Thursday, November 17, 2005




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?

Hi, I am Nick Watson. I grew up about 2 hour north of Toronto on Georgian Bay. I started drawing at a very early age and was always encouraged and my family who supported me. During these years my fascination with animation began. I was in awe at the amount of time, talent and devotion that went into making such a production. I think a lot of animators will tell you how much “Disney” films played a role in their early lives and I was no exception. After asking and receiving “The Illusion of Life” one Christmas I really began to understand the animation process fully and the production flow that goes into making an animated film. Realizing that there were people out there that got paid to draw cartoons all day really opened my eyes to his!
Anyway, after High school, my goal was to attend Sheridan College (just outside of Toronto). I had seen a documentary on Sheridan Alumni animator Steve Williams and that established my decision. The only problem was, that I came from a “limited” high school art program and had never life drawn before so needless to say the outcome was predictable and I was rejected and had to settle on a diploma in Graphic design from another college in Toronto. A few years later I still had that passion within so I decided to give an animation education another shot. This time I succeeded.

How do you go about designing a character, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?

Myself, I start looking for interesting shapes that can be reflected in the character in a unique and original way that will be supportive of the personality of the character I am trying to construct. Using a post it note to scribble down silhouettes and posing are a great way of achieving this. Once that is reached I then start looking at the character on a more personal level. His or her back history, personal goals hope and dreams. All theses things come into play when sketching an idea out. A lot of people would likely ask, “How can you fit all that into one little drawing?” My response is simple The most successful designers out there have a real understanding of this and can interpret it through their drawings well. A skill I, myself am still learning.
We as designers, all have a different approach to design but our goal is very similar. Approaching the most comfortable and efficient way to draw a character is something I think only you will discover through a passion for drawing and time .

What do you think really helps you out in designing a character

I think observation is the most important thing for me personally. When you watch news, take a trip down to the mall and notice the way somebody walks or sits and drinks his or her coffee in a coffee shop. These things have a great impact on me and I try to take these everyday common occurrences home so when it comes time to draw they will help and inspire.

From your own experience and maybe from some people that you know, what should we put in our portfolio and what should we not?

Well, still being in school I dint know if I have the qualifications to answer such a question. All I will says that your portfolio should reflect what you love and are passionate about. Don’t let people guess at what you are exceptional at…. show them!

Is there a character design you have done that you are most proud of?

No, I really hope that day doesn’t come. I sort of compare that question to that of a musician who has just released a “Greatest Hit” package when they have barely been in the business. People will appreciate you for that one great song (which would be a nice compliment) but overlook accomplishment and achievements that you may also be proud of that were done later on in you career.
As an artist you always strive to better yourself overall. Many of my drawings I am satisfied with initially but then when I stand back, I see flaws. Places I could have pushed the posing or character(s) in general. I take that and use those experiences on the next design project that comes along hoping for a better outcome. Its happens on a daily basis but knowing that you are constantly improving is a great reward

What are you working on now? (If you can tell us)

Well, right now, I am attending a one-year postgraduate in computer animation so on a professional level, nothing. On a personal note, I am always sketching out ideas that I would like to develop in the future. It’s a great way to let your imagination run and stay sharp. 3d animation has opened up a whole new door for me. Although at times it can be completely frustrating the final product can be breathtaking if done right. The excitement around it is completely deserved. I do have to admit though; at the end of the day I am still a pencil and paper guy. Although I feel drained, with really sore eyes (like many of you, I am sure) I still find the energy to set aside a bit of time each night for self to sit down and draw. It’s a great feeling.

Where is the place you would like to work if you had a choice?

I think Pixar is up there along with a few other studios. The main reason for this is the respect given to their stories that they tell. Story and designing are two personal favorites and that is reflected in their overall productions, Characters, layouts, art direction which all seem to meld without a seam when we the audience get to see the finished piece, it is a real treat. That being said, I would be happy working in an environment (big or small) that takes these qualities seriously and produce productions that don’t just have a limited shelf life and will be just as fresh in 5 to 10 years as they are prevalent today.

Who do you think are the top character designers out there?

Wow, that’s a loaded question. There are so many out there. I seem to stumble across new ones everyday on the internet! I am honored to share this blog space with a lot of them right now. That being said, some that have really struck a cord with me recently are Craig kellman’s work on Madagascar, which I truly thought was exceptional visually. Kendal Cronkite, although I haven’t seen a lot of her work posted, her production designs that are floating around for the film are stunning. And of course many others including Ken Anderson, Gustaf Teggren. The list is very, very long!
Lastly I have spent three years in a classical animation program where I was blessed to have spent time with a lot of talented individuals that do deserve a nod of appreciation and respect.

How do you go about coloring the character, what type of tools or media do you use?

Right now I use a lot of black ink just because it is fast. I unfortunately (because of school commitments) don’t have a lot of time to sit down and co lour my designs although I want too. Markers, gouache and Photoshop are other personal favorites but when it comes down to it, whatever medium will best help to uncover the “look “ and personality of the character that you are striving for, well, that’s the medium I gravitate towards.

What part of designing a character is most fun and easy, and what is most hard?

I feel the two go hand in hand and change constantly depending on when I draw and the mood I am in. Things that go easily one day and I produce with ease may not go so well the next time I go to sit down and draw. It really feels like a revolving door but once you have summated the struggle and have produced a piece that you are content with, the feeling is truly exceptional.

What are some of your favorite character designs and least favorite, which you have seen?

My favorite designs would have to be Jungle Book. The overall look and feel of the characters and they way they naturally fit into their environment with ease made it an appealing and personal favorite. In terms of least favorite, I used to have a few, but my viewpoint has gradually changed. I look at designs as being different, not bad, everybody has their own style, and some people just find one specific look more appealing to them then others.

What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?

Animals. There is so much about them we don’t know about them. How they feel about us is something we will never fully understand. I think that it makes for a clean drawing board of possibilities (for me personally) in terms of design and staging a character. Many people identify with animals and this is likely the reason they are used constantly in animated film and television. Something just strikes a cord, for me, when I draw them

What inspired you to become a Character Designer?

The love of drawing. Getting the opportunity to sit down and is something I know I will never tire of. I hold that close to me.

What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?

Always be open to new ideas and ways of approaching things. The worst outcome is that your drawing goes in the waste paper basket and you have to start over.

What wisdom could you give us, about being a character designer? Do you have any tips you could give?

Being a character Designer is not just about drawing a pretty picture. A few strokes of a pencil or pen will give you all the information and performance needed to create something successful. A rendered character is a beautiful thing (aim the first to agree) but it isn’t always necessary Drawing is the key, you just have to apply it to open the door.

If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?

The best way people can contact me is through my
I am always open to comments, questions and critiques as well as any advice out there. It really is a great way to end the day.

On that note I would like to thank those for giving me the opportunity to show some of my work and thoughts. I am truly grateful.

All the best,