Friday 1 June 2012

Interview: Tyler Carter, Visual Development Artist at Blue Sky Studios

Tyler at the Student Emmys, collecting an award for his short film DreamGiver, with the team who helped create it. Watch a video of Tyler and the team talking about DreamGiver here.

Today, I am happy to share with you the latest in a series of A113Animation interviews, an interview with Tyler Carter from Blue Sky Studios! Tyler is a visual development artist at Blue Sky Studios, the studio that brought you Ice Age and Rio, meaning he produces gorgeous artwork like what you see in the 'Art of' books that accompany animated releases (my review of The Art of Madagascar 3 here), and is currently working on their recently renamed 2013 release, Epic.

Over the past few weeks, I've had the chance to interview La Luna director Enrico Casarosa and Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith, and I want to thank Tyler for helping to diversify our interviews somewhat - this isn't just a Pixar blog after all. It's also been great to get the chance to speak to someone from Blue Sky Studios, I've had very little chance to talk to anyone from animation studios other than Pixar up until now, and I'm very grateful to Tyler for agreeing to do this and speaking to me.

You can check out Tyler's artwork (some of which is featured here) on his website, and read our interview after the jump break:

Some great original artwork from Tyler's website.

A113Animation: First of all Tyler, thanks for doing this. Now, you work at Blue Sky Studios, the studio who brought us Ice Age, Robots and Rio; tell us a little about what it’s like to work there.
Tyler Carter: Blue Sky is a blast! The studio is filled with incredibly talented people with a passion for film and art. Each day feels quite rewarding because I work with such inspiring people. One unique thing I enjoy is the fact that we are a short drive away from New York. Having access to the city is a special thing we have here. There is so much culture concentrated into one area!

A113: It sounds great, and your role at the studio is a Visual Development Artist; can you tell us what this entails?
TC: Yes: Basically, the art department is divided into two: There are designers and color artists. Designers do sketches and concepts of characters, environments/sets, and props. They also create orthos and hand their work off to modelling. Color artists paint keys, create color callouts to inform texture artists, and concept paintings. I do both design and color.

A113: What films have you worked on over the years at Blue Sky; which has been your favourite?
TC: I've worked on Ice Age 4 and am currently working on Leafmen [now Epic]. I don't know if I necessarily have favourites but I’m very excited for both films. Leafmen is quite unique and IA4 explores new worlds not seen in the first films.

A113: Who do you have the greatest respect for at Blue Sky Studios?
TC: Definitely the designers/color artists who I work with. 

Some of Tyler's work at Pixar, on Cars 2. Layout by Nat McLaughlin.

A113: You worked briefly at Disney and Pixar in the past; can you tell us about your times there? What did you work on?
TC: I did an internship at Disney in 2008 and Pixar in 2009. They were both fantastic experiences. I felt like I learned so much I didn't know how to remember it all! At Disney I developed my own portfolio as part of my curriculum. It is quite a special place. Each day I entered the gates I felt like I needed to pay homage to Walt himself. The internship gave me the opportunity to work alongside artists I greatly respect: Andreas Deja, Glen Keane, Paul Felix, Eric Goldberg. And I also made some fantastic friends. My roommate was Ryan Lang (now back at Disney). My visual development mentor there was Bill Perkins. He was the Art Director on Aladdin as well as Tick Tock Tale, a recent short. I learned a great deal from Bill. He is an incredible teacher as anyone who works with him knows. I learned what makes a clear visual story and composing images to better direct the eye. Looking back, the Disney internship was a major turning point for me. It gave me confidence and perspective on how the industry works. Sometimes those two things are difficult to acquire while a student. Since the internship was after my first year of school, it really energized me for the next three years at BYU! When I returned to school that fall, I began developing the designs and color for my short DreamGiver. When April 2009 rolled around, I applied to the Pixar internship and was fortunate to be selected that summer. Pixar was also an incredible experience. It was humbling to work in such a prolific place. The energy and attitudes of all the artists were nothing short of exciting! I also worked with artists I greatly admired: Bill Zahn, John Nevarez, Armand Baltazaar, Dice Tsutsumi, Teddy Newton, Don Shank and Mark Andrews (now directing Brave). Mark was kind enough to mentor me while directing DreamGiver back at BYU. He'd look over the animatic and give candid suggestions and critiques. I learned a TON from these phone call discussions. The Pixar internship was unique because so many interns came at the same time. In 2009, there were close to 90 of us. We covered every department from art to editing. It made the whole experience a ton of fun because there were 89 other students who you could hang out with after work. It allowed for some great networking and new friendships. My roommates there were: Daniel Xiao, Patrick Harpin, Alex Leon. At Pixar I worked on the films! It was a special experience to be able to be a part of Toy Story 3, even as an intern. I can remember very distinctly when I saw Toy Story and wondering what it would be like to make a 3D film. Having that chance was surreal. I’m very grateful for the opportunities I’ve had. When I returned to school I started again on DreamGiver and went into production. I spent the next year and a half managing and directing a killer team of 46 students. It was hard but very rewarding when DG finished.

At Pixar I was able to work on Toy Story 3, Cars 2 and the short Day and Night. All were absolutely unforgettable. The people and the studios really made it memorable.

A113: Great, but now you’re working at Blue Sky Studios. As you said, you're working on their 2013 release: Leafmen [now Epic]; we’ve heard relatively little about this project; what can you tell us about it? How long have you been attached to the project and what’ve you done on it so far?
TC: I can’t say much but it is going to be GREAT. 

A113: What are your aspirations after Leafmen? What do you think it’s likely you’ll go on to do next? 
TC: Hmm....that’s a really good question. I’m not sure but looking forward to new challenges! I am really interested in making good films. That is what draws me. If I can work with respectable artists and make a solid film, I’m a happy camper!

Watch Tyler's short film, DreamGiver, above, via Vimeo.

A113: I just watched your short film, DreamGiver, and I was completely enthralled by it. The animation was mesmerising and brilliant, but, more than that, the story was brilliant too – so creative and eerie. You did a fantastic job.
TC: Thank you! I really appreciate it. It was definitely one of the hardest things I’ve done but well worth it. 

Storyboards for Tyler's short, DreamGiver.

A113: What was your inspiration for the short and what was its production like?
TC: The inspiration for DG came from my sleepwalking adventures. I tend to talk and walk in my sleep and kinda developed the idea in that way first. I later started pushing it more into what it is today. Sometimes story is just exploring until something seems to click. Eventually, I nailed down the story I wanted to tell and began gathering a team of students. BYU is a great school because it allowed me the opportunity to choose my own team. I tried to run the entire production like a professional studio. In turn, artists really respected one another and the product turned out least I think so. The total time in production went about 18 months with 6 months more or less affected by internships.

A113: What’s your favourite Blue Sky Studios film and why?
TC: I think my favorite was Horton Hears a Who. I loved how the Seuss style was brought to life. It was a fantastic looking film.

A113: And finally, what’s your favourite animated film of all time and why?
TC: Ha! This is a tough question. For me, I have so many favorites but seem to have a special place in my heart for Aladdin. When I interned at Disney, I was mentored by Bill Perkins who art directed the film. That was quite special for me.

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