Thursday, November 03, 2005


Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?

I was born in Romania, moved to the states when I was 1. Later, when I was 19 I went to the academy of art in SF (bay area). Left school after 2 years and moved down to LA to work for WB animation doing vis-dev, character design, and story. Currently I’m up in Portland OR, working at LAIKA studios on Henry Selick’s film CORALINE, writing and drawing my book PIGTALE and developing a show/film at Disney.

How do you go about designing a character, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?

I hate to be redundant, but it all comes down to STORY. First I try and find out why I’m drawing the character, so I look at the story/bio I’m given or write myself. I have to know who the character is, or how I like to call it “char-ACTOR”, before I can start putting stuff down on paper. You really have to become an actor and bring that design/character to life. Some character designers only focus on design, not character, or char-actor. Its really important to know the difference so the characters don’t become lifeless and flat. you have to know what the character is feeling and thinking when designing, and who the character is, his history, his motivations, his passions, fears, relationships, etc.. Once you know that, it should pretty much solve all the design, gesture, attitude, and expression problems that should arise and all face as designers. Anyway, it sounds more complicated than it actually is. Just KNOW who the character is, that’s the key. That’s what makes it believable.
The way I work is I read a script or a bio and then start putting down shapes based on a lot of research and what I feel will capture the character best. Each shape has its own emotional value and property so I try and use them accordingly. What I do is explore. That goes on for sometime, until I’m happy with the FEELING I get from the design, until it feels like I’ve captured the character in the shapes being used. Then I put that character into gesture or “attitude” drawings and just draw out a few model sheets that capture the essence and expression of the character. After that I go ahead and tone, shade, and color it.

What do you think really helps you out in designing a character?

Research, practice, study, and just doing it day in day out. there really is no secret, just a lot of freakin work.
Study life, film, books, art, even music can convey a character.

From your own experience and maybe from some people that you know, what should we put in our portfolio and what should we not?

Put in what you want you want to be doing. if you put in storyboards, that means you want story. If you put in characters, that’s means character design. Make it easy for the person hiring you. It’s hard to be a “jack of all trades” off the bat, but once you’re in the studio, you can explore other departments. But first impression is key. Don’t be bad at everything, be good at one thing, then explore.
Oh yeah, make sure ALL the pages are either vertically or horizontally placed, NOT BOTH. There’s nothing worse than having to keep flipping the portfolio back and forth to see it. Some directors/producers won’t even look at it if its not presentable. Remember, these people don’t have all the time in the world, and they look at 300 other portfolios that same day, you want to make it AS EASY AS POSSIBLE TO READ.

What are some of the things that you have worked on? (Books, Movies, Games, Comics)

Umm, lets see. Legion os superheroes, Jackie Chan, Juniper Lee, Moongirl, Pink, Zeta, Pigtale, Hellboy, and now Coraline.

Is there a character design you have done that you are most proud of?

Well, no, not really I look forward not backward, but if I had to pick one, I guess it would be my own work on PIGTALE. Cause its all me. No one telling me it should be this way or that way, or “give him an IPOD and make him hip and hop and upbeat” or any of that crap. No studio cuffs’.

What are you working on now? (If you can tell us)

Coraline, Pigtale, some book development (childrens) and developing a show/film for Disney.

Where is the place you would like to work if you had a choice?

But if it had to be a studio, it would be LAKIA, which is where I’m at now. PIXAR would be a blast too, I assume.

Who do you think are the top character designers out there?

Tom Oreb, Ronald Searle, Provensens, Mary Blair, nine old men, Bill Peet, Hirschfeld, Sokol, Sasek, Chuck Jones and many others.
Which all influenced the current great designers of today, like Nico, Carlos Grangel, Craig Kellman , Joe Moeshier, Shannon Tindle, Tony, Ricky, etc. there’s a lot.

How do you go about coloring the character, what type of tools or media do you use?

I try and think about the emotional value of the color I’m using, the feeling I’m trying to convey. Again, its all about serving the story.
I use a lot of different things depending on what works for the character. But the usual suspects are, ball-point pen, pencil, markers, gouache, color pencils, and occasionally, digital. I’m kind of an analog guy.

What type of things do you love to draw, and why?

Um, not sure, I’m kind of all over the map. I like figures, creatures, machines, old vintage stuff, 50’s design. I really like drawing kids too. I don’t know, just whatever.
why? Well, cause it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Makes me smile, gotta’ have that. If you’re not having fun, its not worth it.

What part of designing a character is most fun and easy, and what is most hard?

Fun & Easy= drawing it.
Hard= knowing it. (figuring out who the character is)

What are some of your favorite character designs and least favorite, which you have seen?

Right now I’m into the stuff Carlos did for Corpse Bride.
Least fav’? I don’t know, whatever doesn’t work as intended I guess. Id say that LOONATICS stuff takes the cake for most “I want to make you BARF” award.

What inspired you to become a Character Designer?

Not sure how to answer that, but I guess just the love of designing a character from scratch is pretty neat. In the end, it’s the characters we remember from great stories (movies, books etc), so to have the responsibility of designing one that will hopefully last the test of time is a pretty cool gig to have, and challenging.

What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?

Gosh, so much, I can’t really say. Just the overall vibe when you work with others, it’s like friendly competition. All pushing us to do our best work, or be laughed at. No, JK.
I’ve learned a lot from Craig Kellman, and Joe Moshier. They gave me some tips in my younger days, all of which I’ve stated above. I’ve never had the luxury of a great mentor, or working under someone great. So I kind of just pick up here and there on my own and others as I go.

What wisdom could you give us, about being a character designer? Do you have any tips you could give?

1: To not worry, there will ALWAYS be someone better than you. just be happy and have fun.
2: to find the people better than you, and break their wrists. Haha, JK!
No, seriously,
Just make sure you understand WHY you are drawing a character, that will always tell you HOW to draw it.

If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted? (Email, Webpage)


Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbook, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?

PIGTALE is for sale in any local comicshop nationwide and in Canada from IMAGE comics. I have an art sketch book coming out in NOV-DEC
You can get it through bookstores, comic shops and

Thanks for the interview!