I used to look up to top cartoonists- not for their money or fame- but because they could draw whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. From my young artistic perspective, my ultimate goal was to be able to draw whatever I could think of- perfectly. That’s when I would know I made it as an artist, I thought. That’s when I could relax and stop having to practice, learn, and strive. I would have all the answers and just be able to express anything on paper to the enjoyment and amazement of the world. That was my dream!
But over 40 years later and it still hasn’t happened! I learn something new about art, drawing, animation, cartooning, and life- everyday. It’s hard work but I love it. I now WANT to keep growing. I don’t have to be the BEST artist in the room. It took me a long while to learn that. My thinking started to change in my first days of going to CalArts- my animation college. I had gone from having the title of “best artist in my high school” to a classroom FULL of the “best artists in their high school”. For the first time, I was faced with competition that wasn’t my brother Tom, and even better- new talent to learn from. And that was just the students. There were the instructors: The late, great Joe Ranft taught me Story, Disney animator (and director of “Frozen”) Chris Buck taught me Animation, the incredible Mike Giamo taught me Character Design, along with the occasional guest lecture by Glen Keane and Brad Bird. All were in their prime for what they did and each one spoke about new things they were learning on the projects they were working on at Disney and other studios. Wait- these incredible talents- professionals at Disney- were still LEARNING? And they were passing on these newfound lessons onto us? It blew my mind. From that point forward I discovered that there are so many aspects to what makes a person truly great at anything that there is no stopping point. There is no mountaintop to being an artist. There’s always a new challenge. And, I also discovered, the BEST Animators/Artists SEARCH OUT new challenges to make them learn more and grow! To be a GREAT animator you have to learn acting, drawing, anatomy, movement mechanics, film, timing, pacing, editing, and thousands of other nuances of life. How can any one person know it all? Additionally, each new element learned folds into the knowledge you already have and compounds itself so that everything you know is even richer. Learning sculpture makes your drawings better, learning painting makes your sculptures better and on and on. My great design teacher, Bob Winquist had his own way of telling us this, “when you’re green you’re growing and when you’re brown your dying.” Stay green.
Author of Focal Press’s Directing for Animation