Monday, 2 May 2011

Tom Bancroft Replies

(Above artwork by Tom Bancroft)

Tom Bancroft is an accomplished character designer and animator. He worked for Disney feature animation for 12 years working on films such as "Beauty and the Beast", "Lilo and Stitch" and "Mulan" to name just a few. Tom went on to found his own company "Funny Pages Productions" with good friend Rob Corley. The company has provided illustration, character design and artistic animation development for many major children's entertainment companies.

I bought Tom's book "Creating Characters with Personality" (published by Watson-Guptill Publications, 2006) to help me with the Disney brief. The book is crammed full of great tips and advice for getting the most out of your characters designs and also has some great assignments to practice on.

Anyway, I recently emailed Tom some character design related questions and he very kindly replied.

1. How did you first get into designing characters?
When I went to California Institute of the Arts, I had my first Character design class (taught by Mike Giamo) and fell in love with it. I already loved drawing characters (from the newspapers, comic books, etc.) but this was the first time I was pushing myself to design my own- and make them better.

2. What inspires you when coming up with ideas for your work?
Other people’s artwork. I think all artists are fans of art first and foremost. The internet is an eternal well-spring of artwork. Its a bit like American Idol though, you really have to dig through some bad stuff to find the good stuff sometimes.

3. Do you have a working method when starting a project?
Sort of. It’s nothing groundbreaking though. Time is always of the essence, so I jump into my list of what I need to learn BEFORE I start drawing. Read the script or bio of the character, research whatever animal or character type or style that is being requested (usually on the internet), print out as much reference that I could gather so I can have it in front of me, then start sketching away. From that point, its straight forward and all design challenges. Always different. Step 1 is the most important. Know what and how to draw what you are designing.

4. I read you worked at Disney for 12 years. Was this your dream job and what was your first day like?
Yes, it was my dream job, though I didn’t know I was dreaming it. I thought I wanted to be a comic strip cartoonist when I was young, then I thought I might be a comic book artist. Animation was last. I discovered it just after high school, then really got sucked into it. I wanted to tell stories with characters and that’s always been my goal. The first day at Disney was exciting. I was with my twin brother, Tony, and we had both been chosen as two of many interns for Walt Disney Feature animation in Burbank, Ca. All of us were students and everyone was so excited to be there. Sharing that moment with strangers that soon became your good friends was even better. We took a tour of the Disney studios that first day and knowing that we were going to be getting to know all these people was great!

5. When your not sketching and drawing what stuff do you like doing?
Just be with my family. We don’t do a whole lot, but I have 4 girls and the older two are cheerleaders so we got to a lot of high school and Middle school football games! I just watch the cheerleaders; my wife is the big football fan.

6. Are you working on any exciting projects at the moment?
I’m not sure “exciting” is the right word, but the most recent project that I have been very involved in is the website My partner, Rob Corley, and I are co-art directors on the project and have been working full time with them for the last two years. I’ve illustrated about 20 children’s books, designed many characters, created some animation, and tons of other random things for the avatars and rooms you can decorate. Its an educational website for Preschool and Kindergarten age kids.

7. How long has Funny Pages Productions been going and what would be a typical working day for you?
We’ve been going for about 7 years now in Tennessee and I did it solo for about a year before that in Florida. That’s quite awhile for a start up company, much less an art studio. A typical day doesn’t really exist but the general version is: an hour of more of emails in the morning going over artwork from outside artists we are working with or just emailing clients, getting reference for whatever art project I’m doing that day, (hopefully) 4-6 hours of drawing to get the jobs done, and an hour or so at the end of the day to do scanning and whatever Photoshop work that needs to be done to send off the work to the client (via email usually). Coffee is in there around 3 to 4:00.

8. Is there one project you are most proud of?
Probably the film Mulan, and more specifically, the character “Mushu” which I designed and for which I was Supervising Animator. Some scenes I can look back at and I cringe (of Mushu and other characters) but for the most part, I am still happy with most of my work on him. I worked hard on that film, and that hard work still shows, I think. “Least proud of’ is easier to think of, but I won’t mention it.

9. How important is a sketch book to you and how often do you refer back to it?
For most of my career, I’ve been terrible at keeping a sketchbook. I’ve never really been comfortable drawing in them because I tend to draw large and I feel “confined” in the space of the sketchbook. That said, about two years ago, I started keeping sketchbooks for the first time in my life. Regularily, I sketch in them- though not every day like some do. I’m still not great at it, but I can say I’ve actually filled up a couple and I’m on my third one. I’ve never been able to say that til recently. What is MOST important is that you draw everyday. I CAN claim that, so don’t throw anything at me, okay?

10. What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
One of the first things you learn at Disney is: “Don’t fall in love with your drawings”. Which means a few things. To me, it meant I shouldn’t commit to drawing too tight too soon for fear that I would “stay with a drawing” for too long even though it wasn’t working. I should throw it out and start over, but it’s too “pretty” and detailed to throw away at some point. Secondly, it means that even if a (finished) drawing is great, if it doesn’t suit the animation or the story, throw it out. It puts you in the thought process that just drawing nice isn’t the goal but having a goal to your drawing is what matters.

11. Last but not least, what advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator/designer?
As I mentioned above, draw every day. So many beginning artists contact me and ask how to break into a given studio or job in art but they aren’t asking the right questions. Its not what tool you use, not who you know (well, maybe a little), or how nicely put together your portfolio is. The answer is in your ability. If you can draw well you WILL get hired. That’s the answer: you.

Check out more of Tom Bancroft's work on his blog or Deviant Art Page and for more information on Funny Pages Productions visit their website

No comments:

Post a Comment