Saturday, December 11, 2010

Taylor Krahenbuhl Interview

Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life. Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?

I was born and raised in Salt Lake City, UT. I also spent a good 5 years of my childhood in Henderson, NV where I divided my time chasing lizards in the desert, reading comic books, and watching “Batman,” the animated series, on a tiny little television labeled “Taylor’s TV” in permanent marker.

As far as school goes: Salt Lake Community College in 2001 and then I attended Brigham Young University from 2005 to 2009 where I received my BFA in animation. The classes that were the most inspiring to me were figure drawing and gesture drawing, storyboarding and character design. Being surrounded by super-talented artists really helped to shape my goals and desires as an artist.

How do you go about designing, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?

The process for me seems to be a little different every time. Reference is always helpful in that you can pinpoint a million more details than your mind could ever imagine on a subject you think you know. On the flip side, it’s so much fun to create something from nothing. I love designing characters with no reference, even though I’m sure that what I’m pulling out of my head comes from some inspiration that I’ve seen before.

The first step in my mind is considering the story and personality of the character.

When I am designing I am always trying to think of how to lay down the most confident line work that I can. For some reason there is a life and vitality to the work that seems to die out if I don’t consider lines when designing. Glen Keane, master animator and designer for Walt Disney Animation Studios, seems to draw confident lines so naturally. With laying down confident lines, what I really mean to say is that I try not to second guess every single line I put down; I’m more focused on straights against curves, the gesture, and line of action - that beautiful rhythm that runs from the top of the character’s head to the bottom of their toes (if they have toes).

From start to finish with any design, I am always considering the silhouette of my character. For example, when I lay down a shape for a head, I may draw it out 5 or 6 different ways and choose the most original one that I see.

Finally, once I have considered everything above, I open Painter/Photoshop and drop the opacity on the layer and create a new one above it. Since I have done my homework with the rough drawing I can now focus on finishing off what hopefully will turn out to be a good design. One thing that I have found interesting about this part of designing is a design can either die out or come to life even more after cleaning it up. I still can’t explain it, but it happens. Sometimes rough work should stay rough, and sometimes it should be cleaned up. Easier said than done when almost everything in the industry is cleaned up. Both avenues have a place in animation and both can produce fantastic results.

What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work with?

I’m freelancing right now, nothing fancy. While at the Walt Disney Animation Studios at the beginning of the year I had a fantastic opportunity to work with the story artists for that particular department. I was mentored by Aurian Redson and Paul Briggs, two story artists I respect greatly. Typical day there was writing, thinking, writing, drawing, writing, pitching, etc. - it was a tornado of trying to piece together an original story that would entertain.

What are some of the things that you have worked on?

I started working professionally in the animation industry in 2006. I did a small amount of work as a story artist with Feature Films for Families on a film titled Pig Tales. It was a great experience to get my feet wet while working towards my animation degree. I worked as a character designer/concept artist at Avalanche Software on the Toy Story 3 and Bolt interactive properties. I had the opportunity to design new toys for the Toy Story world which was an incredible experience. At Lumenas Animation Studios I worked on a feature film entitled The Legend of Santa Claus doing storyboards, beatboards, production design, and character development. Last year I was fortunate enough to be brought on board to work on a Polynesian Cultural Center production titled “Ha: The Breath of Life” doing character animation and beatboards. In March I wrapped up a position as a story artist at Walt Disney Animation Studios working on personal story art projects that I eventually pitched to directors and leads. It was a fantastic opportunity to learn about story and become a more focused artist because of it.

Is there a design you have done that you are most happy with?

I’m always happy with my latest design…then five minutes later… I want to change everything about it. The joy of being an artist is that you’re continually shaping your skills.

What projects are you working on now? (if you can tell us)

I’m working on a few freelance projects that I can’t talk about. This past week I took a story test for Avalanche Software for a story artist position – crossin’ the old fingers.

Who are some of your favorite artists out there?

Glen Keane, Bruce Timm, Ken Duncan, Chris Sanders, Peter De Seve, Paul Felix, Marcelo Vignali, Joe Moshier, Hans Bacher, Iain McCaig, Dermot Power, Hayao Miyazaki, Ted Mathot and a million more.

Could you talk about your process in coloring your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?

I use Corel Painter/Adobe Photoshop for painting and Adobe Flash for animation. Other than that I am always trying to carry around a Moleskine for sketchbooking, and Faber-Castell PITT Pens create a nice thick to thin line work. For digital painting, I simply make sure that my line art is separated from my color onto different layers. Overlays, multiples, and other tools from the same drop-down list can make a design pop in a unique way.

What part of designing is most fun and easy, and what is most difficult?

For me, the greatest feeling in designing a character is finding a unique silhouette. Once I establish that I feel like the details of a design become icing on the cake. The difficulty comes in finding something original to create. Designing can be exciting and mind-numbing all at the same time.

What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?

I picked up juggling a few months ago. I don’t know if that counts. Honestly, I love observing people, places, and animals – writing notes while drawing in my sketchbook allows me the chance to look back on a particular day and perhaps use a certain personality trait for a new design. Basically, taking what I see, writing it down, and using it to my advantage at work or for my personal portfolio. Other than that, I love spending time with my family – they always seem to inspire the best things in life. The other day my three-month-old son randomly exclaimed, “Dee!!” His first word…I mean….his first letter. I’m so proud.

What are some of your favorite designs which you have seen?

Wow, that is tough. I’ll just name a few that come to mind right now. Anything Earl Oliver Hurst – one in particular titled Dance. Nicolas Marlet’s “French Roast” design of Barnabe, and Matt Nolte’s character sketches of Remy and Emile for Ratatouille.

What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?

People. For a while it was very large people, but now it’s back to just people. There seems to be limitless possibilities with designing humans.

What inspired you to become an Artist?

The Lion King, Glen Keane’s work on Tarzan, Bruce Timm and the Batman series, and Ryan Woodward’s 2D effects animation for The Iron Giant. Ryan has been a great mentor and friend.

What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?

One thing that has always struck me is how gracious artists are in the industry. There seems to be a collective respect in the industry for each other’s work which reminds me of how lucky I am to be working in the field that I do. Everyone is so hungry to learn and grow in animation. That inspires me to do the same.

What wisdom could you give us about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?

Do what you love in the industry and you’ll be happy. I have always felt that creating art that inspires people for the better was a perfect reason to work in the industry. The artists/writers responsible for the tortilla-walking Mr. Potato Head scenes in Toy Story 3 are what we should be striving for – I’ve never laughed so hard.

If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?

Please feel free to contact me for in-house studio work, freelance work or to just chat about animation at: 801.913.7324

My online portfolio is:

Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbook, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?

Not right now, but I’m hoping to get something out there in 2011.

Thanks Randall for the opportunity to be interviewed on the Character Design blog. I really appreciate it!

Thank you Taylor as well, we all look forward to see what you do next.

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