Artist Interview: Gaming Artist Seung Kim

Welcome to the interview part of my blog.  This month’s interview is with Gaming Artist, Seung Beom Kim.  Seung currently works for Gearbox Software and has contributed to such projects as “Battleborn” and “Borderlands3”, “Pocohantas” for Genesis, and “Toy Story 3” and “Tron” for Nintendo DS.  Prior to his jump to the gaming industry, he was an assistant animator for Walt Disney Feature Animation.  His work can be seen in several animated films including “Lilo and Stitch”, “Mulan”, and “Tarzan”.  His many credits can be seen on his IMDb page:

I recently had the pleasure of asking him some of his thoughts about  what up-and-coming artists should be aware of if they were to pursue a career in the gaming industry.  His insights provide a glimpse into this amazing world. (Seung’s artwork fills this post. All images are copyright Gearbox Software.) 

A Conversation with Seung Beom Kim

You’ve worked in both the Film Industry and the Gaming Industry over the past 25 years.  How does the Gaming World process differ from the Movie making process?

Well there are a lot of similarities in coming up with story lines and ideas and the ability to suck a viewer in, but the major difference is that a film is an entertainment medium that is a passive experience for the viewer, and a video game is a proactive experience.  So, instead of just sitting through an 80 minute director’s vision of a story in a movie, doing nothing but watching, a video game requires participation.  In that sense, the viewer writes his or her own story.  And the story itself takes longer to unfold. 

Unlike a narrative story that is told linearly from point A to point B, Video Games are created as “open world’ concepts.  A good example of this is “Grand Theft Auto”.  Even though it is a game with a premise of crime, the world has a life on its own.  It allows participants to go beyond the story and play in the world and do crazy things, like jump sideways onto bridges, land on other cars, or race a train.  The game becomes a personal virtual environment to explore by yourself, or with friends.

A movie can only be watched by yourself or with people next to you, and then commented on,  but a video game can be experienced with others through interaction and participation.  It’s a more immersive entertaining experience.  In this sense the game has to be developed with more “fun” in mind.

 I remember being young and listening to someone telling me a story, and I’d interrupt them asking them “What about this? Could you go into that hole? Or whatever, and they’d say “Stop!, focus on the story”. Not that they were wrong to redirect a child’s focus, but the Gaming experience of “Exploratory Story” is so much more accessible to the curious listener. I see why people are drawn to this and the reason for its popularity.  It’s a whole different way of storytelling than what I was trained in.

It goes even farther than that.  You don’t have to play the game to be entertained, the people watching are active as well, as in a Twitch stream, where people are chatting and directing players.

There is an interesting dynamic between the streamer and developer and viewer all coming together to create an individual story.

Something I was involved in developing was a thing called Echocast.  Essentially it is a small window that pops up for the viewers showing them what weapons and abilities a player currently possesses, and when this player encounters a special treasure box, all the viewers have a chance to win something too. It is like a roulette chance for viewers with an extension to their Twitch account.  The viewer too becomes a sideline team player involved in figuring out a story.

I did all the pixel animations for this using the program Aseprite.

What is your current role in this process?

I am fortunate to have a unique position in this process. I was hired at Gearbox as a 2D Effects artist, because of my animation background, but I wear many hats.  I did these tests (below) on Flash animation. And my first job was to work with the amazing effects artist, Michel Gagné, on “Battleborn” where Michel and I created 32,000 frames of effects animation for that game, which is amazing.  It’s a 3D game with hand-drawn effects which creates a real unique style.    Now I do both 2D and 3D effects work. I also am a 3D modeller.  That’s part of the effects department.   

When you make your models, are you only using just one program? 

No, you need to be able to create some tricks.  When building a game, all of its components must contain the least amount of information as possible, otherwise it would slow the game down, no matter what technology is used, and to effectively do that you need a knowledge of many programs.  

So what are the programs you recommend that everyone should have a working knowledge of if they were to pursue this career?

That’s a great question.  These days you can’t really go anywhere if you only know how to just do one thing.  It’s not enough to be able to draw and paint great pictures, you must know the technology.  These are the programs I recommend.  Photoshop is a must, of course, Maya, definitely, 3D Studio Max, ZBrush, Blender, maybe, and SubstancePainter for applying texture mapping.  Also, in the Gaming industry, they want to see if you have experience with a gaming engine like Unity or Unreal.  If you are going into the gaming industry, a working knowledge of Unreal4 is a high priority, which they teach at the college level.

What makes Unreal4 so amazing? 

Oh, with Unreal4 you can create a game for PC, Playstation 5 or 4, IPhone or Android, which makes it a popular gaming engine.  It’s not just one thing, it has multiple disciplines. It has an effects engine built in, a level-map built in, you could build additional characters in it.  Like Maya that could do many things like render fur, hair, and all kinds of stuff, Unreal4 does a similar thing but in real time. So you don’t have to wait to see how things get rendered. Again, it’s a program one has to learn if they are serious about being a part of the gaming industry.  And the best part about it is, It’s FREE!  You can download it free from

3D Car Model

With your knowledge of all those tools, could you describe one of your methods for creating a working prop to be used in a game? 

Let’s say in a game I have to build a polygon skull.  The polygons have to be really small, the smaller the better, but it still needs to look like a high quality polygon rendered object as would be created with a program like ZBrush.  I would start by modelling a very rudimentary sculpture in Maya, a boxy looking thing.  Then I would import that into ZBrush to create a highly detailed model. After that I use Zbrush to “Decimate” the High polygon model to a lowest polygon as possible model without losing its base form. Then I export both the High Poly model and the low poly model to Substance.  From there I would use SubstancePainter to reduce “Bake” high poly model information to a low poly model and start adding textures on them. This way we could have all the finite details into a cost effective fully textured low poly model to use it in the game. From there I put it onto Unreal, where I could further the style.  A cool style in the Borderlands games is that we added an ink line to the 3D characters to further a 2D effect.  This can be done through the Unreal engine. Here are the models using the process I explained

Toby from Gearbox Battleborn

What are you using to create 2D animation into a 3D video game? 

I use Photoshop. (Everybody knows Photoshop)  and Adobe Animate, which is the old Flash.  But I don’t use Adobe Animate anymore(not for animation).  Nowadays I use ToonBoom Harmony which is the industry standard for traditional animation.  Then I can import each frame back into Photoshop to prepare my drawings for others to use.  I can’t just use one program.   I feel like my whole process of jumping programs is like being on a long train.  I start at one car then move to another until my piece is ready to pass off to someone else who works on their steps as if they’re part of a long train too.

Oh, another great program that I use is called Aseprite.  It’s not free, but it’s a great program to do animation on.  I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn animation or create games.

Many of my students dream of becoming concept artists, animators, and directors, but they don’t fully understand how much study is required for those positions.  I try to encourage them to work hard not only at one thing, but to be a modern “Renaissance person” as far as the world of art goes.  What advice would you give?

That’s the point.  A concept artist has to be able to demonstrate every discipline of art, not just one thing.  I think of texture mappers, and model riggers too, as very hard jobs.  You actually have to study hard to get these positions.  Not just with the science of color and light and knowledge about anatomy and movement, but with technology and programming.  The more knowledge you gain, the better chance you would have at creating a game by yourself.  And some people do.  (A great example of this is the game “Risk of Rain 2”.  Two guys built this game themselves and were published by Gearbox, and is very successful)  

The more disciplines you know, the more valuable you become.  Again the engines I mentioned before, Unreal4 and Unity, which is used mostly for creating phone games, make learning the process much easier.  This is what the kids are learning in College and some High Schools.  The engines are making it more accessible for designers.  You must know how the engines work.

I would also encourage students to work on a group project rather than always working solo.  You learn more when you get to work with others, like in a studio. When your job is on the line, you learn how to do things quickly and efficiently.  But that comes after college prepares you.  In college, learn as much as you can.  If you just pigeon hole yourself into learning only one thing, and that’s the only thing you have, how are you going to get a position if other people on the internet can do more than you?

Where can students see what their competition is doing?  

Artstation! is for artists to put work on.  If a company is hiring this is where they look.  As a student, you need to see what others are doing.  Artstation is a perfect place for this.

Does Gearbox hire from a specific college or location?

We hire from a number of schools including, Full Sail University which is a good school for gaming, FIEA in Central Florida, and SMU as well (

I’ve noticed that you have been posting many gesture drawings on Facebook.  Is that something you still enjoy doing?

I like to start my day with a  fifteen minutes gesture drawing warm up.  It starts the day off right. I love it.  It’s something an artist needs to do to stay fresh and loose. Plus you learn something each time. You must always keep learning.  I am still learning every single day.

One last question.  How has the gaming industry changed during Covid? Is the studio ever going to come back?

Well, our studio no longer works in the same building.  Everyone works from home, and the studio hooked us up with the equipment we need at home.  Still, we have figured out how to bring everyone together through video meetings. We use a “team” and Miro Board.  This allows everyone to see and discuss story ideas and other information together.  So the collaboration of ideas has not died, it’s just different. It’s funny too, pets roll into the scene, and there’s a lot of comical stuff that goes on, but we get the work done. 

Here’s the thing, since this online process works, the studio is actually saving money. They don’t have to pay rent or electricity. People are spending less on gas. There are less car accidents.  It’s helping the planet.  There’s a lot of up sides to this.  And now a studio can hire anyone from around the world, they don’t have to live in the same city.  

Also, the gaming industry has boomed during quarantine. People are home playing games more than ever.   There are going to be more jobs for artists. Gearbox is hiring many people these days. Best Luck to Everyone.

Many thanks to Seung for taking the time to do this interview.  

You can check out more of his amazing work here and some 3D models here 

Send some good vibes his way!

Let me know what you thought of this interview with your comments and likes. Also, follow this blog and share with those you know.  Thank you.

Draw Masterfully,

Mr. Vinny

Artist Interview: Animator Brian Ferguson

Learning from Experience

I mentioned that every month I plan to conduct an interview with a professional artist.  This month’s interview is with Animator Brian Ferguson, a former Disney animator, and now, college professor.  Brian Ferguson continues to be a major influence in the animated film business. His fingerprints are on several films, and his many credits can be seen on his IMDb page here

Leaf Elf

I recently had the pleasure of asking him some of his thoughts about what up-and-coming artists should be aware of if they were to pursue a career in animation. (His artwork fills this post.)

A Conversation with Animator Brian Ferguson

You’ve been working as an animator for almost 35 years, and worked on many different films and characters.  Are there a few that stand out as your favorites?

To pick a favorite is like picking a favorite son or movie, that’s hard.  There are those that stand out, though.   Timon, for instance, was a huge amount of fun (Lion King).  And Panic, too, was right up my alley (Hercules).  He was my first supervised character.  For Mulan, I supervised the Matchmaker.  I had a cool experience in that movie.  I was given every scene for that character in one stack, rather than piece-meal as in other productions, so I was able to work on that character in chronological order.  It was extraordinary.  I would also say I enjoyed working on Rhino (Bolt).  That movie production was different in that they gave you an entire segment of the film to work on where you would animate everything in it, rather than just being cast on a particular character in a scene.  Sadly, though it was a little bit difficult to work in that environment, because there were too many people not working as a team.  

Panic from Hercules

Teamwork is such an important part of film making.  I think back on the films I worked on and see the differences of success with those which allowed for team collaboration as opposed to those that didn’t. Which stands out to you?

I really enjoyed those movies where the studio was working as a team. For that reason, Lion King was one of my favorites.  I knew coming into it that it was going to be huge just from the early concept sketches.  They generated excitement for all the artists.  I remember wanting to work on every character.  Even though that film had a lot of pain to it (the studio was going through a lot of changes at that time), it was an exciting film, so much fun, with so many opportunities. 

What was your big opportunity that came on Lion King?

I worked under Andreas Deja who had some trepidation about an early scene he didn’t want to animate.  He said, “Hey, Brian took zoology, let’s get him to animate the mouse.” (in Scar’s opening scene)  That was a huge opportunity for me.

The Lion King

You’re now teaching at DePaul University in Chicago.  What are the classes you teach?

I’m teaching different classes on animation.  This quarter it’s Hand-Drawn Character Animation, Animation Mechanics, and Animation Figure Study (gesture drawing), with a live model for online classes.  

Let’s talk about the importance of gesture drawing.  I always say Gesture Study for an artist is like scale work for a musician.  What are your thoughts or advice?

I know you know so much about it.  For me, I treat my class as a drill.  I repeat the same things over and over, so my students start thinking automatically about those things that should be second nature, like what is the story of a pose.  If you just look at the model first, before you jump into drawing, you get a sense of all the angles and relationships of body parts and how it relates to expression and story and the intent of the pose.   You need to take all that in and decide for yourself what this pose is about, so when you make your drawing and refer to the model, you can know what the pose your drawing is about.  Now, when you come back to that drawing later, and the model is not there, you can see ‘oh, this pose was crouching to make an attack’, or something like that.  Gestures should be an exercise to make the story absolutely clear.  That’s the first main idea of my drills.  “What is the pose about?”  Then build upon that with strong Lines of Action and Readable Silhouette, etc..

As far as proportion and anatomy goes, students get that from other classes.  I’m not concerned in a gesture drawing if a student took the entire time to work on getting a correct calf or not.  Coming up with an anatomically viable representation of the model you saw is not really understanding what the pose is about.  Focusing on the parts results in a Frankenstein type drawing without a unified Line of Action, and appears to be uncommitted.  That’s not what a strong gesture drawing is. 

I know exactly what you mean.  I make my students get up and get into the same pose.  “Feel” the pose.  I bring up Kinesthetics and ask them “Where does it hurt?”.  

That’s interesting.  The closest I come to that is making my students pose on days we don’t have a model.  

I think the students learn to respect the model more when they do that, because they realize how hard it is.

Absolutely.  And I love that you are asking your students what hurts when they feel a pose.  Because those areas require bolder lines.  One of the exercises I have my students do is to focus on Lines of Force.  I tell them not to focus on what the drawing looks like (in terms of anatomy), but draw the tension and direction and forces of the body instead.

I’m getting a sense of what you look for from your students.  What are you looking for in a portfolio from an applying artist?

I think the standards are going up.  For an animation portfolio, I look for anything that shows an understanding of the arts with creativity. Gesture/ Life Drawings, for example, should demonstrate an understanding of storytelling with the poses.  Pieces with strong tonal values are good to have.  Keeping in mind that light and shade is only good if it’s built on a strong foundation (like solid gestures).  And a knowledge of Perspective.  I see a lot of people coming into the school not really understanding how to draw perspective.  They appreciate it when they see it, but don’t necessarily have the tools to create it themselves.

Ray Evangeline from Princess and the Frog

Does it matter if a student has an animation reel or not?

No.  But if they do have one, they are ahead of the curve…  If it has personality.  As you make a reel, mechanics are good to show, but a character needs personality.  I remember when I applied to Disney, I showed them a collection of life-drawings, and bits of animation.  The animation was a large volume of bits that showed my understanding of mechanics, sections from a film that I worked on, and scenes showing weight.  But I found out from a director that the one small scene that convinced them to hire me was of a blob of slime coming to life next to a pool of water, seeing his own reflection and falling in love with it.  What they liked about that scene was that it showed that the character was thinking and feeling.  So putting personality and thought into your characters is extremely crucial.  Not necessarily to get into a school, but definitely to get hired at a major studio.  You can learn this at a school.  

What’s a good tip for achieving the illusion of “thinking” in an animated character?

I would say, something that is useful is to be bold with your timing.  Allow for a character to hold in a position and think, and to not react instantly at the same time something is happening, but to give a little bit of space for something to register in its mind.  If something in a scene happens that a character reacts to…let it happen, let them have a few frames to let it register in their head, then have it register on their face, then let them come up with some sort of action (a take, solution, or whatever).  Putting that kind of timing in is what really helps show that a character is alive and thinking and feeling.

Mickey Mouse

There are a lot of animation apps available today.  Some students come to me and say they want to be a 3D animator or a stop-motion animator and they don’t have to learn how to draw.  What are thoughts about that?

(Brian laughed.)   That’s funny.  Without question, having the ability to draw is very important because you develop that understanding of what works to make a two-dimensional image exciting, dynamic, understandable, and appealing.  The people who do the best at CG are those who say “I will not let the computer tell me what I can and cannot do”. They’re going to make their image the way that they want it.  

We just recently had a student apply to DePaul with amazing work from one of these apps.  They are capable of producing some nice work.  Our school offers classes in 3D animation, stop-motion animation, effects, and independent filmmaking, and I’ve seen some outstanding work.   The teachers are high up in the industry, and each one can draw well.  They have to.

Ray’s Grandma from Princess and the Frog

Can you be taught appeal? 

Ooh, tough one.  I think it’s like any kind of drawing, it takes practice.  I’ve seen people who want to do it, but they just don’t have what a lot of their classmates have.  So they decide for themselves that this is what I’m going to do, and they practice, and they draw, making a point to draw all the time.  They have their sketchbook with them and draw at every free moment.  They get better.  I know masters who do the same thing.  They’re at the top of everyone’s game, and they are still practicing in the parks, drawing at every free moment.

Matchmaker from Mulan

With practice comes confidence.  Is there any kind of encouragement you can give young artists who feel intimidated about showing their work?

I just recently had a discussion with one of my students about this very issue.  She is a very strong artist who wasn’t turning in her work.  She had it in her mind that she was comparing her work to others, which might have been more polished.  I don’t look for polished, I look for something that’s clear, dynamic and interesting.  My classes are about exercises, not necessarily creating a finished product.  I told her these are exercises for learning basic principles and seeing gestures.  You don’t have to be precious with your drawings, they’re meant to be thrown away, they’re just practice.  My advice is to do the exercise, then move on to the next one, each time with new knowledge.  You can repeat the exercises, but don’t labor on getting things perfect, otherwise you’ll never get through them.  First, you lose a lot of time, and second, you’re only learning about this one little thing that has to be perfect.  You may be missing what’s really important.

If you go through drills, (do one thing, complete it, do another thing, complete it.) you’ll get all this experience under your belt. Each one is not going to be a masterpiece, but after having drilled yourself like that, your ability is going to get better!

It’s the same if you’re doing bigger projects.  To make a little independent film.  Don’t think “OK, I’m going to make this the best thing that’s ever been done because I’m going to put everything into it, and it’s going to win an oscar, and I’ll be recognized…”  No.  What you do is make a little thing and complete it!  Make another little thing, and complete it! Make another thing, complete it!  And the more you do these things the more experience you will have and the better you will get over time because you’re practicing. 

Chaca from Emperor’s New Groove

When it comes down to what is the best medium to pursue, 3D computer animation, Stop-Motion, or traditional hand-drawn animation, I heard you say that it’s the performance of a character that matters, not the medium.  Can you elaborate on that?

Yeah, you can have some perfectly entertaining, beautiful animation in any medium.  It doesn’t matter what the tool is, you’re going to be entertained if it’s put together right.

Chicken Little trips on a piece of sky

Let me put you on the spot with a fun question.  What great animated performance can you quickly recall that’s worth studying for a young animator or actor in training?  

Each film has a great example of something.  I recall a scene from Zootopia, where there’s a conversation between the fox and the rabbit, where she’s trying to arrest him.  The whole performance is so nicely done and it’s wrapped up with this one remark that’s so natural and her reactions are so well timed.  It finally ends with an on-point gesture.  So powerful!


I can also mention a scene from The Jungle Book.  A dialogue between Shere Kahn and Kaa, where Kaa is about to eat Mogli, but Shere Kahn comes and pulls on his tail, and says, “I’m looking for this man cub.”  And Kaa is like “Are you really?”  Throughout the delivery of the whole scene, there’s such a sense of menacing power in the tiger behind a mask that has kind of a condescending smile which reeks of his total control.  He could destroy the entire jungle, and yet he sits there being courteous. That performance is so powerful for me to this day and it was done over 50 years ago.  Unreal.

The Jungle Book

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject.  Your words are very encouraging.  When’s your next Master Class?  I’m sure my students would like to join in on that. 

The date hasn’t been decided, but I’ll keep you posted.

Many thanks to Brian for taking the time to do this interview.

You can check more  of Brian’s artwork on his website

Send some good vibes his way!

Let me know what you thought of this interview with your comments and likes. Also, follow this blog and share with those you know.  Thank you.

Draw Masterfully,

Mr. Vinny

Creature brief #2 – The Bunyip

The Bunyip

Hey Character Designers,

This week’s Creature Design Challenge is of an Australian Cryptid known as a Bunyip.

Now a Bunyip has many different descriptions so I was forced to choose a more common description for this challenge. It is a ferocious creature.

Here’s your Creature Brief:

A Bunyip is a large aquatic mammal that lives in lakes and lagoons.  It has a dog-like head (sometimes with a beak), an alligator or hippo-like body with front arms bigger than back legs.  It has walrus teeth, flippers (sometimes), and a horse-like tail.  In water it swims like a frog, and on land it walks like a man.  It is said that it eats children.  The word Bunyip itself translates into “evil-spirit”.

According to legend, it’s been seen in Australia for hundreds of years.

An anonymous artist created this drawing in 1935.

Below is my first attempt at one using an Apple Pencil for the first time, with the Apps Adobe Sketch and Adobe Fresco on an ipad.

My first Apple Pencil sketch using Adobe Sketch

Can’t wait to see your designs.

Post your images on instagram at #mrvinnyscreaturechallenge so we can comment on them.

Draw masterfully,

Mr. Vinny

If you like this post, please share, follow and comment.


Welcome to THE POINT.

In this section of my blog,  I am going to present tips or tricks to help you have more successful drawings.

Today’s DRAWING TIP is for those who are struggling with perspective, particularly if you are not using a ruler.  

A first instinct of artists is a tendency to straighten out drawings, whether that’s through gestural life drawings or three point perspective.  We must fight this urge!  For perspective drawings, we need angles working together.  Parallel lines in a perspective drawing can prove to be disastrous and are known to flatten out drawings.  They can ruin the illusion of depth in your drawing.

If you are not drawing in one point perspective, your vanishing points most likely are not going to be visible on your page.  You need a guide… a FAN of lines.

Vanishing points will most likely be off you’re page.

By maintaining a FAN of lines, you can easily check your angles.  As soon as one line breaks the FAN things can fall apart quickly.

Think of a triangle.  Two angles converge to a point (vanishing point).  If you were to split the triangle in half, you would be within the FAN angle of the two triangle sides. If you’re off – it should be easy to see.

So, that’s the tip!  Keep your angles within the FAN.  If you don’t erase your lightly drawn guidelines until you finish your drawing, you will always have a FAN to reference.  

Let’s look at it in practice. Here is a quick 3-point perspective drawing I did of a tower building blocks.

If we look at the bottom brick’s angled lines in red, we can see them converging to a vanishing point high in the picture. If we were to create an inside line that does not work within the FAN, it should be easy to see.


But, when we split the FAN, we can see a more correct structural line.

Likewise, when we try to add a top to the same brick, it should be clear as to when the angles are not working.


I hope that helps.  

Stay tuned for more Drawing Tips.  If there’s something specific you are struggling with, or would like to know more about, leave a comment below and I’ll address that in an upcoming post.

I cover perspective in my online Drawing Essentials class. If would like to learn more or work on it together. To sign up, visit our website or call (407) 902-9195.

Draw Masterfully,

Mr. Vinny

Art Book Review


Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a book guy, with eclectic tastes.   I’m like an archaeological explorer in a library, and every Sunday I dive into the New York Times Book Section to see what interesting new releases might be coming. When I worked at the Walt Disney Studios, in Feature Animation, I was fortunate enough to be assigned to the film “Fantasia 2000”, in the late 90’s.  The building was directly across the street from the Disney Imagineers Library in Glendale, CA..  Twice a week I would be in there on my lunch breaks.  The space had four large areas of books, periodicals, and Disneyland and Disney World Theme Park original art archives.  My Disney ID allowed me access to boxes of original Marc Davis concept drawings for The Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Carribean attractions, among countless others. I explored every box, some more than once, as anyone with access would.  It was amazing just to be able to hold these drawings in my hands and study them.  The book collection in this library was equally impressive.  This library contained Walt’s original reference library from the time the Disney Studio opened, with tons of out of print selections.  I was reading and checking out the same books as the artists of Snow White, Pinocchio, and Dumbo.  During this time, I was very interested in character design, animatronics, and puppet making, so that’s what most of my research entailed.

Walt Disney Imagineering Lot in Glendale, CA

Shockingly, after months of using the library on a regular basis, I was turned away by the librarians.  For some reason, they made a new policy that only Imagineers could use this library, I was in the Animation Department.  You would think the company would not be this divided, but it was.  It didn’t make sense to me, for this library originally belonged to the Animation Department and was donated to the Imagineering Department as a gift.  Well, the producers of Fantasia got involved.  We were a close knit group of artists working on the shorts for this film back then, and it was known that I have an enthusiasm for learning, and I was a good worker.  A few phone calls were made on my behalf, and I was allowed back in the Imagineering Library.   I was forever grateful, and continued to take advantage of my new library pass.  I think I got a few dirty looks from the librarians for making a stink, but I never let it bother me.

Since then, nothing’s changed.  I continue to teach myself through books. I’m actually a sucker for Mythology stories.  As for art books, I can’t have enough. My personal library particularly has a growing collection of “Art Of” concept books.  I learned from a digital animator, years ago, to always keep a good concept art book open next to my computer for inspiration while I’m working.  They ooze inspiration.  I’m often flipping through it while my computer program is “thinking”, and there are even a few coffee stains in a few, I’m ashamed to admit (by accident).  There seems to be a new concept book for every animated film made these days.  Some are good and some regurgitate a sameness to them, but overall they each have their own strong points.  Today I’m going to discuss one of the better ones, the 2014 concept art book: “The Art of The Boxtrolls” by Philip Brotherton. (I do not claim any copyrights of this book. All Images below are copyright 2014 Boxtrolls, LLC.)

Since this is my first review, it would be good to know what I look for.  I judge a concept art book on three criteria.  

First, I want to see drawings!  I need to see the evolution of characters, expressions, storyboards, props, and layouts.  The amazing drawing I love to witness most is the initial seed for a film.  The first concept that gets the project moving to me has to have the most energy.  Without that drawing, it would be hard to convince others to get behind the story.  It is refreshing to know that most of the animated movie making process is still drawn by hand.  Whether a movie is hand-drawn, computer generated 3D, or stop motion, it’s the performance by a character that ultimately matters to me, not necessarily the medium.  Getting to that point of a production is the story that this collection of drawings should tell.

Second, I want to see artwork from a multitude of different artists (not just a selected few).  Together they create the fun, loose ideas that made the film worth making.  It gives the book more of a studio feel that I am familiar with.  For me, this was one of the thrills of working in a major studio.  All the stuff you see in these books were on the walls of the studio, constantly changing and being added to. It was there to inspire all the artists working on the film.  Some of the directors I worked for even welcomed ideas from anyone who worked there (those are the movies people still talk about).  Sure the final character designs are wonderful to look at, but the journey an artist and studio takes to get there can reveal much of what was going through the minds of the artists at that time.

Third, I’m interested in color and style.  I love the moods of color within backgrounds, character design color choices, and how it is used throughout an entire story by means of a color script.  I like reading about the reason certain colors were chosen or rejected.  Add this to the stylistic “rules” of the design and you can witness how successful the artists were at solving design challenges and creating a believable world.

“The Art of The Boxtrolls” book meets all my criteria.  Being a stop-motion production, this book gains points with me for its puppet making construction photos.  Overall, it just hints at some puppet construction (but they are such wonderful hints for any puppeteer with “eyes to see”).  Generally, all “Art Of” books just hint at how a film is made (they can’t give away all of their secrets), but the greatest thing to take from them is knowing what the industry sees as a standard for professional artists seeking to work in this field.

 The extremely talented sculptor, Kent Melton’s artwork is in almost every concept art book I own, and here again his work is amazing.  He has an incredible talent for turning two dimensional artwork into 3D.  I’ve been admiring his work since my Disney days when I had his sculpted maquette of Bonzai the Hyena on my desk during the making of “The Lion King” (the good one) when I was a clean-up animator. 

When deciding on a style for any film, an art department has to make a choice on what to make the dominant feature.  They could choose LINE as in Disney’s “Aladdin” and “Mulan”, they could choose COLOR as was the case for Disney’s “Pocohontas”, or they could choose SHAPE as was the case in Disney’s “Lilo and Stitch”.  For “The Boxtrolls”, the LAIKA studio chose SHAPE.

The characters were conceived by their shapes before any details were being considered.  This book is dominated by how shape relationships add to the story.  The shape relations between troupes of protagonists, antagonists, and family are well defined.

This book has a tremendous amount of “Embellishment”, as well.  This is what I call all the details that make a world convincing. This particular film had to make everything in it by hand.  Every tiny detail helps make this world come to life, from the doorknobs and clockworks to the plates and silverware.  There are numerous pages of artwork showcasing the locations, vehicles and street signs.  Even alarm clocks are not forgotten.

The most complex sequence to animate for the filmmakers of this film proved to be the ballroom sequence.  There is a nice spread of a section of the storyboard for this sequence.  As for a color script, it is lacking in this presentation.  However, there are many pages with colored mood concepts for specific scenes.  I would say the majority of this book focuses on Character art.  There’s even a section with a group of characters, called the Cabbage Heads, that were cut from the film, as they didn’t advance the story.  This is the stuff I love.

The LAIKA studio has produced some nice films. “Coraline”, “Paranorman”, “The Boxtrolls”, and “Missing Link” are filled with beautiful stop motion animated performances.  The knowledge the LAIKA studio gained from their first two films, allowed their third film to shine.  Of all their movies, I find The Boxtrolls to be at the top, but this is not a movie review. The book itself shows a studio’s mastery in building a believable world with the highest standards of detail in every facet of production.  It inspires in the disciplines of Character Design, Set Design, Prop Design, Puppet Making, Industry Standards, and Style.  More than just “candy for the eyes”.

For these reasons, I recommend this book.  It is a source of inspirational artwork for anyone interested in the filmmaking process. Plus it’s the right size. Some concept art books decide on a new book format so they don’t fit with others on the same shelf.  This one fits in the Goldilocks Zone (It’s just right).  For those who are familiar, it uses the PIXAR studio books as its template.  As a companion to this book I recommend watching the one hour making of the film on youtube, which speaks more on the animation process.  With the knowledge contained in the book , plus the video, you will have yourself all the inside information you’ll need for a behind the scenes look at a fantastic world created by the LAIKA studio.

If you’re looking for how to animate, there are other sources for that type of instruction, including my online classes at

It’s fair to say we are drawn to any “making of” art book by the feelings we have toward a particular movie.  If you can discipline yourself to a criteria and not just say to yourself that you liked a certain movie, you could build yourself a nice inspirational library with timeless selections and save some cash by avoiding spontaneous purchases.

If you liked this post, leave a comment and/or share it with a friend.  I plan to look at an inspirational artbook every four weeks. Next week will be a first look into THE NONSENSE FILES.

Draw Masterfully,

Mr. Vinny

Artist Interview: Story Artist Tim Hodge

Learning from Experience.

Every month I plan to conduct an interview with a professional artist.  This month’s interview is with Story Artist Tim Hodge, former Disney storyboard artist, director for Veggie Tales, illustrator, author, and college professor.  Tim Hodge continues to be a major player in the animated film business. His fingerprints are on several films, and his many credits can be seen on his IMDb page here.

I recently had the pleasure of asking him some of his thoughts about what up-and-coming artists should be aware of if they were to pursue a career in storyboarding or as a concept artist.

A Conversation with Storyboard Artist Tim Hodge

I know you always have your hands in many projects going on at the same time.  What are some of the projects you are working on now?

I’m in the middle of a number of things now.   I mostly do freelance for a number of different studios.  I just finished a storyboard for a Russian studio.  I’m working on a couple of episodes for a production called “Masha and the Bear”, which is very popular on youtube around the world and is now starting to gain momentum here in the US.   I also did some work for “What’s New Scooby Doo” for Warner Brothers, and some independent studio work.  Most of my big stuff I just finished, so now as I wait for new stuff to come in, I finally get to work on some stuff just for me.

Dino Creature Teacher by Tim Hodge

That’s quite a list.  It’s nice to be staying busy during this pandemic.  Some of my students are getting antsy sitting at home. I’m always suggesting ways to keep things light for them, especially when it comes to creating good artwork. What are you doing to stay positive during this quarantine period?

I’m one of the lucky few that’s used to working from home, so it hasn’t been a huge change for me.  I’m one of the rarities.  I remember when I first started working from home, not being surrounded by people took some getting used to.  And now when people are forced into this situation suddenly, and can’t go out to the theater or the grocery store, it can be tough for them.  That’s why in March I started three or four times a week, “How to Draw” sessions on instagram and facebook.  I was showing kids how to draw Disney, Dreamworks, and Warner Brothers characters.  I’m thinking about starting it up again because the audience really liked doing it.  I enjoy it because it gives people some relief, and a new channel they could watch for the day.  I had some kids and their grandparents from different states join these sessions swapping drawings back and forth.  I was just the conduit between them, and that was uplifting for me.  

Cowboy by Tim Hodge

What a great idea.  I hope you do start that up again.  I try to keep my students laughing by suggesting art games to play, like pass the drawing, or What can you make from this shape? 

Yea, I love those games.  Where you make a squiggle and pass it to someone and see if they could make something out of it.  That reminds me of my upcoming course, “Drawing Cartoon Mythical Creatures” I created a dice game for a “mix and match” section of my lesson. 

You were telling me that the college where you teach, Lipscomb University in Tennessee, is currently doing Zoom classes but will be returning to regular classes in the fall.  As a college professor, what do you look for in a portfolio for students interested in story?

You know I was on the review board when I worked at the Disney Feature Animation Studio, and now when I’m looking at portfolios for the college level, it’s pretty much the same requirements.  We’re looking for quality life drawing, action poses, and good solid drawing.  I come across lots of students who want to get into animation but don’t have good drawing skills.  I guess they think that because it’s cartoony that you don’t have to draw that well.  But you absolutely do. 

For Storyboarding class, I especially look for poses that can tell emotion, tell an attitude, and ultimately tell a story in one or two drawings.  Not that it has to have a plot.  I just want to see what’s going on inside a character’s head, whether it’s a cartoon character or a life drawing.

Daniel in the Lion’s Den by Tim Hodge

When I was in school, everyone wanted to be a director.  Now it seems that most of my students dream of pursuing a career as a concept artist.  A career in this field requires a mastery in many disciplines.  What advice would you give to these up-and-coming artists?

People want to do this for a couple of reasons.  One: It’s one of few job positions where you are still drawing. Animation is so much 3D and you’re using a mouse and a keyboard.  Concept art is still painting, even if it’s done digitally, so you get to use those hand skills.  On the other side is that you get to do more of that exploratory work.  You’re digging into your imagination.  You are not necessarily having a job where you’re doing what’s handed to you.  If you get a scene in animation, you have to draw the character like everybody else draws and follow the prescribed director notes.  But the concept artist is always exploring.  It’s probably the most self-fulfilling part of the film production food chain.  

For me perspective is the big one.  I see a lot of kids who can draw, but once they try to put a character in a room, things fall apart for them.  You have to know perspective! It’s tough but you have to learn it. Envelope Artwork by Tim Hodge

In my storyboard class, I teach the old-school Disney way of drawing on paper and pegging them up on bulletin boards, and also storyboarding on photoshop.  Now all storyboarding is done digitally.  What are your thoughts on animated storyboards?

I think they look really cool, but I’m against them.  More studios are requiring that storyboard artists do more drawings and practically animate the boards and even cut animatics, but the deadlines haven’t changed and the pay hasn’t changed.  You’re being asked to do more for the same amount of pay.  The new kids coming into the field don’t know any different, so they think that’s the way it’s always been, but NO! We need to stop the studios from demanding that.

At the same time I know that it’s necessary now because so many productions are done overseas, and there’s not a contact between director and animators.  The director might be in Burbank, and the animators might be in Canada, New Zealand, or Thailand.  A director isn’t walking around face to face with the animators.  So an animated storyboard communicates a lot more information and tells the animator exactly what the director wants.  That part is necessary, but I think the storyboard artist should get longer deadlines and maybe a little more pay to do that much work. Envelope Artwork by Tim Hodge

It seems that the storyboard artist’s life has gotten more solo than what we had at The Disney Studios where you got to work together as a team.  That team aspect of the business seems lost.

Oh yeah.  So many studios only use freelance artists.  I’m working freelance and I know a lot of people who do, and I never meet other storyboard artists working on the same project.  I miss that aspect of the business, that chemistry,  where you could bounce ideas off of each other and just walk around to see what other people are drawing.  It’s really important.  

Do you think we could have that aspect of a studio come back?

It all comes down to dollars and cents.  Running a studio is extremely expensive.  Especially on a T.V. show.  You have 4 or 5 weeks to storyboard an episode and hopefully you have one right after that. (An entire half hour show takes about 4 months from start to final edit). Without overlapping production, a studio has to lay off a lot of people or pay them to sit around doing nothing which isn’t good business sense. Envelope Artwork by Tim Hodge

So a storyboard artist today needs to be a layout artist too?

I think that’s always been a part of television animation.  In the 60’s and 70’s storyboard artists were doing a lot of the layouts.  This saves a step in television production which has to be done so fast.  This is another reason why the storyboard artist must know perspective.  Your drawings are going to be translated into backgrounds.  In a studio doing 3D animation, things are a little different.  They would have a 3D model already set, and you could screengrab backgrounds to draw over.  But you still have to draw the characters into the scenes.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this subject.  I wish I knew all this stuff when I was in High School and College.  I have a fun question for you now. Sometimes writing a second movie with the same characters can pose a problem for movie-goers.   What’s your favorite movie sequel?  

Ooh, that’s tough.  Usually sequels aren’t any good.  There usually isn’t more story to tell, the studios just want more money.  But there are a few great ones. I would say “Toy Story 2” was fantastic. In some ways it’s even better than the first one, and the first one was great.  The Godfather Part 2 was really good.  Most of the Marvel sequels were really good, but there again they’re continuing the story.  And actually, I really like “The Rescuers Down Under”.  I know it didn’t do well theatrically, but I thought they did a good job relating more story to tell.  I didn’t work on that one, but I liked it.  These movies had a good reason to tell their stories, it wasn’t just about cashing in at the box office.  Then there’s the third movie.  I recently saw “Back to the Future 2”.  That one was horrible, but the third one was good.  Sometimes you gotta sit through the bad ones to get to the good one.

Many thanks to Tim for taking the time to do this interview.  

You can check out his amazing work on instagram here. Send some good vibes his way!

His course, “Drawing Cartoon Mythical Creatures” and others can be downloaded here.

Also check out Tim’s book “Pith & Vinegar” with Shel Siverstein type poetry at StorEnvy here

and who could resist his print on demand book “31 Uses for a Zombie” on Amazon here.

Let me know what you thought of my first interview with your comments. And you can subscribe to this site from the tab at the bottom right of the screen. Thank you.

Draw Masterfully,

Mr. Vinny

Creature Brief #1 – The Beard Beast

The Beard Beast

Hey Guys.

I’m starting this blog off with a Character Design Challenge.  Years ago, I found on a British website a very interesting Creature Brief called the MUSTACHE MONSTER.  (I can’t remember the website, but if anyone does, please let me know so I could give a shout out.)

The idea is to imagine someone’s mustache (could be a guy, could be a girl…I’ve seen some girls with mustaches)  suddenly come alive and jump off someone’s top lip.  What stories would it tell?  What kind of personality would it have? What actions would it perform?  I added to that idea by adding the detail that it would have to take on the persona of the face it once belonged.  So if it jumped off a cowboy, it would behave as such.  The other detail I was forced to add was to think of the texture of the hair, stringy, matty, curly, etc.,  for the majority of the results from this exercise resulted in a typical, simple handlebar mustache with eyes. (not good enough)  But I have seen some fantastic designs from my students.  

Today’s challenge is a spin off of this idea.

The spark comes from the many categories of annual beard competitions. Check out these names.  There’s a BEST category for goatee, imperial, musketeer, hungarian, Fu Manchu, Dali, kaiser beard, verdi, garibaldi, and my favorite category of all…freestyle.  It makes me want to grow out a crazy beard.  I think I will.

For the Beard Beast Character Design Challenge  this all makes sense.  Crazy hair = a better creature. 

Here’s your first Creature Brief:  Imagine a mustache and beard that is alive on someone’s face and jumps off said face to run around and survive on its own.  What would its profession be? Think about the mood of the character (mellow, hyper, dying, etc), the shapes of the character, and the amount of hair.  Also, think about color, not all beards are black.  You decide bearded-guy or bearded lady. I’m doing both.

Post your best drawing on instagram using #mrvinnyscreaturechallenge

I just made that up.  Comment on your favorites.  Can’t wait to see your designs.

Draw masterfully,

Mr. Vinny

If you like this post, please share, follow and comment.

my first concept

Mr. Vinny’s Art Blog announcement

Hey Everyone!

I’m doing it.  I’m starting my blog!

For all of you who don’t know me, I was an animator and clean-up artist for Walt Disney Feature Animation for over twelve years.  Before that, I worked for Ralph Bakshi on the movie “Cool World”.  Hand drawn animation is my passion, but I love all aspects of Art .  I create murals, puppets, games, and puzzles.  I can also juggle 5 objects now. 

As I’ve been teaching art to students, from 3rd graders through 98 year olds, for over nine years now, and the pressure to compliment my lessons through social media has mounted, I figure now’s a great time.  Since we’re all sitting at home looking for ways to stay sharp through drawing exercises, challenges, and what to read, I thought here would be a good place to go over homework tips and reviews of art books worth looking at to add to your library.

Prepare yourself for the same sort of fun and silliness as in my classes.

My main focus of this blog will center on character design challenges for the sketchbook, interviews of professional artists in different fields, and reviews of art books and artists worth studying.  I’ll also offer my opinions of the ones to save your money on.  My classes will still be the main source of in depth tips and tricks for solid illustration, storytelling techniques, and animations.  So if anyone is looking for a fun way of learning the solid foundations of drawing well, sign up for my live online classes. 

So now’s the time to let your friends know that this is happening!  Feel free to share this blog and invite all your friends that you want to draw with. Sign up for notifications by subscribing to this blog, there is a Follow button in the bottom right corner of the page.

Then you need to confirm through your email.  

Our first character brief is coming up! 

Stay tuned.

Draw masterfully,

Mr. Vinny

You can check out my full bio here:

Follow me on Instagram here:

Check out the Kablooie Studios website to sign up for live video classes!

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