Nate Wragg is a talented artists who started his career at Pixar as a character designer, production design, and art lead while on Ratatouille! He is currently working at Dreamworks Animation doing Visual Development!
1) Tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you go to school, and what classes did you take? What challenges did you face to help prepare you to become the artist that you are today? Roughly, how many hours a week did you spend polishing your skills to reach the level you are at now?
Well, I went to school at Cal Arts in Southern California. It's a great school for animation and animation design, I had a blast there. in school I tried to focus on a little bit of everything, animation, story, and design. As my time there went by, I grew more and more inspired by designing for animation, began to focus my studies there with classes in character design and back ground design, and since I left school, I have gone on to work as a designer in the industry.
The challenges I think we all face is finding our own artistic voice. In an industry where so much has been done, it can be hard to find where you fit in, so for me I simply focused on what inspires me, what I like in art and life, and let that mold me into the artist I am today. But believe me the process doesn't end, I still feel that itch of needing to get better, more balanced, constantly trying to learn more from those around me, it's never ending.
I would have to say I've spent hours on top of hours drawing to get better. It was usual for me in school to only get 5 hours of sleep at night, and today, even though I'm working full time at a studio, I wake up at 5 am roughly every morning to paint and draw for myself, work on my own projects and personal art goals, always trying to get better.
2) How is it like working at Pixar? What are some of the most rewarding moments working there, and what are some of the neat things you have learnt from other artists that you have worked with or seen?
Working for Pixar was great. It's where I got my first real start in the industry, and got the chance to be around and learn from some of the most talented people in animation today. Just getting the chance to walk the halls and walk by offices of legendary artists was awesome, you just feel like you draw better being around such talented people.
I would have to say, some of the most rewarding things about working there was being involved with some great people on some great productions. Working with Harley Jessup, Brad Bird, and Teddy Newton on the end credits was one of the highlights of my career. I went into work every day just feeling like the luckiest artist in the world.
One of the best things I learned when I was there was just from watching how my Production Designer Harley Jessup conducted himself as a lead designer on Ratatouille. Getting to see his crazy work ethic, how sharp he was in handling all the design issues that come up with designing a feature film, feeling like I needed to work as hard as I could, and then maybe, just maybe I could try and keep up with him. All that was a really great lesson in knowing that just because you have a good job, doesn't mean you can slack off and pat yourself on the back. You always have to keep working hard, keep striving to be the best you can be.
3) What inspired you to become a designer? Did you always know that you wanted to do that, or do you have other ambitions such as animating?
Well, growing up I always thought that I wanted to be an animator. Even when I started school at Cal Arts, my ambitions were to be an animator. And it wasn't until I started animating my film I first year, that I realized I actually enjoyed the process of designing my film more than I enjoyed animating it. So from then on, I really focused most of my studies in the design aspect of animation, focusing on character design, color and background design, and layout.
4) When designing, do you have a personality for the character in mind for animators to follow? Or would you hand off designs and hope for the best?
Have you ever had to tell an animator that you envisioned him as a different type of character from what he/she animated and have them change it?
When I design a character, I always have their personality in mind. In fact, I would say it's hard to design a character without knowing what their personality is. So much of how someone looks is directly related to what type of person they are, what type of personality they have. So I always look to let my designs be inspired by the characters personality.
You know, before an animator begins on something that you designed, it's always good to make sure that you are both on the same page. Both parties have a clear understanding of who the character is, and how they should be animated. So I think any of those changes or notes on personality, are usually worked out before the animator begins.
5) What's the work process like for you when doing an illustration from start to end? Do you have a preferred medium to work with?
For me I always like to start with a small thumbnail sketch of what I'm going to be painting. I usually like to do several little test paintings over that sketch to help me plan what type of colors and mood I plan on using. Then I like to just go straight to painting. And since I paint with acrylic and paper collage, from then on, I usually just feel out the painting as I paint and either add paper collage, or add paint. It really changes as I'm in the process of painting. I may think I want to paint something, then I come across the right piece of paper that will do the job, so I decide to paper collage that part. I love how spontaneous mixed media can be, you just never really know what elements in the piece are going to be painted or collaged, and for me that makes every painting I do feel different and fresh.
I would have to say my preferred medium would be acrylic and paper collage for the reasons I just mentioned, spontaneous and always different.
6) What do you do to keep yourself motivated to produce creative and fresh concepts?
Well, I like to stay busy and constantly find new goals. I usually keep a list of things I want to do, things I want to draw or paint, and that comes in handy when ever things get slow, or I feel a bit lost, I can look back on that list and see that I always have something I could do.
I'm also constantly looking to collaborate with other artists, because I find that I get really inspired by surrounding myself with inspiring talent.
7) I was always curious about the background story/origin of Yeti! What was the inspiration behind that concept? And what compelled you to stick with the design all these years?
You know, a few years back, I started drawing this little monster with horns, and the more I looked at it, the more I thought " hey, this looks like a yeti." And from then on, the rest is history. I painted the design with white acrylic, and have loved drawing him ever since. I think aside from simply liking the design, I really enjoy injecting some mischievous personality into this character, so I guess you could say I live " mischievously" through him, causing trouble in fun ways.
8) I've noticed a lot of creature drawings on your blog! Are they your favorite subject to draw?
Yeah, I really love drawing monsters and creatures, because they are just plain fun to draw. You can really let you imagination run wild with the design of a creature, and try some crazy and fun things with them.
9) Who are some of your favorite artists? Was there an artist who influenced you in developing your style?
You know, I can't really say that one specific artist was instrumental in influencing my style, I find that I really like a lot of artists. Some of my favorites would include Paul Klee, Jim Flora, Pablo Picasso, Tim Biskup, Kiraz, Ronald Searle, and the list goes on. I try my best to be open to any kind of artistic influence. I'm always looking to find new inspiration in other artists work.
10) Looking back, would there something you would change with your portfolio, and/or work ethics to better meet the expectations of Pixar? Do you have any tips for students, and industry professionals who have their hopes to break into feature film business?
You know, the best thing you can do is really put your work out there for one. A lot of people are too nervous to send their stuff to studios and you won't get a call back if they don't have your work to look at in the first place. But I think the most important thing besides working hard, is to make sure you submit the right type of work in your portfolio for the right type of job. If you are applying for a character design job at cartoon network, odds are, you won't get hired if you submit a portfolio of artwork that would say be in the style of Avatar. The styles are both great, but they are different enough that a portfolio of realistic designs wouldn't fit into the style of animation and design they do at cartoon network. Now you never want to submit drawing of the characters of a show you want to work on, but you want to show the studio that you can draw in that style, you can stylize your designs in a way that you would be an asset to the company, and they should hire you.
11) If people would like to contact you for your artwork, how would you like to be contacted?
One of my classmates was really excited that you were available to be interviewed, and wanted to ask what are your rates like for an original commissioned traditional painting or do you only sell prints?
The best way to get in touch with me is through my blog or my online store. I have my email contact posted on both of those places and am always free to answer any questions anyone might have. Yeah I do commissioned paintings as well, I would encourage the student or anyone to contact me about a commission idea they may have so that we could discuss the rates privately, but just as a general note, my goal is not to make money, it's to give someone a piece of artwork that they can love for hopefully a very long time, so my rates are very reasonable.
12) Random question, but do you have a desk full of toys? :)
Actually, in my studio at home, I have a bookcase full of them. I like collecting cool toys and vinyl toys, but it can be a slippery slope, so I try not to get too obsessed over them, however it does make me feel like a kid again