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Jason Deamer Interview
Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life?
I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area where I divided my time between skateboarding and getting trouble for drawing in all of my classes. I like short fast walks on the beach.
Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study?
I had great art teachers starting as early as high school. I went on to attended UC Davis as an art major and then the California College of Arts and Crafts in San Francisco and Oakland. Initially, I was an illustration major, but I ended up graduating with a fine arts degree. As soon as I enrolled in CCAC and had access to anatomy classes. I took as many anatomy classes as I could fit into my schedule. I can't recommend this enough. There were always parts of drawing human anatomy, such as the ever changing shape of the knee, that were a mystery to me until I studied anatomy. I firmly believe that you can't begin to caricature until you truly understand your subject.
What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?
Pushups. Pushups and candy. Lot's of candy. The sour kind too. Not that chocolate. I do like chocolate, but that won't help
I had a fascination with drawing from before I can remember. Even before candy. It also helped that I had a supportive and creative home environment as well. My father who was an architect and my mother who directs musicals we're always very encouraging of my drawing.
Really though, to give full discloser, I have to say that being shy as a very young child played a part. While the other kindergarten kids went outside to roller skate, I would stay inside to draw detailed maps of ninja cave dwellings. I think drawing was just a place of comfort for me; a place where I could make anything happen. Plus, as far as escapism hobbies go, it's pretty dammed portable.
How do you go about designing, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?
The first thing that I do is PANIC!
Only kidding, the first thing I'll do is extensive research. Whatever the subject is that I'm going to design, I start right away by going to Google. If I can I'll try to go see the thing or location in person. I'm always amazed at the great ideas that come from seeing a place in person. You think you might know something, but it's things that you don't know, or that aren't common knowledge that make things unique and interesting. It really is true that: "truth is stranger than fiction."
Once I've finished my research and I've got some interesting meat to sink my teeth into, I'll spend some time to think about the Who, What, When, Where, and the Why? This is a character in a story driven to act a certain way by the specifics of his or her circumstance. Who are they? When are they? What do they wear and how do they act? Does this person readjust their glasses every time they begin to talk. Is he/she a shy and timid sort of character? Maybe they hide behind long hair that covers their face? It's all of these character informed decisions that can really make a design speak to the viewer.
After finding some inspiration, I like to put all the research aside and try to capture a caricature through a kind of reverse osmosis from all the research I've done. I'll start doodling basic shapes, while always keeping the basic gesture of this character in mind. I'm looking for a simple form that captures the abstract feeling of the thing I'm trying to design.
When I find something that feels right I'll start to flesh that out into a silhouette of the character I'm after. At this point I'm focused not only on the pose but on the abstract relationships between the different basic shapes. How does the volume of the little leg feel relative to the mass of the torso? Is the head competing visually with the bag he's holding? Etc.
I then decide that it sucks and do it again...
About one million times, give or take a couple.
Sooner or later something good starts to bubble to the surface. Then it's just a matter of scraping the cream off the top and doing finishing passes at them; adding color, blowing them up. I often try to stick with the original spontaneous line work. I've found that there's usually more life in that first drawing that you weren't trying so hard to control.
What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work with?
Well I'm a character art director at Pixar. A typical day for me is split about 50/50 between meetings and design time, i.e. drawing and painting at the drafting table. I'll meet with the director, production designer, and the animation and character leads to plan and strategize. Sometimes I'll spend large amounts of the day doing walk-thrus and collaborating with the many, many talented artists that work to bring our characters to life.
What are some of the things that you have worked on?
The majority of my work has been character design work for film, but I've also done a children's book, editorial work, stuff for ad agencies, and a whole bunch of skateboard graphics.
Is there a design you have done that you are most proud of?
I don't know if I can pick one out. I'm very proud of the entire cast of Ratatouille. I'm also really proud of the Autopilot in Wall-e, and the seagulls in Finding Nemo.
What projects have you done in the past, and what are you working on now?
In my thirteen years at Pixar, I've worked on ten productions. Some of the highlights include: Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, and Walle. Before that I was a freelance illustrator for two years when I left school. I worked on a lot of skateboard graphics and all kinds of editorial work. More recently I finished work on a children's book for Apple Park toys. I'm in production on another Pixar feature as we speak.
Who do you think are the top artists out there?
It's hard to settle on one. There are so many great designers out there. Plus, my interests are always changing. Lately I've been super obsessed with M. Sasek and Charlie Harper. As far as more contemporary guys go, I think Carter Goodrich and Nicolas Marlet are on top of the game.
Could you talk about your process in coloring your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?
Generally I'll work in black ink until I get a drawing where line work has a spontaneous flow and life to it. Then I'll either scan it and paint into it in Photoshop or I'll use washes of Gouache followed by colored pencil and a retouch of black ink
What part of designing is most fun and easy, and what is most hard?
It's never easy. It shouldn't be easy. If it's coming easy then you're going down a path you've been down before. You’re resorting to design solutions that you've used or you've seen used before. With repetition comes familiarity, and familiarity breads contempt. I think it's important to keep it fresh and new to keep your audience interested.
The most fun for me is when a design starts to come together and you have a great idea about the rest of it in your minds eye. I always get a feeling of exited anticipation when it's happening---or was that a nervous feeling that I'm going to blow it?
The hardest part for me is when I'm getting close to a design that works but I'm just not there. When 95% percent of it is great but that remaining 5% feels like you have the last piece of a puzzle but it's from the wrong puzzle set. It's those times when you have to be willing to change 15-20% of your design to make that last little bit work, which is hard when you've fallen in love with what you've already done.
What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?
I'm a little obsessive compulsive about drawing so that's never really been a problem. It's really the opposite problem. I need someone to smack the pencil out of my hand once in a while, especially when I'm starting to get pain from my horrendous posture.
That being said, research is always a great way to get the creative blood flowing. I don't just mean do a Google image search either. It's great to go see things in real life-get the smell of the thing into the design
What are some of your favorite designs which you have seen?
Love the designs in the Iron Giant. Also, The Triplets of Belleville. That dog was amazing. I have some copies of production art that Nicolas Marlet did for The Road to El Dorado that I find just incredible. Most recently I went to see Despicable Me and I thought there were some very successful designs in that film, specifically the main character, and the tourists in the beginning. Also, the old man in French Roast.
What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?
People. It's like playing a drawing game with a finite set of parameters--nose, eyes, hands, etc.--but an infinite amount of outcomes.
What inspired you to become an Artist?
Well, from before I can remember, it's something that I always liked to do. In terms of doing it professionally, I'd have to say I was inspired by Spiderman, or just comic books anyway. I think that was the first time that I became aware of the concept that someone actually gets to draw for a living.
What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?
Look at your work in the mirror. Or, if it's on thin enough paper, hold it up to the light and look through the back a the reverse image. It's like looking at your piece with a fresh eye. This really helps you to see where your piece has gone wrong--and it's always amazing to find out just how much wonkiness your brain will fix for you after you've been staring at something long enough.
What are some of your favorite websites that you go to?
Here comes the ass kissing: Character design blog. I also like to look at Bill Cone's blog http://billcone.blogspot.com/
What wisdom could you give us, about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?
Don't get stuck trying to make the perfect piece. You'll just get all bunched up and make a stiff piece, or even worse, never make anything at all. Your going to make a whole bunch of bad drawings before you make a good one, so you might as well get the bad ones out of the way.
Oh, don't forget: candy and pushups!
If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?
I'm easy to find on Facebook
Finally, do you have any of your artwork for sale (sketchbook, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?
Keep and eye out for the Apple Park book. It should be available this coming holiday season.