|Designer Jason Deamer creates|
characters for Pixar’s blockbuster films including the latest ‘Ratatouille.’
|Sometimes, a studio discovers its best talent right under its nose. That was the case with Jason Deamer, 33, who is the character art director for Pixar Animation Studio’s upcoming feature animation ‘Wall-E,’ and was one of four character designers for the studio’s current release, Disney/Pixar’s scrumptious animated treat, ‘Ratatouille.’ |
Deamer didn’t apply for a job as an artist at Pixar; he doodled his way up the career ladder. “I thought I would be a comic artist,” he says. “I had always wanted to be an artist and went to UC Davis because they had some amazing teachers.”
When he found himself in classes filled with engineering students, though, he transferred to the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland (now, the California College of the Arts), not far from his Mill Valley hometown.
|After graduating from CCAC, Deamer began working as a freelance artist. He wasn’t exactly a starving artist, but he struggled to pay his bills. “I had borrowed money to go to school,” he says. “My student loans were costing me $500 a month.” |
So, when Jimmy Hayward, a skateboarding friend and Pixar animator, told him that Pixar was hiring office help, he applied. “It was right after ‘Toy Story,’” he says. “I knew about Pixar because I had seen their shorts in animation festivals, but it didn’t occur to me there would be any future for me at Pixar. I thought I’d just be moving furniture.”
And, that’s what he did. Moved furniture, fetched sandwiches, made copies, sat at the front desk and walked through hallways filled with production art for ‘Monsters, Inc.’ and ‘A Bug’s Life.’ In his spare time, he doodled.
I’m an obsessive compulsive doodler,” Deamer says. “So when I was making color copies, I’d hold one of my drawings on top of the lid.” While he waited for the copier to finish, he added lines to his drawings. He also drew faces on coffee cups. “It’s like the faces [comic book artist] R. Crumb draws on thread spools,” he says. “You draw the features, but not the silhouette edge.”
Pixar’s Bob Pauley spotted one of Deamer’s face cups in a production office. At that time, Pauley had been a character designer for ‘Toy Story,’ and was art director for ‘A Bug’s Life.’ Later, he’d become production designer for ‘Monsters, Inc.’ and ‘Cars’. He asked Deamer to show him more drawings.
|And, that ended Deamer’s career as furniture mover, gofer, and clerk. He moved into the art department where he worked as a production artist on ‘Monsters, Inc,’ creating what Pixar calls model packets. “After a character is designed and sculpted,” Deamer explains, “we do formal drawings that describe every aspect of a character, what it exactly looks like from the front and the side.” |
By the time ‘Monsters, Inc.’ released in 2001, Deamer was doing full character design work on ‘Finding Nemo,’ for which he’s credited as “additional character designer.” For ‘Nemo,’ he drew the seagulls, Nigel the pelican, fish in the fish tank, and some background fish.
Many artists on the ‘Finding Nemo’ crew moved onto ‘Ratatouille,’ including Deamer. In addition, though, Deamer and fellow character designer Greg Dykstra worked with director Gary Rydstrom on the alien characters in ‘Lifted,’ a short film that received a 2007 Oscar nomination.
When Pixar character designers Deamer, Dykstra, and Don Lee, and freelance artist Carter Goodrich began working on ‘Ratatouille,’ Jan Pinkava, who won an Oscar for his short film ‘Geri’s Game,’ was the director. Then, after close to three years on the project, Brad Bird took over as director. Although Bird rewrote the script, he made only a few changes to the characters.
“Most of the characters were designed while Jan [Pinkava] was still directing,” says Deamer. “He has a real eye for sculpture.”
| At Pixar, character design begins
with pencil sketches. Sometimes
the artists have a clear idea about
the character, sometimes only a
vague notion of the character’s
personality. For example, Deamer says that
Pinkava described the character
Linguini, the hapless kitchen helper
through which the little rat Remy
channels his cooking skills, as a
wimpy teenager. Pinkava
suggested using Don Knotts as reference and, closer to home, Lou Romano, a Pixar artist who won an Annie for production design on Bird’s ‘The Incredibles.’ Fittingly, when Bird cast the voice talent for ‘Ratatouille,” he picked Romano to voice Linguini.|
Pinkava also cited actors to help the artists conceive the other characters. “So that we don’t caricature someone’s work, we looked at photographs and videos of real people,” Deamer says. “Then we started drawing.” And drawing, and drawing.
All told, the character designers drew thousands of pencil and marker sketches to refine the look of ‘Ratatouille’s 20 main characters (10 humans and 10 rats) and around 50 background characters. “We drew some of them a thousand times,” says Deamer. “Some, only once.”
Linguini wasn’t one of the “once” characters. “He was always skinny,” says Deamer, “but he had long hair, short hair, a big nose, a little nose. And not only did his appearance change, but imagine a scale with a smiley face on one end and a realistic photo on the other. We had to decide how cartoony, how iconic, how realistic we wanted this person to appear.”
“Our early drawings of Linguini were all over the place,” he adds. “I did all kinds of drawings from extreme mouth open wide and eyebrows stretched, and extremely squashed face. Most of the other expressions fall within that range.”