This is the transcript for the podcast episode Interview With Sarah Marino: Visual Development Artist For Nickelodeon & Reel FX (Part 2) :: ArtCast #77 To listen to the podcast click here.
Chris: This is Chris Oatley’s Artcast, episode 77, an interview with Sarah Marino, Visual Development Artist for Nickelodeon and Reel FX, part 2.
Hello my friends, and welcome to another episode of Chris Oatley’s Artcast, the show that goes inside the hearts and minds of successful professional artists. I’m Chris Oatley, I was a visual development artist at Disney before I quit to start my own online art school – the Oatley Academy of Concept Art & Illustration. Find more art instruction and career advice from some of the most inspiring voices in animation, games, comics, and new media at ChrisOatley.com. That’s ChrisOatley.com.
In part one of this interview, Sarah Marino told the story of the struggle to find her calling as a professional artist and how she got her first animation job, not in the art department, but as a production assistant. In this episode, Sarah talks about her artistic success in both animation and kidlit. Her newest gig as a background painter at Nickolodeon, her new course at the Oatley Academy and how a single post-it note doodle changed her life forever.
What were some of the things that the modelers and texture artists liked about concept art and well then conversely, what did they not like?
Sarah: Well I can tell you one of the biggest things the modelers don’t like is line weight because they can’t tell where the edge of the character was supposed to end or being, at least at Reel FX, not every place is like this.
Chris: That makes sense though.
Sarah: At the time they were doing outsourcing work, they were trying to fulfill a client’s needs. It was really important for them to be able to look at the art and make it look exactly like it because it was a client-based project. So when they were getting kind of ambiguous art without information, it wasn’t in their favor to make up that information because then the client would look at it and tell them to redo it. “What didn’t you do it the way I drew?” And it’s like, well the info wasn’t there.
Sarah: So for them, having a really clean drawing that had very little line weight was important, and to me that was kind of humbling because as an artist you’re like line weight makes it better!
Chris: Oh yeah.
Sarah: And yeah, visually as a stand alone drawing it does make it better. But as a part of the entire production pipeline…
Chris: For making the movie….
Sarah: For making the movie, you kind of have to sacrifice those kinds of artistic things that really make it a punchier piece for the sake of a production.
Chris: Right, or do two versions.
Sarah: Exactly. You can have your personal one and then the one you deliver to the modelers. And then texture artists, you know, for them having texture callouts is huge.
Chris: Oh yeah, which I really enjoyed doing.
Sarah: Yeah, they’re really kind of fun and it’s really kind of fun to find what everything is made of and it’s a creative process all on its own.
Chris: For those that don’t know, a texture callout is basically a vis-dev painting of let’s say a character but let’s say it’s Hiccup from How to Train Your Dragon. You would have the vis-dev painting of Hiccup and then the photo reference but mostly just the texture reference in swatches all around on the same image, like all around the character with little red arrows pointing to okay the metal of his belt buckle is similar to this kind of texture. And it’s there as a reference to the lighters, and the texture artists, and even to the modelers if they’re doing any type of material aspects in the model itself.
Sarah: Yeah, and seeing how they use that stuff and actually being side-by-side with the texture supervisor, seeing how he would use the textures from the vis-dev or try to recreate them, I feel like seeing that process really helped me understand that visually the information that they needed from me was not necessarily the most aesthetic portfolio information. Because when you’re really working in the animation industry doing vis-dev, not every painting you do is going to be this beautiful thing. You’re doing a lot of the texture callouts and the nitty gritty. For The Book of Life, I actually designed a painted book of life and that was scrutinized to all hell but also somehow got approved and somehow it got approved really quickly at the same time because I was really conscious of what they were looking for in terms of the reference I was given and then incorporating that and making sure to be really thorough with preparing the reference and the textures for the texture artists. Those kinds of things made me more conscious as a part of something greater than just being a stand alone artist. I was really conscious of the entire process and the whole team effort of making a movie.
Chris: So before we get into Nickelodeon, let’s talk about children’s books and why. You’ve been living a dual life for quite a while, tell us about that and kind of how this other career wove into your animation career. And then bring us up to date on some of the…whatever you can talk about that’s recent. There’s some exciting things happening.
Sarah: Sure. Yeah, so some of what I’ve already talked about as being motivated by storytelling so it’s kind of no secret I’ve read a lot as a kid, and I still read a lot just because it’s really cathartic for me, it’s a way to not look at a screen unless you have a Kindle. But for me Harry Potter was huge growing up and I was obsessed with Mary GrandPre’s drawings and all the little chapter illustrations. And those really spoke to me as a kid, not to mention just all the other books I read, like all the Golden Books. And you know my senior thesis was on book covers, albeit more serious ones. I happened to have an older sister, and she happened to go to school with my current agent Kathleen, and my sister being the wonderful loving sister that she is would occasionally share my art on Facebook. And Kathleen saw it and reached out to me because at the time, she was helping one of her clients who was self-publishing and they wanted someone to illustrate the book cover, and that was the Large Storm project.
Chris: Ah, yes.
Sarah: And I was freaking out, this was when I was a PA actually so I wasn’t really doing art full time at my job. So I was like oh my god, I’m going to screw this up you know, and I ended up working my butt off on this project and it went over really well.
Chris: Yeah, it’s beautiful, beautiful work.
Sarah: It’s still…I’m still pretty okay with it because you know how you look back at something you did a few years ago and you’re like crap…it’s pretty good. I don’t hate it when I look at it.
Chris: That is a great feeling and it’s interesting, the more distance I have from art, I went through the phase of hating it and now I like it again. I’m like oh yeah, that’s not too bad! I was really bold with acrylics, I mean you know sure, there’s all the obvious issues but…
Sarah: Yeah, I look at it and I’m like, I made some pretty good decisions here. Not bad Sarah, good job for not knowing what you were doing.
Chris: Yeah, that’s a great feeling.
Sarah: Past Sarah did an okay job. So, I guess it was a good enough job where Kathleen, she offered representation to me after I successful did this book cover. I started my relationship with New Leaf Literary, they are a wonderful agency; Kathleen’s super hands on with my career and she loves the fact that I’m in animation. Actually, most of her clients are in animation, which is kind of awesome like Liz Climo who works on The Simpsons is represented by Kathleen, and Shane is now represented by Kathleen, and actually Betsy Bauer is now represented by my agency.
Chris: What do you know!
Sarah: And not because of me, she did it all on her own.
Sarah: It’s crazy!