Outside Inspiration


Beautiful juxtaposition of colors and shapes depicting diversity, culture and joy make this “Small World” concept piece by Mary Blair beautiful and meaningful. There aren’t many artists in history that have had as much visual influence and creative contribution to the world of animation (and Walt Disney Feature Animation in particular) than this legendary illustrator.

“I begin with an idea, but as I work, the picture takes over. Then there is the struggle between the idea I preconceived… and the picture that fights for its own life.” — George Baselitz

All too often animation artists get way too confined and limited when it comes to our influences. We might look to our peers, industry greats, and existing animation or live action films for answers and inspiration but we seldom go beyond that. Unfortunately, by limiting our exposure we end up not only recycling what has been done before, but we fail to find new ways of seeing and re-interpreting the world around us.

The history of art is immensely grand and thus extends far and wide in terms of medium, culture and geography. Sometimes it’s best to move away from our world and into other worlds — such as the realms of painting, sculpture, comics and illustration — to see what we can discover and learn from them. Each individual art form may be particular and uniquely challenging, but at the same time they all share many of the same attributes in terms of appeal, creativity and connection.

“Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world.” — Edward Hopper

When exhausted from one’s regular routines it’s refreshing to switch gears. Entering the colorful and expressive worlds created by other artists is a great way to remind ourselves that there’s an everlasting supply of inspiration all around us. And it’s always good to be shaken and stirred once in a while by artists whose contributions to their craft have altered the way we see things.

Here is (only) a small selection of visual artists who have inspired me and countless others:


The work of Michelangelo Buonarroti is so common, that his creative influence has almost been forgotten among everyday working artists. The weight and power of his work goes way beyond the mere materials of paint or stone. The immensity of his art — the depiction of weight, bulk and torque — demonstrate a deep vision behind his craft and his respect for the medium. Like other masters of the renaissance era, he held his work to the highest possible standards, his own.


Max Ernst‘s artistry is fun, absurd and immeasurably creative. His playfulness with forms, color and shape I believe would lend itself beautifully to the animated form. A brilliant surrealist who worked in a variety of medium, Ernst always delivered the unexpected, something sorely lacking in film and animation today. Wouldn’t you love to animate that thing, whatever it is?


Argentine comic book artist, Alberto Breccia is a legend in the industry. His work is wild, immense and beautifully stark. His powerful imagery and brilliant composition have had a huge influence in the comic book industry.


One of my favorite artists of all time, Edward Hopper is an icon of great American art. Built upon elegant compositions, bold colors and rich humanistic themes, his paintings capture a time and place in American life like no other.

arthur rackham_alice in wonderland_25

Arthur Rackham is a master of children’s book illustration. His depictions of ancient folk tales and children’s stories set the benchmark in pen and ink work. This gorgeous illustration for Alice in Wonderland is elegant, frightening and magical all at the same time.


George Baselitz is a post-modern German Neo-Expressionist whose work often depicts things upside down reflecting his difficulty in celebrating humanity in the wake of all the tragedies that have taken place in the world. His art is controversial, magnetic, colorful and bold.  As one of the  most celebrated living artists today, he has worked as a painter, sculptor, printmaker and draughtsman. Great artists are often diverse artists.


Bernie Fuchs is a master illustrator from the 20th century whose artistry influenced numerous artists of his time. Working in a loose yet deliberate style, his work displays unique and beautiful compositions that not only create balance and appeal, but are able to depict even the most subtle atmosphere and story. Because of his marvelous arrangement of shapes and colors, I never tire of looking at his art.


Gerald Scarfe‘s wildly expressive pen may help make his work unique among modern day illustrators but it’s really his creativity that truly shines. Between those wonderful scratches and flicks of ink, are ideas bursting with satire, flavor and fun. He’s another great illustrator that  Disney (for the film, Hercules) used in hopes of introducing a new style and look to their library of films.


One of the favorite exhibits I’ve ever experienced is that of the work of Henry Moore. His organic shapes and play with dimension, line and form are so incredibly beautiful, you feel involved – you don’t just see the work,  you experience it. The massive size and boldness of the work invite your curiosity and you feel at once welcome and alienated at the same time.


The fact that Dino Battaglia is one of lesser known comic book illustrators in the world is a great tragedy. His compositions are so distinguished and the imagery so fantastic, that to this day, I’ve not seen anything like it. His use of perfectly balanced black and white values, and interplay of thick and thin scratched lines and patterns give his work an immensely pleasurable texture. His adaptations of many classic novels and short stories are true collector’s items.


The creativity of Salvador Dali still hasn’t been fully explored. An artist of immense classical skill but with a wild and fantastical mind, Dali created work so distinct that his work came to define what is now known as surrealism. Walt Disney himself was a huge fun, and tried hard to bring his genius into the studio. Perhaps it’s time to try again?


This fantastic drawing by Eugene Delacroix is exactly the kind of work that relates well to animators. The search for form, movement and feeling are regular occurrences in the work of this French master. Artists working in our modern tool of 3D computer technology would do well to both study his art and find ways to bring that kind of vitality into their work.


Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti is a giant among sculptors. His work has such great energetic quality to it despite its seemingly fragile form. He makes such wonderful use of open space — creating an unexpected void — that helps transform both the art piece itself and the space surrounding it. Why haven’t we (in animation) dared to play with such extreme shape and caricature in a craft whose most distinguished principle is exaggeration?


Pablo Picasso‘s work needs to be studied and learned by all artists. You don’t have to love him or his work, but you’d do well to respect his artistry.  At a time when art had been so complacent and institutionalized for so long, Picasso came out and shook the world, breaking one taboo after another, challenging the way we see things and the way we do things as artists. He truly is the ultimate “father of modern art.”

In summary, this is just a small sample of the many artists that I’ve looked up to and found inspiring. You need to search and find who and what moves you. I always recommend that all animation artists visit as many shows, galleries and exhibits as possible to see in person the great works by artists world over. There’s nothing like seeing the real thing. Museums are the treasure troves of history — a physical (yet hopefully not final) resting place that remains a record of our most valuable contribution to mankind, our art.

Animation, as an industry, is at a place where we’re beginning to get very tired of witnessing the same stories, imagery and execution. Help re-boot and re-fresh this craft by looking back and elsewhere for inspiration.

“All the sculptures of today, like those of the past, will end one day in pieces…So it is important to fashion ones work carefully in its smallest recess and charge every particle of matter with life.” — Alberto Giacometti

The Right Questions


Dora. Pablo Picasso is one of the most magnificent artists in history because he did things exclusively his own way managing to hold onto his immeasurable curiosity and playfulness till the day he died.

The painter goes through states of fullness and evacuation. That is the whole secret of art … a painter paints to unload himself of feelings and visions.” – Pablo Picasso

As human beings in a world so hurried and obsessed with success and accomplishment, we tend towards focusing constantly on the what, when or where.

All too often we think that if only we knew exactly what to do or when and where to do it, we’d eliminate all our problems, diminish our struggles, and achieve our dreams. Unfortunately, this is often a fallacy. Experience shows that the what, when and where of art is rather elusive, despite its alluring quality of appearing so very measurable. Art is, both inconveniently and thankfully, utterly immeasurable.

“… drawings inspire, and are not to be defined. They determine nothing. They place us, as does music in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined. They are a kind of metaphor…” – Odilon Redon

We all want to do the right thing. We want tangible solutions. Action that is seen as productive, assured and achievable. If we know the way, we’d solve the problem. If we acquire the knowledge, we’d know what to do. But how common it is that we know what to do, but still can’t seem to do it? (Like eating well, learning new skills or giving back to society?) Why can’t we carry through with our hopes/visions or do what the books tell us? Why can’t we alleviate our pain? Because knowledge alone does not equate to understanding.


From Terada’s Black Marker series. Masterful creator Katsuya Terada is one of the most prolific artists in the Manga/Anime world.

The unpredictable, dynamic and transient nature of the world makes the question of what, when or where, not only impractical but insolvable.  Trying to determine exactly the right solution exactly at the right time is a fool’s game. And since any art worth doing, is something new and fresh, attempting to use a fixed method or technique is an act of futility. Doing art implies directly that we must explore the unknown and do so completely on our own . And having any fixed time line or hopefulness of any expected outcome is bound to disappoint. We can only focus on the action at hand and take our chances. Mistakes and failure are not just part of the journey, but the essential component for any kind of advancement.  We can’t make art any other way.

“My advice to you is to venture, meet some other difficulties, be a real student. Real students go out of beaten paths, whether beaten by themselves or by others, and have adventure with the unknown… it is only the real student who dares to take a chance, who has a real good time in life.” – Robert Henri


Dumbo. The work of Bill Tytla still stands out despite the dominance of 3D computer technology. Weight is much more than just a “physical” thing.

Sometimes we think that timing is the answer. We think that with “good timing” things will fall our way regardless of whether we’re any good or if we’ve put in the time or not. It’s all too common to hear non-performers bemoan their upbringing or lack of good fortune. The ability to predict the future is the hardest, most impossible thing to do. Life cannot be timed. If it could be, everyone would be doing it, and then no one would want to. So don’t beget the lack of good timing in your life, or your long and seemingly tortuous path towards success.  Take a breath and enjoy your journey, no matter how difficult, no matter how much patience it requires from you. It’s actually good to be reminded that anything worth doing tends to take a long time. The universe has its own agenda – one entirely independent of your desires, but not independent of your actions.

“Do not let the fact that things are not made for you, that conditions are not as they should be, stop you. Go on anyway. Everything depends on those that go on anyway.” – Robert Henri


Lily Pads. Does anyone know or care to know how long it took Monet to create this painting? Good work is done with complete disregard of how long it “should” take. If the work needs to be done, take the time to do it and do it right.

Unique problems require unique individual solutions. Creative challenges change continually and dynamically. The scale, scope or timing of your adventures is an entirely exclusive proposition for you to experience – and how wonderful is that! Trying to escape that experience but wanting a predetermined outcome is like trying to grab water with your hands.


The Scornful Woman. Despite living within a very short life span, Egon Schiele remains one of the most distinct artists in history. His work was uniquely and stylistically his own, reflecting his views, his desires and the life around him.

So what can we do if we can’t determine the clear “what” or “when”?  Since life does things on its own terms, our only choice lies in how we respond to the situation. We have to turn inwards.

“Be sure that your decisions are really made by yourself. Decisions made by yourself may be of a nature very unexpected. In other words, very few people know what they want, very few people know what they think. Many think and do not know it and many thinking they are thinking and are not thinking. Self-education is no easy proposition.” – Robert Henri


Pocahontas. Whether it be animation or storyboards (as seen above), Glen Keane’s powerful work is always loaded with direction and intent.

So instead of asking what or when, we need to be asking why and how – questions that are intensely personal. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why does this task need to be accomplished and what does it mean to you? Why is your character moving this way or that way? Why make this choice over that one? If we know why we’re doing something, the solutions or range of solutions will present itself naturally. Far too many people avoid the question of why and yet seem remarkably stunned to arrive at solutions that bear no significance to the task at hand. What good is building a beautiful window if what was needed was a door?

In terms of how we go about solving our creative problems, we can only say to ourselves that we do the job with integrity and sincerity of effort. We must focus on doing things the right way rather than just finding the right techniques. It’s why professionals always take the same preparatory steps when they address a challenge. They plan, research, test, explore and execute. The best people don’t take short cuts and always give full account of their efforts.

More than in any other vocation, being an artist means always starting from nothing. Our work as artists is courageous and scary. There is no brief that comes along with it, no problem solving that’s given as a task… An artist’s work is almost entirely inquiry based and self-regulated – Teresita Fernández

So when you struggle, and you’re tempted to find the easy solution, know this:  there is NO quick or easy solution. They can be simple, or complex, but never thoughtless or careless.


Rough animation keys of Hook and Smee from Disney’s Peter Pan. Frank Thomas always knew why his characters moved and looked the way they did. Extensive research and exploration into the why and how his animation should work gave his art purpose, appeal and relatability.

Know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and do it with love, integrity and honest effort. That is all that the creative world asks of you and all that you can promise to deliver. Then let the results speak for themselves.

“Men either get to know what they want, and go after it, or some other persons tell them what they want and drive them after it. – Robert Henri.