Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Croods Crew: Shane Prigmore

Shane Prigmore has worked in nearly every aspect of animation since entering the field 14 years ago. He's been an animator, a character designer, a writer, a visual development artist, and the head of story. Heck, he even won an Annie Award for his contributions to the stop-motion animation film, Coraline. But do you know when this backwoods blogger finally perked up to Prigmore's prowess? When Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco credited him with coming up with the idea for The Croods' critter combinations. Seriously, the guy is well on his way to becoming an ANIMATION LEGEND, and I only noticed him cuz he slapped fish fins on a turkey. Yes, I am an idiot.

That said, SHANE PRIGMORE CREATED THE CRITTER COMBO! Can you imagine The Croods without them? It's impossible! They're one of the most iconic elements of the film! And just as The Croods wouldn't be The Croods without those critter combos, this UNOFFICIAL Croods blog wouldn't be complete without a sit-down with Shane. Thank goodness he agreed...

Me: Alright, Shane. Imagine I'm your new therapist and this is our initial getting-to-know-you session. For the sake of our under-18 readers, let's skip all of the Oedipal stuff and the kinky food dreams. In fact, let's just play it safe and stick to your art. (Unless some of your art involves Oedipal stuff and kinky food dreams...but hey, NO JUDGEMENTS.) Ahem. Now, would you please tell me a bit about your background? Where did you grow up? Was your family full of artists, or were you the ink-stained outcast?

Shane Prigmore: I grew up in San Bernardino, California. My father was actually a very good draftsman. He was not a professional artist, he was a construction worker, but he taught me how to draw (and hammer during the summers). As a child I would force him to draw Superman for me CONSTANTLY. I would just watch his hand intently, never blinking, and when a series of marks he made finally turned into some recognizable form or feature, I would just laugh with excitement. I was hooked, and it soon became my goal to try to make my family and friends react the same way.

Me: When did you first become 'serious' about art? Not so much, 'When did you buy your first moleskin notebook and start smoking clove cigarettes?,' but when did drawing become less a time-killer and more an obsession? Did you take art classes as a child? Did you attend a capital-A Art school? If so, where did you go and what was your primary focus there?

S.P.: Recently my mother just re-discovered two photos of myself at age one and a half, holding a pencil correctly and drawing. I was always obsessed. Drawing was a form of communication and storytelling for me growing up. Unfortunately, when I started elementary school, there were no art classes, so I searched for outside sources. At the age of eleven a talented woman named Virginia Manes offered to teach me classically, old masters style. It was fantastic. At the age of thirteen I managed to get myself into the Art Center College of Design high school program (My parents were cool enough to drive my butt back and forth from the Inland Empire to Pasadena). There I was discovered by a teacher from the Herbert Ryman program for young artists. Herbert Ryman was the guy who Walt Disney asked to draw the first image of Disneyland for him -- in a weekend! I was accepted into that amazing program and was mentored by incredible fine artists and professionals. The most inspirational and impactful mentor I had at that time was an artist named MarceloVignali (look him up). Marcello could -- and can -- do ANYTHING! Any style, any tone, any medium anywhere. Whatever a story needed, from character to environments, he could adapt and do it all. He taught me to be an artistic chameleon, and I can safely say that he inspired me to move full force into this whole "animation, entertainment, illustration, art" field. In high school I was accepted into the California State Summer School of the Art’s (CSSSA) animation program. For the first time I was with other kids who really related to what I did and loved. It was also a great preparation for the Cal Arts Character Animation department, which I attended right out of high school. At Cal Arts I learned more from the friends, teachers, guest lecturers, and experiences there than I can even begin to list. It changed my life.

Me: Who were/are some of your artistic inspirations?

S.P.: Well my dad was the first, but then I’ll jump to the age of 9 when my dad introduced me to MAD Magazine. Within those pages I discovered such artists as Jack Davis, Paul Coker Jr., Sergio Aragones, Mort Drucker, Al Jaffee, etc. HUGE inspirations. Now, here is a list of some more equally inspirational artists I have discovered over the years: Marc Davis, John Singer Sargent, Leo Monahan, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Marcelo Vignali, Frank Capra, Herbert Ryman, Daumier, Glen Keane, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, Milt Kahl, Tony Fucile, Picasso, Chuck Jones, Frederic Remington, Beatrix Potter, Ronald Searle, Michel Gondry, Jim Henson, Degas, Richard Scarry, Carter Goodrich, Alice and Martin Provensen, Blaine Gibson, Mary Blair, James Baxter, Ward Kimball, Ricardo Curtis, Harper Goff, John Hench, Sam McKim, Nico Marlet, Teddy Newton, Lou Romano, Aurelius Battaglia, Gustaf Tenggren, Dean Cornwell, J.C.Leyendecker, Paul Klee, Earl Oliver Hurst, Iain McCaig, John Lounsbery, Rolly Crump, John Hench, Claude Coats, Alfred Hitchcock, Al Hirschfeld, T.S. Sullivant, Michael Jackson, Richard Mac Donald, Leonardo Da Vinci, Eyvind Earle, Ralph McQuarrie, Joe Johnston, Kevin Eastman, Elmer Bernstein, Leos Janacek, Edvard Grieg, and Brad Bird.

...Just to name a few.

Me: What was your first job in the animation industry? Was it 'everything you'd ever dreamed of' or an entirely unexpected experience?

S.P.: My very first job in animation was as a development artist at Turner Feature animation (1996). It was the summer after my first year at Cal Arts. I had always wanted to just be an "animator," but a couple guys (Dan Jeup and Doug Frankel) saw my potential as a story and development artist. I had just turned 18 and I knew nothing, but I tried to soak up everything I could. I was helping to develop a film for Ted Turner about the wolves of Yellowstone. Also developing a film at Turner was a man named Brad Bird, making a film called Ray Gun. I would just gawk at the artwork and boards created for that film daily. It was unbelievable. I also sat across the hall from a guy named Maurice Noble. Yes, MAURICE NOBLE! He was at Turner acting as an overall consultant and mentor. So all was pretty awesome until about two month into the job, when everyone at the studio received a memo declaring that Warner Bros had just taken over Turner feature animation. Every Turner production was soon shut down. I went back to Cal Arts, but would end up crossing paths with Brad Bird and his crew again when Warner Bros let him make a film called The Iron Giant. Brad set aside 4 spots for Cal Arts kids to work with him on the film, and I was lucky enough to be one of them. (The other 3? Andy Schuhler, Eddie Rosas and Peter Sohn.) I started as an animation in-betweener/assistant, but just a few months later Brad and Tony Fucile gave my friends and I our own sequence to animate in the film! That experience changed my life, and I consider that my first REAL job in animation, and the most incredible, and inspirational learning experience of my career.

Me: You worked as an animator for a few years, but then moved into character design and visual development. What inspired this switch?

S.P.: Well, from the time I was 7 years old I wanted to be an animator. A hand drawn,traditional animator. I had no idea how or if it was even still something you could do, but that was my goal. Then when I was in junior high, a film called Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released, WOW! Then The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King! Traditional animation was back in force, and just in time as I was starting Cal Arts that next year, 1995! But one month into our freshman year, some Cal Arts alumni visited the school to show us a new film they had just made. A computer generated film called, Toy Story. It was phenomenal, but suddenly everything started changing. The art form that I wanted to be involved in (traditional, hand drawn animation) started to become extinct. Studios were shying away from 2D thinking that CG was a sure fire way to draw audiences. But luckily at that time Brad Bird was making one of the last great traditional films of our era, The Iron Giant. I was lucky to have been chosen to be a part of it and honestly it was like a super concentrated dose of traditional animation heaven for everyone involved. I had some incredible mentors on that film, Brad Bird, Tony Fucile, Dean Wellins, Ricardo Curtis, and my eyes were opened to every aspect of this art form in ways I could never have expected. My experience on The Iron Giant inspired me to try new things, and though I was able to work as an animator on many other films over the next several years (both traditionally and CG).

Traditional work was becoming scarcer and I missed drawing. I also loved telling stories, so when I was asked to start designing and developing films, I jumped at the chance. Soon I found myself involved in story development as well. On Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, I was a designer, but the shows creator, Craig McCracken, also allowed me to be a writer on several episodes. Others like Henry Selick utilized my background as an animator, and on Coraline, after working as a designer, he asked me to design the facial animation for the characters in the film. When DreamWorks asked me to join them (in late 2006), They were aware of my varied experience and skill sets, and allowed me to take part in nearly every aspect of the film making process. But my experience as an animator definitely influences everything I still do today. I miss it, but how this art form has changed has lead me on an adventure I could have never dreamed of, allowing me to do things I never knew I was capable of. Its an exciting time, but a challenging one. There is so much more to do in all mediums of the animation art form.

Me: You've worked in both hand-drawn and CG animation. Which do you prefer and why? When it comes time to doodle, do you reach for a pencil and paper or a tablet?

S.P.: Don’t forget stop motion. I am very proud to have been part of some phenomenal stop-mo productions. But I love watching great animation in ANY medium, and the same principles apply to all. But what I personally prefer to DO is traditional animation. I love the tactile, immediate, gestural, graphic statements that you can achieve and experience while animating with a pencil when flipping paper. Then seeing those guttural, graphic statements come to life is just, to me, the most satisfying, and rewarding thing in the world. That is just my personal experience. But I definitely LOVE watching great performances and statements in CG animation and stop motion as well.

When I go to doodle, I pick up a pencil and paper whenever possible. I make a conscious effort to draw more traditionally whenever I can. Yes much of my professional work is eventually finalized on a tablet, but a vast majority of it starts out as traditional drawings.

Me: Of all of the projects that you've worked on thus far, which one(s) were the most fun? Which taught you the most and/or caused you to take a gigantic artistic leap forward?

S.P.: When I was a kid reading The Illusion of Life on the living room floor, I created a fantasy version of what it must have been like to work at Disney back in the day. I didn’t know about all the crazy politics and egos, the labor strikes and creative battles. I just had an idealized version of what the animation industry might be like. But as unrealistic as that fantasy might have been, when I was brought onto The Iron Giant, I came as close to that idealized experience as I have ever been. It was incredible, but it should not have been. The studio (Warner Bros) was closing down around us, the film had a miniscule budget and no time, the films crew was comprised of mostly unknown and relatively inexperienced talent, and yet I have never seen a more unified, excited, passionate production and crew in my entire career. Everyone was so proud to be a part of that film. We were all so motivated by Brad, and the story, and our animation leads. Iron Giant does not have the best technical animation ever done, but it has one of the best stories and more heart than most films in animation or otherwise. I learned and grew more on that film than I could ever explain. I had so much fun.

I really love that Iron Giant anecdote. I totally agree with you that it's one of the best hand-drawn features of all time. And as for not having "the best technical animation ever done," I couldn't care less. And neither could anyone else. It's a GREAT looking film. The first time I talked to Chris Sanders, he brought up A Charlie Brown Christmas, and how even though it's just about as bare-bones as an animated movie can get, EMOTIONALLY, it's perfect. I then likened it to Beauty and the Beast (a film I ADORE), and how during the DVD commentary, the directors repeatedly point out tiny glitches in the animation, but how I'm thinking, 'What are you guys talking about? This is one of my favorite movies of all time! Stop being so critical of yourselves -- you made a F**KING MASTERPIECE!' Chris then turned me around and quietly pointed out that standing behind us was James Baxter (-- the pencil behind Belle!). For the next two weeks, I kept having mini moments of panic where I'd think, 'I sure hope James Baxter knew that I was quoting the DVD commentary when I mentioned Beauty and the Beast's so-called flaws!'

Anyway, this has been my roundabout way of saying that you should be nothing but proud of The Iron Giant. You got to contribute to the creation of a movie that people will still be watching 10, 20, 100 years in the future. I hope you realize how truly amazing that makes your life! :)

And hey, while we're on the topic, what scene did you and the other Cal Arts students animate in The Iron Giant?

Yeah, The Iron Giant is a masterpiece. I am insanely proud to have been a part of it. I could write a novel about my experiences on that production. The technical animation is NEVER what audiences truly remember. And ha, I'm sure James Baxter understood what you were saying if he heard you talking about Beauty and the Beast. He is well aware of the imperfections in that film, and he is also one of the most understanding people I have ever known. You're fine. Also, one of my all time favorite animated films is Pinocchio. Just watch the I've Got No Strings sequence. Not one mouth shape actually hits the correct phrase or consonant, and it could matter less! That character is so alive and believable its crazy! I love that Chris brought up The Charlie Brown Christmas. Perfect example.

So, the sequence that Brad gave the 4 of us scared little newbies was the classroom duck and cover sequence. (Click here to view!) Brad gave us a heartfelt launch, each of us chose a scene, and we got to work...terrified. I animated the entire last scene when Hogarth whisper yells at the boys in class that "It was fifty or sixty feet high, and it only eats metal!", then the other two boys comment on the situation ending in "Yeah we should BOMB it to smithereens if it does." Hogarth, frustrated, returns to his drawing of the giant as the duck and cover song ends the sequence. That was the scene that made me an "official" animator. After that, the four of us animated a bunch of scenes here and there, but that sequence was hand picked and saved for us kids. We were so humbled that Brad and Tony did that for us, and when we asked Brad why he did it, he told us that he remembered what it was like when he was starting out, and how important it is to be given opportunities, and not be talked down to. He knew that we were terrified to be given this responsibility. He even told us, "This is a million dollars boys, don't screw it up!" But because we were scared, he knew we would put our heart into it and not mess around. He also knew we would work as a team! It was an incredible experience.

Me: Do you have any passion projects currently in the works (or a dream project you long to work on)?

S.P.: I have a handful of personal projects that are in various forms of development and finish. None I can mention in detail, but feature films, short films, books, internet content, etc. Someday you’ll see at least some of this stuff.

I can tell you that traditional animation plays a part in some of these things.

Me: What words of wisdom can you share with our readers hoping to make art their life?

S.P.: Observe life and do what you are inspired to do! If you are inspired to do one thing, great. If you are inspired to do many things, then do many things! Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you have to focus on ONE single area of any art form to make it as an artist, or even to BE an artist. You will not know what you are great at, or love, until you have tried it. So TRY IT. Whatever it is, whatever medium or art form, experiment, and find what you love and what you hate. Find your voice. It should be a constant process of discovery to be an artist. If your art looks or feels the same as it did 5, 10, or 20 years ago, then you are not growing. Keep growing. Stay hungry. Try new things. Work at your craft(s) and prepare yourself, because you never know when an opportunity might arise that will require a skill that you poses. If no opportunities arise then keep creating art and making statements on your own anyways! First and foremost, we should all want to be artists because it is something we enjoy doing, and if and when it is not enjoyable, find a new way to express yourself. There are countless art forms, so keep searching and growing.

Me: Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco have repeatedly credited you with being the first person in the Croods crew to come up with the critter-combinations. What caused you to think of this now-iconic idea, and do you remember what the first critter-combo was?

(And for my blog's self-serving BIG EXCLUSIVE: Do you have a scan of that drawing?)

S.P.: What caused me to think of the critter combos was the story itself. Chris and Kirk had always talked about the world being a volatile time between time. All life is still trying to find its way. One way of thinking was that the world was like god threw a temper tantrum. This was why I originally approached even the main "human" characters with that "combo" approach (Part human, part rock. Part rock, part monkey.) So I was already thinking along those lines, but one day Chris and Kirk asked what I would do with the creatures of this world. I told them to give me a few days and I would experiment. I wanted not only to create weird, interesting, and dangerous creatures, but also unexpected visual surprises and reveals. A mix of nature and creature. So I started researching everything I could. Took a trip to the zoo, etc., all the while making doodles and writing lists. I would look at those lists and zoo sketches and online references, combining animals, fruits, fish and plants in my mind. Whatever I thought would serve a part of the story, or could spark a new idea for the story, I would start drawing. The first critter combo I created was the turkey fish. The natural fanned tail of a turkey reminded me of a fish tail, so I decided to play. Here were my first couple explorations followed by my drawing of the final creature you can see in the film today.

How cool is that? The FIRST drawing of the FIRST critter-combo! That's a bit of honest-to-goodness CROODS HISTORY, folks! Thanks so much for sharing it, Shane. And thanks so much for doing the interview!

Crave MORE Prigmore? Visit his website. He's posting more Croods concept art than all of the other Croods crew members combined!

Related: Croods Crew: Margaret Wuller


  1. I did'nt know that The Croods was going to have rhamphorhynchoid pterosaurs.

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