Character Design: Rhino

Last year I did some concept development work for an animated motion picture currently being developed in Hollywood. I was brought on board to help design some animal characters. The catch was that I had to try to match the style of another artist who had already done quite a bit of their visual development.

I did some sketches of an ostrich and a near-sighted rhino. Ultimately it was decided that I wasn’t quite capturing the look they were after and so we shook hands and parted ways. Oh well, you can’t win them all. But they were great people to work with, they paid me for my work, and we parted on good terms.

I can’t say too much about the project because as far as I know it is still in development. But I did retain the rights to my unused sketches and can show them to you. I posted some ostrich samples a while back. Today I came across some of the rhino drawings in my files and thought I would post them as well:

Copyright © Cedric Hohnstadt. All rights reserved.

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Archive of American Television

As a freelancer I spend long hours working in the quiet solitude of my studio. I’m always looking for something new and interesting to listen to in the background while I draw. My iTunes library gets a lot of heavy usage, as does my radio, podcasts, and audiobooks.

Recently I discovered a new resource to add to my list: The Archive of American Television.

This fascinating website is jam-packed with long, in-depth video interviews with dozens (maybe even hundreds) of the biggest names in American television both in front of and behind the camera. And when I say the interviews are long, I mean long. Many are several hours in length. And they are totally free.

I’m a bit of a movie and TV buff and I’m endlessly fascinated with what goes on in Hollywood. I’m not talking about the sleazy gossip–I couldn’t care less about most of that. I mean the creative process, especially in animation but also in live-action. How do scripts get written? How do TV shows and movies get made? What are the business decisions that guide a project? What are the obstacles that have to be overcome and the compromises that have to be made? What’s it like for the actors, directors, and writers to be creative in the high-stakes pressure cooker of Hollywood?

Over the last few days I’ve listened to lengthy interviews with greats such as Chuck Jones, Stephen J. Cannell (creator of “The Rockford Files”, “The A-Team”, and “The Greatest American Hero”), Norman Lear (creator of “All in the Family”, “The Jefferson”, “Good Times”, “Sanford & Son”, etc.), and Alan Alda (“M*A*S*H”). Other interviews I’ll be listening too soon include Joseph Barbera (of Hanna-Barbara), Roy. E. Disney, Bill Melendez (“Charlie Brown” animator), Ron Howard, Gary Marshall, Larry Gelbart, and many others.

There’s some salty language but overall the interviews are fascinating. You can browse by person, TV show, by profession, or by topic. You can watch just selected clips or entire interviews.

The Archive of American Television is a terrific resource for anyone interested in filmmaking.

Interview with Character Designer Dan Haskett

Dan Haskett is an animation veteran and one of the top character designers in the business. He’s contributed to classic feature films including The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Prince of Egypt, Mulan, and Toy Story. Dan helped translate Matt Groening’s early sketches for The Simpsons into the look we know today and was rewarded with an Emmy for his work.  He’s also worked on numerous commercials and created animated bits for Sesame Street.

I first met Dan Haskett at the Motion ’08 animation conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he gave a fascinating presentation on designing ethnic characters (read my blog post about it here). After his presentation he was kind enough to review my portfolio. The following year I was invited back to the Motion conference as a speaker where I again had the chance to visit with Dan. He’s a brilliant and versatile artist, a likable guy with strong opinions that he shares in a soft-spoken and thoughtful manner.

In January 2010 Dan was kind enough to give me a phone interview from his desk at Warner Brothers where he is currently designing characters for two Scooby Doo projects. He shared some observations on the industry, offered some advice, and gave his thoughts on The Princess and the Frog from his perspective as an African American in the animation industry.

(Full interview after the break.)

(The above artwork is copyright © Dan Haskett. All rights reserved.)

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Ostrich Concept Sketches

A few months ago I was hired by an independent film studio in Hollywood to work on some concept sketches for an animated feature film they are developing. They had brought in an artist to do some concept work but that artist was no longer available. I was asked to do some sketches of one of the characters (a young ostrich) and, if things worked out, I would be hired to design all of the remaining characters for the movie.

It was a fun project but unfortunately things didn’t work out. Sometimes that’s just the way it goes. The studio asked me to design a character in a similar style to what the previous artist had done, and I did my best to match that style. I also played around with other shapes and designs to explore different ways of thinking about the look and personality of the characters.

Here’s a few of those rough concept sketches I developed.

CTN Animation Expo Just Around The Corner

CTN

I’ve been looking forward to this for months. The CTN Animation Expo starts Friday in Burbank, CA. To my knowledge this is the first-ever event of its kind. Artists and creatives from all over the Hollywood animation scene will be gathered under one roof for three days of inspiring seminars, workshops, and networking. Lots of artists will be exhibiting their work and some of the big studios in town will be scouting for talent. There’s going to be a lot going on and the event is generating a lot of buzz. Highlights include:

  • Panels and Presentations…click here for schedule.
  • A tribute to legendary Cartoonist Ronald Searle.
  • Spotlight Booksignings and Exclusive Sketchbook Releases.
  • Speed Talent sessions—show your portfolio, ask questions, meet a mentor.
  • Screenings: “The Secret of the Kells”, “Banjo The Woodpile Cat”, and a surprise late night screening 11pm on Saturday… sshhhhhh!
  • Live Demonstrations hourly by the creators of some of the highest grossing films in the history of animation.
  • Exclusive Spotlight Interviews: (in alphabetical order)
    Peter de Sève
    Gary Goldman and Don Bluth
    Mike Mignola
    Paul Young and Tom Moore the makers of “The Secret of the Kells”
  • CTN-X@nite Networking Parties sponsored by Animation Magazine, The Marriott Hotel and Walt Disney Studios.
  • Reunions: Don Bluth Studios, Walt Disney Florida and Rowland Animation and more.
  • Live Demonstrations all weekend.
  • Recession Buster Raffle $1000 cash and prizes. One winner a day.
  • ToonBoom:  Presentations and Software Raffle
  • Z-Brush: Presentations and Software Raffle
  • Corel/Wacom Artist Contest: Win a Painter and Intuos 4 tablet.

You can still get tickets, starting at just $25. Hope to see you there!

(The CTN Expo is sponsored by the Creative Talent Network.)

Report From The Hollywood Reuben Awards Weekend

My wife and I spent Memorial Day weekend in Hollywood where we visited a couple of clients, did some vacationing, and attended the 2009 National Catoonists Society Reuben Awards Weekend. I love Los Angeles and this was one of the most enjoyable trips I’ve taken in quite a while. I’ve got a bunch of photos posted over on my Facebook page. Here’s a few of the many highlights:

As always the National Cartoonists Society picked a terrific location to host this year’s Reubens. You could see the Hollywood sign from our hotel and the famous Mann’s Chinese theater was just a block or two down the street.

Cartoonist Steve Moore, creator of "Open Season", talked about how the animated movie came to be.

The Reubens Weekend kicked off with a presentation by cartoonist Steve Moore, creator of the strip In The Bleachers and co-creator of the animated film Open Season. He discussed the path he took from being a cartoonist to pitching ideas in Hollywood. He also shared a lot of valuable advice for anyone who is considering putting together a pitch for a movie or TV series. I took a lot of notes. A few points that stood out to me were:

  • Write what you know.
  • What makes a TV series successful is characters that people can will want to spend time with week after week.
  • In a pitch the most important thing is having a world and characters that are clearly defined and that are truly unique.
  • Have a clear point of view (know the style/tone of your show).
  • Make sure your premise/concept lends itself to not just a few stories but hundreds and hundreds of possible stories.
  • There is no recipe for success, just strong ideas and strong execution.

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Next up was veteran Disney animator/director Eric Goldberg (apologies for the bad photo). Goldberg is most famous for designing and animating Robin Williams’ Genie in Aladdin. He showed several clips of classic animation and talked about the importance of using clear and expressive poses when drawing a character. The best drawings say a lot with a little, capturing a character’s emotions *and* action in one pose. Goldberg calls it the “Name That Tune” style of animation (“I can name that scene in five drawings, Bob”).

Recently Eric Goldberg released a terrific book on animation called Character Animation Crash Course!. It comes with a CD-ROM containing animated samples from the book for further study. Highly recommended.

Movie poster artist Drew Struzan discussed his work.

Next up was movie poster artist Drew Struzan. You’ve seen his work on movie poster and memorabilia for dozens of classic movies including Back To The Future, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars. He showed slides of his work and talked about what it’s like working with Hollywood studios.

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Friday night and Saturday morning everyone enjoyed food near the hotel’s rooftop pool.

Character designer Stephen Silver (www.silvertoons.com) does a sketch for a fan.

Character designer Stephen Silver (Kim Possible) pauses to do a sketch for a fan. Incidentally, Silver teaches an online character design course at Schoolism.com. I took it last year and it was amazing. I probably learned more from his one class than I did in an entire semester of art school.

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On Saturday morning my wife and I strolled up and down Hollywood Blvd to do some sight seeing, and then landed back at the hotel in time for a panel discussion on the future of newspaper comic strips. Several points of view were shared but everyone seemed to agree that the future is in computers and mobile devices (i.e. the iPhone). The only problem is finding a way to monetize online readership. At least two panel members mentioned that newspapers are having a hard time finding a financial model that works on the web, and that selling ad space on a website won’t be enough to keep things running. Still, the tone overall was cautiously optimistic.

Cedric w/Michael Ramirez

The final presentation was given by two-time Pulitzer-prize winning editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez. I didn’t get a photo of his presentation but he was kind enough to pose for a photo with me before performing with his band at the Sunday night party. Incidentally Ramirez also won a Reuben award this weekend for “Best Editorial Cartoonist”.

Ramirez is not only a terrific draftsman but a master satirist. I bought a copy of his new book, Everyone Has the Right to My Opinion, and enjoyed reading it on the flight home. His work is amazing and I found myself chuckling out loud at several of the cartoons. His cartoons are simple, powerful, and funny, which is a difficult balancing act to achieve. What is most amazing of all is that he often starts each cartoon at 10am after his morning meetings and has it inked, colored, and submitted by 3pm. That’s amazing speed, especially considering the detail in his drawings.

Jennie and I on our way to the Reuben Awards. You can barely see it but the Hollywood sign is between our heads.

The highlight of the weekend was the Reuben Awards on Saturday night. It’s a black-tie event which gives us cartoonists the rare opportunity to dress up and make ourselves presentable. My wife and I posed for a snapshot on our way to the awards dinner. If you squint you can make out the Hollywood sign between our heads.

I had to pretend to be a waiter but eventually they let me in to the banquet.

Mingling outside before the awards begin.

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MAD Magazine cartoonist Sergio Aragones chats with fellow MAD artist Tom Richmond.

Congrats to cartoonist Dave Coverly (Speed Bump) for winning Cartoonist of the Year. He’s been nominated numerous times and I’m a big fan of his strip so I was delighted to see him win. For a complete list of this year’s winners click here.

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On Sunday my wife and I did some more sight seeing. On Hollywood Boulevard there are a lot of “actors” dressed as famous movie characters. They make their living by allowing you to take a picture with them in exchange for tips. We saw Jack Sparrow, Elmo, and Darth Vader all having lunch at a nearby McDonalds (unfortunately my photos of Elmo and Vader were too blurry to post). The characters are not sanctioned by any movie studio or local businesses. In fact, many locals view them as glorified panhandlers who are contributing to the overall delcine in the environment on Hollywood Blvd.

Incidentally, a few weeks ago I watched a documentary on Hulu.com, Confessions of a Superhero, which examined the lives of four of these “actors”. It was a surprisingly good film.

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Sunday night cartoonist Cathy Guisewite (“Cathy”) graciously hosted about 300 NCS members for an outdoor dinner at her home. There was terrific mexican food and live music. We were given a tour of her home, and as is the tradition after the dinner many people traded drawings in each other’s sketchbooks.

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A Cathy doll demonstrates the process of working on the strip in her studio.

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Cathy set up a table with a large ceramic pot and a miniature piano, and encouraged everyone to doodle on them. Here’s a shot of Bil Keane (Family Circus) doing a sketch while his son and NCS president Jeff Keane looks on.

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MAD Magazine artist Tom Richmond heckles Hallmark artist Dave Mowder while he draws on the piano.

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I contributed a little doodle as well.

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I had a nice chat with animator and author Tom Sito. I’ve been enjoying Tom’s book, Drawing the Line, about the history of the cartoonists unions. It sounds like a dull topic but so many people recommended the book to me that I had to check it out. It’s a fascinating read full of colorful stories and anecdotes about the history of the animation industry. A must-read for anyone interested in learning more about the biz.

Cedric, Cathy Guisewite, and Jennie

On our way out Jennie and I posed with our very gracious host Cathy Guisewite. She threw an incredible party and was extremely generous in allowing all of us into her home.

This year’s Reubens was a rousing success and the organizers deserve a big round of applause for all their hard work. I can’t wait for next year.

Pixar Announces Upcoming Films

In a recent New York Times article Pixar announced its upcoming slate of animated films. (You have to register to read the article). The list includes:

Wal-E (official site) — A film from writer/director Andrew Stanton (Finding Nemo) that tells the story of a robot stranded on earth all-alone in distant future. Large chunks of the film will have no dialogue, just pantomime and sound effects. If anyone can pull that off and still engage the audience, it’s the masterful animators at Pixar. After all, as the author points out, the Road Runner and Cyote never talked either. Wall-E hits theaters on June 27.

Up — Described as “a comedy about a cranky, cane-wielding 78-year-old who transports his home to exotic locales by attaching hundreds of helium-filled balloons”

The Bear and the Bow — Pixar’s first fairy tale,

Cars 2 — Pixar’s second attempt at a sequel. Their first, Toy Story 2, was actually better than the original. Let’s hope the same for Cars 2.

Pixar has one of the best (if not THE best) track records in Hollywood: Every single one of their films has been a box office smash. They have yet to produce a flop. I can’t think of any other studio in Hollywood can make that claim. Including Disney. So I’m very excited to get hints at what they’ve got coming down the pipe.