my Tips For A Competitive Visual Development Portfolio! Until next time, my friends, remember: A good Character Design has a life of its own. Recommended Resources for Character Design & Development (With An Animation Focus): BOOKS: The Illusion Of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston The Animator’s Survival Kit by Richard Williams Acting For Animators by Ed Hooks Invisible Ink by Brian McDonald The Hidden Tools Of Comedy by Steve Kaplan VIDEO: Disney’s Tarzan (2001, 2-Disc Collector’s Edition, Glen Keane Sketch Cover) Lilo & Stitch (2009, 2-Disc “Big Wave” Edition) The Emperor’s New Groove (2001, 2-Disc “Ultimate Groove” Collector’s Edition, Gold Box) The Sweatbox (“Banned” documentary about the making of The Emperor’s New Groove) The Incredibles (2005, 2-Disc Collectors Edition) The Making Of ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ (Originally a “BD Live” exclusive) The post Character Design and The Illusion Of Life: With James Woods :: VSP #2 appeared first on ChrisOatley.com.
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