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Chris Sasaki Interview
Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?
Well like many kids who wanted to get into animation, I was told to attend CalArts, but I didn't get accepted. Although it is something I can look back on and say I'm glad it went the way it did. Not because I think the school is bad or anything, but because I probably wouldn't have met the teachers or friends I did. I ended up going to a small school called Woodbury University, where I had some amazing teachers, Eddie Rosas, Pete Gomez, Mike Sheehan, Michael Wingo, Dori Little, Jack Bosson, Sue Kroyer, Sean Sexton, Dave Schwartz and so on. I always made the best of classes and figured the "pedigree" of a school didn't matter as much as the quality of teachers and my own effort.
So I got a well rounded education with a little bit of everything in animation: storyboarding, animating, designing, layout, maya, painting, and figure drawing. I enjoyed the variety, but around the beginning of senior year I knew I had to focus my portfolio in some sort of direction. Around that time, I was lucky enough to be a production intern in the DreamWorks Art Department. I was blown away by the many talented artists there. They really have alot of the best character designers working there, and it was very inspiring to walk down the halls and see the amazing artwork. My job duties were pretty much shredding paper, checking the supplies, watching the story reels and marking down what prop needed to be designed and so on. But I wanted to make the best of the job, so I started bringing in my own designs to see if I could get any help. I met Tony Siruno who later became my mentor. He is an awesome artist, and showed me exactly what I needed to work on, and gave me some very valuable shape design exercises. I guess from there, I kind of knew I wanted to pursue designing characters specifically.
How do you go about designing, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?
Well the first thing I do is research. I try and find anything related to the character, from clothes, hairstyle, personalty etc. Fashion magazines, hairstyling magazines, old silver screen film books, and photojournalism books all help to avoid getting into the generic. Then I begin to thumbnail and explore with simple shapes that work for the personality of the character. For example if I'm doing a heavy villain, I'll probably explore using alot of square shapes, and build on it from there. I also try and start with a fat marker or pen so I can just get my ideas on paper fast and avoid getting too tight too early. Using a marker and pen just forces me to be confident and put a line down, rather than noodling. Thumbnailing in general is great, you can work small and can see an overall silhouette quickly and know if it is working or not. Once I find the shape and gesture I like, I'll scan my drawing or use the photocopy machine and enlarge the images I want to refine. Now I can begin to nail down my design, adding my details, clarity, and finding my straights and curves.
Depending on the time, it's always good to do a variety, and not get stuck with your fist drawing. When I turn in drawings I want the people reviewing to have options. Sometimes people don't know what they want until they see it. They might like the way I drew a nose in drawing one, and the way I styled the hair in drawing five. If they can pick and choose from one batch, I am able to narrow down what they want much sooner.
What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work with?
Most recently I have been freelancing from home with different studios. I like to start my morning with a brand new box of cereal, and finish it before I get in the shower. I really do go through alot of cereal. I then brew my coffee, watch the latest and greatest you tube video of the day, and check my email to see what revisions or designs I have to make. Then I get to working! I live in Portland, and the sun is not out very often. So sometimes if the weather is good (and I don't have phone meetings scheduled) I'll spend the day outside and work through the wee hours of the night instead.
Working in a studio is a bit different. It's more structured, but can come with its own perks. I loved collaborating and sharing ideas about design every day. It's always exciting to do your take on a character and see what other artists come up with from their own point of view. In meetings, the art director and director will give notes on what is working for them and what isn't. From there, the designers will take everyone's ideas and use a little from one drawing to another, to make it come together. The ideal result draws on every designer's individual strengths and imagination. Sometimes it works and the character comes to life in an authentic way. But sometimes it can be "too many cooks in the kitchen".
What are some of the things that you have worked on?
My first real gig was at Jim Henson, working on some straight to DVD features. It was a fun experience and I met some great artists who pushed me to really work at perfecting my drawing skills: Eric Robles, Dave Chlistek, Fred Gardner, Ashby Mason, and Aaron Clark became great friends and all helped me in one way or another. Afterwards I did a couple of freelance gigs here and there with Disney TV, and this PBS show "CarTalk". Not long after that, I got connected with LAIKA through a friend I had previously worked with at Henson. Thinking a break from L.A. might be nice, I packed my bags and moved up to Portland, Oregon.
I worked on a project called "Jack and Ben", which was supposed to follow up Coraline. The story had several incarnations, but mostly revolved around birds, which I drew ALOT of. So many great artists on that project: Ovi Nedelcu, Fred Gardner, Santino Lascano, Meghan Jean Kinder, Scott Fasset, Andy Ereckson, Lauren Bair, Tony Merrithew, Mark Ellis, Andrew Hickson. Unfortunately the project was shelved in December. Since then I have been freelancing with different studios.
Is there a design you have done that you are most proud of?
That is kind of hard to say, I love one drawing one day and then hate it the next day. My girlfriend gets upset when I toss drawings, I always find her uncrumpling them from the trash.
What projects have you done in the past, and what are you working on now? (if you can tell us)
I think I answered part of that question already, but currently I am freelancing with Blue Sky, and Disney TV. I am also working on a Circus children's book, and hoping to get it done before the end of this year.
Who do you think are the top artists out there?
It is kind of hard to choose a select few of designers, since there so many past and present artists. Charley Harper, Al Hirschfeld, Ed Emberley, Ronald Searle, Yasuji Mori, Tom Oreb, Milt Kahl, Chuck Jones, Aurelius Battaglia, Bernice Myers, Marc Davis, Tony Siruno, Nico Marlet, Carlos Grangel, Devin Crane, Ovi Nedelcu, Shannon Tindle, Shane Prigmore, Eddie Rosas, Craig Kellman, Eric Robles, Ricky Nierva, Joe Moshier, Tony Fucile, Jason Deamer, Jillian Tamaki, Frank Stockton, the list goes on...
Could you talk about your process in coloring your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?
Pencil, Marker, and Photoshop. I finally invested in a cintiq, though, and lately have been using Sketchbook Pro almost exclusively. When I color I don't really go crazy. I try to keep my color palette very simple and limited so I can focus specifically on design. When I am working for studios, I normally do a quick suggestive color pass in photoshop unless I am asked specifically to paint. I want to allow the painters to just go to town with it, and see their interpretation. Sometimes at LAIKA I would take my characters from drawing all the way to finished paint, and we had a running joke with the painters that I had to put a dollar in the beer jar each time I infringed on their job. (ahem Lauren)
What part of designing is most fun and easy, and what is most hard?
The exciting part of designing for me is the beginning stages. I love doing thumbnails, working loosely and finding the variety of shapes. I feel it's when you can be the most creative. The hardest part is probably trying to make everyone happy, or trying to stick with a design. I seem to always want to go back and revise something when it is too late.
What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?
When I am at a studio or freelancing, I am working on someone else's project and have to draw from one style to another, sometimes against my own taste. In the routine of things it is easy to forget the simplest stuff sometimes. Finding drawing time for myself is so important to stay fresh. Creating personal projects for myself after hours is when there are no boundaries and I can try anything. And getting outside and being part of the world and seeing everything that is out there--art shows, museums, music, people, it's all inspiring.
What are some of your favorite designs which you have seen?
I love Tom Oreb's styling on Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom and 101 Dalmatians.
What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?
It always nice to draw freakish people, since alot of the projects I have been getting lately are animal projects. My senior film was about a traveling circus and a bearded lady, and I cannot seem to escape from drawing that theme. Hence the children's book I am developing!
What inspired you to become an Artist?
My dad once told me that when I was a baby, before I could walk or talk, he was strolling me in a cart at a mall. An old lady randomly came up and told him, "Your son is going to grow up and be an artist!" She told him she was a psychic and could see I was going to grow up around art. My dad, who is a scientist, was weirded out and shocked to hear... ARTIST? As it happened, my Grandpa was an architect and would always draw funny pictures for me. It eventually led to me drawing along with him, and then finally on my own. I still have the sketchbooks we both drew in, and especially now can appreciate his amazing draftsmanship.
So I always loved to draw and had plenty of support from my parents. But I really didn't think it would ever lead to a career until my senior year of high school, when my art teacher started going in depth with about illustration schools we should apply to. He briefly mentioned a few words about animation before going back into illustration, but I wanted to learn more about the animation schools and curriculum. So I guess that is kind of where I chose the path for myself.
What are some of your favorite websites that you go to?
Shorpy.com, Cartoon Brew, Character Design Blog. There are too many artist blogs to name. Oh, and Hulu.com to catch up on my shows.
What wisdom could you give us, about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?
I still consider myself new to the industry, so I'm not sure if I have any "veteran" wisdom. But ever since I was little my Grandpa told me "Always do your best!" He still tells me that when I am on the phone with him. So I guess always go that extra mile. Don't get complacent. Do the research on your character, be thorough in your thumbnails, and draw. draw. draw. Also, always try to carry a positive and constructive attitude--the Golden Rule applies. No one wants to work with an ass who thinks his shit don't stink.
If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?
Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbook, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?
I don't have anything for sale at the moment, but working on it. If anyone is interested in prints or commissions, feel free to email me and I'm sure something can be arranged.