For more about this artist visit their CTN Profile: CLICK HERE
After 3 years of studying art and illustration at The Academy of Art College in San Francisco I began working at Pixar as a Production Assistant in 2001 on Monsters Inc. and eventually made the transition in the Art Department on Ratatouille as a sketch artist. Worked and designed characters and sets for films such as Ratatouille, Wall-E, Up, and Toy Story 3 for which I was the Character Art Director. In 2009 I fulfilled my dream of working at Walt Disney Animation Studios in Burbank, CA as a visual development artist on Wreck-It-Ralph and Art Director for Prep and Landing 2. However, in September 2011, I returned home to the Bay Area to work at Pixar where I worked on Inside out and returned back to Character Art Director on an upcoming Pixar film to be released in 2017 named “Coco.”
What was your path to Animation? Were you always interested in animation or fine arts growing up?
I studied art and illustration at the Academy of Art in San Francisco. Learning the foundations of art have really helped me as an all around artist not just in animation. Most of everything I’ve learned about animation I learned at Pixar on the job. I always drew as a kid but never thought that I would draw for a living. Attending the Academy of Art changed that for me.
Where did your path lead you from there?
I always drew as a kid but never thought that I would draw for a living. Attending the Academy of Art changed that for me.
What were your artistic inspirations growing up and how did they change over time?
I’ve always loved to draw and be creative ever since I could remember. I was fortunate enough as a kid to go to Disneyland once a year for our family vacation since we lived in Northern California and we would visit our family in Southern California as much as we could. Going to Disneyland always brought out the best of me. The variety of worlds and the feeling of being transported to another place and another time just felt so magical to me. It was because of that feeling that I became a huge Disney fan.
I never thought that I could draw for a living growing up so I never took it seriously. It wasn’t until I graduated from high school and got through a year and a half at San Francisco State University that I realized that a conventional college just wasn’t for me. That motivation forced me to look toward other more creative careers. That’s when I decided I wanted to a 2D animator for Disney Feature Film. As 2D animation slowly began to fade away as I was nearing my second year of The Academy of Art College in San Francisco I began to thing of another option for me. With enough hard work and dedication I was able to reach my dream in another way in becoming a Character Art Director for Pixar. So ultimately I would say my biggest inspiration was Disneyland and watching my two uncle’s draw beautiful pictures in their free time. Now my goal is to continue to grow and get better because I always believe in staying hungry, positive and humble.
Do you mind sharing an example of what it takes to get a chracter designed for a Feature Film?
Animation Character Design: Designing Lotso from Toy story 3
As a professional art director working on animation character design for Pixar and Disney, I have found my job to be a very challenging and rewarding process. It's not always as glamorous as it may seem to work for a major studio, but it never fails to deliver an immense sense of joy and satisfaction. At the end of a film, you know that you have helped in a small way create something that will live on forever and bring joy to the world for generations to come. When we design characters for a studio, we have to understand that we are not creating them based upon our own tastes, but that we are creating new and unique characters according to the director's vision of what will best support the story. So many times before, I have gotten caught up in trying to create the most unique and compelling character designs, trying to "stylize for style's sake." I have to remind myself that it is most important not to upstage the story with my designs, and instead to support the story in any way that I can. The story should drive the style of the film, not the other way around.
I helped design some characters for the films Ratatouille, Up, and Wall-E for Pixar, but most of my early work was centered around set design and props. It wasn't until Toy Story 3 that I had the opportunity to devote all of my time to character design. What a dream come true it was for me! The whole reason that I wanted to work for Pixar in the first place was, like so many others, because of Toy Story.
My first task when I got onto the film was to work on a pink bear that smelled of strawberries named Lots-O-Huggin Bear (Lotso for short). At the time we had no idea what he looked like; all we knew was that he needed to be appealing and to not represent anything else that already existed. There was already some great design work of Lotso done by production designer Bob Pauley, so at first I wasn't sure where to go with it. I began drawing bears that reminded me of the ones I grew up with, and other bears that I felt looked sweet and appealing. We played with the idea of him wearing a little vest, or even possibly a tie.
My first task when I got onto the film was to work on a pink bear that smelled of strawberries named Lots-O-Huggin Bear (Lotso for short). At the time we had no idea what he looked like; all we knew was that he needed to be appealing and to not represent anything else that already existed. There was already some great design work of Lotso done by production designer Bob Pauley, so at first I wasn't sure where to go with it. I began drawing bears that reminded me of the ones that I grew up with, and other bears that I felt looked sweet and appealing. We played with the idea of him wearing a little vest, or even possibly a tie.
A lot of people don't realize how much time is actually spent on animation character design; designing Lotso took months. After a while, it felt like there was nothing left to explore. I was out of ideas. There were some designs that director Lee Unkrich liked, but it still seemed as if we didn't have anything that he approved of.
One day in my office, my roommate Robert Kondo (the sets art director on Toy Story 3) and I talked about Lotso's design possibilities after another unsuccessful weekly art review. One of us suggested giving Lotso a big nose, since most of the designs we had already done featured the same small button nose seen on many classic teddy bears. After this discussion, I did a few drawings of Lotso with a big nose and different head and body shapes. That's when one of them hit. I showed my sketches to Lee in our next art review a few days later, and he found one that he loved. From there, we developed Lotso's character each week until we eventually narrowed down his design to a few drawings. We were feeling like we finally had something!After arriving at a design that we were all happy with, it was time to show executive producer John Lasseter our progress. This is where the real test is; at this crucial stage, characters are either approved or sent back to the drawing board. Fortunately, John loved the direction we were taking and his only comment was to keep going! From there, we were able to begin a sculpt with our sculptor Jerome Ranft. For the first time, we would be able to see our character in 3D, and see if the design was working or not.
After months of designing Lotso, the time had finally come to model him in the computer. I was super excited, because for me it was the first time that I had gotten a character approved from the conceptual phase. I remember how excited I was to see this big fat pink teddy bear that I was so tired of drawing finally in a model review. Of course, there were still many things to figure out: how he was going to walk since his legs were so short, how he would turn his neck since his head went right into his body, how his facial expressions
After many more months of test models and animation tests, we finally had a new classic Toy Story character designed, talking and moving! I, along with many others, will forever have made a contribution to it. Since working on Lotso's design I have worked on many other original character designs, but I will never forget my first major project, when I got to work on this pink lovable bear.
How did you get involved with CTN and what have you found CTN brings to you as an artist?
Teaching Characters for Animated Film for an online school named Schoolism has inspired me to share as much as possible with other aspiring artists and that has led to me wanting to be a part of CTN which I’ve always known about but never really considered attending only because I felt like I still had a lot to learn. Now I realize that I do have a lot to share and it inspires me to see others who have the same ambition that I used to have as a student. It keeps me humble.
Are there things about the industry that CTN has helped open up?
This is my first time at CTN so I will know after but I am looking forward to it.
What are you working on now that we may see at CTN?
You can get an idea of what types of works I will be selling by checking out my website.
Heather is an experienced artist, modeler, and CG designer. She has worked at Disney,Dreamworks, Jim Henson and Warner Bros. Recently shehas been writing, directing,and producing her own award winning films.