Pixar’s ‘Brave': An interview with lead animator, Austin Madison

pixar screening
Soojin Chang/Staff

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Last night at Haas’ Arthur Andersen Auditorium, hundreds of Pixar enthusiasts from all different majors came together to shed their student exteriors and reveal their fanboy and fangirl selves. After a screening of Pixar’s upcoming film “Brave” — a fairy tale about a princess who is at odds with her traditional family — the lead animator, Austin Madison, held a Q&A sesh, drew dinosaurs and then signed all sorts of miscellaneous items (a very happy girl somewhere is sporting a Madison original on her iPhone case) for UC Berkeley’s animation devotees.

Afterwards, Madison answered a few more questions for The Daily Californian:

Daily Californian:What do you think is the most important quality to have as an animator?

Austin Madison: Enthusiasm. You can’t make stuff without enthusiasm, and you also can’t generate it on your own all the time. You have to look out to the world, and study and research different aspects of life.

DC: What kind of research did you do for “Brave?”

AM:Brave is set in the 10th century in the highlands of Scotland. So since we were making a movie about Scotland, we went to Scotland. If you don’t have the resources, then go to Pleasanton, Woodland, the Scottish games, and soak it up.

In animation, you have to create everything from scratch. You don’t have the luxury of shooting on location or making a set. So you have to look for every opportunity to tell a story.

When we were designing the hills in “Brave,” we didn’t just draw grass. We went to Scotland, researched the geography there and studied the thistle roads. The moss on all the trees in “Brave” have a celtic pattern with a different meaning for each design. Even the barks of the trees that barely make the screen have something that help set the mood.

DC: When did you realize that animation was something you wanted to pursue professionally?

AM:I knew since I was very young. I used to draw with my father while watching TV. We would set a theme and pass a paper back and forth. If it was a saloon theme, then I would draw a cowboy and he would draw a bartender. Or he would draw someone playing a piano, and I would draw the guy that’s sneaking behind him with a gun. So for me, drawing has always been a collaborative thing — all about telling a story together one drawing at a time.

DC:For someone who doesn’t have a similar background as you but has recently decided animation is something they would like to get into, what would your advice be?

AM: As Frank Thomas — that famous Disney animator — said, “Communicate well. Draw, draw, draw.”‘ Work on your collaborative skills, the social aspects of making a film, and look to how well you work with other people. Then draw from what you observe in your life. You’ll find that there’s a story in everything.

It’s also not just about craftsmanship and being technically good at drawing. If I were to draw you, for instance, I wouldn’t just focus on what kind of nose or chin you have. I would look to your phone, and the fact that you’re recording and always looking for a story. I would put film noir shadows across your face and caricature you as, “The Story Catcher.” So my advice is to always try to catch the spirit of something, rather than the form of it. And get a sketchbook.

DC: How necessary are internships in the animation field?

AM: Internships are fantastic because you create contacts. That’s extremely important in the entertainment industry. If someone knows you, they are way more willing to hire you. Unless you’re an asshole. And internships are basically an asshole test. Because if you get the internship, we’re already impressed. We just want to find out if you can play well and if you have the patience.

DC:So if they missed out on internships this summer, should they just call it quits?

AM:You can always find ways to create things. If you don’t get an internship, it’s key to not let that inhibit your creative spirit. There’s a story about Steven Spielberg, and how he snuck into the Universal lot when he was 16. He went in to an abandoned office, got on the phone, called up the offices and said, “Hey! Where’s my furniture? I’m in my office and I want my furniture.” And so they brought him his furniture. They ended up not kicking him out because they were so impressed a kid had the gall to do that.

Bring out a cellphone, put something on YouTube or get a blog. At Pixar, we see so many things people post on Twitter we normally would never have seen. You just need to find a way to get your story told.

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