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The Intricacies of Designing a Pixar-worthy Character
Updated 2015-07-13
Recently, one of the world’s leading art design institutions, The One Academy, invited two Pixar experts who are in the team of The One Academy’s dynamic industry lecturers to provide students with comprehensive knowledge and skills pertinent to the film animation industry. One of them is Pixar’s Animation Director Andrew Gordon. Among his vast experience in animations include partaking in the production of box office hits ‘Monsters University’, ‘Inside Out’, ‘Toy Story 3’, ‘Ratatouille’, ‘Cars’, ‘The Incredibles’, ‘Finding Nemo’ and many others. There was also Daniel Holland who is currently an Art Director who have contributed to Academy Awards winning films ‘Wall-E’, ‘Toy Story 3’, and ‘Up’, plus ‘Cars 2’, which was nominated for a Golden Globe. His latest feature film project was ‘Inside Out’, in which he designed the production sets for.

For The One Academy students, being recruited into renowned film animation industries such as Pixar is possible, albeit challenging. Therefore, following the ‘Masters Train Masters’ teaching philosophy, students get to learn about the 3D Character Animation and Performance and also Character Design & Production in this lecture by masters with years of valuable experience. This braces the students with a stronger mentality and finer skills.

Andrew explored more specific topics within Animation such as Pose Design, Locomotion, Acting & Gestures, Planning and Facial Animation. He mostly focused on the aspects that matter most in animations, for example, creating authentic and believable motions, poses and actions of animated characters. According to his vast experience as Pixar’s Animation Director, every little detail in animation matters to construct a character whom everyone can empathize with.

“Even the smallest details count,” said Andrew Gordon before launching his session into a series of sketch practices with students where he warmed the students up and also gauge their artistic abilities.

Besides that, students also gained more conceptual understanding of acting and performance. In lieu with the detailed aspect of animation, the movement and coherence of one pose of a character with the succeeding ones should be a smooth transition.

“When you look at a picture of a character posing, you must immediately ‘get it’,” said Andrew Gordon during the session with Digital Animation with Game Development students. He also shared important elements in animation gestures such as dynamics, exaggerative elements, shapes, anatomy and volume and how artists can create a path for eyes to travel through drawings.

Dan, on the other hand, stressed on the feelings and emotions of characters in the creation process rather than the aesthetics – how they look. He described character design as a translation of emotions into symbolic meanings that the audience can relate to. Therefore, it is imperative to consider many aspects of a character including its history, personality and experiences to build a visually entertaining personality.

He also encouraged students to immerse themselves in various films including elements that make them stand out. In simpler terms, he summed it up with the acronym R.E.D. - R for research, E for experimentation and D for decision. Research must be done but used only as reference; experimentation to be executed as artists should explore by creating various images based on the research done to develop ideas while remaining open minded; and finally, decide on which sketches to pick as they are filtered and selected to be adapted for film in a 3D space.

Dan said that it is an artist’s responsibility to guide the viewer’s eyes (where to look) as viewers only have a brief amount of time to get the message through until the next scene comes in. As such, creative artists are on a constant search for inspiration. To get a constant flow of inspiration, Dan advised students to always keep their minds and senses open at all times and continuously study life to bring passion and interests into their work to keep their designs fresh and create that special spark.

“Life is one giant library of inspiration. When drawing you’re looking at life through a microscope—extracting details to enrich your work,” said Dan during his lecture.


Andrew Gordon and Dan Holland exchanging pointers while demonstrating hand animation techniques.



Andrew Gordon, Dan Holland and The One Academy students and staff concluding the master lecture with a group photo.