De'Von Stubblefield Interview
Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?
First off, I want to thank you for interviewing me, I love this blog and it’s such a great resource! Seeing the work of the interviewed artists definitely helps get the creative juices flowing.
Well let’s see, I’ve always had a pencil in my hand ever since I can remember. I would draw cartoons from Disney films all the time in this little notebook I had in kindergarten. I was and still am a huge Disney fan, my mom would buy every feature that hit VHS and I would re watch them over and over again until I practically memorized the script! I remember when I first saw Tarzan in the theatre I was hooked! He was the Spiderman of the jungle and his movement was so fluid!
The next stage for me was Anime. I was a huge Dragon Ball Z fan and I it wasn’t until later that I was hooked on Naruto, Bleach, Cowboy Bebop, Eureka 7, Rurouni Kenshin, and Yuyu Hakusho. A real turning point for me was when Spirited Away was released, my mom dragged me to see it and in the end she ended falling asleep through it. I was blown away, I was witnessing a masterpiece, I was so captivated by its story because it was a subject that wasn’t really ventured before. When I was in middle school I decided that I wanted to be an animator in Japan because I was so inspired by Studio Ghibli films.
Right now I’m attending St. Bernard High School and it was during my freshman year that I wasn’t very certain about what avenue of art that I wanted to pursue, I loved anime but it didn’t seem like I would be getting anywhere with my prior goal. One day I came across a blog titled “The Art of Glen Keane” and it changed my life. Not to mention that he animated one of my favorite characters, Tarzan! His art was so full of life and conviction that I JUST HAD to learn how to draw like him. I knew nothing about blogs and the past and present Disney artists, but I knew that I had to learn to draw with the power and believability like Glen drew. At that time I was accepted into Ryman Arts, which is an art program for high school students. There I was taught how to see the world as an artist and helped inspire me to explore the world of animation on my own. I think what really pushed me at that time was finding out during Ryman Art’s orientation that an alumni of the program could be eligible to intern at Disney Animation. That really drove me because I knew deep down that if I REALLY focused I could obtain it. So I went to libraries and absorbed everything I could from animation books, how to draw books and artist biographies.
During my sophomore year I discovered that a book was due to be released in stores called “Drawn to Life” by Walt Stanchfield. By that time I was acquainted with Disney history and I saw this as an amazing opportunity to absorb everything I could from that book. Around that time Shane Prigmore who is a Ryman Alumni gave a presentation at Ryman Arts and he shared his experiences on designing the characters for Coraline. After the interview I asked if he could sign my Drawn to Life book (the binding was practically about to fall off and some of the pages where very loose), he enthusiastically agreed and I shared with him that I wanted to be an animator so bad. I gave him my email and he told me to email me a link to my blog. At first he thought I wasn’t serious about pursuing animation but once he saw my work, we started talking nonstop. It wasn’t until my junior year that he invited me to meet my inspirations at Dream Works! I got to meet Nicolas Marlet and he handed me a big stack of drawings to look through, and at that time he was working on Kung Fu Panda 2. I got to meet James Baxter, David Pimentel, Jeff Snow, Chris Sanders, Anthony Holden, Devin Crane, Mark Dindal and later Joe Moshier.
During my junior year I was awarded the summer internship spot at Disney (Ryman Arts Sklar Internship), which was my goal, and I was able to get my foot in the door! So last summer I had the most incredible experience of my life so far! I was ecstatic, I got to meet my inspirations and not to mention that two of my favorite artists at the studio where my mentors, Bruce Smith and Shiyoon Kim. Bruce taught me traditional animation for the first time and Shiyoon taught me how to play around with shape language. I also got to collaborate with 13 incredibly talented and unique individuals (fellow interns) to create a thirty second to one minute long short that combined 2d and 3d animation. It was my job to help create the look of the character that would then be sent off to the character animation interns. Shout out to Jerry Huynh, Erin Kavanagh, Marcos Cohen, Priscila Vertamatti, Karl Hadrika, Adam Campell, Etienne Metois, Marion Roussel, Mara MacMahon, Josh Carroll, Han Yu, Chelsea Johnson and Ding Wei!! I learned so much that summer, my head is still spinning!
How do you go about designing, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?
Music, in order to get into the mood I first will listen to a song during a specific period and draw from that. If I’m designing a character that lives in a specific time period I try and listen to the music of that era to get a feel of what they might of listened too, it also helps me lose myself so that I’m zeroed in on my subject. I draw from my gut and so if something comes to mind I make sure I get my first impression down on paper. I generally do a rough sketch of whatever it is I’m designing, but before I do anything I try to make sure that my drawing makes a statement and that all the lines contribute to the statement I am trying to put over to the viewer. I work very graphically and so I make sure my lines have meaning.
Once I have my idea down I start to take away from the drawing, adding contrast where it needs to be and eliminating details that don’t need to be put in. Then I try to make my drawings appealing by double checking that there is a flow to my drawings and taking away some more. Another thing I look for is squash and stretch and making sure I put in my work, because you can never overuse it in a drawing. Also I make sure there is action and reaction, because nothing moves independently, which is why there is flow and rhythm. Lastly I do the silhouette test; if it reads well in silhouette then I know I’m on the right track, if it reads as confusing then I rework it until I can clearly understand what it is. Shape language also helps, because all shapes read, we relate to soft things as circular, and dangerous things as pointy, like a triangle. So what I try to do is make sure the personality matches the shape, which ties back into whatever statement I am trying to make with my drawing.
What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work with?
Well my days have a routine, but sometimes there’s a little bit of spontaneity. I wake up for school, sit through it (maybe come up with an idea), and come home to my “workshop.” Once home I finish my homework if I have any, but I try to finish it at school so that all my energy is focused on drawing and improving in areas that need to be worked on. I guess you can say that I’m freelancing right now because I am working by myself.
What are some of the things that you have worked on?
I can’t share it but I got to work on a few things at Disney. For a time I was working on something with Sony but that story was soon canceled.
Is there a design you have done that you are most happy with?
It’s weird for me because when I’m finished drawing I will step back and I will enjoy it, then the next moment I realize that it needs to be better and looking at the works of my inspirations only propels me even further to get better and to keep searching/exploring for a better design.
What projects are you working on now? (if you can tell us)
None at the moment, I’m using the free time that I have before school or work to perfect what it is I’m failing in.
Who are some of your favorite artists out there?
I love Aaron Douglass, Herbert Ryman, Degas, Michelangelo, Walt Perogoy, Eyvind Earle, Walt Peregoy, Earl Oliver Husrt, Fred Moore, Erich Sokol, Tom Oreb, Heinrich Kley, Satoshi Kon, Tom Gately, Gustav Klimt, Hayao Miyazaki, Al Hirschfeld, Glen Keane, Milt Kahl, Marc Davis, Ronald Searle, Tony Fucile, Joe Moshier, Shiyoon Kim, Bruce Smith, Shane Prigmore, Mary Blair, Nicolas Marlet, Jin Kim, Bill Schwab, Mike Gabriel, Chris Sasaki, Brittney Lee, Ronnie Del Carmen, Sanjay Patel, George Bruns, Alan Menken, Coldplay, Gorillaz/ Jamie Hewlett, Louis Prima, Nat King Cole, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Frank Sinatra, Gershwin, Joe Hisaishi, Nujabes and Robert Frost.
Could you talk about your process in coloring your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?
My process is that once I have the finished drawing then I will ink it using a prismacolor fineliner maker 005 point, le pen, and sharpie. Then I scan my drawing in and adjust the contrast of the overall picture. When I am finished I will add white to the eyes using a paint feature.
What part of designing is most fun and easy, and what is most difficult?
The most fun is exploring all the possibilities of what the character could be! I can mess around with small, medium and large shapes and really have a blast. I also like to suggest with my designs, meaning that I might not draw something fully out but leave just enough information so that it’s still easy understand. Hirschfeld was great at this because he came up with symbols for each of his caricatures and settings. So by studying his work I am able to interpret and manipulate symbols as I please. So I would say that coming up with symbols and a shape language would be the fun part. The most difficult part I would say is inking, some days I will get nervous and I will focus so much on making the perfect line that I will completely overlook the fact that I should be focusing on WHY I am drawing the line.
What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?
Sometimes when I cannot find inspiration or if I’m waiting to be inspired I will step away from drawing. I will listen to music, especially jazz. Its sound is all over the place, and it never fails to inspire me. Sometimes I will go and skateboard for exercise. There are times that I might go walking in my neighborhood or I might go to the ocean. If I don’t feel like drawing I will listen to TED Talks which is a convention where a lot of creative minds give presentations /lectures about various subjects. I always learn something new and insightful from watching the videos. I will also watch films or analyze them to keep the juices flowing. Lastly I might read a poem and reflect on it.
What are some of your favorite designs which you have seen?
Well for now a majority of my favorite designs come from Milt Kahl, I love his sense of design and draftsmanship, and especially how he animates his characters. I also love that little head shake that he gives his characters. I’d say that Pongo, Shere Khan, and his designs for Bed Knobs and Broomsticks are my favorite. I like Shane Prigmore’s Coraline designs. I also like Tony Fucile’s designs for his books “Let’s Do Nothing/Bink and Gollie” and for his work on Iron Giant and The Incredibles.
What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?
I think my favorite subject is people, because of all the personalities there are. Also those personalities equal endless possibilities. People are always communicating and it’s great to capture it at its height, like musicians for instance. The good musician will completely loose themselves in the moment of playing. His or her posture doesn’t become stiff, it becomes alive and they can feel the movement of the music, the music takes them on the journey. If a good communicator does this effectively the person receiving the information will be taken along for the ride! Artists are communicators and no matter what avenue they specialize in, it’s their job to communicate an idea, it can be anything and so that’s why I love to draw people.
What inspired you to become an Artist?
I’ve been drawing as long as I can remember, so once I was told by others that I was an ‘artist’ then I figured that was my “nametag.” So I guess that I really wasn’t inspired to become an artist, rather I was inspired by the artists that I looked up to, to create even more.
What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?
What Shane, Bruce and Shiyoon taught me in essence was to observe and absorb and to research your subject so that you can have a good grasp on communicating that idea. I only met Glen once but I learned so much from him, for one he said to keep my drawings simple, clear and positive. Next he said not to look at the surface of things, but delve deeper and to get under a characters skin and that there is beauty in all aspects of life. I learned to ask what is the character feeling and to be sincere when drawing emotions. The only way to be sincere is to draw from life experiences and to identify with what I’m drawing.
What wisdom could you give us, about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?
There is a difference between being an artist in animation and an animation artist. The animation artist treats what he does as a job, like a 9 to 5 job. An artist in animation does not think of work as work. The artist is attached to his practice and he will wrestle with it throughout life. I find that a lot of films or filmmakers are not in touch with their artist side, maybe it’s the executives or maybe it’s by choice but I feel that we should not lose sight of the artist within us. The artist is constantly searching for ways to create and convey meaning in life to those that are willing to listen to their opinion (viewer).
I’d say the real difference between the two is that one is able to tap into their sensibilities while the other performs like a robot, no variety…sounds like the doldrums to me. So if anything I would strongly suggest that you absorb as much as you can, while you still can. Life is precious, and there is so much to learn, have an open mindset, and I wish all who read this to keep growing and have fun! Drawing is fun!
If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?
Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbook, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?