Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Croods Crew: Carter Goodrich

Character designer Carter Goodrich has been working in the animation industry for eighteen years. Stupid me only discovered him recently, though, via Noela Hueso's The Art of The Croods. His drawings in that book blew me away. I was instantly a fan. Enjoy, if you will, this embarrassingly effusive excerpt from my review:

Carter Goodrich seems to work mostly in pencil. Scribbling layer upon layer of loose, lyrical lines, Goodrich creates gloriously grotesque caricatures teeming with body hair and a Pigpen-like aura of filth. His work is textbook timeless. It wouldn't look out of place in a 1960's underground comic, yet it could also be featured in a 2023 exhibition of experimental animation. Think of the most metal kid in your junior high school. Give him the drawing ability of Da Vinci circa The Vitruvian Man. Now let him scrawl all over your math book for the duration of detention. The end result would look something like Goodrich's deliriously devilish doodles.

Yeah, I kinda loved what dude was doing. In fact, I loved it so much I immediately began searching the net for more of Goodrich's work. Lucky for me, there was TONS. Turns out, he'd done character designs for everything from Shrek to Despicable Me to Brave. When I found out Goodrich had his own website, I was in HEAVEN. Not only did it provide me with lots of great, grimy art, it gave me a way to ask him for an interview.

Me: Imagine I'm NOT the last animation fan in the world to discover you and your wonderful work. (Just IMAGINE!) Would you please tell me a bit of your background? Where did you grow up? Was your family full of artists, or were you the sole scribbler?

Carter Goodrich: I grew up in Washington DC. My father was a painter, and his two closest friends were painters too. It was as though I had three fathers, and they were all artists. Couldn't ask for a better childhood. I used to draw on everything I could get my hands on. The cardboard that was slipped inside shirts that came back from the dry cleaner was my most readily available drawing paper. My father had a great studio and I loved just hanging out in it. The smell of oil paint and turpentine. All the wonderful art books. But most of all, the quiet atmosphere of invention and creation.

Me: When did you first become 'serious' about art? Not so much, 'When did you start wearing berets and practicing your signature?,' 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?

C.G.: I was obsessed with drawing from day one. It was, to me, this incredible device that could supply me with anything I wanted. Anything I could dream up. If I wanted a castle, I could draw a castle. If I wanted a motorcycle, I could draw a motorcycle. The images helped grow my imagination, and my imagination helped grow the images. When I was in junior high school, I was given an opportunity to study under the internationally renowned sculptor, Constantine Seferlis. He was a wonderful man, and a tremendous artist. He was uncomfortable receiving payment, so I had to secretly slip the envelope onto his desk. Later on I attended RISD, and studied illustration. It was a lot of fun, but quite frankly I'm not sure that I believe in art school. It instills confidence, I suppose, and puts young artistic students in a community of like minded souls, but beyond that I think it's a waste of money.

Me: Growing up, who were some of your artistic inspirations?

C.G.: Mostly the great illustrators N.C. Wyeth, Arthur Rackham, and Gustaf Tenggren. I loved having stories they'd illustrated read to me by my father. He'd allow me to study their images, and they were like movies to me. They brought the stories to life and beyond. They worked my own imagination in a way that today's explosion of digital this and digital that, can't. By that I mean, nothing is left to the imagination anymore. Nothing is asked of the viewer.

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

C.G.: Unexpected. I never had any dreams about working in animation. I was a freelance editorial illustrator, working in NYC, looking forward to the day I might be able to paint for myself. I didn't know anything about the visual development part of the animation process until I was called by DreamWorks to work on Prince Of Egypt.

Me: When most folks think, "I wanna work in animation," they're thinking of...well, ANIMATING. What made you decide to become a visual development artist/character designer instead? 

C.G.: That's what I was asked to do when I got that first call. Design characters. It was really just an extension of what I was already doing for magazines and books. I came out to LA for a while and worked on that picture, with no intention of staying on or continuing to work in animation. As things turned out, I made a lot of friends, and one project led to another, and before I knew it I was buying a house out here and making character design the lion's share of my work.

Me: Out of all of the movies 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?

C.G.: That's hard to answer. Every project has its merits. I think it's really been the people that I've worked with; the other artists that have taught me so much. I began to think in much more workable three dimensional terms. Like an engineer. I've learned a lot from having worked with Carlos Grangel and Nico Marlet. Not only have they become great friends of mine, but they've taught me a great deal, both in terms of design and the importance of maintaining a genuine passion for what really matters; art over commerce.

Me: Your work is immediately identifiable and wholly your own. No traces of the tried and true 'Pixar style' or the 'DreamWorks face' are apparent in your character designs, yet both of these companies have called upon you repeatedly to help them find the look of their characters. What do you think it is about your work that keeps them coming back for more?

C.G.: I think every director wants to find a new look for the world they're creating. There are an infinite number of different ways to design characters. So much ground yet to be broken. To rehash old designs seems like a waste of time. Whatever it is they see in my work has kept me in the game, which I'm extremely grateful for. My good friend Sandy Rabins, who was producing Open Season when I was working on it, told me that I "designed characters from the inside out". I like that. What a tremendous compliment. I'd like to think it's true.

Me: In addition to the TWELVE major motion pictures you've worked on(!), you've done SIX kids' books(!!) and SEVENTEEN covers for The New Yorker(!!!). It almost scares me to ask this, you have any other passion projects currently in the works?

C.G.: Right now I'm working on another book with Simon & Schuster called We Forgot Brock! I also just finished the third book in the series about the two dogs, Zorro and Mister Bud, called Mister Bud Wears The Cone. I have two more manuscripts I'm working on, and right now I'm putting together work for a show in Paris. I'd love to be involved with creating a story for either a short or feature length animated movie.

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

C.G.: Allow your work to take you somewhere unplanned. Don't box yourself in with specific goals.

Me: Would you mind sharing one unforgettable moment of magic that you experienced while working on The Croods?

C.G.: I remember there was this absolutely beautiful young lady who walked by my table while I was having coffee at DreamWorks. She was heartbreakingly lovely. The finest design in the world is a woman. What other design can you never get enough of?

Crave more of Carter Goodrich's deliriously devilish doodles? Click here

Related: Croods Crew: Margaret Wuller, Shane Prigmore & Steven MacLeod


  1. THANK YOU for somehow getting an interview with Mr. Goodrich and sharing it with us!!! I admire his work so much and hearing all of his thoughts like this was a real treat. :)

    1. It was my pleasure! I think he's pretty amazing, too. :)