Saturday, September 1, 2012



Heidi Smith Interview

Q: 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?

A: My first inspiration was my mother: a painter of Russian descent. I wanted to be like her, I loved all the paintings and drawings she would make.  Also, because of my mom, I grew up watching ballet videos, especially Carroll Ballard's Nutcracker designed by Maurice Sendak.  I remember really liking the design for the Nutcracker, I think that really influenced me as an artist.  It made me interested in puppets and stop- motion animation.  I graduated from the character animation program at Calarts in 2008, and I really loved CalArts, but at times I felt a bit intimidated by what I felt to be an unspoken pressure to conform to an industry style.  Fortunately my Life Drawing teacher and mentor E. Michael Mitchell was my savior from all that!  He was a huge inspiration for me, and used to say, "Follow your own instincts, because you want a director to want you for you."  He also said, "You have to wear an imaginary football helmet to protect yourself from what everyone else is doing."  I don't think I would be the artist I am today without his influence.

Q: How do you go about designing, and what goes through you mind, from start to end?

A: When I design, it's like I have a war going on inside my head, so many things are going on all at once, so many things to consider.  Which is why I have an obsessive method of drawing: I have to constantly look away, walk away from what I'm doing.  I might draw for a bit, then distract myself with something else, because if I'm too focused I will lose focus, everything just grows stale, and stagnant if I'm staring at a drawing for too long.  This method I have is a way to rejuvenate my brain, I stay energized, and inspired that way.  When I first begin with a sketch it must be fast, loose, and rough, I'm pretty strict about not tying anything down right away, sometimes, I can nail a character down quickly with the most simplest rough sketches, since this early stage of the drawing process is when it's the most emotional for me.  After that crucial process, then I can start developing the character more and more, it gets easier for me after that initial rough stage when I'm still searching for that character with all my scribbly pencil lines.  When I do finished pieces of art, I like to work with pastel, and charcoal.  This process is very different from the sketch phase: I work very, very slowly!  I'll start out building a layer with my charcoal pencil that I sharpen to a very fine needle-like point with an X-acto knife.  After that charcoal layer is finished, I will stipple a layer of pastel on top, I have to be pretty careful not to mix the pastel with the charcoal though, it will become muddy otherwise.

Q: What are some of the things that you have worked on? What projects are you working on now?

A: The first project I worked on was ParaNorman.  I graduated from CalArts in May 2008, and I began work at Laika in September. Some of my favorite designs I did for ParaNorman were the ghost designs, like the Civil War soldier riding the horse, the Sea Captain, and the sketches I made for Bub.  I also like the drawing I made for Norman's dad, Norman, and Mr. Prenderghast. The next project I worked on was Henry Selick's untitled film at Cinderbiter.  I was the character designer for both of those projects.
Currently, I'm working on some of my own illustrations.

Q: Who are some of your favorite artists out there?

A: What inspired me to become an artist might sound weird, and completely left field, but it was the band Led Zeppelin!  I was really obsessed with them growing up, I read books about Led Zeppelin, and listened to their music constantly.  Their music represented everything I wanted to be as an artist: it was diverse, different, raw, and powerful.
No one during that time sounded like Led Zeppelin, they were the pioneers of rock music, and paved the way for all of these other bands.  All I could think was, "I want to do that too, I want to be like that!"  Music plays an important role while I'm brainstorming, hearing a beautiful song conjures up story ideas, and characters in my head, music keeps me motivated,
and creative.  Also watching a good film will do the same,  I have always loved Stanley Kubrick films, especially “A Clockwork Orange.”  I also love Yuri Norstein's “Hedgehog in the Fog,” and “Tale of Tales.”  Both of those Norstein films feel so warm and wonderful to me, the simplicity of the characters, and the use of texture is genius. Richard Williams' The Thief and
the Cobbler had the most amazing mind-blowing animation ever!  I absolutely love the design of the background characters too.  As far as artists go, I'm inspired by Egon Schiele, and Gustav Klimt, they both use proportions in the most incredible way, and I try to put that into my designs.

Q: Who were some of the people you worked with on PARANORMAN?

A: I worked with a lot of extremely talented people at Laika, it was an unforgettable experience.  My director Chris Butler was amazing to work with.  I never ran out of creative energy because he was always so passionate about what he did, and what I did, and he would push me more and more to design outside the norm.  I gained a lot of confidence in myself and it was because I felt like he believed in what I did so much.  I can also say the same for sculptor Kent Melton, I was completely motivated by watching the love and care that went into those incredible sculptures he made.  I really enjoyed that collaboration I had with Kent, watching how a sketch would turn into a sculpt, it was wonderful that a person like Kent wanted my input, wanted to know my thinking process so that he could really capture what I drew on paper.  I also worked with the costume designer, Deborah Cook, who had me do concept sketches for the costumes.  She was wonderful to work with because she would bring me really interesting reference not only for costume ideas, but, ideas for how stitching might work.  For example: she had found some photos of tree bark and wanted me to incorporate the tree bark design into the stitching of Mitch's shorts, the end result was really neat!  I would never have thought of designing like that without the reference she brought me.  It was amazing to work with the people at Laika.

Q: What wisdom could you give us, about being an artist?  Do you have any tips you could give?

A: I think if I have any advice for other artists out there, it's to do what you love, and trust your gut!"

Q: Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbook, prints, anything) for people that like your work can know where to buy it?

A: The “Art & Making of ParaNorman” book is currently on sale, which features some of my art:

Additionally, if anyone wants to contact me they can go to my blog:

Heidi Smith Gallery