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Carol Wyatt Animation allrounder

February 20, 2015

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Carol Wyatt is an Animation Production Designer, Art Director, Painter, Illustrator, and Graphic Designer. I contacted Carol to discover more about the fascinating world that she works in.

When did you first start working in animation and how did that come about?

I started working in animation in 1987 after graduating in Communication Design and Illustration from Otis/Parsons in Los Angeles.
At that time there were only a couple of schools training people in animation and there weren’t enough people to fill the jobs. A couple of friends from college had started working on some of the Saturday morning cartoons and called needing more artists. Mostly painting cells and doing color key. I was already working as an editorial illustrator and graphic designer and wanted to try out animation. I was hired for 3 months, a long job compared with freelance illustration! There, I met many talented artists who went on to be giants in the industry. Every new show, commercial, or title project introduced me to more talented people and opened up new opportunities where I was able to jump into new jobs. I learned the most from the original directors on the Simpsons; Wes Archer, David Silverman, Rich Moore, and Brad Bird. But, I am still learning on each job and trying new things. It’s an ongoing process.

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Founder of PINK SLIP Animation. Carol holds a BFA in Communication Design and Illustration from Otis/Parsons School of Design in Los Angeles. Owner of Carol Wyatt Illustration, a Graphic Design and Illustration Studio in business for 27 years.

What are your main likes / dislikes about life in this industry?

The best part of animation is the community of artists, technicians, writers and producers you meet on each project. We are a very tight community. When someone has cancer, the artists come together to hold fundraisers. When jobs open up, we help each other get into the best positions. Even when competing for the same jobs, we are supportive of one another.
The worst part of animation is the layoffs. The insecurity of never knowing where you will be and what you will be earning in a year from now. The industry goes up and down. There are always kids coming out of colleges ready to work more hours for less money. You have to constantly look for work.

She has a great eye for setting a scene for a cartoon animation, although I’m not sure I’d send my kid’s off to Camp Runny Rump for the summer !

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You’re illustrations are quite retro and has a feel of Disney/Mary Blair about it (if you don’t mind me saying). Do you work this way
because that is what the client wants or because it also happens to be your personal style?

My style is mostly retro. So I am hired often for that particular style or to develop something in a similar vein. My training as an illustrator helped me define what I enjoyed doing. I was strongly influenced by 60’s design, color and pattern. Ironically, I had never heard of Mary Blair until I began working in animation. Once I saw her work I was blown away and became a huge fan. I’m happy to have work where I’m asked to work from her style.

She’s worked for studios including: Starburns Industries, Greengrass, Moonscoop, W!ldbrain, Walt Disney Studios, 6 Point 2, Fox Animation, STARZ/Film Roman, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Universal Studios, Klasky/Csupo, Sony, Hanna Barbera, MTV Networks, Duck Soup, Kurtz & Friends, Joe Murray Studios, need I say more !!

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These series of gouache illustrations (below) are all about ‘Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends’ a popular cartoon in the US. I love their vintage look and with a Mary Blair / Walt Disney feel.

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I love the work for ‘Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends’ how did this project come about and what was your initial brief?

Thank you. Foster’s was one of my favorite jobs. Some of my best work.
Mike Moon was art directing Craig McCracken’s new show, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends. I had worked on the Power Puff Girl movie at Cartoon Network and was looking for full time work. Mike Moon was looking for people for development and I called at exactly the right time. Mike hired me and another designer, Dave Dunnet, to develop the look. Craig and Mike had specific ideas about the house and what kind of world the imaginary friends lived in. I had about 6 weeks for development, which is unheard of now. Digital paint was still new so I brought in my gouache to paint many small comps that we ended up using for the final digital designs.

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Do you work with sketchbooks quite often or do you prefer to draw digitally nowadays?

I still love the feeling of paint on a brush, but I find it so easy to do everything on the computer. There are some really nice brushes in Photoshop. I like that I can edit and delete. Sometimes it gives you too many choices, but I find myself preferring the computer.
What is the piece of animation or work that you feel most proud of, and which cartoons gave you the most pleasure to be a part of?

I am proud that I was a part of the first seasons of The Simpsons. It was a lot of work in uncharted territory. It was a change from all of the children’s cartoons we were used to working on. There was a lot of pleasure and a ton of stress. The job I got the most pleasure from was art directing a cartoon for Disney called Nightmare Ned. My personal style was used for the nightmare sequences. There was a whole new group of exceptional artists who made the work so fun. The pitches were the best. It was before its time though and the season ended up shelved after airing once.

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I found this essay from 2013 on Carol’s website.

When I’m Unemployed
An essay by Carol Wyatt

We prefer to say “underemployed” (Is that a word?) I believe it’s use is to convince us that we are not homeless, heroine addicts, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Just like all areas of society, there is a heirarchy of unemployed artists. Those who have been out of work for years tend to suffer the most, becoming angry and bitter, therefore making it even more difficult to get work. The middle tier consists of artists, actors, musicians, (name your entertainment profession), who have had shorter layoffs. 3 to 9 months. The top tier consists of those who manage freelance jobs that provide a tiny income and keep the artist semi-confident in between full time work.

When I am unemployed (I use that word because I am a realist), I get to spend more time with my kids and get our home life organized. It is wonderful for a couple of weeks, helping with homerwork (oops, Freudian Simpsons slip), hearing the latest teenage gossip in the car, and taking my kids on excursions. Free, of course.

And then,….the anxiety begins. Money…Where will it come from?! My 6 year old says, “Just go to the money store Mom.”

I walk the malls, the small town of Montrose, watch crazy holiday shoppers and angry working parents rushing from place to place. Sales, sales everywhere, but not a dollar to spend. The artist in me loves the people watching. I could sketch all day. I am now up on the fashion trends and “What Does the Fox Say” videos. The new high heel, wedge, spiked, with mesh detailed shoes are to die for. They are definitely more confused than I. They make me feel slightly superior, if a shoe can do that.

The joy of spending time with the kids is always overshadowed by the uncertain anxiety of my future. But, kids remind me to keep it simple. Their needs are immediate and important. Always a good distraction.

And then, the competitive artist begins playing tricks on my mind. I’m not drawing enough. I’m not producing enough new work. I need to make a new website, fix my blog, have 20 coffees and 50 lunches with work associates. I suck, and I’m a complete fraud, so I’m told, by my wonderfully positive, creative brain. Maybe I could start a new business crafting… I can learn how to knit, and quilt, and use a flame torch on metals.  I can do it! That’s what I say to myself.

That is usually when I receive an email or call from a friend telling me how much they love my work. They ask if I’m still painting awesome paintings and working on fun shows. And I’m back to stomping the pavement. Calling people I’ve never met, taking tests, for studios I’ve art directed for. “Dance monkey, dance!” A co worker jokingly said to me at the end of our last job. We joke about it, but it’s true. We always have to jump through newer, more difficult hoops.

But honestly, this is the best job in the world. Telling stories drawing and painting every day with the most talented people in the world. There is nothing else like it and I’m lucky to be included. And I promise to stop beginning sentences with “and” and “but”.

It seems even the most creative and successful of us still have doubts and misgivings, a useful lesson for us all.

Who’s work (in your industry or otherwise) do you find inspirational and why?

Milton Glaser, Saul Bass, Mary Blair, Eyvind Earle, John Hubley, and many others. So many people I work with today are inspiring. Anyone who is a great visual storyteller including great live action filmmakers, inspire me. I have to change styles often and learn new trends, so it helps to see a variety of styles for inspiration.

Is there any advice that you could offer budding artists who are hoping to get into the animation industry?

It’s probably the same advice they get in school. Develop a tough exterior because there will be rejection. Learn how to work with all kinds of people and do your best work regardless of difficult circumstances. It’s a very competitive business and don’t give up. Treat PA’s with respect. They will be your producers one day.

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You can see more of Carol’s amazing work on her flickr site here or over on Carol’s Couch. Many thanks Carol for taking the time to inform and enlighten us regarding your enthralling work. Most appreciated.

If you enjoyed this post you’ll probably also like these one’s about Joey ChouScott Wills and Eyvind Earle.

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