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Tony Siruno has been working as a character designer for DreamWorks Animation for over 16 years. During that time he has worked on many major DreamWorks productions, such as "Kung-Fu Panda", "How to Train Your Dragon", "Monsters vs Aliens" and many others. Prior to his time at DreamsWorks, Tony also worked on "The Simpsons" for Film Roman.


CE:  Tony Siruno, could you tell us a little bit about how you started out. You studied at CalArts; what did you study there and what did you plan to do after your studies? 

TS:  I'm originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota and have been living in Los Angeles for the last 20 years. Before CalArts, I attended the University of Minnesota for 4 years where I studied Broadcast Journalism and Comparative Literature. In 1991, I decided to pursue animation and was accepted into the CalArts Character Animation program. It was there, during my second year, that I began working as freelance animator for Duck Soup Producktions and shortly thereafter I got hired by Film Roman to work on "The Simpsons". 

CE:  One of your first professional jobs was working on “The Simpsons” for Film Roman. What was your job description and which characters did you work on? 

TS:  Technically, the Simpson's was my second job. I was hired to do key pose animation or "character layout". I basically worked on all the characters, but the ones I enjoyed drawing the most were
Krusty the Clown, Grounds Keeper Willie, and Homer Simpson.


CE:  Since 1995 you have been working for Dreamworks. You have worked as a character designer on many of their great productions of the last 16-17 years. Of all the great characters you worked on, which ones have stayed with you, and why? 

TS:  I don't really have a favorite one per se', but the ones that were memorable and have "stayed" with me are: Po from "Kung Fu Panda", Barry Benson from "Bee Movie", some of the Vikings and Dragons from "How to Train Your Dragon", Mega Mind and Metro Man from "Mega Mind" and a small TV production called "Neighbors from Hell" that DreamWorks Animation was involved with in 2009.

The reason these have stayed with me is because in the beginning I was allowed to explore my own design approach without any executive interference.


CE:  Despite your great style versatility, the Tony Siruno touch is evident in everything you do. Your work always displays a certain easy sure-footedness and elegance. Is this simply Tony Siruno coming through, or a sort of distinguishing artistic signature? 

TS:  Well, I would say it's a bit of both. When I arrived at DreamWorks in 1995, I was fortunate enough to train under Carlos Grangel and Nicola Marlet. For a full year, they taught me the value of versatility, presentation, draftsmanship, story telling, color, and also insight to developing myself as a better artist, which would lead me to eventually finding my own way in developing my own style.

CE:  Is there a Tony Siruno approach to character design? What do you look for first when starting on a new character? And how do you usually proceed after that? Could you describe your usual work pattern, if you have one? 
TS:  Again my approach is from the school of Carlos Garangel and Nico Marlet. Both are dynamic designers and their approaches had such a huge influence on me. Before starting a new character, I usually read the script to get any information regarding description, back story, etc. After that, the director may have notes regarding what type of style, a celebrity voice he/she is thinking about, or any other character attributes I should explore. Most of the time they give you stacks of reference photos to work from. Once I have all that, I usually begin sketching small shapes and silhouettes, as well as doing "mini line-ups"  to make sure my shape vocabulary remains consistent.


CE:  What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?

TS:  I usually work from home in the mornings until noon. After lunch (whether it be at home or work) I resume work around 2pm and finish roughly around 8pm. In between time, a group of us take the typical 4:30 break at Starbucks on the DreamWorks Campus.

CE:  What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis?

TS:  I work on a Cintiq 21UX for both home and work. Photoshop CS5 and Sketchbook Pro 2011 are my go to programs for drawing and painting. I still draw on paper though...

CE:  What are you working on now? What should our readers look out for? 
TS:  Right now I'm working on a few exciting projects. Unfortunately, I'm not at liberty to disclose any details...

Please check out more of Tony's wonderful work... here.

Character Topic

Female lead characters

A British 3D designer recently posted a link to the trailer for Disney/Pixar's new production "Brave" in our Linkedin group "Characters Engage". He then asked our group members for their views on strong female lead characters, sparking a long-running debate on the general subject matter.

An art institute tutor thought that creating a strong female lead character is very difficult without assigning a masculine role and behavior to it. She felt that films and games that are about adventure and excitement need powerful characters, such as Mulan and Lara Croft.

She went on to say that turning a character into a renegade, as a result, is an easy mechanism for adding "depth". Despite the fact that these kinds of characters appealed to the tomboy in her, she thought that this was already a tried role which, to some extent, lacks individuality. It almost seems as if the only way you can have a strong female lead is if that character has physical strength and fights a lot.

A lead artist from the games industry agreed and added that he enjoys female lead characters that can show the same strength and determination as male characters, but also show kindness and compassion. He thought that otherwise a female lead could easily come across as a man hater. The solution, according to this group member, is to allow such characters to be both strong and dignified, by retaining certain "feminine" qualities.

An animator brought up another interesting point when he said that it seems like a common story telling tactic to make all the men, female lead characters interact with, idiots. According to him this could lead to a disconnect that might actually diminish their heroism. Let's face it, someone who appears heroic when compared to fools, is not exactly a convincing hero.

The art institute tutor replied to all these points by saying that her biggest concern was how young girls see these characters. She said that there just aren't enough female characters to identify with, who will use their wit, charm, and bravery to overcome obstacles, instead of just relying on physical prowess.

The managing director of an animation company, on the other hand, thought that advancing morally acceptable stereotypes has nothing to do with good storytelling, but with pandering to rigid views of morality. He said that he finds stories that subvert such notions much more appealing. In his mind the whole concept of entertainment role models undermines people's personal responsibility for bringing their children up properly.

This subject has certainly triggered a lively debate. So why not join in and tell us what you think about strong female lead characters... here.

Characters Engage Showcase

Majid Esmaeili

CE: Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from?
ME:  Hello, I am Majid Esmaeili, a 3D character artist and official Pixologic Zbrush trainer from IRAN. I model and texture 3D characters and creatures for games, animation, movies, 3D print and toys, based on concepts, image references, and stories.


CE:  What made you get into CG modeling? Why did you focus on character/creature modeling?
ME:  Watching animation and movies, playing games, and looking at artwork has always inspired me. I started working for 2D advertising by using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, and later added Adobe Indesign, Macromedia Director and Flash, but it wasn't enough for me. I was in love with CGI, and so I started to learn Maya and ZBrush. There were alot of great works by ZBrush users in the online forums, but at the time, I wasn't able to match their artistry. I found that just learning the tools wasn't enough to become a professional, which is why I began to study the artistic side of the CG world.


CE:  What and where did you study?

ME:  I'm totally self-taught. I focused on anatomy and the fundamentals of art, and used books, tutorials, DVDs, movies, animations, games, websites and forums such as CGHUB, CGFeedback and ZBrushcentral as my educational resources.

Prior to that, I studied electrics for 2 years, but it was not my own choice and we didn`t have a very good educational system. I didn`t want to continue with electrics for the rest of my life and CG was not developed in Iran. Despite the fact that I had no idea what the future would bring, I decided to go for what I love and now I'm very happy with my choice!


CE:  What are some of your artistic influences?

ME:  It's hard to say, as I have a long list. Apart form the Renaissance masters, my influences include great artists such as Rick Baker, Jordue Schell, Jose Ismail Fernandez, Carlos Huante, Ron Mueck, Sebastian Krüger, Steve Wang, David Meng, Mile Teves, Charlie Wen, Kevin Chen, and many others.
CE:  What are some of the projects you have worked on?

ME:  I have worked as a freelancer on various titles such as "Dragon Age 2" for which I was a digital sculptor on “Quinari Arishock”. You can see the trailer here. I was a character artist on "DC Universe" (Flash and the Circe Girl) for BLUR Studio, which you can see here, and I made the werewolf model for the "Teenwolf" series by Eden FX, which you can see here.
I`ve worked on alot of other projects as well, which I can't show here at the moment, due to copyright restrictions.


CE:  Given that you work as an instructor, what do you think young artists or students should concentrate on?

ME:  A key to success in this industry is to study the fundamentals of art. They never change and that's why master artists always will be masters. Realism is the basis of drawing and sculpting and I believe that all great animation artists, including the great Disney artists of the past, were able to draw realistically. In order to implement their artistic vision, artists need to know and master their tools properly.
Anatomy is very important. It teaches us how bones and muscles interact, how shapes and forms are constructed and much, much more. You can find many resources on the internet, in books, DVDs, and in online courses.

Here is a little list of resources that I found useful:

Anatomy books by George B. Bridgman or Andrew Loomis, the "Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist" by Stephen Rogers Peck, ImagineFX Anatomy, Glen Vilppu's DvDs and "Animal Anatomy" by Gottfried Bammes.


Please check out Majid's portfolio here.

You can contact Majid here:
skype: majid_smiley


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