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Character Design & Production Lecture by Experts Dan Holland and John Nevarez
Updated 2015-07-14
Going into the Character Design and Production department in film animation industries is one of the more popular career aspirations among The One Academy’s students, the world’s leading art & design creative institution. Recently, Dan Holland, Pixar Art Director whose latest projects include the upcoming ‘Inside Out’ animation and John Nevarez, former Pixar Concept Designer who is currently freelancing, teaching and writing a book, were invited to give a lecture to students in separate sessions so that the students can have a clearer picture of what character design and production really are.

Both John and Dan in unison taught the fundamentals of character design and production with John starting right from warm-ups where students are challenged to a series of gesture drawings ranging from shapes and still poses to movements and expressions, each drawing done in 30 seconds. This was done to train students to increase their sketching speed which is very necessary when drawing in a production company for an animation film.

Dan, on the other hand, focused more on teaching students to always draw what characters feel rather than how they look. He described character design as a language of symbols because designers basically take things and translate them into symbolic meanings, which, in the end, mean creating an entertaining personality visually. The best designers, according to Dan, look at many aspects of a character including its history, personality and experiences, then, build the character around that.

To get a better grip of the animation world, John reminded students to constantly expose themselves to various kinds of different films and study them, taking note of the film elements such as composition, lighting, storyboarding, different camera angles. Students should also exercise practical applications like methodical research to build believability in stories and practice elaborate thinking process when they sketch.

In Dan’s class, he resounded the same philosophy, summing up the methods of character design to this acronym: R.E.D. – R for research, E for experimentation and D for decision where 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.

Storytelling is the core of the animation film industry and it must be constantly kept in mind whenever characters are designed as stressed by John. Therefore, it is important that viewers are able to get what the character is portraying in one single pose. Both John and 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 till 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.

At the end of their lecture, both film artists shared important elements that should be included in the students’ portfolio and how to tailor towards the animation industry or more specifically, the character design and production career. For John, he walked through with them through practical drawing sessions and gave professional critiques of what worked and what didn’t in the drawings plus what production companies are actually looking for in the portfolios. Dan, in the meantime, emphasised that students should illustrate the process of how they arrived at the final piece as it tells volumes about an artist, demonstrates the artist’s ability to solve creative problems and the ability to fluently communicate the visual language.

All in all, The One Academy students were highly inspired by the master lecture and felt they were one step closer to meeting their dreams after the classes. This is precisely the reason why The One Academy organised this master lectures as part of its ‘Masters Train Masters’ programme where experienced professionals such as John and Dan are brought in to engage and educate the students, with an aim to expose them to real industry standards and help them access to open doors in the art industry.