He is the man who brought Wall-E to life. Jay Shuster is an art director at Pixar Animation Studios, the team that gave us Wall-E and the anthropomorphic world of Cars. With Pixar’s latest offering, Cars 2, slated to release in India on 24 June, we spoke to Shuster, who was recently in India as the key speaker for the BIG AIMS Cool Guru Series Seminar, “Creating a Career in Animation and VFX Film-making”. Edited excerpts from an email interview:
‘Wall-E’ is one of the most critically acclaimed commercial animation films to emerge from Hollywood in recent years. Where did you look for inspiration for that film?
Andrew Stanton’s vision for the film was first and foremost the inspiration for the look and feel; we, then, proceeded to fill in that vision with real-world research into scrap yards, cruise ships, Nasa (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) robots and anything that would bring the fictional environment and characters into a relatable existence on the screen. Personally, I drew from a life experience of industrial manufacturing knowledge to make Wall-E and Eve as realistic as possible, while maintaining the character and personality Andrew was looking for.
How is drawing for CGI different from the conventional medium?
There is no difference. I designed with the same pen and paper for (George) Lucas’ live action films as I did for Wall-E or Cars.
Actors often prepare for roles by living out the character. What about a CGI artist?
It is our job to embrace the character; I believe we do the equivalent (to the actor) when the director asks us to design a character. I find myself constantly thinking about the design and alternatives that I want to show the director. It is an all-consuming process that requires 100% commitment from the artists and animators. I surround myself with inspiration and research in my office. I take these images in my head home with me at night and sit with them until a clear image emerges that I can decipher on to paper. It is all about giving yourself the time to think things through—it doesn’t always come fast. It takes patience and trust in yourself and your talents that a clear picture will emerge.
What are the skills required by anyone aspiring to be a CGI artist?
One needs to have the ability to communicate their ideas clearly in multiple mediums. The illustrator doesn’t necessarily need to know how to also write an essay, but whatever mediums help them express their ideas in a cohesive manner very much help this task. Foundations in design are critical. Composition, form, light and colour are all part of the foundation. Drawing is critical too. To be able to turn an object 360 degrees in your head and draw it from any perspective without the actual physical object being present helps execute one’s job as a visionary.
Would you rather have been a conventional animation artist?
I never aspired to be a traditional 2D animator, or ANY kind of animator in fact. My strengths are in universal design that contributes to any medium: live action, animation, industrial design, etc. I can quick-change between working on movies to working on actual physical products, graphic design, sculpture. I don’t want to limit myself to just animation.
Whom do you consider the best animation artists or film-makers?
I believe John Lasseter to be a great champion for both animation and artists these days. Hayao Miyazaki is also a favourite. But there are a dozen artists the world over that inspire me just the same. They are faceless and nameless to me now—but they are the ones working with a passion on their own projects in their bedrooms and garages that will inform the next generation of film designers and animators.
Have you seen any Indian animation film? What do you have to say about them?
I know Little Krishna. I love it!
Cars 2 is slated to release in India on 24 June.