This is a summary of the first Q&A Session I did on facebook on
November 4th 2014
Who am I?
I was born in Japan and moved with my family to Germany when I was two and a half years old. I have been fascinated by drawing ever since I was a little child. After finishing highschool I founded a company called "Quaintix" with a friend of mine for graphic design and programming work. Meanwhile I got interested in 3D animation and started to play around with cubes and spheres.
In 2002 I left Quaintix and I started my studies at the German Film School for digital production. My passion for animation grew stronger and drawing remained as a hobby. During the 3 years I spent there, I gained a lot of experience in many areas like the whole 2D and 3D filmmaking process from the initial Idea to the finished piece, working in teams, digital painting etc. I graduated the German Film School in march 2005 specialized on 3D character animation.
Since then I was working as a freelance character Animator and Visual Development Artist on feature films and tv comercials in Germany. In 2008 I moved to the United States to work as a Visual Development Artist at DreamWorks Animation. I recently started illustrating children's books and book covers as well as art directing a mobile game we developed in a small team of 4 people, free to play over here www.monstabounce.com. I'm currently an Art Director at Oculus Story Studio.
Is there a limited palette to start off and then go for the lighting or is it just all planned out in your head?
Most of it happens in my head yes. My first pass is usually to paint everything with the “lights off” Then I turn on the lights one by one painting the highlights and half tones thinking about key light (main light source) bounce light and fill light. It’s a very organized way of painting I guess.
How do you choose the color?
If there was an easy formula everybody would be able to paint equally well. There is no easy way to explain how to choose colors. It all comes down to practice, study and experience. To paint something out of your head without having the fundamentals down is impossible. You will have to study from life and reference photos first to understand how light works .It’s a bit like asking Michael Jordan: “How do you play Basketball”. He would tell you the same as I would. Work on your fundamentals first and practice every day.
It will take a while until you reach a comfortable level where you can actually apply what you learned from reference images to your own paintings. Unfortunately there are no shortcuts for acquiring skill sets. Practice, study and understanding lead you to success.
How do you understand colors? Because mine looks so dull…
When I first started 10 years ago my paintings looked dull too because I didn't know what I was doing. Studying light and colors for years made me improve my knowledge. You need to practice and work on your weaknesses. Nothing will come automatically.
What are your favorite light colors to put over your subjects?
I never think of it that way. I choose a color palette that supports the story and the message I'd like to convey.
If I paint a sad subject I might use a dull, desaturated palette and a bright saturated palette for a happy painting.
What is your best advice to help a student understand light and color? Just practice? What do you accredit your great sense of light and color?
What worked for me is to practice painting from references without picking colors directly from the image but trying to see them with your eyes and also trying to understand how light affects materials and local color. A lot of people tend to just match the colors trying to copy the reference as best they can but that won’t do much good. You have to analyze the painting instead. Doing baby steps is key too. So set yourself a 30min time limit for those drills. That way you won’t be able to hide your mistakes, which is essential for learning. Fail as much as you can so you can eliminate your flaws.
Choose your pictures wisely. Start with reference photos where you see a clear separation of light and shadow and try to look for pictures that are not highly photoshopped like images for National Geographcis etc.
Look for simple ones like a car under a tree or a house in the countryside. Stay away from close up animal photos or portraits since those are not good for lighting studies.
I have more details about it in my notes for speed paintings over here.
How did you acquire your lighting knowledge ?
Light and Color is what interested me the most so I spend most of my energy into studying it. Study from references and life. That’s what I did for the last 10 years.
What is your favorite oddball color combination -- 3-4 colors that most ‘experts’ say don’t play well with each other.
I never think scientifically about using color. I paint what I feel and never limit myself to a specific palette unless it's a requirement.
What is your favorite color?
It used to be yellow but now it’s more of a combination. I like red&black
Will you ever do a post on color theory?
I have taught digital painting in the past but not specifically about color theory. I still think I don’t know enough about it to be able to dedicate a full post for it. In the past year I have been trying to figure out easier ways to teach light and color and I think I’m on the right track but I need some more time to put it down to words.
Not sure if it will be in a form of a book or online tutorial but it is definitely something I consider doing.
How many hours do you spend drawing in a day?
About 8 hours. But sometimes I get different tasks where I do 3D or After Effects. Those days I just do my daily 30min drill.
Do you have a set process when painting?
I came up with a process that works for me. Check out my tutorials. There you can find my notes about speed painting and also several videos of how I paint.
I am a real slacker compared to a lot of guys around here, even lost my spirit to draw because I want it to look as it is in my head but I can't get it to that point. Any tips for that?
Practice is never easy. It's one of the hardest things to maintain. It’s all your choice. I’ve been wanting to learn Korean for a while and I do know some words and phrases but I’m not willing to sacrifice my time to take it a step further so I will never be able to speak unless I take it seriously. There is no progress without practice. One of my favorite quotes is “The good gold is at the bottom of the barrels full of crap” by Randy Pausch.
If you’re not willing to dive through the crap you don’t want your reward bad enough.
How do you treat the line art?
I don’t do line art that often. I usually go straight to paint. But when I do use lines I have them on an extra layer and turn the opacity way down to like 15% and start using the lines as a guide for my painting until I don’t feel the need for the lines anymore.
What’s your favorite genre of music to jam out to while painting?
I never listen to music when I paint. It’s too distracting.
Do you have a sketchbook that you take everywhere after work?
I don’t have a sketchbook at the moment but I do some freelance work from time to time, like book covers and interior spot illustrations.
Do you ever do any work in a medium besides digital…and if so, would you sell this type of art?
I haven’t done any traditional painting in 3 years. It takes too much time. I barely fit the 30min paintings in my day so I don’t know when I would do it again. Not any time soon.
Can you please suggest some books or tutorials?
I’m mostly self-taught and never learned from books. So I don’t know any good ones. I studied from reference images and life, did daily paintings and my friend and mentor Stephan Stoelting guided me along the way. I studied 3D character animation so we didn’t really have any painting classes.
Is there a thing that is hard for you to draw?
Anything that’s new to me is hard to draw because I’m not used to it.
Do you have any advice about composition?
Not particularly. There are so many people that are better at it out there that I don’t bother writing about it
What's up with the 30min, 20min etc? Why is so important to you to say how long did it take to do it?
I'm doing those daily sketches for the daily spitpaints group on facebook where the time limit is 30min. I just want to make sure that people know that these are quick sketches cause I also post the not so successful pieces. Without the time limit I wouldn't even bother posting most of my sketches cause I know I can do better. This way I can show people that I also fail and I also have days where things just don't work the way I thought they would without running a risk that people think that it's all portfolio pieces. Cause these sketches don't really represent what I can do with more time.
How do you stay inspired after all these sketches?
Sometimes I’m not inspired at all. Then I just force myself to paint regardless of the end result.
Do you always just draw something straight from your head when you do your 30min sketches or do you use reference images?
Most of the times I paint straight out of my head but if I paint something that I haven’t painted too often before I do pull up references on google or flickr. For the “bird rider” I looked up references of an ostrich. But I never copy reference images. It’s more about being accurate about what people, animals and things look like.
At work it's required to do research before you start designing so I always look at reference first.
How do you create those stunning night skies with lots of stars in such a short time?
I made a brush for the stars which is basically just different sized dots with the scattering and rotation jitter on (in photoshop). For the sky I usually use the gradient tool. It’s the simple part of a sketch.
I’d like to hear any advice on how to set up a routine, like doing speedpaints daily. I personally have a hard time doing it.
Doing consistent practice is the hardest thing to do. It is normal that you have a hard time doing it. Otherwise everybody would do it. But if you want to become good at something, practice is a necessary ingredient. In the past 10 years of painting I only met one or two people who were able do daily sketches for more than 6 months. It’s certainly not an easy thing to do.
But doing 30min paintings is not the only way to get better, practice is. For me it was always the quickest and most fun way to progress. But that doesn’t apply to everyone. You have to find your own way of practicing without getting bored. If it was easy everybody would be good at anything.
There is always a touch of whimsy to your sketches. Where do you draw inspiration for that?
Other artists, traveling, nature, movies, inspiration can come from anywhere.
How clear do you see do you see your idea before you start painting it?
Sometimes very clear but most of the times the painting develops as I go. I have a vague idea and see what happens. Sometimes it back fires big time and I end up not saving the painting.
Are the paintings you do in your day job as the same in quality as the ones you do here, or more rendered?
Definitely more detailed since I spend much more time on them. You can see them on my blog here
What platform and software/hardware do you use? Thank you.
Photoshop and Windows/Mac with a Wacom Cintiq 22HD
Can you draw with Photoshop using mouse?
Yes, it’s just inconvenient.
Remember: brushes, mouse, tablet, ipad. It's all just tools. What counts is what's in your head.
Do you make your own brushes or do you have a source? Also, do you share them?
I have my most used brushes in the tutorials section. And I do make my own too.
What’s the brush settings do you use?
It varies. Most of the times I have opacity set to pen pressure.
The size of canvas you usually work on?
Size varies. But it’s usually around 3000-4000pixels (long edge)
Do you use iPad for speed painting often or do you prefer Photoshop?
I haven painted on an iPad for a while. Photoshop is definitely more suitable for 30min paintings. I save tons of time by using keyboard short cuts. But I did some in the past on an iPad
I now use Procreate, and I’m loving it. But I would really like something that’s closer to Photoshop. What are your favorite painting apps?
There is nothing like Photoshop on the iPad yet. My favorite app is also Procreate.
Which sites do you go to for inspiration or references?
Usually google images and flickr.
I was wondering if, for your inspiration or future paintings projects, you’d like to visit some particular places in the world?
I grew up in Europe and I’ve been lucky enough to travel around quite a bit. I’d like to go to South East Asia and also south Africa at some point.
Being “creative” is sometimes perceived as not following the rules, do you think that design (graphic design) should walk side by side with this argument or do you think that it’s probably better to have a solid theoretical background and respect its rules in order to improve and/or build our own techniques?
Fundamentals are essential in anything you learn including art. I never went to art school and I was never taught rules but I found rules for myself during the learning process that go in line with what they teach in art schools. And I had good guidance from my friend and mentor Stephan Stoelting. So yes, in order to improve you do need to work on the fundamentals first before you can start building on top of them. You can break the rules once you know them but not before.
I want to know , what’s your inspiration for your paintings and how do you get ideas for each of your drawings?
My inspiration comes from various sources and life experience I guess. Looking at amazing art from other artists always pushes me to move forward. But also traveling to new places gives me tons of inspiration.
I do my 30min sketches for the daily spitpaints group on Facebook. They post a few topics every day. Their topics are awesome and definitely help me to come up with an idea for my daily sketches.
Who are your inspirations and why?
Back in the days when I first started I got influenced the most by Craig Mullins. He is still the true master of Digital Painting. Growing up I loved looking at Picassos paintings. But seeing what fellow artists like Dice Tsutsumi or Pascal Campion accomplish always inspires me a lot too.
In terms of Animation and drawing I was always and still am in awe with what Glen Keane does.
What do you do when you’re facing an art block and how do you stands from people who bad mouthing about your work?
Whenever I feel uninspired I still force myself to paint so I have something. You have to keep going. If you stop you lose. You can never please the whole world with your work. Badmouthing always happens but as long as you do what you love who cares about those who badmouth your work? There will be plenty of people who appreciate your work too. So just focus on them that’ll keep you going.
It’s very important to keep walking especially when it gets hard regardless of the outcome. We never grow on a linear curve. We all have our ups and downs. Like Rocky says “ Life is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
So keep moving forward and do what you love the most. There is a good ted talk by Elisabeth Gilbert about this.
When you feel like you aren’t inspired what do you do to get that inspiration going?
There is only little I can do. If the inspiration is not there it’s not there so I just force myself to do at least something. If I can’t come up with anything original I just do an exercise drill like working on a vehicle design or painting a subject in an difficult angle, try to paint photorealistic without looking at any reference etc. It’s like having a bad day at the gym. You might be weak sometimes and can’t lift what you usually lift but at least you get your run in.
How did you break through the animation industry?
Hard work and determination, networking connecting with other artists at conventions, online presence, website or blog, a portfolio in form of a color printed hard cover book with 56 pages and being at the right place at the right time.
Got any advice on what to put in your portfolio, as an illustrator geared towards animation/concept art?
Put only your best artwork in there. People usually look for unique skill sets. Try to stay away from generic looking art, basically art that doesn’t stick out of the mass. A good way is to do visdev for a story/tale that you made up or that already exists and put your own twist to it, design characters, story moments etc. Also think about continuity. The portfolio should have your own language meaning that everything should look like it’s crafted by the same person. I’ve seen portfolios where the life drawings were impressive but the conceptual drawings were really bad which is not good because you can’t really determine the actual skills of that person and most likely you won't get picked.
Look at the best artists out there and compare your work to theirs. Your portfolio has to hold up to those out there.
If I want to do concept art for animation studios. How would I go at it and what would be your best advice?
I was a character animator and did art only as a hobby so I didn’t have a specific way to go about it since I never intended to work as a visual development artist. I guess what got me into this job is that I had a lot of paintings with strong light and color but more importantly story telling pieces, narrative emotional pieces that separated me from the mass I guess.
What animation project you have done lately?
The Flight Before Christmas (Animator)
Merry Madagascar (Vis Dev Artist)
Megamind (Vis Dev Artist)
Madagascar3 (Vis Dev Artist)
Penguins of Madagascar (Vis Dev Artist) (Nov 2014)
How is your work day? Do you enjoy it?
I get up at 5AM, drive to work and hit the gym for an hour and a half every day. I grab some breakfast and do my daily speed painting. I start working around 9AM starting with checking my e-mails and the schedule for the day.
We have a touch base with the Production Designer and the Art Director every morning. We show our work in progress paintings/designs and talk about the next assignments etc. We have Director art reviews once a week where every artist is presenting their work to the Director.
I simply love our working environment it’s probably the nicest little group I ever worked with. Everybody has their different strengths and all of them are very individual and have strong personalities. I’m looking forward to working with them every day.
How did you build such a big audience?
I posted my work online since 2003 whether it was 3D animation or paintings. The consistent posts put my name out there. Self-promotion is also hard work. You rarely get recognized if you don’t put yourself out there.
Any advice on transitioning from animator to concept/vis dev artist?
It was never my intention to go into vis dev. It happened because I painted in my free time. So yeah paint and practice in your free time until you are at a level to do illustration jobs. That's how it happened to me.
You’re so young. How could you manage to work in such a big studio as DreamWorks?
I wouldn’t consider myself young at all. I started at DreamWorks at the age of 28 and now I’m almost 35 we have people here that start at the age of 21. I think that’s pretty young. Super talented kids!
What is your dream or your goal? Have you reached it?
I always set my goals as high as I can. It was always a dream of mine to work for a big studio like DreamWorks. It took me 3 years after school to get there. Next goal is to illustrate a full children’s book.
Have you made any art books?
There are some art books out there that have my work in it.
The Art Of Megamind
The Art Of Madagascar 3
Is there any work for architects and is easier for architect to get in, then for other specialists?
We have two architects that do set design for our movies. I wouldn’t say it’s easier to get into this position. One of them has been art directing and designing sets on the Harry Potter movies before he was hired at DreamWorks.
I myself really love drawing but I think I don't have the talent for it. Do you think if can be any good if I maintain my love for drawing and practice regularly?
I don’t believe I’m very talented in art. I believe that I have a talent in being very persistent in what I want to learn. Once I set my goal for something I never stop until I reach it. I get obsessed about reaching my goals as quickly as possible and that brought me to where I’m at today. I put years and years of hard work into learning art. It certainly wasn’t something I was born with. Some people learn quicker than others some are slower but it always comes down to what you are willing to sacrifice, how determined you are to learn something. If you want things bad enough you can get them. If you give up it’s just not for you and you should find something else that interest you.
I read in an interview of yours that back when you were starting, you did 30min studies a day. Were these done from reference or memory?
Most of my paintings in the beginning where from reference photos since you have to work on your fundamentals. Whenever I tried painting from memory I failed miserably. So for the first year I painted a lot from reference and in-between I’d try to apply what I learned from the photo studies into my own paintings. Over several months my color knowledge grew. At some point I was able to paint decent images without looking at reference.
You won't benefit/learn from painting from memory if you don't know how to paint.
You started out in 3D and then made your way into digital painting. Do you think it’s important for a visual development artist, or any other field in the art department, to have a strong base in 3D?
I believe that these days it’s definitely an advantage if you know more than just 2D. The VFX and Animation industry is still taking major hits and you still see a lot of layoffs happening. Studios are outsourcing to India and China while people in the US lose their jobs. It’s definitely the roughest time we ever experienced in the entertainment industry and while you had higher chances if you were specialized on one thing I believe that these days it’s actually to your advantage if you have a broader spectrum of knowledge.
For example on Penguins of Madagascar I designed sets in Maya, did motion graphics and effect design in After Effects, Painted and designed in Photoshop. And I feel like artists are more and more encouraged to design certain things in 3D too.
Hi, I am a totally self- trained painter. I have not been to any design or art or design colleges. I have recently started on digital painting. Is it possible for people like us to actually become a good digital painter?
I never went to a design or an art school either. I’m mostly self -taught too. It all depends on your determination. It’s never too late to learn something new. If you really want it and willing to put all your energy into it, you can achieve anything you want.
Any advice to get a job as a vis dev/concept artist? Is it hard to get in the industry? How about the salary?
Your question is very broad. It’s probably much easier to get into games/mobile game companies as a concept artist than those big feature animation houses like Disney, DreamWorks, Pixar. It’s definitely not easy to get into the big ones since you have to compete with the top artists in the world. Salary depends on your level and size of company too. If you become an art director you will make very good money. If you are a junior artist straight out of school probably not so much, enough to make a living but if you live in the bay area you probably have to live with roommates.
Did you go for design / art university / school?
I attended the German Film School for digital production near Berlin that closed down in 2008. My major was 3D Animation. Art was something I learned on the side.
What is your profession now?
My profession is called visual development artists. I’m at the front end of a production and do look development, color keys, prop designs etc. You can find all of my latest projects here. http://projects-56.blogspot.com/p/madagascar-3.html
Do you do your paintings at work or at home? What do you co-workers think of your 30 minute sessions per day?
I do them at work early in the morning before I start my day and at home on weekends.
Some say I’m super prolific since I rarely skip a day some consider me crazy haha. I hope they appreciate my art just as much as I appreciate theirs.
Robots are a usual subject in your paintings, why is that?
The reason is simple. I like robots :)
And I like the idea to add personality to them, something that currently existing robots lack.
What’s up with the red robot that often appears in your work? Is it a character of yours or a way you use to represent something else?
It’s a character I designed for a story I wrote. But I also like to send him out to the world to explore new things.
Have you ever thought of incorporating all these otherworldly characters you have sketched into a storyline?
So far I’ve only written one story about one of my characters.
In a long run I might write my own children’s books where these characters might reappear.
Why do you like robots?
I always liked robots. Who doesn’t like them? :D
Thanks Santiago Casares for helping me putting this together!