Art director

Don’t care about the style, find your voice


Pixote Hunt’s career in animation spans over 40 years. He has had the opportunity to be a director and artistic director on feature films and short films, but he retains the same enthusiasm for the possibilities of the medium as in his early days.

Pixote hunt

He is now sharing his knowledge with a new generation of artists at CAT Animation, an online school founded by Dave Kuhn and Dave Pruiksma. Hunt recently took the time to sit down with the two Davees to discuss his passion for art direction and why it is such a crucial part of any production.

These days, the art director job seems to be a pretty misunderstood part of the animation process. Many people use the term almost interchangeably with visual development. As Hunt puts it:

I think they used these phrases quite loosely, back and forth. If I were to sit down with them, chances are it is the visual development aspect of cinema that they are talking about. But it’s different from what you can find on Google about flashy paint splashes and derivative design forms that are loosely referred to as art direction.

Some people think that the art direction develops their own style and applies that style, like a template, to whatever project they are on. Hunt disagrees:

The position of artistic director is a great opportunity to reinvent yourself again and again. I think the first thing that comes to my mind every time I get a script is, “Oh my God! – because I don’t know what’s going to happen next, I’m not really sure at first, and it’s so exciting.

"Dreams": personal work of Pixote Hunt
“Dreams”: personal works of art by Pixote Hunt

When asked what he thinks is the job of an art director in animation, Hunt replies:

I believe the job of the art director is to show film leaders what their film could look like. First, we start with the bigger picture, something so big that it doesn’t appear in anyone’s movie.

We are “world builders”: we are building this world to give directors and producers opportunities to feel at home and to get closer and closer to what they want. And finally, we will propose an establishment plan adapted to the film, all harmonious and as if from one hand. But above all, we are “builders of the world”.

As for character design, the world is open. We think of character design like a casting director does, which means, “Here’s who I think might fit these opportunities. Let’s start the conversation by talking about who these characters might be. If we need to change direction or refine the direction in which we are going, we do.

Hunt’s patient and gentle demeanor cannot mask his unbridled exuberance for the art of animation and his chance to work with and learn from legends in the field: Eric Larson, Ted Kierscey, Mel Shaw, Walt Peregoy and Iwao Takamoto. .

Like many artists of his day, Hunt’s first real awareness of animation was television and watching Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Colors (in black and white) at a very young age. Around this time, a neighbor drew a cartoon character for him and he realized that there were real people and artists doing animation. He was thinking:

People can do anything [inanimate] live! With that I was addicted!

A still of "Symphony No.5" in "Fantasy 2000."
An image from “Symphony No. 5”, a footage created by Hunt for Disney’s Fantasy 2000.

Hunt describes a defining moment on his path to knowledge: when he was featured in a clip from 1958 Disneyland educational film 4 artists paint 1 tree. The film shares the process and ideas of four great Disney artists – Marc Davis, Eyvind Earle, Joshua Meador and Walt Peregoy – as they paint the same subject. Hunt says:

I was just amazed at how the voice of an individual artist can express itself, influence a whole body of work and end up on the big screen.

After high school, Hunt studied at the prestigious School of Visual Arts, which led to animation work in New York and eventually Florida. It was while animating short sequences for Disney World that Hunt’s talent came to the attention of Eric Larson, one of Walt’s so-called Nine Old Men, who immediately gifted the young artist the opportunity to train with him at Disney Animation Studios in California. .

Hunt jumped on the offer and, during those months of his training, enjoyed almost exclusive access to Larson and other prominent artists at the studio. After being successfully promoted to intern, Hunt worked as an effects animator at Disney for almost six years.

"Yellow forest": personal work of Pixote Hunt
“Yellow Forest”: personal work of Pixote Hunt

But, in the end, it was his passion for the fundamental artistic and conceptual aspects of production that led the young artist to move to Hanna-Barbera, where he was able to develop greater skills in the field of visual development. with renowned designers Iwao Takamoto and Walt Peregoy (whose work in 4 artists paint 1 tree had inspired him in his youth). Said Hunt:

And that was really the start of this journey into the world of art direction for me. I had the privilege of working with Peregoy (famous for, among other things, the dramatic style of the 1961 One hundred and one dalmatians), and gain his insight into color and design, and even his life and professional philosophy, for the next 30 years, until the end of his life.

At Hanna-Barbera, Hunt served as director and artistic director of the feature film’s animated sequences. The Pagemaster. Subsequently, he returned to Disney Feature Animation, where he worked as an art director for Rescuers from below. He was then director and artistic director of one of the most abstract pieces produced at Disney, the segment of Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5” in Fantasy 2000 (image above), and later the haunting short film “One by One” for a future non-produced version of Fancy.

Photos of "One by one," a Disney short film released in 2004
Images of “One by One”, a Disney short film released in 2004

About his role at CAT Animation, Hunt says:

This art direction course that I will be teaching for CAT Animation this summer semester is important to me, personally, as I have never experienced such a course before. This is an opportunity for the students to see the big picture.

What I hope students will take away from my class is, first of all, to just experiment and remember that this is an art form. It’s their voice. It’s their contribution to what we love, what I love so much about this wonderful art of animation. It’s not just a title: it’s a reality.

They will learn not to focus on how they can find “their” style. I’m proud to say that I have no style, and I will probably never have a style. I feel that because I believe for the film and the artistic direction – whenever you have the chance to develop a film – the experience should be wonderfully different from the last.

So if I’m known as the person who makes a particular shape of a particular tree, that’s kind of it. A note. Ended. What if your next opportunity isn’t in the shape of a tree, rock, or building? Then, as an art director, you rely on another mechanical means to make it happen.

So, rather than finding their style, I hope my students learn to find and cultivate their voice, this is how they see the world differently from the person next to them. Then, whatever story is presented to them, the skilled artist can see the world differently than the person next to them. And it’s as close to a style as I can hope for any artist, as opposed to a formula.

The next session at CAT Animation starts in June. To learn more about CAT Animation personal mentoring courses and offerings, visit the official school website.

CAT Animation