We had an amazing speaker this week, Sam Michlap, a production designer and art director from DreamWorks Animation. He gave a great slide show of a lot of the work he did early on in his career and the skills he needed to gain in order to be successful now.
In order to be successful, you have to have a lot of discipline and regiment. You’ve got to be willing to go the extra mile and do whatever it takes to get good. If you feel you need to get better at painting but your school doesn’t have more painting classes then seek them out elsewhere.
Sam said it takes 10,000 hours to get good at anything. For an average person, to get through all 10,000 hours will take 10 years, but if you work hard enough your 10,000 hours can get squished into 2.5 years. You can’t cheat the hours. “There are 24 hours in everyday,” Sam reminded us, “You’ve got to learn to to hustle and make your own way because no one is going to give it to you.”
Another point Sam made was that in order to make it in this industry you have to have an ego. You have to have the confidence in yourself as well as your work. However, the toughest part about being an art director and production designer is learning to step aside and let others do the work. As an art director or production designer your job is looking at the bigger picture.
He also believes there are two types of people who work in visual development: 1) concept people and 2) finishing people. Concept people are the ones who come up with the ideas and have enough skill to articulate their visions but don’t really finish things. Finishing people are those who can really render an image and make the fur look like real fur with reflections, etc. that looks like the picture is a still image from the movie. He says you’re really one or the other and never really both.
When it comes to getting your portfolio ready for the feature animation industry, Sam said make sure you tailor your portfolio to that specific studio. Look at the type of work a studio is putting out and make your work match theirs. The things he looks for in a portfolio are staging, lighting, design and of course, craftsmanship. Sam loves to see traditional medium, especially now that it’s so rare. He stressed the value of learning the principles behind drawing and painting because Photoshop is just a tool. Sam also emphasized the importance of great reference- “The better your reference, the better your image.” Also, don’t put in things you don’t like to do because if you do, you might get stuck doing a lot of it. Prop designs and set drafting are also a great things to do a lot of.
If you apply for a viz dev job and don’t make it Sam said TV or a small studio might be a good place to go. They allow you to do more things and try more hats but the pace is very hectic. He said no matter what you wind up doing, if you really want to be a viz dev artist you’ve got to keep doing art. You can’t just want it bad enough, you’ve got to go and get it.
His last words of advice were to draw, draw, draw. Sam would hire anyone with a portfolio with great drawing ability. He said learn to keep things simple, classic. It’s better to show things that are simple and well done than complicated and weak.
“Mischief Managed” along with their prizes, Theodore Kautzky Pencil Books