Artist Spotlight is a place to showcase new artists as well as revisiting talent. Enjoy this interview sharing the stories about their work, career, and process for navigating the winding road that artists must take in order to become a professional in such a creative, respected, and sought after career.
This is the artist Guy Vasilovich. For more about this artist visit their CTN Profile: CLICK HERE
Well I cannot say where I am about to work, I am in negotiations to direct a feature project so I am doing the contracts now but I will be jumping on to that in the beginning of the year. I am excited forthat, over the years I have directed projects for TV and I am a jack-of-all-trades, I will direct, design, and create. I have created and produced my own TV series. What ever the opportunities are I jump on them.
What was your path here? How did you get started?
I grew up in Chicago and I was always interested in animation. I always drew, my parents had to pry crayons out of my hands.
When I was in high school I was reading all the books I could on Disney animation. After that I was fascinated with filmmaking, drawing, and at the time I thought that one-day it would be fun to visit the Disney studios. I was in music at the time and entertainment, I would perform in bands, jazz and rock bands, I was on tour. I would work on musicals in high school and college.
That was a lot of fun. During the day I had nothing to do so I started doing portfolios and just sending them over to the Disney studios and finally I got a letter from the studios saying they are interested and like your work.
I finally got a letter that said there is a school in Valencia called California Institute of the Arts and you should try and go there. I did, it took 4 or 5 portfolios to get in and I finally got a call that said you come in and start school next month?
I jumped on a plane and landed and found my way to Valencia. I was part of the character animation program.
It was an eye opener. I thought I was pretty good, I was talented but when I got there I realized, WOW there are a lot of other talented people around me. It was impressive. I met people like John Lasseter, Chris Buck, Tim Burton, these were the upper classmen, and they were very talented people at the school. They offered scholarships and that was my goal, I could only afford 1 year at Cal arts, I worked my ass off and got one for my second year and then Disney asked me to do a test and that is how I entered Disney studios. My first film was Fox and the Hound.
I was part of the title sequence so I was able to work with layout, background, character, story people, it was a way to get a really good feel on how things function at the studio but it was still intimidating. I would walk the halls and look at all of the fabulous artwork. It blew me away, it was motivation. I was working a little with Frank and Ollie, Don Griffith in layout, Tim Burton was in the meetings. They had a meeting and suggested I get into Layout. I took the suggestion and met Don Griffith.
Don was one who inspired me and taught me how to layout a feature film. Who would know all these things unless you are in the room with someone who did this stuff? He was one of my hero's. I met more and more people that were amazing illustrators, got to talk art, and learn from the old timers. Eric Larson was so great with the young kids coming in and training the new kids and handing off the brush and the pencil to the next generation? Wonderful people and place.
Where did your path go from there after you left Disney Studios?
I went into TV and independent work. I was able to work on Family Dog; I was the Layout lead on that project. It was a great team. Steven Spielberg, Frank Marshall, Katherine Kennedy, a huge list of people doing it. The project never went anywhere. It was not the Pilot, it was the series. I believe Brad Bird was on the pilot but not on the series.It was kind of deflating at the time; I thought it would be long term. That is where I developed myself as an animation director.
I would find projects that I could be part of as a writer, or storyteller, and then I developed my skills as a director. I was a creative director for a company called Film Roman. I was there for 7 or 8 years as the head of the creative division and that is where I learned how to develop and create shows to sell to the networks. I developed ideas that came in, if it was a toy company project or through a celebrity, it was my job to develop that as the development department. I remember going to CBS, NBC, Fox, I got to meet a lot of people that bought and sold shows. It was an exciting time.
What were your inspirations?
When I was kid I loved Charles Shultz, I loved Jim Henson, and I also had the super 8-mil films where you could watch movies. I could play these monster movies. I would turn the sound off and write the dialogue. I then I guess tied that into loving animation and cartoon and filmmaking. I tied them together. Animation was movies, not just still drawings. I finally realized, hey this is like filmmaking.....editing, cutting, staging, storytelling. It opened up a whole world to me. Also Dr. Seuss, I would copy his stuff all the time. I was a fan of his text and his art. Then later I loved Ronald Searle there was a unique quality in these people. Some in film some in animation. I tried to absorb all I could.
The basics of an idea and concept is the most important thing to get good at. A technique is just that, but the concept is the key. I would have never know that until talking to these people that were at these great studios, that is one of the key things I have learned that really changed me.
Are you able to explain the process you go through to create a piece, what are your stages?
I try and envision the final piece, the product I want to create. People get caught in technique and style because there is a lot of beautiful artwork out there. They get caught up but if you break it down in reverse it is just telling a story. I see myself as a visual story teller rather than an artist or illustrator. We are trying to create some kind of story or emotion to provoke an emotion to the audience. How do you do that? Some do it in the details, some in the shapes, a line from a pencil; sometimes the simplest things can communicate the most. You do not need to over draw it or over paint it. When do you stop a painting? When is it too much or when do you need more? That is my goal to communicate to tell a better story, tell more with less. That is my goal to communicate and tell a story in the simplest way possible.
It helps to keep it moving and not let the work get lost in the wrong things.
In terms of mediums I love to play with all of them. Oils, Acrylic, computers, one project I had to make puppets from acorns, and twigs. I also love paper cut animation.
Sometimes the computer can simulate these things but at times it is not as natural as it is to create it with your hands. Fold and cut the paper yourself. Mixing the color before it is on the canvas, the smell of the paint. I like the computer of course to sketch to get a feel of color and shape and then do the painting from that direction. Get a sketch going then scan it and again go back to the computer to do a final pass. I work in a number of ways and directions.
How do you stay driven creatively when a project can take so long? Or even staying driven personally?
When you work for a company to provide a service, they are paying you to do work for them. It takes on a whole different meaning or different level. You are getting paid for your talent. You get notes, you may not like the notes or the changes but you are getting paid. It is sometimes that you loose originality. Sometimes I go home and just do my work, do a painting just so I do not loose my sense of originality.
What I like to do is both, I think it is important that people understand that when someone is paying you for your services, it is no longer a personal a thing that you can hang up at Grandma's house and have them say look what my grand kid did. You need a way to express yourself in different levels but when money is involved it is different. With that also comes competition, your speed and there is a whole limit to everything. Time limits, work limits, people need to realize that if you accept money for your work this comes with the territory. That is the work. You have to be able to work with people and it requires you to work with a lot of other people and establish good relationships. You are going to be seeing each other again and again. It is a smaller industry so we work with fellow artists that we know. The competition in the old days was just getting into Disney but now there are more options yet it is still smaller than the rest of the Entertainment industry.
How did you work with CTN and Tina?
I worked with Tina at Disney and got involved with CTN at the very beginning. She had artists together and I submitted art to the site. CTN has just exploded and now the Expo. I hold classes, lectures, look at portfolios. CTN is wonderful for the network of artists to talk and showcase their work outside the studios. This is great for our Animation industry, we can meet and talk to people that you would never meet.
How do you apply your work to live action filmmaking?
One of the things I started to do write and direct voice talent working more as a filmmaker in general. I have started to appreciate even more animation and how it is incorporated inside the film industry. It requires a knowledge of the camera and telling a story with the camera. It brings inthe writing and story telling, it has been very exciting for me. There are a lot of liveaction directors that inspire me. Hitchcock, Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Kathryn Bigelow, Clint Eastwood… I just love to turn the sound off and watch from a visual aspect, I look at a Hitchcock film and think how I may have approached it. How to be different but get the same idea across. Make a sequence 10 different ways and you get 10 different emotions. As an animation director I work with departments and teams and everyone relies on you to pull it all together. If I have any advice to the ones who want to be in the industry in anyway, you need to find that deep confidence in yourself. If you are not confident in what you do, it is going to be a struggle and you will feel intimidated and it will over time wear you down. If you are not confident you need and must find a way. If you are an animator, take an acting class.
See what it feels like to be directed, to move, to be in your body. To experience things in the real world and it makes it easier to apply that to what ever you are doing. It is a responsibility lead the workof a group but it is vital to the work.
Books: "The 5 C's of cinematography", it is great, I pull that out, it communicates a lot in just a few pages. Also I always use the Internet also to get great inspirations. I find lessons everywhere though, my friends are editorial cartoonists; they express their inner voices. I go to musicals for color and lights and the great timing. Taking voice lessons are fantastic ways to learn to approach a character and it's dynamics. It gives you ways to approach things, how do the characters act and move. Stand, walk, talk……all those pieces. Developing shorts, stories, and experimenting is fantastic. It is an exciting time in the industry, it is not confined. There are so many studios and from all over the world. It is interesting to see what is brought to the work now.
Interview by Heather M. Shepherd
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.