JGO: What were some of your favorite characters that you've worked on over the course of your career?
TW: The moose brothers in Brother Bear, Sebulba and Ketwol from Star Wars are among my favorites. I like the Sando Aqua Monster, also from Star Wars.
Sebulba (above) the podracer and the Sando Aqua Monster; a massive aquatic mammal (below) , both appear in Star Wars, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.
JGO: Typically, what types of stages does a character design go through from written description in a script to final film version?" I realize that there may not be a one-size-fits-all answer, but it was a question that popped into my head as i was trying to sleep last night and I suspect that would-be creature designers would be interested to know more about the process.
TW: Regarding the stages a character goes through, of course, it is a step by step process, depending upon the project's overall nature, and the desired degree of naturalism. Typically, it goes from realistic to stylized, for a conventional 2D production, to extremely realistic (and expensive) interpretations for a 3D production such as Narnia. There can be any number of intermediate exploratory stages, depending on the vision of the director. For Star Wars, Jar Jar Binx took a year to design--literally several hundred drawings, including roughs, while Sebulba was "sold" in an afternoon. George Lucas gives his art departments lots of blue sky, while it is more typical of Stephen Spielberg to have a more precise idea of what the character looks like.
Terryl's conceptual drawings for the Moose Brother, Tuke and Rutt, from Disney's "Brother Bear" Early designs so a more naturalistic set of Moose Brothers who gradually evolve with more stylization and personality. As I often tell my students: part of character design is showing us WHO the characters are, not simply WHAT they are. We get a sense of who Tuke and Rutt are through Terryl's expressive, action packed drawings, and their good natured goofiness continues to be displayed through the clean up model sheets and final film.
JGO: What skills should creature design students focus on developing if they want a career in the film industry?
TW: Drawing, anatomy, drawing, anatomy, and more drawing and anatomy of all sorts of animals.
JGO: What is one of the most important lessons that you learned from another artist?
TW: To keep on learning, that you will never “make it” in this lifetime, and to be bold and adventuresome.
TW: That I will never be perfect, that I must always be open to learning, that I can find a way to improve each day, and can learn from nature and other artists constantly. Mistakes can be my best teachers.
JGO: You've been amazingly prolific throughout your career. Do you ever deal with artist's block, and if so, how do you overcome it?
TW: It’s more a case of self-intimidation, trying to overachieve what I’ve done in the past, and living up to others as well as my own expectations. That’s what can be paralyzing. However, I’ve realized that what that is, is a nasty concoction of fear and pride of my own making, and as soon as I recognize that, I tell myself to “stop that”, and get out of myself.
JGO: Thank you so much for giving us your time, Terryl. We look forward to seeing all of the amazing animals, both real and imagined, that you create in the future!
Students: watch free creature design tutorials by Terryl Whitlatch at the Academy of Art University website, HERE.
Los Angeles residents, mark your calendars! Terryl and her editor, Gilbert Banducci, will be in L.A. between March 17th and March 19th for lectures and book signings regarding "Animals Real and Imagined". Below is a poster with all the details of the dates, times and places: