5 Questions for Nicolas Weis

We have with us concept artist Nicolas Weis (website | facebook | twitter) for a quick 5 questions. He has created art for several animated films, such as How to Train Your Dragon and The Croods.

Qn1. How about a little introduction about yourself?

The reply for this question comes from the Nicolas Weis' blog

I was born in 1977 in the outskirts of Paris where I spent the first 25 years of my life. I was fortunate enough to discover role-playing games pretty early and I am proud to say that it is probably what helped me the most to develop my imagination and allowed me to meet a lot of interesting and original people.

Then when I was 20 I decided to learn how to draw. For real.

I graduated from the Ecole du Louvre where I studied History of Art and majored in Archaeology. Then I decided to become an artist and learn to draw. Unfortunately, the French art schools are particularly narrow-minded therefore it was really hard to find the curriculum I was looking for. After a year in the Atelier de Sèvres preparatory workshop I joined ENSAD but a year and a half later I realized this was not what I was looking for so I moved to ESAG Penninghen where I graduated with a Masters degree in graphic Arts. As much as I learnt in this excellent school, the place where I was really taught what I use on a daily basis in my professional life, is the studio of Yannick Francois.

After graduating from ESAG, I was an illustrator for two years and also taught drawing at Créapole and the Atelier 1845. In 2005 I had a solo exhibition at the Thomas-Henry museum in Cherbourg (Normandy). Right after, I left to spend a year in Cleveland, Ohio. A series of unexpected and lucky events led me to stay in this great country where I work today in the animation industry.

Qn2. How did you actually get in to the animation industry?

I had been living in the United States for a year and came to visit a friend in Los Angeles. She worked for Sony and her boyfreind was at DreamWorks, so I had the chance to visit both studios. To say the least it completely blew my mind. Basically, I was discovering my dream job without knowing it existed a few days ago. It might seem silly but I did not realize everything had to be designed in those movies.

I was an illustrator at the time and I decided to get into animation, with the help of my friends. They told me that they thought I could make it if I reshaped my portfolio into something geared toward this new medium. It was a pretty long shot since there was no guarantee it would ever bring anything concrete. I worked on this new portfolio for over a year. The last four months I worked 19 hours a day. But it paid off, thanks to all this sweat and my friends' patient advice and support, I finally found a job at Imagi in February 2008 on the feature animated movie Astroboy.

I was lucky at the time that my Visa situation in the US allowed me to work. It is something you don't realize immediately as a foreigner trying to find a job in the industry but, on top of the huge amount of work you have to do on your craft, you also have to deal with obtaining a work Visa. After a 6 months contract at Imagi, I was hired by DreamWorks where I spent a little more than four years working on some very exciting movies such as How to Train Your Dragon 1 and 2, The Croods and a few undisclosed projects. I am now working freelance for the animation and video game industry.

3. How is it like working in the animation industry?

Working on an animated movie's visual development is an amazing experience.

Being part of a team that builds a world to support a story is extremely fun, challenging, rewarding. Plus you have the opportunity to meet talented people from all around the world, every one of them with their own language, experience and sensibility.

Of course there is also the political game inherent to such a big business, maybe even more because it is the entertainment industry. It can sometimes be annoying but overall it is an amazing job and I try to remember every day how privileged I am to be able to draw for a living, something I had a hard time to imagine when I was younger.

4. Can you talk about your favorite piece of personal work, or a memorable project?

I did this painting right when The Croods was released. During production, the directors wanted us to explore some camera angles for the jungle portion and I had this idea of a semi underwater shot that would show that the immersed portion of the Jungle was a world in itself.

I did this rough pencil drawing and forgot about it. Two years later, as I was prepping up for putting some stuff on my blog after the movie release, I stumbled upon it and decided to do a quick color pass. Everything came very quickly, easily (I put 12-15hours in it), just like the image was painting itself, perfectly capturing the vision I had for this area.

5. Which other artist or creator should we feature?

Well, that's a tricky one. There is so much talent around that come up with very impressive images that it is very hard to pick. May be I am going to point at two artists I just discovered and whose universes really tickle me : Jake Wyatt and Mael Gourmelen. And when you ever need a little eye candy, you can take a look at Franquin or Toppi's images, which is something I do regularly.

Above's a look into Nicolas Wei's sketchbook and below is a four part video of The Croods sketchbook


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