Saturday, February 02, 2013


This post is one in a series on the artists featured in the upcoming exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum,  State of the Art: Illustration 100 Years After Howard Pyle. 

Digital animation is one of the most important aspects of modern illustration, but it was difficult to identify a single artist to represent this rich and burgeoning field in the Delaware show.  A feature animated film requires a group effort, combining the skills of hundreds of artists, sculptors, writers, computer scientists and electrical engineers, so it was a challenge to isolate an individual artist whose imprint made a conspicuous difference.

Ralph Eggleston, production designer and art director for some of the greatest films from Pixar Animation Studios, didn't make my search any easier by insisting that his own work on films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Wall-E was one small part of a team effort, combined with "many talented artists and film makers at Pixar who continually challenge and inspire me...."

Some of the pioneering artists of digital animation have now taken management jobs, but the Delaware exhibition is not an exhibition of business executives, it is restricted to artists who retain the eyes and fingers to craft images of enduring value.  Eggleston frequently works in digital media but adds,  "I thoroughly enjoy working in traditional media like gouache, oil, chalk and pastel."

Pastel concept drawing for Finding Nemo

The scope, duration and movement of a digitally animated film present Eggleston with a very different set of artistic challenges than those facing great illustrators of the past.  One hundred years ago, illustrators painted a single image on canvas, illustrating a single moment from a story.  In his "color scripts" below, Eggleston plans the movement of color and mood and the change of scene throughout the movie Wall-E:

Howard Pyle would have been astounded by this art form and its tools.  Yet, at its heart, animation requires the same aesthetic concepts-- design, composition, balance, harmony, contrast, proportion, variety-- that Howard Pyle applied to his oil paintings. This continuity between old and new masters points us to the most important elements of picture making.

In his statement for the show, Eggleston included this insight on his role as an animation artist:
Pretty pictures are nice.  But a good idea-- clearly communicated to an audience-- is my focus.  In doing my artwork, the element of time is foremost in my thoughts... I approach visuals with the idea of burning into the audiences's retina as much information as is needed as clearly and quickly as I can so they can focus on the characters and the emotional content of the story they are being told.

These and other original works by Eggleston, as well as film clips from Finding Nemo and Wall-E, will be on display at the Delaware exhibition. 


MORAN said...

Eggleston has a lot of fans in the industry. I've never met him, but he's supposed to be a great guy.

David, did you consider artists for gaming as well as feature films?

Matt Jones said...

Despite Ralph's 'protest' you chose the right guy. Not only is he a 'great guy' but one of the key creatives at the studio who understands the artistic and the technical sides of CG production. Not to mention an encyclopedic knowledge of film; animated and live-action, musical theatre, opera and art.
I wish I were able to make the show-

Anonymous said...

Pixar is by far the best animation studio today, and Nemo and Wall-E are two of their best movies. Too bad you won't have work from their masterpiece, Toy Story.

Eggleston is very talented, but how did you single him out?


David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- Gaming is certainly an economically important part of modern illustration and its interactive nature makes it intellectually exciting as well. Video games can be highly imaginative but I have not yet found them to have the kind of rich artistic content of animated movies or other art forms.

Part of this is a result of their very nature. If you contrast Wall-E, the video game with Wall-E, the movie, the former is a typically frenetic ride requiring immediate viewer recognition and fast interface. It has no time for the artistic nuance, subtlety or poignance of the movie.

Matt J-- Thanks very much for writing, that's good to hear from someone who works with him.

JSL--I talked to a number of people in the industry about who would be a good representative, and Ralph's name kept coming up as a "no-brainer." His imdb bio certainly supports that. I also read and listened to a number of interviews and was very impressed by his approach to artistic challenges. But as with all things related to this blog, pedigree and credentials are insignificant next to the work itself. When I saw the movie Wall-E, I did not care much for the scenes with the humans, but I thought the first half of the movie, dealing with the relationship between Wall-E and Eve was a work of genius. For me, it was the moment when humor and humanity in digital animation officially achieved Charlie Chaplin-esque levels. The artistic treatment of Wall-E's barren, sun-bleached world contrasted with the cool shade of his trailer, the glow of the Christmas lights, the dance in space, the designs of the anthropomorphized robots-- I wondered who the hell was able to put something like that together. When I found out that it was Ralph, I knew I had to look no further.