Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Croods Crew: Louie del Carmen

Publisher's preface:
Our legal department was unable to verify many of the statements made in this piece prior to its publication. Read at your own risk.
Editor's note:
This blog has neither a legal department nor a publisher. Come to think of it, the "editor" is actually the author. Does that even count?
Author's aside:
In answer to myself, 'No, I don't think it does.' Still, if the person reading this has gotten this far, they clearly don't give a damn about journalistic integrity, authorial intent, or any of that other stuff I heard mentioned in the final season of The Wire. Gosh, I miss Omar.

Louie del Carmen currently resides in a bomb-proof bunker buried 6 miles beneath Glendale, CA. As one of the elite 'story artists' working on The Croods, DreamWorks deemed it prudent to
protect del Carmen and his co-workers until the film's completion. But were you to somehow sneak past the 'No Trespassing, Violators Will Be Cruelly Caricatured' signs at the bunker's entrance, through the immense steel and concrete blast doors painted to look like a winding desert road (à la The Road Runner and Coyote), and down the rapidly rusting air duct providing del Carmen and co. with whatever air they're presumably still breathing, what you'd see would astound you. Lit by a bank of flickering fluorescents, a crack team of today's top story artists sit in front of supervillain-sized computers, tirelessly plying their trade. Animation. Layout. Backgrounds. Design. You name it, they do it. All in the service of the schizophrenic assembling and re-assembling of The Croods’ storyboards.

Storyboards, according to the neo know-it-alls at Wikipedia, are "illustrations or images displayed in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing a motion picture." One fictitious former animator began to twitch nervously as he described storyboards as "the whole f**king film sketched out like one long comic strip, haphazardly hung on post-it notes and bulletin boards stretching the length of whatever wall space we're allowed -- and then some. Try and imagine an anthropomorphic manifesto as drawn by Ted Kaczynski. Only, instead of being stuck to the padded walls of an insane asylum with human feces, it's thumb-tacked obsessive-compulsively along the corridors and conference rooms of a multibillion dollar film studio."

Walt Disney, far too much of a gentleman to drop f-bombs or fecal references in the presence of Minnie Mouse, described storyboarding this way: "Instead of writing your story, you [...] present the entire idea with sketches, with a few notes below each sketch to explain the action. This [is] an ideal way to present your story because it then shows the visualized possibilities, rather than a lot of words, explaining things that [...] turn out to be impossible to put over in action."

Why, even Croods crewman Louie del Carmen has pontificated on the process, proclaiming: "The objective is to make your drawings clearly emphasize the intent of the scene. And that means having to re-work things over and over until you do. There’s also a lot of meetings and brainstorming. It’s a very collaborative process and very challenging but, in the story process one is always trying to achieve that balance of pushing your personal ideas to work with the collective."

(I should've just jumped right to Disney and del Carmen's descriptions, eh? Oh, well. Too late. Now it's onto a bare-bones, barely there biography of Louie del Carmen.)


Louie del Carmen was born in the Philippines in 1967. Inspired by his "two talented older brothers" and fueled by an "overactive imagination," del Carmen discovered his love of drawing at a very young age. Upon graduating from U.S.T. (in Manila) with an Associate's Degree in Commercial Art, he and his brothers headed to the U.S.A. (in North America) to find their fortunes.

Landing in Los Angeles, del Carmen carefully considered his options. It was 1989. He could either be a starving artist or an IBM executive. del Carmen dutifully dropped his doodling for a career in computer technology. This meant more schooling. "But I was 21 and was really done being a student at that point," del Carmen recalls. "So I kind of floundered around for a few years." Ah, but an artist's true calling cannot be ignored. And while del Carmen was "floundering," his brothers were finding financial success in the animation industry. This inspired del Carmen to pick up his pens and pencils once more. He began taking classes at the Animation Guild. He put together a new portfolio. The prodigal brother had returned!

del Carmen landed his first job in animation in 1995 as a character designer for Nickelodeon's Aaah! Real Monsters. He spent the next 13 years serving in the trenches of TV animation, working on such shows as Kim Possible, Invader Zim and Lilo & Stitch. In 2007, del Carmen made the leap to feature films, joining the story crew at DreamWorks. Since then, he's provided storyboards for Megamind, Kung Fu Panda 2, Rise of the Guardians and The Croods -- and made gazillions of dollars doing so.

The end?

Hells no!

In addition to his work in animation, del Carmen has also been busy creating comics. In February '06 he released his first book, Random Anomalies, a collection of "editorial style vignettes about relativity, synchronicity and fate." That same year, he dropped a science fiction-themed sketchbook, The Wayward Traveller: Snapshots from Alternate Worlds. This was followed up almost immediately with 2007's Steel Noodles: A Slice of Heaven, a twelve page teaser for del Carmen's current comic book, the mostly silent sci-fi series, Steel Noodles.

Steel Noodles #1, which blends the best bits of Lawrence of Arabia, Alice In Wonderland and Mad Max to make one hell of an extended character introduction, is currently available at Stuart Ng Books. ($10 for a signed copy! Tell 'em I sent ya. They'll act like they don't know who you're talking about, but that's just a li'l game we play.)


"Instincts and training go hand in hand. You spend years developing your craft so it can help you make better choices. Hopefully you can reach a point where that little voice that tells you whether or not to add another line or use a certain color is right most of the time."

"Being an artist is a FULL TIME proposition. There was a point after getting started in animation where I treated it more like a job. At the end of each work day I goofed around and stopped being an artist until I went back to work the next day. Then one day it dawned on me that other artists where moving forward and their art was getting better. Even though I was doing a good job designing characters, I was one-dimensional and my artistic range was limited. So I embarked on an initiative to become the best artist I could be. That process still continues to this day and which, will probably never end. Being an artist is a twenty-four seven proposition which requires a personal commitment of education and practice. Instead of merely applying my love of drawing to my job, it has become all encompassing. There is so much to discover if one is willing to commit to it. This is the only way to know who you are as an artist and where you stand artistically in a universe of artists."


del Carmen has a website, and you can access it here.

Dude also tweets a lot, which you can eavesdrop on here.

A nice, long interview with del Carmen can be found here.

An even longer, five-part video interview with del Carmen can be watched here.

To view a sequence from Kim Possible that was storyboarded by del Carmen, click here.

Galleries of del Carmen's personal and professional art can be viewed here, here and here.

All artwork in this post is Louie del Carmen's. Here's hoping he doesn't sue.

Related: Croods Crew profiles of Jamaal Bradley and Christophe Lautrette

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