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Interview with Ben Balistreri

November 8th, 2006

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I had the fortunate opportunity to speak with Ben Balistreri, a very talented artist who has quite a bit of experience in the biz. the other day… here’s what he had to say…
-Mike Milo

I.) Who are you and where are you from?

Ben Balistreri. I was born in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and I’m pretty good at Guitar Hero.

II.) What have you worked on? What are you working on now?

I worked for 6 years as a character designer at Disney TV, mostly on direct to videos. (”Little Mermaid 2″, “Lady and the Tramp 2″, “Cinderella 2″, “Lion King 1 and 1/2″, as well as the “Tarzan” TV series and some others.) I worked a little on the “Balto” video sequels at Universal. I spent 4 years at Nickelodeon as a storyboard artist and character designer on “Danny Phantom” as well as a production designer on a pilot called “Crash Nebula.” (It ended up airing as a “Fairly Odd-Parents” episode.) I worked a little at Laika in Portland, designing on their first CG feature, “Jack and Ben”. I’m currently the character design supervisor on “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” at Cartoon Network.

III.) How did you get into the business?
I went to the University of Arizona as an illustration major before transferring to Cal Arts. Joe Barruso and Doug Murphy (Disney TV Producers at the time,) saw my portfolio at the end of the year job fair and hired me to work on “Little Mermaid 2″. During that schooling I spent a great deal of time drawing at the zoo, the mall, figure drawing classes, as well as studying and learning from any great designers and artists I had access to. I had some amazing teachers who helped me ALOT but I still think I learned the most on my daily trips to the Tucson Zoo while I was trying to get accepted to Cal Arts.

IV.) Do you have any personal projects your working on?
I’m in the process of finishing a 64 page full color graphic novel called “Seaweed”. I’ve been working on it for about 4 years and I finally have it all drawn with about 20 pages fully inked and colored. I’m going to self publish it, hopefully by the summer of 2007.

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V.) Why do you do what you do? Passion? Talent? Making people laugh?
I wish it was for something as altruistic as “making people laugh”, but honestly I just love animation and want to play a part in making it. Personal fulfillment I guess would be the answer. I’d leave in a second, however, if I had the body and talent to play Middle Linebacker for the Packers.

VI.) Where do you see the business (whatever that may be to you) in 10 years? Where do you see yourself?
Well with the overload of talking animal CG films this year, I would hope we’ll start seeing some new types of films being done. I would guess that either most of these studios are going out of business or we’re going to see an amazing diversity of pictures come out. I hope its the latter, I know the visual and story talent is there to accomplish some amazing films. (If they get the opportunity to show it.) It seems like it’s very slowly becoming more socially acceptable for adults to enjoy animation without hiding behind the excuse of just bringing their kids to see it. Hopefully this trend will really grow and we’ll get some great films to represent that interest. Personally I would love to see more and more artists publishing their story and art ideas outside a studio. Technology has improved so that it’s feasible to self-publish a full color comic , sketchbook, or art book and not have to relinquish any control at all. There are already a lot of great sketchbooks and other ideas being done, (most of which are more inspiring to me than any of the big budget CG films released this year,) Check out Mark Andrews, “Colossus” for one such example. I would love to see that turned into an animated film! As far as myself, I’m in the process of completing my first story and in 10 years I should have the second and hopefully third done as well. I wouldn’t mind selling my own show but I’m also having so much fun working on my own project that if I could make a living just doing that, then I would be thrilled.
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VII.)What/who are your influences?
a.) books? Any French or Belgian BD’s by Franquin, Uderzo, Conrad, Morris, Bodart, Alary, Janry, Gazzotti, Guarnido, Leturgie. In American Comics I love John Byrne, Art Adams, and especially Walt Simonson. I read so many comic books every week that I don’t really have time for other books.

b.)films? I love all of the classic Disney films. If I had to pick a few favorites I’d go with Jungle Book, Peter Pan, 101 Dalmatians, and Lady and the Tramp. As far as newer animated films I loved Finding Nemo, the Incredibles, Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast. Beauty and the Beast came out when I was a freshman at UofA and really solidified my desire to go into the animation industry.
As far as live action films I really get inspired watching Twin Peaks, (the TV series.) It always puts me in a great mood to work. Some of my favorite movies include Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Fellowship of the Ring, Good the Bad and the Ugly, Muppet Movie, Dark Crystal, Ghost Busters, Animal House, Blues Brothers, Fisher King, 12 Monkeys, the Godfather (I still like part 1 the best), Blade Runner, Braveheart, and I love watching Predator.
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c.) art? My favorite painter is John Gilroy. He did all the classic ads for Guinness. They have some of his original water colors and sketches at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin that are Amazing! I love a lot of classic Illustrators like NC Wyeth, Howard Pyle, and JC Leyendecker. I get influenced from Alphonse Mucha, Beatrix Potter, Edward Gorey, and Bill Watterson.

VIII.) What kinds of tools do you use? special Pencils? paper? computer? brushes? desk? Be as specific as you can.
I like to draw with col-erase pencils, (specifically light blue, orange, purple, and carmine red.) I ink with Faber- Castell PITT artist pens, (brush and superfine sizes.) I generally just draw on animation paper but I did my comic on Strathmore 500 Series Bristol Board, (plate finish). I’ve recently bought a Wacom Cintiq screen to draw on and do the color on my comic with. I’m using Photoshop for that.

IX.) Any vents on the industry as a whole? Any praises?
It’s frustrating to see the excessive amount of talent in this industry and the lack of it being used. I hate seeing horrible draftsmanship being misinterpreted as a “new style.” You can go on any number of hundreds of blogs and see better art than in most shows on TV right now. That being said, there is a lot of really inspiring art being done out there right now. I love the Art of Open Season book and the look of that movie was great. I love looking at other artists blogs and websites and only hope more artists put up their work. I think Foster’s is the best animated show on TV right now and getting a chance to follow the style set up by Craig McCracken and all the other amazing artists that have worked on making that show so great is pretty cool!

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X.) If you could change the way the business works and is run how would you do it?
I would completely eliminate focus test groups. I would put more seasoned artists in charge of development or at least people who really love animation and not just people who somehow fall into the job. And since I’m just dreaming I’d eliminate the “standards and practices” role in animation, and have cartoons be in complete control of cartoonists, but that’s just silly to think about. Thanks so much for interviewing me and making me feel like a big shot!
You can see my work at my blog

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This was a great interview, Ben is sooo super talented it’s cool to hear some of his thoughts about the industry!

 

Wow, GREAT interview…
I LOVE Ben’s answer to the last question, about what he’d change in the industry…
very inspiring!
-Dagan M.

http://www.daganm.blogspot.com

 

Yeah he’s quite and inspiration to us all. Glad you dug the interview! I also especially liked his last answer as well, having suffered under the reign of Focus Groups.

 
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