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Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?
My name is Deanna Marsigliese. I am an Italian Canadian citizen living in Toronto, Ontario. I spent the first 18 years of my life in Windsor, where I attended Holy Names High School. Throughout my years there, I tried to keep myself involved in as many artistic projects as possible. I enjoyed doing musical theatre and designing sets for various stage performances. There was only one art course available, so I enrolled in it every year. To prepare myself for Sheridan College, I drew constantly and absorbed as much feedback and constructive criticism as I could until I was happy with my entrance portfolio. I was accepted into the Sheridan College Classical Animation Arts program immediately after my high school graduation and remained there for an additional 3 years until I graduated again! After Sheridan College, I took a 1 year, post-graduate CG animation course at Seneca College, where I am currently employed as the Classical Animation instructor. Throughout this entire experience, there were many stressful moments. My supportive circle of family, friends and instructors were instrumental in helping me to achieve everything that I have as an aspiring artist. Their encouragement kept me believing in myself and helped me to maintain a positive attitude. Above all, I always try to have fun with my work. I’ve learned to treat design and animation projects as opportunities to relax and be creative. It is extremely important to strive to strengthen one’s artistic skills, BUT it is equally important not to be consumed by the competative nature of this industry. Everyone learns and grows at a different pace, and patience is a virtue. These are the realizations that have helped me to become the artist that I am today.
How do you go about designing a character, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?
This is an extremely difficult question to answer. In my personal opinion, character designing is purely intuitive. My approach is to scribble with out direction, and most of the time, it gets me to the place I need to be! It’s all about feeling; knowing what shapes, colours, and lines will best depict that character’s personality. Read the script, note the dialogue, and get a sense of your character’s mannerisms, habits and overall demeanor. Does he/she have a back-story? What does the character represent? What kind of life does he/she lead? Try to imagine how they would handle different situations. Treat your character as a person. If the character isn’t real to its creator, then how can it be convincing to an audience? Most importantly, one must develop great taste and a sense for good design. Discover new artists and study the classic ones. Learn from their example. Don’t copy their works, but take cues from their approach, their design shapes, colours, textures and expressiveness. Surrounding yourself with inspirational work will automatically have you learning through osmosis. Don’t underestimate the mind! Finally, learn about appeal. Clean shapes, complementary colours, lines that show form and movement. Everything on the character represents something. In my opinion, a mole, or even an extra wrinkle eludes to the character’s personality. Remember that a character design represents an idea that you are trying to express to others.
What do you think really helps you out in designing a character?
When designing, I need a fairly inspirational environment, some paper and time to think. These are the things that help me the most! I find that some of my best work is inspired by my subway and streetcar rides around the city. Being surrounded by the characters of Toronto inspire me to capture them on paper…the possibilities are endless! I use the term “paper” quite loosely as well…one of my favourite things to do is to sketch on napkins or brown bags. Drawing on a different textured surface, with a new colour or medium always encourages accidental effects and new ways of approaching design. Never be afraid to try something unique. The third requirement I listed was time. To produce, I cannot feel rushed (which is pretty difficult considering the fact that I’m always on a deadline!). In reality, I may only have a day to create a design, but while I go about my work that day, I do so in a state of timelessness. Mr. St. Pierre, my high school art teacher, introduced me to this concept. He believed that to be creative, one must ignore the passing of time and draw as if one has all of eternity to finish it…and I never forgot that! Research is also extremely helpful. It’s always a good idea to have a substantial amount of reference available; however, if I am drawing with no specifics in mind, then I just go for it…no restrictions, anything goes. I try to stay lose by using long, fluid lines and, most importantly, I try to have fun. I’ve learned to never be afraid of a bad drawing or disappointing criticism. It’s all part of the process.
From your own experience and maybe from some people that you know, what should we put in our portfolio and what should we not?
When putting together a portfolio, focus on the job for which you are applying! If you want to work in design, then feature your character work above anything else. It’s important to show range. Show that you can draw in more than one style; that you have an understanding of design for both genders, as well as robots, aliens, animals and everything else in between. Since I am most familiar with a portfolio tailored for the animation industry, I suggest that each piece demonstrate a sense of movement, force, expression and story-telling potential. Your designs should evoke emotions from its viewers. Avoid anything explicit, violent, vulgar or sexist, seeing as it may be offensive, inappropriate or unprofessional in the eyes of your potential employer. Finally, keep your work current. My general rule is to discard anything more than a year old. Your portfolio must represent the level at which you are drawing now, not the level at which you were drawing two years ago!
What are some of the things that you have worked on?
I started at Sheridan College. During the summers before my 2nd and 3rd college terms, I was hired on at Chuck Gammage Animation Studios, first as an animation assistant and clean-up artist, then eventually as a junior animator on various TV commercial projects. During my second year of College, I contributed work to various projects at Squeeze Inc. There, I dabbled in story-boarding, as well as conceptual character design. In 2004, I gradated Sheridan College, winning the award for Best Student Film, and went on to work as the classical animation teaching assistant during my post-graduate CG course at Seneca College. After graduating from Seneca, I immediately accepted a job as a character animator on Universal Pictures’ “Curious George” at Yowza Animation studios. At the moment, I am a character designer at Nelvana Ltd. for an American Saturday morning 2d animated series. I am also working as a classical animation instructor at Seneca College @ York University. Finally, as with any artist, I usually have some fun freelance projects in the works!
Is there a character design you have done that you are most proud of?
Well, to be honest, I’m never really 100% satisfied with any of my designs. There is always something that can be improved or tweaked, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. I’m my own worst critic, and I’m also a perfectionist. I’m not sure that I can select any one design in particular as my favourite, but I am quite pleased with the artistic direction in which I am traveling now and will probably continue to explore it for the next little while. I draw constantly; I have good days and bad ones. Every aspiring artist has about a million failed drawings in them…I’m trying to flush them all out as quickly as possible!
What are you working on now? (If you can tell us)
I can tell you about two! As I’ve mentioned in one of the previous questions, I am currently working as a character designer at Nelvana Ltd. I am also a Classical Animation instructor at Seneca College @ York University. Then, of course, there’s freelance…
Where is the place you would like to work if you had a choice?
I would love to work in L.A. I love Canada and I love Toronto, but I also love to travel! L.A. holds the key to some of my future goals. Europe is another one of my future destinations; home to some of the most beautiful and inspiring art in the world. I would love to take a job overseas, especially in Spain, Italy or England. When all is said and done, I’ll take a job anywhere where there is a great project in the works. I really enjoy being part of something big; something unconventional, unique and exciting. In my very humble opinion, I’d have to admit that Pixar is showing the most promise in all of these areas. Their films never cease to amaze me; they continually surpass the standards that are set by their own projects!
Who do you think are the top character designers out there?
What a question! I’m afraid to start listing because I know I’ll forget some important ones. I love Chuck Jones, Mary Blair, Ward Kimball, Ronald Searle, Len Norris, Marie-Claire Lefort and Marie-Francine Openo, Earl Oliver Hurst, Jaro Fabry, Toulouse-Leutrec, Picasso, Hirschfeld, Ricky Nierva, Don Flowers Jr., Dan DeCarlo, Tom Oreb, Bill Pete, Tony Fucile, Uli Meyer, Tex Avery, Lou Romano, Ralph Eggleston, Russell Patterson too…some are not “character designers” by trade, of course, but extremely inspiring all the same. Then there are those that are closer to home (for me); Chuck Gammage and Daryl Graham, two amazing draftsmen whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with and learning from.
How do you go about coloring the character, what type of tools or media do you use?
Well, as demonstrated on my blog, I’m very reserved when it comes to colour. I like to use bold inks, especially blacks and blues. Then I add some bright accent colours here and there, usually in the form of blush, clothing patterns, etc. At the moment, I purposely choose to keep colours minimal. When I decide to colour a piece in full, I try not to go crazy with the palette. The colours are usually derived from one another, meaning that they are varied tones of the same shade. I do this because it gives a sense of unity to the piece. Colour can add an enormous amount of life to a drawing, but, as I’ve learned over the years, it won’t mask a poor design! As for my choice of media, I sometimes use Photoshop. I don’t have a tablet yet, but I am looking. Usually, I’ll pull out some Prismacolors, coloured pencils, or, if I’m really taking my time, I’ll use gouache. Gouache is my absolute favourite medium. I just love the flat, vibrant effect it brings.
What part of designing a character is most fun and easy, and what is most hard?
Everything about design is fun, but I wouldn’t say that any one aspect is “easy” or “hard”. The process of design is unique to every artist; however, one truth remains the same…the more you draw, the better you’ll become! As your skills improve, you’ll find that you design with greater ease, better proportions, and more appeal. At least, that was my experience! The hardest aspect of design is doing so when you don’t feel inspired. Surround yourself with great pieces by artists that you admire and start drawing. I hope this answers the question!
What are some of your favorite character designs and least favorite, which you have seen?
To view some of my favourites, just google the names of all those fantastic artists I listed above. It’s not really my place to be listing any “least favourite” designs because everyone has a different idea of what makes a great drawing, and I’m still learning! …Plus I don’t want to offend anyone!
What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?
I love to draw people. Human beings are an endless source of inspiration for me. The body is an exquisite piece of art all on its own. In design, the figure can be pushed, pulled, squashed and stretched into endless amounts of unique design shapes, all beautiful.
What inspired you to become a character Designer?
I actually aspired to be a character animator first and foremost…and I still am! Animating trained me to draw faster. It forced me to learn short-hands for various character types, and exposed me to many wonderful character designs. This experience, combined with my constant search for new and talented artists, helped me to improve my design skills and I didn’t even know it! One day, a design job surfaced and by God’s good graces, it found its way to me. Shortly after, I started a blog which brought me more freelance design work and hopefully, the best is yet to come!
What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?
I’ve learned the importance of staying lose and keeping roughs rough! As a student, I was always hesitant to scribble; I thought that all great artists worked clean and neat. Once I started at Chuck Gammage Animation, I realized how wrong I was! Most of the animators worked extremely rough, giving life and movement to their drawings. Each pose was clear and strong. I’ve also noticed that every great artist takes cues from other great artists, yet always manages to put a part of him or herself into every piece that he/she does. Finally, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is to draw from what you know. Gather ideas from the familiar. I find that when one draws inspiration from personal experiences, the result is always more convincing, appreciated and moving because the artist can truly relate to his/her work.
What wisdom could you give us, about being a character designer? Do you have any tips you could give?
I hardly see myself as an authority on design just yet! I’m still in the process of honing my skills and everyday I learn something new. The best advice that comes to mind is simply that practice makes perfect. If at first you don’t succeed, walk away from the paper! THEN try again. This was the best advice I ever received! Don’t noodle your drawings to death, it will only frustrate you! Take a break and return with a new perspective and a fresh eye. Doing this will encourage new ideas and will help you to catch mistakes that you may have previously overlooked.
If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted
You may contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a message on my blog at www.pinkydee.blogspot.com. I know my email address is silly, but I’ve had it since the 9th grade, and it has become quite sentimental, not to mention a pain to change.
Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbook, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?
No, unfortunately I don’t have anything official. Lately, I’ve been accepting requests through my email account. If anyone would like a signed print of any piece displayed on my blog or elsewhere, they may contact me at the hotmail address listed above. I do, however, plan to publish a collection of my work…eventually! Lastly, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Randall for this opportunity and to thank all those whose support and encouragement keeps me drawing everyday!