Category Archives: Artist Profile/Guest Interviews

Artist Spotlight: The Films of Woody Allen


A caricature that marvelously captures Woody Allen’s signature look by the one and only, Al Hirschfeld.

“Life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television.” — Woody Allen

Woody Allen is one of the most prolific and unique voices in American cinema. To quote a friend; “When Woody Allen is at his best, he’s one of the best.” I wholeheartedly agree.

In his long cinematic career as writer, actor and director, Woody Allen has created over 53 films in his sixty plus years. He’s as famous as much for his brilliant writing and studious humor as he is for the character he often plays — a slightly neurotic yet likeable Jewish left-wing intellectual living in New York City. In reality, this persona is ironically nothing like him at all — Allen’s known to inner circles to be calmly articulate, organized, athletic and a wicked Jazz musician and enthusiast. He also doesn’t get enough credit for his acting abilities because he plays his character so well. No one ever accused Charlie Chaplin of being a type cast actor for creating the Tramp.

“I’ve never been an intellectual but I have this look.” — Woody Allen

Woody Allen, seen here playing his clarinet with his New Orleans Jazz Band inside the legendary Café Carlyle at the ripe old age of 75.

Woody Allen created a personal and distinct style of writing, acting and directing that’s unique in an industry that’s sorely lacking in diversity and innovation. And despite making films on very low budgets that appeal primarily to more sophisticated yet limited audiences, he still manages to be continually busy and make so many of the kind of films that no one else gets to make. Famous actors have lined up to be cast in his movies and every one of them takes significant pay cuts to do so. (His actors are paid an identical fixed fee.) This isn’t all so surprising considering his films have garnered over 18 Oscar Nominations for acting alone. As for Allen himself, he’s received 24 nominations and has won 4 (one for Best Picture and three for Best Original Screenplay). That said, he’s true to his principles of avoiding spectacles and excessive accolades. He has never once attended the Academy Award Ceremonies.


Woody Allen — A Documentary (2012) is a marvelous film about the prolific American filmmaker. Directed by Robert B. Weide.

“I think being funny is not anyone’s first choice.” — Woody Allen

Today we’ll look at four of what I feel are his best films — Annie Hall, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Manhattan— my personal favorites. Each one delivers a combination of innovative cinematography, brilliant writing, memorable characters and, of course, his signature humor at its very best. Whether you’re a story artist, camera enthusiast, editor or animator, you will learn much from his films. The writing, cinematography, cutting and acting are all first rate.

If you haven’t seen these films, or have not seen them in some time, I highly recommend grabbing a free night for a viewing. Woody Allen is one of the most creative voices America has ever produced.

Annie Hall (1977)


In Annie Hall, Woody Allen created a film first with his now trademark humor, deeply introspective characters and playful plot developments that surround themselves around one central theme — the romantic human relationship. The story begins with the childhood upbringing of standup comedian Alvie Singer, played by Woody Allen himself, but dives very quickly into his relationship with Annie Hall, played by Diane Keaton (who would go on to win an Academy Award for her performance as Best Actress).

A creative and comical scene set in upstate New York where Alvie Singer (Woody Allen) is introduced to the upper-middle class family of his girlfriend Annie Hall ( Diane Keaton). The innovative split screen interaction with Alvie’s lower Brooklyn family magnifies the wonderful contrast in their status and cultural upbringing.

From the excitement of new found romance to the final break up, all the wonderment and inevitable challenges that relationships go thru are explored here in depth. Allen does this while toying with recurring themes such as creative integrity, psychoanalysis, anti-semetic paranoia and even the merits of adult education. It’s a delicious tale that holds its viewer from beginning to end with originality and humor. The film signaled the arrival of Woody Allen as a premier film-maker, winning him his first Oscars  for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. Buoyed by memorable scenes and a sensational Diane Keaton (who delivers a performance that captures the spirit and beautiful nuance of femininity as perfect as any portrayal I’ve ever seen), it’s a film that’s worth multiple viewings. It’s arguably the funniest film he ever made.

Hannah And Her Sisters (1986)


Hannah and Her Sisters is a story about three sisters whose lives are intricately linked by their famous yet overtly dramatic former movie-star parents and their relationships with men. Hannah, played by Mia Farrow, is the perfect sister — too perfect for anyone’s liking, including her own husband, played marvelously by Sir Michael Caine who also happens to be lustfully obsessed with Hannah’s youngest sister Lee, played by Barbara Hershey. Lee is young, bright and beautiful but completely unsure of herself and the direction of her life. The middle child Holly, played by Diane Wiest, is the offbeat and neurotically-insecure sibling —considered by the family (and herself) as the undesirable and talent-less “loser” of the three sisters.

A surprising yet delicately textured scene that exposes Elliot’s (Michael Caine) longing for Lee (Barbara Hershey) and how far he’s willing to go to pursue her. The setting is the most unlikely of places for Elliot to make an advance towards his target— inside the apartment of Lee’s live-in boyfriend Frederick (Max von Sydow). The scene ends in wonderful two-folded conflict, first between Lee and Elliot, and then almost at the same time, between Frederick and Rusty (Daniel Stern) who are engaged in the negotiation of a possible art purchase arranged by Elliot himself, concluding how ridiculously far and stupid men can get when overcome with lustful obsession.

The intertwined actions and reactions of the three sisters and their counterparts make for fun social experiment. Sometimes poignant, other times laugh-out-loud funny, the movie bounces elegantly yet playfully between moments of beautiful human desire and fear. Hannah and Her Sisters is one of the richest yet most positive stories told by this master story-teller.

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989)


Crimes and Misdemeanors is Woody Allen’s most daring and challenging film. It’s one that not only ponders the meaning of existence but also how the interpretation of life’s events plays into our own beliefs. Allen beautiful juxtaposes these questions in the telling of two stories, one a drama (the crime of murder) and the other a comedy (the misdemeanor of questionable flirtation).

In the story of Judah Rosenthal, Martin Landau plays an upper class ophthalmologist (the theme of seeing and being seen is a powerful metaphor here) who is challenged with dealing with the obsessive clinging by his mistress played with empathy and consuming intensity by Angelica Houston. In his decision to rid himself of his problems — since she threatens not only his marriage but the revealing of Judah’s financial indiscretions — he’s forced to confront his ethics and religious upbringing. It’s a test of whether he can weather the storm of his own fears knowing that the eyes of God are watching.

In a chilling scene, bathed in shadow and ominous lighting, Judah (Martin Landau) contemplates doing the darkest deed — murder — as he lays out his dilemma before his friend and client Ben (Sam Waterson), a Rabbi sworn to trust and confidentiality.

In the second story, Woody Allen plays Clifford Stern, a financially deficit, but seemingly noble documentary filmmaker who seeks hope and redemption through the possible romance with his producer, Halley Reed, played by Mia Farrow, who also happens to be the targeted love interest of his brother-in-law and super-successful TV mogul Lester (brilliantly played by Alan Alda) whom Clifford vehemently despises. Clifford, who proudly voices his economically self-sacrificing way of life, is conflicted in his choice to pursue Halley given that he is married.

A short but funny moment between Clifford (Woody Allen) and his brother-in-law Lester (Alan Alda) regarding finance and the integrity of film-making.

Crimes and Misdemeanors is brilliant not only in its execution of such complexity in story-telling but also in the way that it tempers the emotional heaviness of the viewer — deftly balancing the scenes of dark and serious drama with moments of witty and delectable humor. There’s a plethora of rich acting performances and purposefully subdued cinematography (by Sven Nykvist who is famous for his gorgeous work with the legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman). The film may be nihilistic —it pulls no punches with its themes — but it’s also daring and gripping story-telling that’s illuminated with creative discourse and compassion. This is Woody Allen’s boldest film.

Manhattan (1979)


Manhattan is Woody Allens’ most sumptuous film. Shot in glorious black in white by the incomparable Gordan Willis (who also photographed Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather) it’s a film that resonates with anyone who’s ever lived in New York City. A story about unrequited love, social approval and loss, it’s also an essay on maturity, suggesting that it might have little to do with age. This is evidenced by the subtle yet poignant portrayal of the romance between Isaac (Allen) and the teen-aged Tracy (played with beautiful innocence and sincerity by Mariel Hemingway). But convinced by both himself and his friend Yale (Michael Murphy) that a relationship with a girl half his age is not worthy of further development, he focuses his attention on the alluring Marie (Diane Keaton) who shields her own loneliness and insecurity with her high level of intellect and esprit. The problem is that Marie is also Yale’s former mistress and this makes for interesting emotional baggage.

Isaac (Woody Allen) and Tracy (Mariel Hemmingway) bump into Yale (Michale Murphy) and Marie (Diane Keaton) at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and go on to engage in an academic and comical debate about art.

Manhattan is a film that juggles the delicate moments of human life in the midst of big city aspirations in the world’s most interesting place in the 1970’s, New York City . The look, feel and sound (Gershwin!) of Allen’s Manhattan captures a time and place that is forever unique to America and to American cinema. It’s perhaps the most beautiful film in the Woody Allen library.

In Summary, the films briefed here are the meatiest in terms of originality and theme. But Allen’s made many excellent movies: A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy, Husbands and Wives, Zelig, Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex but Were Afraid to Ask, Bullets over Broadway and, more recently, Before Midnight to name but a few more. They are all worth exploring. In fact, even when he’s not in top form, his films are better than most of his peers. That’s the trademark of greatness.

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” — Woody Allen

Special Guest Interview: Mark Behm


“Theft” by Animation/Illustration Artist Mark Behm. Personal work done using himself as reference — a common practice among artists in every era.

Today we are privileged to have the multi-talented Mark Behm join us at the Animated Spirit. I’ve known Mark for over 15 years, and he’s one of the most diverse, talented and humble artists in the industry. He can draw, paint, animate, design, model, rigg and program. Seriously, I don’t know what Mark can’t do. He’s animated at the highest levels for feature films at Blue Sky Studios and Dreamworks Animation, and created gorgeous designs as a visual development artist at Valve and Epic Games (where he now serves as a Senior Concept Artist). His work has been showcased in art galleries, “Art Of” books as well as in highly acclaimed collections like Spectrum, which showcases the absolute best in science-fiction illustration. He’s a prolific artist whose spirit and creativity is highly valued in the art community. You’re in for a visual treat!

Watch Mark demo his work live, on his Twitch Stream!

1. Welcome Mark! Thanks for joining us!

Thanks for the opportunity, James!


“Riddle of Steel.” Personal art by Mark Behm.

2. Can you share a little about yourself, as to where you’re originally from and what your early interests were before becoming an animation artist?

I’m from New Jersey — in the pine barrens east of Philadelphia. My early interests were about the same as what I do during the day.


Mark Behm artwork for Paizo Publishing’s Pathfinder Role Playing Game.

3. What inspired you to be part of the animation industry, and what were those first steps like breaking in?

Toy Story! I was working doing multimedia stuff and freelance illustration. A few artists and I went to see it and I was blown away. It set in motion a plan to make a change. I’d spent my childhood around animation art and defaced all the corners of my notebooks and schoolbooks as little flip-books. I got the Illusion of Life for Christmas when I was 9. I wanted to be in special effects when I grew up. I invested a ton of money in an old SGI workstation and a copy of Maya 1.0 and set to making a reel.


More Pathfinder Art done for Paizo Publishing by Mark Behm.

Through a friend, I met Chris Gilligan, a stop-motion animator who was starting a NYC animation shop and wanted to mentor some guys in a more traditional way. He asked if I would be interested and I jumped at the chance. I took off work (multimedia artist at the time) twice a week to take a 3 hour bus and subway ride to the studio” to work on mentoring and projects. It didn’t last very long but it solidified my childhood foundation, wet my appetite and focused me on what was important. From there I worked on a series of short physical and dialog clips for my reel. That is what got me working. First in NYC commercial work, then direct-to-video work in Chicago, then my first feature job back in New York at Blue Sky where we met.


Concept Art for Valve’s DOTA 2 by Mark Behm.

4. You’re one of the rare artists that excel in multiple aspects of this art form; character animation, rigging, modeling, and visual development (concept art). How did that happen?

When I started animating, rigging and modeling was a requirement. If you wanted to animate a character there was only one way: go make one. I don’t enjoy rigging or the technical aspects of modeling but I do enjoy modeling and sculpting in 3D. I like to make stuff and that’s just another creative outlet. I use that skill all the time in vis-dev work.


Concept work for Valve’s DOTA 2 by Mark Behm.

5. You primarily do concept work now, what made you ultimately decide on this path? and do you miss the other aspects of animation pipeline?

Like I said, I like to make stuff. I’ve been inventing things and drawing heroes and monsters since I was a kid. I went to school for illustration. The whole time I worked in animation I was doing concept art and illustration in a freelance capacity. It’s more like I detoured to work as an animator. An Intentional detour to be sure, but what I do now is more where I belong. When I was animating full time in features, I spend too much of my free time drawing, painting, designing monsters. It was a sign. When you are painting on your tablet PC as you wait for a playblast… you need to start asking why.


Concept work for Valve’s DOTA 2 by Mark Behm.

I don’t miss animation from a large scale production standpoint. I’d rather reserve it for personal work. I also enjoy the creative and advantageous scheduling aspects of the early part of the pipeline. Everyone is less rushed and stressed. They tend to be more free and creative. A little pressure and touch of fear can be a good motivator but the sharp teeth of a deadline and the ‘suits’ tapping their watches rarely makes for good work.


Concept Art for Valve’s DOTA 2 by Mark Behm.

Someday I’d like to work on an independent short with a friend. We’ve been talking about it for a decade but we both still have bills to pay. He somehow finds time to do his but I’m too ADD to focus on one big project at the moment.



Hammershot Concept Art done for Epic Games’ Fortnite by Mark Behm.

6. Tell us a bit about your work day. How do you get started each day? What’s your routine?

At Epic Games we have Dailies with our art director just like we do in film. I get in early, work on whatever is on my plate and maybe go to Dailies if I have something to show or want to keep up on what’s going on. After that I spend the rest of the day drawing and painting — and sometime modeling if I have some hard-surface thing to work out and 3d might be faster. Go out to lunch w the guys. 2pm is workout time. After that the AD comes around to desks if you have something else to show. Work on changes and new stuff till I go home. I have anywhere from a single task to a half dozen to work on at any given time. It might be a character, creature, costume, environment, or hard-surface design. That kind of variety is something I love about this part of production. I have been lucky enough to work on both Paragon and Fortnite, so I get to play with two stylistically divergent worlds.


Epic Games’ Paragon Khaimera character designed by Mark Behm.

7. You’ve produced a book and continue to creative work outside of production. What inspires you to keep creating?

When I produced the images for the book I was in a particularly un-creative point in my career. At the time I felt my directors were getting more and more conservative in their decision-making processes.The focus seemed to shift from idea and performance to polish and finish. Watching great work from all my peers get neutralized in Dailies was hard. As a creative person — that energy had to go somewhere. So I spent all my down-time on 2D art. I didn’t even realize it was happening for a long time. I noticed this trend in my behavior at some point and have since found it’s been a reliable indicator that something is off with my day job.


Concept Art for Wizards of the Coast’s Dundgeons and Dragons by Mark Behm.


Concept Art for Wizards of the Coast’s Dundgeons and Dragons by Mark Behm.


Concept Art for Wizards of the Coast Dundgeons and Dragons by Mark Behm.

8. Being an artist is challenging. As a family man, how do you balance yourself in the face of all the external, as well as personal demands?

Yes – something has to give! I made sure it wasn’t my family or my relationship with my wife, or my art. So it was sleep. I tend to need less sleep than most people and I often take even less than I need. Even when I’m not working I don’t like to put the day away! It’s not good or healthy, but it’s what I do. I think I inherit it from my uncle. I’d go to bed — him reading in the living room at 2am. I get up at 7 — he’s up reading in the same chair. Wait — did he change clothes? Can’t remember. Does he sleep? I never found out.


A beautiful environment piece done for “Sketch A Day” by Mark Behm.

9. A hypothetical; if you were to choose anyone in history that you could apprentice under, who would it be?

Oh there’s a new one every couple months and many are still alive and younger than I am! I’m a big fan of the apprentice/mentor relationship model when done right. As it implies the critical element of skill-development rather than just knowledge acquisition and accumulation.


Creature” by Mark Behm. Another personal piece displaying Mark’s lovely sense of color and light.

Can I have a few?! I’d love to sit in and watch Norman Rockwell’s work in the 30’s. And J.C. Leyendecker. And Mucha. And Sargent. Wait – Frazetta!! How much juice does this time machine have?

Another live video demo of Mark’s marvelous working process. Absolutely amazing!

10. Thank you so much for your time Mark! We look forward to seeing more of your awesome work!

To see more of Mark’s artistry, visit his Website or his various accounts at:




Acting Analysis: Daniel Day-Lewis


Daniel Day-Lewis plays the heroic Hawkeye from Michael Mann’s inspiring epic, The Last of the Mohicans, one of many character portrayals in his brilliant on-going career.

“I like things that make you grit your teeth. I like tucking my chin in and sort of leading into the storm. I like that feeling. I like it a lot.” — Daniel Day-Lewis

There are actors and then there are ACTORS. Humphrey Bogart, Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson — these artists command the screen and have come to forever define the characters they played. Any thought of an alternative encompassing those roles is unfathomable. Today, we look to the acting talents of Daniel Day-Lewis, an artist some would consider to be the greatest actor of all-time. It’s a proclamation that is difficult to argue with.  A winner of the Academy Award an unprecedented three times, he’s widely known as a devout performer completely immersed in the method form of acting, an actor who becomes the personalities he creates. From moving our hearts with his performance as a man suffering from cerebral palsy to playing one of the most important leaders in American history, there aren’t that many actors that have demonstrated such great range and receive such wide critical acclaim.


Daniel Day-Lewis and Lina Olen star in Unbearable Lightness of Being, directed by Philip Kaufman, a film about a man who battles with his choice of sexual freedom over matters of the heart.

“I suppose I have a highly developed capacity for self-delusion, so it’s no problem for me to believe that I’m somebody else.” — Daniel Day-Lewis

Today, we’ll take a look at a few scenes of his from a small four-film sample. In each one, we’ll see that not only are Day-Lewis’s creations wholly original but that he utterly encapsulates the full range of human expression — mental,  physical, and emotional. Like the aforementioned legends before him, he has formulated characters that have come to define the very films in which they place.

Gangs Of New York (2002):


In Martin Scorcese’s colorful, if sometimes cartoony portrayal of turn of the century America, Gangs of New York, Daniel Day-Lewis plays the charismatic villain, Bill The Butcher, a principled yet violent man, who leads an array of characters fighting for the rights to the underworld in the Five Points district of New York City in the late 19th century.

In this magnetic scene, Day-Lewis delivers a lesson in presence, rhythm and texture. Moments of stillness contrasts assertive action giving the scene weight and magnifying tension. Watch how he balances the use of body language, hesitations in his voice and cold hard stares, all of which culminates into a character who both interests us yet frightens us at the same time. When he reminisces, he lets us inside, and his Bill The Butcher is charming, human and likeable. Then, in the blink of an eye, the tone changes and the directness in which he dictates the terms pushes both us and his adversary (Amsterdam, played by Leonardo DiCaprio) back, as if he owns us, like we’re only here because he lets us be here. Afterwards, he draws us back in again, forcing us to listen attentively, playing us back and forth like the master puppeteer that both he and his character is. The scene wraps up beautifully with a series of telling physical gestures marking the end of a tale well told.

Gangs of New York may not be one of legendary director Martin Scorcese’s best, but Daniel Day-Lewis’ Bill The Butcher shines, stealing scene after scene with his physicality, vocal delivery and command of any scene he’s in.

My Left Foot (1989):


In Director Jim Sheridan’s moving biography My Left Foot, Daniel Day-Lewis plays the real life story of Cerebral Palsy victim, Christy Brown — a spastic quadriplegic who later becomes a successful writer, poet and artist using only his left foot. The character is both inspirational yet unsentimental which is an unusual take on disadvantaged film characters who are typically portrayed with excessive melodrama and likeability. Day-Lewis creates a completely convincing character who challenges his environment and our view of someone living under the kind of circumstances which are beyond our comprehension.

In this five minute scene, Day-Lewis transforms his character midway by breaking out into a physical performance that grips the audience, first with stillness and then with action. Here, the physical challenges are magnified by the expression of the character’s deep emotional loneliness, creating both discomfort and empathy. Watch carefully how the tension builds and is ultimately expressed in violence. What results is tremendous sorrow and relatability. Director Jim Sheridan’s nice touch with the camera — panning around to other characters during Christy’s change in state — results in a larger perspective of the darkness and tragedy of human behavior. We feel like them — awkward, frightful and helpless — much like Christy has felt his whole life never knowing what might happen next.

The film is inspirational (and marks the first of Daniel Day-Lewis’ three Oscars). The performance is unforgettable.

There Will Be Blood (2007):


Day-Lewis plays oil prospector Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood, P.T. Anderson’s turn of century film about a man whose family, faith and fortune culminates into madness. A thoroughly enrapturing character study, it’s a film that haunts us long after the film credits roll.

In these two scenes from the film (they need to be seen together to understand them), we have Daniel first having a meeting with some company men who aim to purchase his land. At the end of this clip, Plainview storms after being offended by the man’s remarks. But before doing so, he verbally threatens him as he makes clear his position when he’s pushed by either aggression or patronization. In the second scene, he’s with his young son at a restaurant before being irked by the arrival and presence of those same adversaries. It is in this scene, where the acting really shines, as we begin to witness his pride and view of injustice (according Daniel’s own principles anyway) boil in his eyes. You witness his outlandish mockery with his little playful act with the napkin, and then, when it becomes too unbearable to stay put, he makes his displeasure known directly.  The final act of drinking the other man’s whisky is the perfect exclamation mark of a proud and imposing man, who despite his flaws, earned his keep. (Note: This action affirms his character. There is a brilliant earlier scene in the movie where his character crawls his way back to town after having broken his leg from falling down a mine shaft. It’s a scene that showcases his character’s most admirable trait – his grit and determination – one that allows the audience to respect and follow him even if doesn’t morally justify his more abhorrent actions later on.

Lincoln (2012):


In this most subdued direction by Steven Spielberg, we get to witness one of Daniel Day-Lewis’ latest and most perhaps most brilliant creation — America’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. It’s been rumored that the actor spent eight months in seclusion to develop the character, from his voice all the way down to how the president would walk, sit and gesture. The portrayal is so convincing, that it’s impossible to think Lincoln walked or talked any other way. It reminds me of the story of Gilbert Stuart‘s painting of America’s first president George Washington, known as the Lansdowne Portrait. It conveyed such a regal and dignified portrayal of the president that despite it not being the most accurate likeness of him, it came to define how he would look forever in history. Every minted coin and paper currency uses that particular portrait of Washington.

“A voice is such a deep, personal reflection of character.” – Daniel Day-Lewis

In this crucial moment in the film, Day-Lewis’s character expresses not only his angst but his absolute determination and resolve when it comes to abolishing slavery in America. Here, you witness not only dignified physical expression but absolute control through his voice, which reveals deeply his frustration with the political process and the pain it has caused him. The verbal here leads and implies the physical. And as the scene plays, he becomes more animated and his drive extends more and more into his physical being, his strength building with his anger and resolve. It’s a great escalation of total human expression.

“Leaving a role is a terrible sadness. The last day of the shooting is surreal. Your soul, your body and your mind are not ready at all to see the end of this experience. In the following months after a film shoot, one feels a deep sense of void.” — Daniel Day-Lewis

There has already been so many accolades and so much said about Daniel Day-Lewis that one can easily disregard all this as another glorification of actors and their celebratory status. But if we do that, we forget to actually look at the work and study it.  We must always search for and analyze the technique, form and intent of great artistry to understand it and be touched by it and to come closer to it in our own work. And ultimately, we need to look and listen to it to be inspired because we always need inspiration. Day-Lewis’ devotion as an actor displays such tremendous comprehensiveness — taking in everything and then giving everything and more — that it reminds us that when our craft begins to defines us and us the craft, a great symbiotic relationship has been founded. This is a great personal joy to us as artists.

“At a certain age it just became apparent to me that this was probably the work that I would have to do.” — Daniel Day-Lewis

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

Special Guest Interview: Patrick Awa


Visual Development/Concept Artist Patrick Awa is one of the most talented artists working in the animation field.

We are honored to feature one of my favorite concept artists working out there in the animation industry today. Patrick is someone whom I met during a charity art exhibit (where we were both contributing artists) many years ago. His art, and his person, are of the highest quality. He has designed for both film and television, and participates in numerous art exhibits and charity auctions, where his work often fetches record prices. I’ve been a big fan of his for many years.


A beautiful Art Exhibit piece by Patrick Awa done for the themed show, Hansel and Gretal.

It’s a rare opportunity to showcase the work of a visual development artist. Due to NDA’s, delayed releases and project cancellations, a lot of the “early” work done by a concept artist is rarely shown even years after a final product has launched (or never seen at all). So it’s a wonderful treat to be able to share some of Patrick’s work here and his thoughts.  Now let’s get right to it!

Welcome Patrick! Thanks for joining us!

“Pleasure is mine, James! True honor to be featured at AnimatedSpirit.”

Can you share a little about yourself, as to where you’re from and what your early interests were before becoming an concept artist in animation ?

“Born in Santa Monica, California, I grew up in Tokyo in late 70’s through mid 90’s. Which means serious exposure to rows of giant robots and masked super heroes in crazy costumes on TV. I was one of those kids so completely captivated with those 70’s and 80’s cheesy sci-fi shows and anime, that my sketchbooks and my mom’s kitchen walls ended up being filled with lousy Crayola drawings dedicated to many characters from this genre.”


“Count Dracula in Anubis Armor” is a sensational digital piece by Patrick Awa, done as part of a 2013 “Oscar Legends” themed art show.

“When I grew up a little bit more, slapping my face and wondering what to be in my own future, after recognizing the fact that there were unlikely any mad scientists in my relatives who could give me a secret robot to defend the universe, I thought about being a professional designer. I always liked to draw, but never considered myself as a gifted, fine artist/painter able to make my own living. So I went to university in Japan to study industrial design at its tech dept to be a car designer first. The idea seemed fair to me, drawing something economically practical where you get paid. Things were different back then, there was no entertainment design major and I did not know where to start.”


Concept Designs for Walt Disney’s award-winning, dynamically designed CG Animated TV show, Tron Uprising. Drawings by Patrick Awa.

What inspired you to be part of the animation industry, and ultimately, move to and settle in Los Angeles, California?

“At the university, I came across the  founder of the Japanese CG production house called Polygon Pictures while he was teaching graphic design at the school. Although my major was product design I was curious about this new media which was still fresh around mid 90’s, when “Toy Story” was not even released yet. He showed me what his team was trying to do and I was totally fascinated because it looked like the new turf where I could possibly contribute more conceptual/story-driven design work, yet still technically dealing with ‘3 dimensional’ forms that I had been trained for.”


Patrick Awa’s Character Designs for the Shane Acker-directed Animated Feature Film, “9.

“I was pretty much clueless about CG at that point but I started as an intern there, and then eventually became an art director by the time I decided to leave. I moved to San Fransisco in 2000 as a free-lancer which sounds cool but was equivalent to a hungry job-seeker with a feeble portfolio. The first couple of years did not quite work out for me career-wise, but I was fortunate to meet a group of local talents in the industry while I lived there. I then moved to LA around 2002 for the opportunity to work on a humble CG feature “Valiant”(distributed by Disney) as a character designer and have been lucky enough to survive in the industry  ever since.”


Character Designs by Patrick Awa, for the 2005 animated feature film, Valiant, produced by Vanguard Animation.

Establishing yourself as a concept artist in animation is one of the most difficult things to do in the art world. What were the first steps you took to make it all happen, and what/who gave you the confidence to persevere through the challenges?

“I actually think I got lucky to get to know so many of the top-notch talents in San Fransciso in those early days despite the fact that it was a difficult period for me at the time. Many of them were already established senior artists and I learned a lot from them in terms of how to be a good production artist.

So in a way it was accidental, and I have to mention that the industry was a little bit more laid-back and less crowded 15 years ago. But quitting a previous, full-time job in Japan and change of scenery turned out to be a good move for me. Also previously studying industrial design definitely has helped me to approach design tasks a bit differently. I never thought that I was a genius so I wouldn’t jump on my own ‘artistic’ conclusions too easily, and tried instead to resolve the design problems as logical as possible. I was already comfortable designing characters toward 3D execution and was able to build more confidence in this aspect as I proceeded to more gigs. Nowadays, I totally see more and more of young talent with 3D tools under the belt even before they start their professional career.”

Elegant and articulate prop designs by Patrick done for “9,” produced by Focus Features.

Tell us a bit about your work day. How do you get started and what’s your routine?

“It depends on what project I am on since sometimes I go to their office/studio to work on site for a few months, then the next couple of months I work from home remotely. I drink a lot of coffee regardless.



Character designs for Disney’s Toon Studio’s TinkerBell Academy. By Patrick Awa.

I don’t do much ‘start-up drawing’ in the morning, I spend my before-noon time more for gathering refs, reading/re-reading the latest script or character descriptions to measure and reconsider my results from the previous night’s work. I occasionally deal with multiple projects at the same period of time, so every Monday I usually plan out how to invest my time for the rest of the week to catch up on the individual deadlines or dues to report.”


Amazing digital concept work for the Imagi Studios CG feature film project “Gatchaman” based on the 1970’s TV series “Battle of the Planets.” Patrick was the lead concept designer of the show.

What parts of the job as a concept artist are the funnest and what are the hardest?

“Concept artists usually start working at a pretty early stage of the project, which means it is always a wild and untouched frontier in front of you. That’s kind of cool thing, nothing has been determined and it is up to you.

Legend of The Guardians_3

Concept art by Patrick Awa for the feature film, Legends of the Guardian, produced by Warner Bros.

On the other side of the same coin, it’s pretty big responsibility, over 100 artists and animators might end up working on your design to complete the movie and it could be scary if you look at it in that way. It would be terrible to know if animators hate the characters I designed so badly yet have to animate them for the next couple of years.”

"Deadly Poppy Field"2013

Deadly Poppy Field” by Patrick Awa. Showcased in an exhibit featuring the theme “The Wizard of Oz.”

Besides being an established industry artist, you’re also a prolific gallery artist. What inspires you to create outside of production work?

“It’s based on different kind of desire and satisfaction. I try to work more logically and collaboratively as a production artist and despite the beauty of film production work, it makes me wonder how it would be like if I play solo. I had 2 exhibits in 2015 just to come up for the air.”
"Draken Flicka"_2011

Another incredibly gorgeous watercolor painting by Patrick Awa. Draken Flicka (and other amazing works by Patrick) was exhibited at the Gallery Nucleus, one of the greatest supporters/exhibitors of the artist community in Los Angeles.

Being an artist is challenging. What do you do to balance yourself in the face of all the external, as well as personal demands?

“My gallery work effort is partially connected with this factor. I try to find a balance when one of them gets too heavy-handed over the other but the weight shifts all the time. I’m still trying to find the right balance.”

A beautiful piece in acrylic and watercolor by Patrick Awa. Done for the Artists Help Japan Charity Art Auction, created in response to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.


Patrick is a prolific artist, both in and outside of production or gallery work. Take a look at these sketchbook drawings!

A hypothetical; if you were to choose anyone in history that you could apprentice under, who would it be?

“I would at least love to apply to be a protégé of Klimt and watch how Egon Schiele draw in the class!”


We all owe artists that came before us. “Solitary Confinement” is a fantastic mixed media using Watercolor, Acrylic and Gel medium on Rives paper. This was Patrick’s contribution to the Mike Magnolia HellBoy 20th Anniversary Official Tribute Art Show.

Thank you so much for your time Patrick! We look forward to seeing more of your awesome work!

“Hey, thank you very much for the opportunity, James!

And to you young talents reading this, I wish my answers would’ve been more like “I aimed it and I obtained it” kind of triumph story but it wasn’t. It’s after struggling for years in those early days, that I started appreciating the opportunity to collaborate more and try new things with different directors/producers and artists. It’s been a bit of jam session. This production artist career can be creatively rewarding – to land in unexpected locations when the codes get harmonized and that’s something great about working in the industry. I hope our paths cross at some point in the near future!”

"Coffee Bear"

Check out these cool sculpts!!! Patrick Awa’s Coffee Bear Project is a project of making a series of bear sculptures out of paper cups from local coffee stands in different cities. Patrick re-purposes the original logo designs as if they were meant to be. He hopes to publish a nice “Coffee Bear Table Book” compiling hundred’s of paper bears.

This interview only gives you a small taste of Patrick’s elegant and diverse artistry. To see more, visit his Blog here, or his Instagram site here. You can also purchase collections of his beautiful gallery work, at this link at Gallery Nucleus.

Sitting on my art book shelf is my signed copy (lucky me!) of Acoustic Brush 2, where Patrick’s artwork is exquisitely compiled in a beautiful hardcover book. Check out his website and get yourself a copy!