Tuesday, January 10, 2006




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 in London, England. I only stayed there for the first 3 months of my life and never went back except for a brief 5 hour lay over once. From England my folks went to Calgary, Canada then later to Venezuela for three years and then back to Canada. They thought Canada would be the best place to raise a family.

My parents realized that I had artistic ability at a young age but my father had the fear that all artists are starving artist. So being a protective parent, he decided that he wouldn't nurture what he thought might be my down fall. Little did he know that life as an artist can be a lucrative one! Although the artist in me does it for the love of it...
that's what got me through the early years they weren't so lucrative!! I, like so many other artists, am addicted to art. Not even my parents efforts to dissuade me could alter my desire to be an artist. I don't think anything really prepares you to be an artist. It's just something you can't help but doing. Much like love or a severe drug addiction, you will do many crazy things for it and are even willing to defy logic i.e. drawing for 72 hours straight (which I don't recommend) !! But I do love being an artist!!

For my first 3 years of college I studied Graphic Design at George Brown College in Toronto. Upon completion I realized that there was more that I needed to do. I enrolled in Sheridan College and got into the Art Fundamental course for a year and followed that with the Animation program for another 3 years. I graduated both the Art fundamentals and Animation program with honors. Although I worked hard for my honors no potential
employer has ever asked to see my diploma, only my portfolio. Diplomas are for parents and portfolios are for the real world!

After school was done I was hired by my teacher, Dave Quenelle, who was once a Disney Supervising animator. After about 8 months of a real world education in animation, I left Toronto and headed to Halifax to work as an animator for a TV series and later, a story board artist and character designer for a web development company. Having a nomadic spirit will serve you well in this business!!

I credit my experience in Halifax for showing me the reality of this business. There is no such thing as job security and be ready for the unexpected at all times. More specifically, have a website! This allows you to send your work to a massive amount of potential employers with a simple email vs. the cost and hassle of having to constantly update and ship demo tapes! Having my website has allowed for opportunities from around the world, that I would not have been offered otherwise. For example the company I am presently working for found me through my website. WMS in Chicago is where I work with Steve Lambe and up until recently, Jasen Strong! Good luck Jasen, you talented beast!!

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

When creating my own characters, I block everything else out of my head and start imagining the character acting in my head. I ask questions like; who are they, what do they want and how are they going to go about getting it? From there I can follow that line of questioning as far as I want to take it! I sometimes even play out their life story in my head. I get so involved in my characters that I take on there expression, i.e. when the character I'm drawing is smiling, I'm smiling too! It's a phenomenon I seen many artist do, not all but a lot!! I think this comes from trying to put myself in the character shoes and see the world through their eyes. Most artist that I know take their work homes with them, not physically but mentally. I truly wish I could forget sometimes. But do I think about these characters while I'm in the shower, while I'm eating and sometimes it gets to the point that I have dreams about them. They seem taking on a life of their own.

When creating a character from a script, I would read the script and play the movie in my mind. The difference between creating my own characters and creating for someone else, lies in serving the story and the directors vision. You are really adding to a somewhat pre-designed character. But trust me there will be a lot of wiggle room!! In a production environment where you are working with other artists and you will find that you feed off of each other, taking the design to a new level.

I do remember struggling with designing characters early in my career up until I saw how much fun a friend of mine was having designing. I realized I wasn't allowing myself to play and experiment. After this realization I approached the process of design more creatively by just allowing myself to have fun and let the drawing to just happen. I grew tremendously after that!! If you draw under pressure, over time it will have a negative effect on your work!! Make it fun for yourself!!

Now to the nitty gritty... my secret weapon........... CONTRAST!!!! I am not necessarily referring to the black and whites in a character!! What I am referring to is shapes and lines, playing big shapes against small ones. For example, a big head on small body or straights vs. curves. Play with contrasting elements and you will create interest! It makes the viewers eye dance around your drawing and fill your drawing with the energy that will delight the viewer! How to strike that balance comes with an observant eye, taste, time and a lot of practice!

What do you think really helps you out in designing a character?

A designer is communicating through lines, shapes and color. You need a good understanding of the fundamentals of drawing, or else your ability to communicate your ideas will be severely limited!! I have heard all to often: "the drawing is so clear in my head". If it was so clear, wouldn't it be easy to draw? What is in their head is the feeling of a great drawing. Quite simply; "if it isn't on paper it doesn't exist". Many times I have thought that I had a great idea and only when it's on paper do I realize that I was wrong!! I have killed a lot of trees with my bad drawings and will probably kill more!! My best advice is to get the fundamentals of drawing by going to a good school of art!!

I also feel that copying great design helps unravel some the mysteries of design. I don't mean tracing them, tracing is mindless and takes little analysis to do! But when you redraw the character it reveals answers of why they made the choices they made in arriving to this final version!! You may notice the residue of Don Bluth and Disney's influence in my work!! I spent a lot of time early in my career really trying to understand what it is what they do. Milt Kahl was the greatest influence on Disney character design, the history books back me up. His design sensibility translated into his animation as well. The real beauty in his work is how he put graphic flat shapes next to well rendered elements. ie. He may draw a straight line from the neck to the forearm, eliminating the shoulder and then add a very dimensional wrinkled fabric at the elbow. Simply brilliant work!! It's hard to put into words but look for this contrast of flat graphic elements next to well rendered elements in his design.....yup! there is that word again Contrast!!

No character is on screen by themselves throughout a whole movie. So when designing, make sure it always in relation to the whole cast. You don't want to see all the characters having the same shapes. In Madagascar, every main character had a strong silhouette that varied in shape and size next to each other. This allows each character to read clearly against a crowd and even beside other lead characters. However the opposite can be true as well, all of the lemurs had the same general shape, this being a constant kept them in the background. The lemur leader was tall, his second in command had a big head and the small cute baby faced lemur had big eyes and a tiny body. These characters stood out in the crowd of lemurs because they had their own distinct shapes that contrasted well against a sea of average sized lemurs.

There are many rules to learn along the way! Don't be a slave to them, but do try to understand them. It is understanding that will empower you to take it further and break them in purposeful ways. i.e. If I had to design the background characters for Madagascar, I too would keep them very plain and similar to each other so as not to distract from the main characters!! Understanding the rules is important but being a slave to them could prove detrimental!!

From your own experience and maybe from some people that you know, what should we put in our portfolio and what should we not?

Simple... your best work!!! I have seen portfolios that range from 10 pages to 30. If you got 30 pages of great stuff don't be shy!! Show it! I personally open with my best piece on page one and close with the second best on the last page. This gives the potential employer a good first impression and a good last impression when they close your portfolio. If you don't have ten good pages, go back to the drawing board!!

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

I have worked on "Potterfield's Pond", which went straight to video. "Ollie's adventures" (Canadian TV show), a ton of web cartoons and slot machine art that very few of this articles demographic will ever see. I have done some designs for Astonish Comics "Dreamland" comic book. At present I will be doing some illustrations for Wizards of the West Coast!

Is there a character design you have done that you are most proud of?

My favorite design is my personal project "Mintz the Bear", which can be found in the "archived drawing" section of my website. I hope one day I'll have the opportunity to pitch it to a studio. I'm in no rush really, I have a clear vision for this project and I wouldn't want it to be compromised by a studio just yet. I will wait until its all down on paper first!!

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

Presently I am Senior Artist at WMS Gaming. I never thought slot machines would pay the bills but for now it's doing the trick!!

Where is the place you would like to work if you had a choice?

I want to retire at PIXAR!! The last great haven!!

Who do you think are the top character designers out there?

Nicolas Marlet, Carlos Grangel, Peter de Seve, Claire Wendling, Carter Goodrich and Tony Fucile. There are many more but these are at the top my list. I am also surrounded by so many talented folks that are seemingly on the brink of being comes house hold names like Steve Lambe, Jeremiah Alcorn, Bruno Werneck, Bruce Glidewell, Javier Guzman and Jasen Strong.

How do you go about coloring the character, what type of tools or media do you use?

I stay digital. It offers me the most control and flexibility so Photoshop and Flash are my weapons of choice!! There is no "control" when dealing with water color!!

What part of designing a character is most fun and easy, and what is most hard?

To me, the challenge of taking the blank piece of paper and creating something is the best part!! I love the simple act of creating fictional characters! They all become our little children. If anyone says differently watch them as you verbally trash their drawing. You will unleash a their paternal instinct to defend their children with all they might!!! This story illustrates it best... We once replaced a drawing on a friends animation disk with a traced version and drew with a black marker over the drawing saying it sucked and waited to see his reaction when he came back. It was so funny to see him freak out and threaten to kill the perpetrator!! We laughed our butts off and he felt silly when we gave him his untouched original back!! hehehehe!!I personally recommend this joke be done on close friends only!! heheehehehe!!

What are some of your favorite character designs and least favorite, which you have seen?

Some of my favorite designs are in Emperor's New Groove, Home on the Range and Madagascar!! Remember I said nothing of great story as I think they all are missing heart in there story!! I give these films the nod for having a gutsy and brave approach in there design. Specially considering how very safe and conventional most films are becoming.

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

I love to draw people, mainly cute girls. Not sure why, probably something Freudian behind it!! But I do like to mix it up and draw animals as well!!

What inspired you to become a Character Designer?

I always wanted to be a Character Designer but my other love is animation!! I don't love one more than the other but they represent the two most powerful artist releases for me!! I only wanted to do one thing more than both of these put together and that was to be a hockey player in the NHL!! Yup, a good ol' Canadian boy at heart!!

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

I've learned to lighten up a bit and have fun and play with my drawing. When I forget the reason I got into art in the first place I simply just think of my buddy Rawlz giggling in front of his drawing and it's all put back into perspective for me!! (you can see his work here www.rawls.ca)

What wisdom could you give us, about being a character designer? Do you have any tips you could give?

DON'T WORK HARD, WORK SMART!!!! I don't believe you can draw and draw and get better by default!!! It's only when you sit back and think about what you are doing, that your work will improve!! Intelligence will aid a good artist. Hard work will enhance!! The second piece of advice, (very similar to the first) is this: SLOW DOWN AND YOU WILL SPEED UP. I think many young artists find this concept hard to grasp. If you slow down and think about what you are drawing and ignore the urge to rush to the finish line, you are going to get better results. Speed will come when you actually know what it is you are doing! This is how to avoid drawing only one or two sets of hands because that is the only positions you now. But instead spend the time to learn about how to draw them with strong fundamentals and soon you will be drawing hands quickly and effortlessly!! Knowledge really is empowering!! AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST PAY IT FORWARD!! Share the knowledge that was shared with you, folks!!

If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted? (Email, Webpage)

Feel free to email me at robinlaurencemitchell@hotmail.com. My website is www.robinmitchell.ca and my blog is www.robinmitchell1972.blogspot.com

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?

Yes I do, it's my first book of hopefully many and I must say I am very excited. I just talked to my printer about it today and he said it should be ready early Jan 2006.

Robin’s Sketchbook is completed, and you can find it at SketchMart