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?
First let me say that I think its crazy that i am doing a character design interview, But I'll use it as a forum to bring up some of my favorite designers , artists , and influences so people can at least go check out those much more talented artists work. Thanks.
Here we go. I was a Star Wars baby (1977).I have been drawing my entire life . My family has always encouraged me to draw. I was never given praise for it or anything, they just new that I loved it. I just saw photos of me when I was 3 years old drawing a boat. When I was older I was never told that drawing was a waste of time or that I needed to abandon it and go to law school or something. I played baseball seriously from 8 yrs old all the way through high school but chose to persue animation instead of pursuing a pro ball career. Yes, I am an idiot.
There were two key moments that lead me to want to draw for a living- one was the first time I saw a copy of the illusion of life when I was 8 years old. The second was when I was 11 years old and my grandmother pulled a yellow envelope down from a cabinet and handed it to me. She told me that her high school sweetheart (from the 1930s) had gone off to work for Walt Disney years ago on Lady and the Tramp, Peter Pan, 101 Dalmations etc... My eyes were bugging out of my head. His name was Cliff Nordberg , and after high school they had lost contact with each other when he went off to art school. But in the 1970s Cliff and my grandmother met again for the first time in 40 years. They were still great, great friends, and after their meeting Cliff would send my grandmother a drawing or two every month. She kept them all in this envelope. I could not believe my eyes. Hundreds of fully realized , story telling , situational drawings of animals , people , Mickey Mouse , etc.. . Looking at those drawings was my schooling and inspiration for the next 7 years(and still inspire me today). I new what I wanted to do for a living.
So.... I worked my ass off! I started life drawing when I was 14. I was accepted into the Herbert Ryman program(Walt Disney Imagineering) when I was 15. I went to the California state summer school of the arts when I was 16. And I was accepted into Cal arts my junior year of highschool (but didn't start until I graduated in 1995).Cal Arts changed my life. I learned more from the friends and experiences I had at Cal Arts than I can possibly say. You don't go to a school like Cal Arts to just get a job, you go there to learn how to think. To test and bounce ideas in , around and against a group of hungry , competitive artists who are learning and growing with you at the same time. It is INCREDIBLE ! If you just want a job , then no you don't need to go to an art school, just go mimic your favorite artist until you can get bye. I didn't just want a job. I want to eat , drink and breath this stuff. I want to be able to tell stories, and solve problems , and think of a new approach WHILE I make films , and design, and animate. Go ask Brad Bird and John lasseter what they thought about art school if you don't want to hear it from me. Any ways- When I got to school all I wanted to do was animate traditionally at Disney. Thats all i knew. But just three months into school some dudes from a place called Pixar came to show us a movie they had just finished called Toy Story. We were told that all the guys who made it were from Cal Arts ...John Lasseter, Joe Ranft , Pete Doctor, Andrew Stanton. We had no idea who these guys were, and everyone was skeptical about a CG film .( this was a month before Toy Story was released to the public) So we all sat down in a theatre in Valencia , and by the time the green army men sequence came on the screen it was like Deaf Comedy Jam up in that theatre!! We were FREAKING OUT! Our jaws were on the floor. Holy Crap! This is a perfect movie ! What does this mean for animation? Are other studios going to do this? The traditional boom had officially ended , but I still want to animate traditionally. Luckily while I was at Cal Arts a guy named Brad Bird was starting production on the Iron Giant at Warner Bros. He left a few spots open for some new kids and I was lucky enough to be one of them. Brad (and Tony Fucily)saw that me and a couple of my friends (Peter Sohn , Eddie Rosas , and Andy Schuhler) worked really well as a TEAM and he started us off as rough inbetweeners. At the same time Fucile had us doing animation tests. I guess we did ok because a few weeks later Brad took us aside and told us that he was giving us a sequence to animate in the film. UNBELIEVABLE!! I learned so freaking much from Brad and Tony Fucile , Ricardo Curtis , Dean Wellins , Wendy Purdu, Chris Sauve, Mark Andrews ... Etc... Holy GOD!!!! Amazing , amazing experience. From that point on I was just hungry for this stuff. Brad put such a fire under my ass its not even funny. So since then I've made it a point to work my ass off in every part of animation from animation to design to story in traditional , CG and stop motion for both Feature and Television. So far I have been lucky enough to be able to bounce around and do everything. I just make it a point to learn from every experience.
How do you go about designing, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?
Well first I usually start by getting sick to my stomach trying to think of how to approach whatever it is I'm about to tackle. Then I immediately get online or find a book and GO GET REFERENCE on the subject!! I'm not talking about other artists work. I'm talking about trying to find actual life examples of what it is I am attempting to design. Even if your designing something imaginary like a dragon ,you can look up reptiles and bat wings. But when the subject matter is something that actually exists I definately go get reference . If your not looking at the real thing then you are limiting yourself to what you remember that thing looking like, and you will probably end up leaning on your memory of another artists interpretation of that subject. Its ok to see how another artist solves graphic problems , but how much more could I have brought to the table if I had actually looked at the source? Sure I could just start drawing what I remember a turkey looks like and add cool graphic cheats, use symbols and what not and it would read as a turkey and might even be an interesting graphic peice, but what else could I have brought to the table? Charles Harper looked at REAL birds before he made his graphic representations, AND IT SHOWS!!! It's not generic, Its specific. He did his homework.
Milt Kahl , Al Hirschfeild , and Don Grahm all had similar advice on the subject. Milt was talking about animating a character, Al was talking about caricature , and Don was talking about art in general, --- When your drawing , painting, animating or even taking a photo of ANYTHING all your trying to do is show your audience or viewer why THIS thing is different from everything else. What sets this thing apart from any other thing. How is it we can recognize one of our friends from way down the street? Is it the way they stand or walk, or is it just their silouhet or shapes or size? All of it is specific to HIM or HER or IT!!! What Milt , Don and AL were all getting at is OBSERVATION!!!! All of the best designers and illustrators (that everyone trys to emulate today) understood that!
So that is what is always going through my head at this stage. So with my reference now in front of me I'll do a warm up doodle on a page filled with previous warm up doodles. Then I have to just start digging into the paper or Cintiq screen. I start soooooo ruff. Just shapes and balance more than anything. I'll try to at least get a believable or appealing balance of shape and proportian and pose. I am always thinking about the design of a pose EVEN if the character is just standing there. To me a good drawing is so much more than a pretty line and detail or color, It's balance and Form and Rhythm. I don't give a crap how pretty the line is if its not a balanced drawing, and the best artists who ever lived prove that. After I have gone over a drawing about five times I take a brake for about ten minutes, Then I go back , look at the mess I made and start thinking of how to chizel out my final design. I love doing this on the cintiq cause I can litteraly shave and chizzel my shapes. But as I do this I'm thinking about form , even when designing flat graphic characters. Then when I get down to the details I just try and think about where I want my detail (or pattern), and how it will describe the form and guide the viewers eye . Then I'll finish, move on to the next and the next, go to sleep and the next morning I'll look at it and go, "Why the hell did I put the eyes there?"
What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work with?
Well right now here is my typical day.... Wake up and rush to Dreamworks to bash out some Ideas and do some sketches for Peabody and Sherman - a feature film that I (and my good friend Shannon Tindle) are developing for Rob Minkoff right now. I am gettiing to work along side some amazing artists- Nicolas Marlet, Tony Saruno , Carlos Grangel, and my good friend Devin Crane. We are also bashing out some story with the talented Dave Pimentell. So Shannon and I pitch a couple Ideas and drawings to Rob , he tells us his ideas and we all get excited . PHONE RINGS! Its our producer at Cartoon Network! we need to go meet about "GILROY" the 22 minute pilate that me and my friends Shannon Tindle and Andy Schuhler have created , and are in full production on right now in our non-existant spare time. I check out our color models against the final BGs and almost crap my pants I 'm so excited. PHONE RINGS! Crap , we gotta get back to Dreamworks to crank out some ideas and designs for tomorrows meeting. Now I gotta get home to do some work on Coraline, Henry Selik's stop motion film at Laika. I have a conference call with Mike Cachuella(co-Director) and Anthony Scott (head of animation) about the animation pre-vis work I just emailed them last night. OK , Now I do a couple drawings for GILROY and then fall asleep. Thats an average day right now.
What are some of the things that you have worked on?
A few highlights would be: The IRON GIANT ( animation) , the LORD OF THE RINGS the TWO TOWERS (animation) , CORALINE (character design, development , animation pre-vis) , FOSTERS HOME for IMAGINARY FRIENDS (character design, writing), OSMOSIS JONES(animation) , CURIOUS GEORGE (character design) , and currently PEABODY and SHERMAN (story, development, character design ) and GILROY (co-director, writer, story board, character design, executive producer.
I have also done tons of other films, television shows and commercials , But one of my most enjoyable experiences I ever had was teaching second year animation at Cal Arts a couple years ago. I had an amazing time and It was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. Its good being around talented kids who are just hungry for this stuff. It motivated me to learn more.
Is there a design you have done that you are most proud of?
What projects have you done in the past, and what are you working on now?
Currently I am in production on a 22 minute Short at Cartoon Network that me and my friends Shannon Tindle and Andy Schuhler created called "GILROY". Its a Sci-Fi, screwball , action, adventure, comedy that is incredibly rad. We also have a couple other projects that you'll see popping up. we have a few more films , shorts and books in various stages of development. I never sleep.
Who do you think are the top artists out there?
I think that hands down the best artist in the business today is Nicolas Marlet. He's a mad man , and he just won the Annie award for best character designer. Other favorite designers and artists living TODAY would be - Peter Sohn , Craig Kellman , Carlos Grangel ,Tony Fucily , Tadahiro Usugi , Shannon Tindle , Chris Appelhans ,Teddy Newton , Ben Balistreri , Dan Krall ,Tony Saruno, Marcelo Vignali , Carter Goodrich , Kent Milton.
My favorite artists of ALL TIME would be - Marc Davis , John Singer Sargent , Herb Ryman , Jack Davis , Earl Oliver Hurst , Tom Oreb , Daumier , Ronald Searle , Chuck Jones , Alex Toth , Pablo Picasso , Charles Harper , Hank Ketcham ,Bill Peet , Paul Coker Jr , Al Hirschfeld , the Provensons , Franquin , Gustav Kimt , Dean Cornwell AND MORE!!
Could you talk about your process in coloring your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?
I'm no expert with color , but thats where my reference comes in. A big reason why I would want reference from life is to reference color as well. I look at the values if not the exact colors for inspiration. Or I'll look at the real color and see what I would amplify or ignore , or both. My color choices for my designs all depend on the sophistication of the design. Is it fully dimensional ,or flat graphic , or somewhere inbetween ? Do you need more believable natural colors or can you make it crazy? And what kind of character is it? I do everything digitally now , but I used to do everything with marker and paint. Thats why I love using Painter when I work digitally. I love mixing colors with there mixing pallet. But sometimes since I'm working digitally now I'll even sample color from my reference images as a starting point for my color. then I'll tweak the color and mix in other colors digitally as I choose. It all depends. I Just try to keep it controlled as much as I can and not get distracting . Keep it simple . The color should compliment the kinds of shapes you use which all depends on what type of character you've designed. Is it a harsh, intense character, or a lovely light character ? I just think about the kind of feel I would want the character to have and try to have the color reflect that. I don't know. It also depends on how dimensional and "sophisticated" the design is. When I was designing on CORALINE I was designing more dimensionally because it is a stop motion film, and all the designs would need to be realized as dimensional puppets. So the color choices needed to feel more grounded and Believable. But then compare that to a show like FOSTERS. FOSTERS color is more abstract and pushed which works beautifully with those graphic designs and shapes. The Color needs to compliment and make sense with the design. I don't know. Just have fun with it.
What part of designing is most fun and easy, and what is most hard?
The most fun part of the design process for me is just after the ruff stage , when I'm chizzling out the form and fleshing out an expression or defining an angle of a limb or tilt of a head. Sculpting it out . And the hardest part of design for me is actually showing or presenting my finished work to someone else ,cause I think they suck.
What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?
Well firstly I have very creative and talented friends that constantly keep a fire under my ass creatively and artisticly. They are always pushing me and inspiring me. I have hundreds and hundreds of books. Also I drive to toys R us allot. Sometimes I go to Disneyland to think and watch people. I even boarded an entire sequence of our GILROY short at Disneyland while sitting in a secluded area cause I could just think there. I am also constantly looking for new images and movies and music. But mainly I am lucky enough to work with and be around really, REALLY talented and creative people every day.
What are some of your favorite designs which you have seen?
I saw some tigers that Nicolas Marlet designed for a failed project. They were the most well thought out , solid , appealing , elegant , pushed , believable , graphic, controlled designs I had ever seen in my life. I also love everything Marc Davis ever put down on paper from Bambi to Pirates. Craig Kellman's Madagascar designs are pretty unbelievable. I love Peter Sohn's design of the boss in the Incredibles. I love everything Paul Coker ever designed for Rankin/Bass-( Rudolph, Year without a santa clause, Twas the night before Christmas). Joe Mosier's loose "New Groove" stuff is pretty inspiring . Tom Oreb , and Ward Kimbal's work on Toot Whistle ,and Mars and Beyond is out of control good. I love Milt Kahl and Ward Kimbal's Pecos Bill and Slue foot Sue designs. I think those two characters are a perfect example of two very different and very successful types of appeal. Milt's Pongo is flawless. I think Jamie Hewlett's Gorillaz designs are amazing for about a hundred reasons. Mike Mignola's hell boy is perfect graphic design. My friend Ben Balistreri has a comic book he's working on that blows my mind! God, so much more..... Those are just some highlights.
What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?
God I've never even thought about that. I get board pretty easy, so I am always just getting restless with one subject and moving on to the next anyways. I have about 8 boxes full of half realized ideas and images of every subject imaginable. Sometimes I'll go back and look at something and I'll want to finish it up, but crap I don't think I have a favorite subject Really. There's way to much to draw in life to just do a few subject matters. Draw everything I say. Jesus, There is so much out there in the world to draw - draw a fish , a car, a tree , a horse, some medieval armor a building. Don't limit yourself.
What inspired you to become an Artist?
I can't remember the very first thing , but I'm sure it wasn't an executive.
What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?
Tony Fucile taught me how to procrastinate and have it work to your advantage. Dean Wellins taught me to just not care that much and have fun. Ricardo Curtis taught me to dive in calmly, fearlessly, and accurately . Dave Brewster Taught me that no one will ever remember how much work you do , but they will remember if it was good or not. Marcelo Vignali taught me by example to always keep in practice and stay on top of your craft. Kent Milton showed me that anything can be realized in 3D and it will look better than my original drawing. Eric Goldberg taught me precision and a respect for this medium that is unmatched. Brad Bird taught me that this is the coolest art form in the world.
What are some of your favorite websites that you go to?
cartoonbrew.com , rankinbass.com , benbalistreri.blogspot.com , shannontindle.blogspot.com , meganbrain.blogspot.com , lorelaybove.blogspot.com , vignalistudio.blogspot.com , burgerlog.blogspot.com, sideshowtoy.com , Ebay.com
What wisdom could you give us, about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?
Its not just about working hard and drawing allot. It's about working hard ,drawing allot and GROWING!!. And If your not observing then youre not growing . Always stay curious about everything. Observe everything . Don't just draw one thing , and don't limit yourself to one specific style. Always keep trying new approaches to your work or to a subject matter. Be able to adapt to any artistic challenge ,and search. Have fun!! This stuff is fun! We draw first and for most because it is fun! The end.
To view more of Shane's artwork, go to his BLOG at http://shaneprigmore.blogspot.com/