Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How I got started doing this whole "art" thing.

I've noticed it to be a common theme amongst most professors to have as an assignment "Write about how you decided on your major.", or something to that effect. Many people ask me, "How did you get started on art and animation?". Well... Here's my origin story. Here is the story of how I got bitten by the radioactive pencil.

I've always been a fan of animation and the drawn work... I was huge manga reader in high school, along with anime (I partook in many a fansub in my time). Something about the entertainment caught me better than anything else... I loved my fair share of animated films as well, particularly those from the wonderkinds at Pixar, and of course I watched my fair share of Saturday morning cartoon

s (Genndy Tartakovsky is of particular note). None of that gelled into me wanting to draw it though.

I have ALWAYS had a creative urge, from reenacting dramatic scenes as a child with stuffed animals, to building tremendous structures with legos, to constructing battlefields out of little more than twine, paper, and scotch tape. I was a HUGE fan of the Lion King, did some tracings of those, but for the most part, it was nothing big. At one point, I was taking art lessons while home-schooled, with a Mrs. Whetstone, through whom I learned the basics of drawing. This was the beginning, but I didn't really have a passion for it at the time. It was just I think I did, another thing I was good at.

I did doodles at the time, but they were simple, rudimentary... They were poor imitations of what I saw. And I wasn't that serious about them. Then one, magical day, I was reading one of my manga... Crescent Moon, by Haruko Iida, published by Tokyopop in 2000. Most likely, you have NEVER read or heard of this one.

Now, I know there are a lot of naysayers over the manga style, but honestly, despite whatever complaints or arguments you may have over the artform, you cannot deny that the following page is a work of art. (Or at least something that the artist slaved over for hours.)

There was something particularly stunning about this page that caught my attention... The intense nature of motion that you can see clearly depicted in this page. And most of the pages in the manga are like this, intensely detailed and heavily worked on, each a work of art and storytelling combined in a seemingly effortless fashion.

At any rate, just the way it was depicted, how an artist could make something as still as lines on a paper seem to be alive and move? This astounded me. I had never had that come to mind as being possible before. I was stunned. And I wanted to know more.

Naturally, I drew work of my own. It was... well they were all VERY rudimentary. But it was around then that a sketchbook was always in my possession. Something that all creatives should do: keep a notebook or sketchpad with you at ALL times. At the very instant a half-way decent idea pops in your head, you will have something to solidify it for all time. Honestly, the tiny one I have is about 3 bucks. I think you can afford it. Anyways... Here is some of my work from those days... Just so you know this is from... about 4-5 years ago, before any really firm study in the true art of drawing. Just a warning. They aren't that good. Okay. Here we go.

Yep, I was one of them anime freaks who could ONLY draw this style. Thankfully, somewhere along the line I saw/was told/discovered that learning to draw this way, although fun and offers quick easy results to feel proud of, completely and utterly destroys your actual abilities to draw. Sorry, but its true, it stunts your growth as an artist. That's why currently whenever I sketch a page of cartoony characters, they span an infinite variety of art styles, all attempting to be different from the next. I don't like getting into ruts, and the anime style is a dangerous but alluring one. End rant.

Anyways, I eventually came under the tutelage of a good fine arts teacher, Theresa Wisehart, and then the results turned rather beautiful rather quickly. Although, I must say that a lot of this all stems from a good and simple piece of advice that was directed to me by Mrs. Whetstone.

"Draw what you see."

Yup, simple, but it was extremely helpful and it actually is excellent guidance. NEVER draw what you know (at least at first), because what you know is rusty and tainted. If you first can draw what you see, then what you see in your head will make its way to the paper. But almost never will you be able to do the reverse. There are always exceptions to the rule, but I will say for most, do NOT draw what you think an object looks like. Draw what the object looks like by having it before you. The first one of the following was a still-life. The others were developed from using references.

So here is a simple still life. Nothing too fancy, but this was one of the weirdest perspective challenges I ever faced. And somehow, I made it work.

Over here is an Escher inspired work. This was done mostly developed from my head, but the key reference I used was a looking glass ball, that I used to analyze how light reflects on a curved surface. If you have never done this before and would like a good challenge as an illustrator, trust me. Grab a mirrored ball, and have the time of your life trying to wrap your head around the patterns of reflection. Particularly when you have objects reflecting upon other objects that reflect upon themselves. It gets confusing. Really quickly.

This last one was mostly developed by me staring at my hands. A lot. It gets really frustrating when your model is your drawing hand, which is why cameras are of the essence. Yup, I know, crazy stuff.

So yeah, draw what you see. Most definitely. But from here... Well basically my enchantment with drawing progressed from here to the comic book form. I decided, well, since I really liked the moving stuff, I liked telling stories, and the fine arts thing... Well, it gets too weird for me sometimes. I've co-developed a really good practicing method for comic art, alongside a friend, Travis, in which basically I'd ask him to tell me a random story idea, and a number. The story idea would have to be worked into that many number of frames. Eventually, this developed into a simple challenge. Either...
A. Take a complicated story, and tell it in 3-5 frames.
B. Take an obscenely simple story, and tell it in 15+ frames.
First assignment was the sinking of the Titanic in 5. Not too hard. A samurai fighting a crocodile in 3. Really difficult. A person eating an apple in 15 frames... This is getting kinda tough (trust me, try to figure out how to make THAT an interesting story, and draw it). Eventually, if you actually do this sort of practice, ideas and concepts to develop and embellish stories come really quickly to you.

The comic art form was fun, but eventually my interest in making things move drifted into the animated sector. From there... Well first I muddled with 2D, I dabbled in stop-motion, and then quickly became enchanted in 3D. My teacher through all of that was Danni Brayer, and excellent graphics instructor, under who's guidance I met my most improvement. Everything basically hit the fast track then, and after spending hours slaving away on a light table, I knew that this meticulous labor of love was my passion.

That's my story in a nutshell. Eventually I'll post a few animations that I've done for you guys, but hope you'll enjoy what's here thus far. And... I'll post something that I never got finished, but was proud that I even tried to do this: a short little animation about a dog and an alien. Took me over 80 hours of work during senior year in about 2 or 3 weeks. I never kept good track of the work time.
My tools? Pencil, Animation Paper, Light table, Scanner. That's it. I also used Premiere to make the frames a video, but for the most part... Yeah. Basic, rudimentary, old school.
Maybe at some point I'll put it to music, but there isn't any sound, and I apologize for the hilarious frame gap that happens midpoint. Maybe someday I'll return to this, but I'll probably redo the whole entire short.


One thing I will leave you with is a few good books to read. Any of Scott McCloud's books are excellent for comic or graphic novel artist. Even if you aren't, you probably should read it anyway, because it will challenge you to think more about what you do already. The Illusion of Life by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston is a must read if you are an animator, along with the Animator's Survival Kit by Richard Williams. If you look up to Pixar's work to be inspired, I'd definitely watch the Pixar Story, a documentary that you can find nestled in the special features on the DVD of WallE, and then also read The Pixar Touch by David A. Price. That, and read and absorb and observe EVERY piece of artwork you can get your hands on. Be literally drenched in the stuff. Even if you hate the art style, still, study and observe the thing to death. Anyways, hope this answers the question for how I started into this whole shindig.

Oh, and interesting trivia bit: my full name? Nathaniel Arthur Moody. "Art", in fact, IS my middle name.

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