From Cartoon Brew, I was pointed to a new (for me) artist's blog the other day, Stephen Silver, who is now a lead character designer for Sony Feature Animation. I don't know if it's because I've been checking out so many other character and visual development artists to see what they are creating, what they have in their portfolios or sketchbooks, or whatever...but it seems like they all are really starting to look alike. Every one of the successful employed character designers in the animation industry is sketching with almost the same pencil - it either looks like what I'm seeing on Silver's site and Mark Behm or Peter de Seve, or the original Mary Blair and now Ricky Nierva, Ronnie del Carmon and other stylized or "retro" designers.
Where's the originality?
Is it because they're all influencing each other that much, or maybe have the same teachers or mentors? Or is that simply the required look or design trend that is getting them work at the various studios in the animation industry? Is this the artwork that the studios see as most successful for their markets? Or...are these artists the only ones posting or publishing their artwork and I'm missing out on seeing other interesting and original character designs, concept art and other visual development art for successful feature animation?
Maybe if I compare that type of animation design artists to the artists that I currently work with.... If you print out our concepts and spread them out on one of the conference room tables - even the producers can frequently recognize which artist has done which concept because of the line quality and concept style. While we can mimic each others work when revision work is necessary, we do each have our own individual styles.
Maybe I'm just generalizing too much.... Could be that it's all that licensed artwork from Disney, Pixar, Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon, etc., etc., that I've been working with for multitudes of product design concepts at my job in the past year...in addition to doing my own original art...that has me all befuddled. For a bit of contrast to the standard character design clones I've seen, there's always the frantic artwork created by artists for various animated Nickelodeon projects and Adult Swim; and the vector influenced designs in animations such as Kim Possible and The Fairly Oddparents. But that's 2D animation. The studios I'm interested in produce 3D feature animation. Maybe that's the explanation. That trend, those two artistic styles are the only way they can create the designs for the masses.
I'm not even looking at Anime.
I actually have been feeling the same way about concept artists in the game development industry for the last few years, too. While the game art style is in no way the same as the animation industry artists, it does seem that the majority of game artists who post their work online or that I've had the opportunity to see are creating the same design trend of monsters, "heroes", and environments. Except for Oddworld. :) Maybe if you consider how new the game art community is and then the look and feel of most of the successful games. They all want to be the next Feng Zhu, or Doug Chiang...or maybe be the lead artist working on the next Doom or Quake or Star Wars universe. heh. Go to any CG artist forum where there is a good mix of professional and student participation and maybe you'll see and understand what I mean. It's all rather similar.
One of the reasons I've noticed this trend for both industries is because I've studied the children's book illustration market for years. I love children's picture books and have favorites in my own library from certain illustrators like Arthur Rackham, Leo and Diane Dillon, Dr Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel), Jan Brett, Maurice Sendak, Mercer Meyer, Mary GrandPre and a few others. As an illustrator for children's books myself, I've had to recognize what is selling and what isn't, and how I can either develop a project in that successful style: "same but different" (this is a frequent art director request), or present my work as something unique that isn't following a trend already out there - the better to catch the eye of an art director that isn't familiar with my artwork.
It's all in the marketing....
So, when I do run across an artist who's artwork is different from what everyone else seems to be doing, stands out even when it's the same subject, has a consistent style of their own, and appeals to me in some esoteric way...I make a note of their name, bookmark their website if they have one, and download their work to study and appreciate. It's very much an outgrowth to the habit I had when I was a little tot...slowly flipping through my favorite picture books or illustrated fairy tales from the library, or checking out the children's encyclopedia set we had at home, or especially spending hours studying the watercolour prints of the Audubon's Birds of America.
I hope one day that someone enjoys viewing my published artwork that way, too. :)