Los Angeles, CA
Art Director & Production Designer
Years Active: 30
Did you go to school or have any formal training that helped prepare you for your career?
I was an Illustration Major at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where I studied and learned the foundations of drawing and painting at the time. Although there wasn't an Entertainment Design department, I learned a lot about visual story telling from instructors like Chris Van Allsburgh who created JUMANJI and The Polar Express. While in my Junior year I took an Opera Scenic Design class and knew that was what I really loved and enjoyed. I started my search for internships in Environmental Design which is how I met Peggy Van Pelt at WDI. Unfortunately Disney wasn't offering any sort of internships at the time but Peggy was so generous in her advice to help me broaden my skills for what was at the time a pretty niche industry. I spent the next few semesters totally absorbed in architectural rendering, product design, and environmental illustration.
What are some of the challenges you’ve had in your career? How did you overcome them?
I had a lot of great opportunities come into my life while I was quite green and it happened quickly. I didn't have a lot of experience to compare it all too. In time I came to really understand the popular phrase "enjoy the journey" - but there were many years I was so busy looking ahead for the next thing and not being present and appreciating the now and feeling good about it. I have since learned to appreciate that some projects are long and high profile, while others are sometimes short turn arounds. It's easy to get jaded and think the grass is maybe greener somewhere else. It's cliche, but be ready for great things! Opportunity comes quickly and it's easy to take good fortune for granted. Stay in the now and enjoy the journey and take pride in your accomplishments.
What is your advice for those starting out in the Art Department?
Definitely take the time to familiarize yourself and understand the process of a project, its phases of design and production, and the many roles and persons that are involved in bringing a large entertainment experience together. Make time to ask questions and get informed on each person's role and how it may impact what your role is and vice versa.
I think also understanding and cultivating an appreciation for film and storytelling is important. I would suggest watching and studying great films from the older classics to the most current films to get familiar with visual storytelling. Whether you are in a role to illustrate or design a project, or art direct an experience, I think it is really helpful to understand the elements of what makes a great scene impactful and exciting. Visual storytelling is so important and film (and even graphic novels) can hold a lot of insight to what makes a scene effective.