Feb 262017
 

Here are a few more visual development sketches done while working in Ralph Eggleston‘s art department on FINDING NEMO, way back in 2000.

Some of my drawings of turtles and pelicans seen here (as well as designs for a moorish idol and sharks posted earlier) actually made it into the ART OF FINDING NEMO book. None of the VisDev I drew for subsequent Pixar movies ever appeared in such books ever again.

Page space in those ART OF books is very limited, and there are literally thousands of drawings generated by the art department over several years to choose from, so it was an utter surprise and delight to be included my very first time working on a project for Pixar.

In the early days working on FINDING NEMO, I was allowed to draw anything at all in the script that interested me, and I played for a day or two drawing kids who might be waiting to see the dentist (who has Nemo in a fish tank in his dental surgery). Personally, I absolutely loathed visiting the dentist as a child (as I still do) so the scaredy cat kid you see below would be me.

In terms of appearance though, as a kid I probably looked most like the solitary little bloke in his scruffy school uniform (middle of the pic on the right, above).

I not only tried my hand at designing NIGEL the pelican, I also got to be his temp voice on the STORY REEL. When making these movies it’s common for the crew to record temporary dialogue used in early edits of the film, before the final actors are even cast.

Pixar had a few Australian employees at the time, and it was perhaps the first and last time that Australian voices would ever be in demand for a Hollywood cartoon, so I was in the right place at the right time. I was called to do several voices; pelicans, dentists, sharks, random fish, you name it. It was a great deal of fun.

One by one all my voices were replaced with the proper actors, but one of my performances actually remained in the movie, more or less as an oversight. I was on holiday back in Australia when the studio realised that there were a few lines of my dialogue left in the final cut of the film (for a cranky Aussie crab).

It took them a while to track me down in Australia and send me some documents to sign at the very last minute of some deadline or other, to make the whole thing official with the Screen Actors Guild. The upshot is that FINDING NEMO is the only movie I’ve ever worked for which I actually get residuals.

Nov 262016
 

This is some visual development for WALL-E drawn back in early 2005 while I worked under the great production designer RALPH EGGLESTON in the Pixar ART department, before working in the story department on the same project.

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In its very earliest incarnation, WALL-E started as an idea developed by PETE DOCTER, but when it went into production the director was ANDREW STANTON. By the time I worked on it, the basic configuration of WALL-E had been already been decided- a little robot that could fold in on itself like a turtle and walked on caterpillar treads.

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The story artists worked with this description while the art department tried variations. Before the great JAY SHUSTER nailed the final appealing design, I explored a few WALL-E ideas myself.

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In the early days that I worked with Pixar, I often freelanced in the STORY department AND freelanced for the ART department. It was while working in the ART department that I drew these ideas for both the interior and exterior of WALL-E’s home, the dilapidated truck full of junk.

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Over the years of freelancing for Pixar, I’ve spent more time in STORY, but the very first time I ever worked for them was doing ART department chores on FINDING NEMO (see here and here), and some very early visdev on RATATOUILLE (see here) and finally WALL-E. As the studio got to the size they are now, my inter-departmental mobility stopped and I worked solely in STORY from UP onward.

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Most professional animation artists have more than one string to their bow; many story artists are fantastic designers, many animators can storyboard, many people in the art department are wonderful storytellers too, but modern big studio pipeline production forces most of us to stay in our designated boxes.

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One of the main reasons I always opted to stay freelance is that it allowed me to move freely among the different job responsibilities I love, doing as much of each of them as I can. Even when certain studios have a rigid pipeline, being a freelance artist gives me the option of doing design at one studio and story at another.

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I finally got to go on a Pixar art department field trip on WALL-E. I’d often heard about these wonderful trips to research PARIS, or to drive along ROUTE 66, but my chance to be part of such an exotic mission was when we went to research a world covered in trash by visiting the OAKLAND CITY DUMP. We in the ART department also visited a Northern California seal colony, to research, well.. BLUBBER.

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In an early version of WALL-E, it was not immediately obvious that the inhabitants of the spaceship that EVE comes from were human. They appeared to be jelly-like aliens (during production they were simply called GELs).

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It was only at the very end of the story that the audience learns that these blobs of jelly are what the human race has eventually become. They were very fun to design, but this revelation of human devolution was a conceptual bummer at the very end of a cartoon, so there was a major story rethink.

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After a month or two in the ART department I did a few sequences in the STORY department under JIM REARDON. Storyboarding WALL-E was very challenging in its own way, simply because it required so many drawings to describe each idea and emotion.

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Without dialog, the only way to convey the meaning of each character’s intentions was a ton of drawings to elaborately pantomime each bit of business, so that it was perhaps the most ‘animated’ story reel I’ve ever worked on.

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However, all the work I did was in the earlier version of the story mentioned above, and my contributions were ALL subsequently redone in the story rethink of the movie.

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Learning to be philosophical about having much (possibly ALL) of one’s work end up on the editing room floor is a big part of working in the early stages of animation production.

Jun 102015
 

INSIDE OUT is an unusual film for a big studio to make; it is very ambitious and abstract. I worked on the story team from 2010 to late 2012, and everyone was excited about the idea, but dramatising that idea was at times quite challenging. I finally saw the film at a crew Wrap Party screening last month, and I’m very pleased to say that it has come out wonderfully well.

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While enjoying the screening of INSIDE OUT, many conflicting and complicated feelings bubbled to the surface for me. Not long after wrestling with the challenges of dramatising the inner workings of the human mind, as part of the INSIDE OUT story team, a blood vessel burst in my head, and I was trapped inside my own mind for quite some time, as my body dealt with the effects of a swollen and ruptured brain. I’ve had a very rocky few years, and seeing the film reminded me of my own struggles; locked inside my own mind and struggling like crazy to get out.

So understandably, this film will always have personal significance for me, and perhaps I’m unable to be unbiased when I watch it. Even under less dramatic circumstances, working on these things means that it’s hard to know how other people will respond. Sometimes the general public likes a film more than me, sometimes less. Will my own feelings about this film be typical?

An early INSIDE OUT Story Crew lunch in 2011.

But for whatever my biased (and emotionally charged) opinion is worth, I feel that this is one of the great Pixar movies, and Pete Docter and his team have once again made a film to make people sit up and take notice. It is deep, and heartfelt, but funny and imaginative, and takes you to places that only an animated film can go. It’s a real return to form for the studio.

I hope with all my heart that this isn’t my last film as a pro story artist (I’m currently pushing hard on physical therapy and left-handed drawing practise to get back in the game) but if it is to be my career epitaph, at least I’ll be ending on a very high note and a movie to be proud of.

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The entire story team at the recent wrap party.

INSIDE OUT opens across the USA next week, on June 19th. Please go see it. I think you’ll like it.

Sep 172011
 

Here are some visual development designs I drew for FINDING NEMO back in 2000, when I was freelancing for the Pixar art department and RALPH EGGLESTON.

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This was around the time that I began doing artwork in the computer, and in fact this first colour image was one of the first I’d ever finished in Photoshop. The character was drawn on paper, scanned in coloured in Photoshop (but the background is a bit of a cheat because it’s a composite of a couple of photographs I found in magazines).

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While working on the visual development phase of the movie, I tried my hand at rough designs for dozens of characters, but these sharks were particularly fun. In late 2001, Pixar called me back in to work in the story department, and I storyboarded on the the sharks sequence (following the incredible work done by the amazing Jim Capobianco).

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The fact that I’d already spend time researching and drawing sharks helped me when storyboarding that sequence, and I was very pleased with how it worked out. One of my contributions was the ending, where an underwater exploding submarine results in one tiny bubble breaking the surface of the sea, misinterpreted as a fart by a prudish pelican. An internet discussion about FINDING NEMO referred to this as the “thinking man’s fart gag”.

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I followed all the internet chit-chat about FINDING NEMO with keen interest, both before and after the movie was released, when it finally broke a several-year streak where nothing that I worked on actually got made.

Jun 182011
 

Here’s some very early RATATOUILLE visdev I did for Jan Pinkava, way back in 2000.

As far as I know, I was the first artist to have drawn anything at all on this project, and these images were done as part of the very first pitch, where Jan pitched (I think) 3 of his original ideas, from which the studio selected RATATOUILLE. Once it got the go ahead, the mighty Carter Goodrich was brought on board to design the movie, and the rest is history.

A few years after I did this artwork, when Ratatouille was a greenlit production, Pixar called me in to work on it again, as a story-artist (under Jim Capobianco). RATATOUILLE was the first film I ever storyboarded on that used digital boards, although in those very early days it was a hybrid where we’d draw the art analog, scan it in and then assemble it all in a combo of Photoshop and Pixars proprietary PITCH DOCTER.

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Until UP came out a few years later, it was my favourite film that I’d ever worked on.

Jun 132011
 

I can’t think of any cartoonist that I admire more than the great RONALD SEARLE. Many others feel the same about this superb satirist and stylist, including the 70 PIXAR artists who recently sent him a 91st BIRTHDAY SKETCHBOOK filled with tributes; a project which I was honored (though intimidated) to be included in.

It was the one and only MATT JONES who had the unenviable task of wrangling 70 flakey cartoonists to fulfill their promises and bring the book to completion, which was achieved somewhat beyond the actual deadline but was very much appreciated by Mister Searle none-the-less. He wrote back to say as much.

You can read his response, as well as see the birthday greetings themselves, on the HAPPY 91ST RONALD blog, established by MATT to house the well-wisher’s artwork. A new tribute will be posted every day for the next few months. Be sure to check back often; i know for a fact there are some BEAUTIES in store!

If you’d prefer to look at a blog that (mostly) posts the AUTHENTIC Searle article, be sure to visit the SEARLE TRIBUTE BLOG (which is also run by Matt.)

May 102011
 

The organising, scanning and collating of old artwork continues… Here’s some FINDING NEMO concept sketches (in gouache and pencil) from early 2000.

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FINDING NEMO was the first time I’d ever worked for Pixar, as a freelance visual development artist, working mostly at home under RALPH EGGLESTON’s capable supervision. I must have jammed on visdev for about 6 months or so, until they assembled a proper art crew.

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At that time, Pixar was struggling to increase its bandwidth to do more than one movie at a time, and as amazing as it is to believe now, in the year 2000 Pixar had trouble filling positions, because the focus of the animation boom back then was 2D animation in Los Angeles. MONSTERS INC was in the heat of production, and most Pixar staff artists were focused on that, so the NEMO team had to use free freelance artists like myself.

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I drew fish, sharks, turtles, birds.. you name it. It was a really fun time. What you see here are some of the designs I did for the fish tank crew. I played with the idea that Jaques, who eventually became a French shrimp, was instead a kind of sea slug (called a nudibranch). That idea didn’t go too far though, because the studio had discovered on MONSTERS INC that CG tentacles were incredibly difficult to do. A pity, because I quite liked this version;

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The next year, 2001, Pixar called me in to do storyboards on the same project, on a story team lead by RONNIE DEL CARMEN. By then the studio had moved from their original facility in Point Richmond, to the swanky campus they occupy now. The project was so much further along by then, and it was fun to see the progression.

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I was excited to work on this film, and when it was finally released in 2003, it finally broke a curse I had been under where it seemed everything I worked on, especially if it was a cool project, got cancelled. Thanks, Nemo!

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Apr 202011
 

This charming gouache painting was just given to me by my pal MATT JONES.

It may be a GOODBYE present for my departing the story crew we both worked on together, or perhaps it is a SORRY present, to make amends for the incredibly funny good-bye CARD he also did, depicting me in the depths of tawdriness, which was signed by the entire crew to great hilarity. While part of me would love to share Matt’s awesome caricature powers with you all, The bigger part of me thinks it is waaay too GRAPHIC to be posted in this here family-friendly blog and definitely an image I would prefer NOT to show up in Google searches of my name! Either way, I am the winner becasue I end-up with not one but TWO drawings from the incredibly talented Mister Jones. One to be hung on the wall and the other to be taken out from hiding and chuckled at once in a while.

I’ve spent the past 6 months working on a very fun project at the world-famous factory of feel-good over there in Emeryville. This particular crew was staffed exclusively with an utterly lovely group of people and I look forward to working with all of them again sometime in the not too distant future.

Aug 122010
 

Not so long ago Ronnie organised a re-union lunch for the story team that had worked on UP, where we were finally introduced to THE GOLDEN BOY. It was a very pleasant afternoon, reconnecting with some people I had not seen in ages and a wonderful way to commemorate the project that is definitely the film I am most proud to have worked on so far.

Later, we posed for several team photos with the golden guest of honour, all of us sporting semi-formal neckties and white shirts, (“HOUSTON CONTROL” style) while standing beneath the Caricature Wall (which is a “who’s who” of story department history).

I spoiled this “serious faces” group shot by smiling. I couldn’t help myself. tee hee

Apr 292009
 

Last weekend, I was back in the Bay Area for a preview screening of UP, the 10th feature film from Pixar. The studio always puts on a good show at their WRAP PARTIES and it is a delight to see co-workers aglow in the joy of watching what they have worked so hard to make, while partying in fancy finery; evening gowns and tuxedos, even top hats and tails.

The film is fantastic, and watching it was extra fun for me because a good amount of my work actually made it into the final film; not always the case when you work only at the very beginning of the process, which was the case for me here. I am philosophical about having most (if not all) of my work cut out of projects because, after all, that exploration and opportunity to revise is what storyboarding is all about. So it was a special treat to see a lot of my work in the film. I very much enjoyed the working on this project with a crew that was full of gracious people, all the way UP to the directors themselves. However, all those good vibes didn’t make it a cake walk; I worked harder on this film than any other!

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The most gratifying part of it all is to see the finished film. It came out wonderfully. This film has a blend of madcap silliness and yet emotional realism that is difficult to strike, but one of the things I most enjoyed about it. I have never seen a story like this before and I think it is one of the best that Pixar has ever done (though I clearly have my own bias on that score) but I can state with absolute conviction that it is certainly my favourite film that I have worked on thus far. I hope that you all like it too. It opens everywhere on May 29th.