What follows is a slightly edited conversation I had with Drew Christie about how he created our latest Temple Grandin episode.
Visually-speaking, this is probably my favorite episode of the series. Looking at some of your other work, there seems to be some some folk art/americana influences – some of your illustrations almost seem like woodcut engravings. What were your influences as you were developing your style and sense of aesthetics?
Thanks! I used to make woodcuts and linocuts, but I just haven’t in the past few years. I am definitely inspired by the woodcut illustrations of Rockwell Kent, especially his illustrations for Moby Dick. If you haven’t seen this work you must google it this second!
I have also, and continue to be, deeply inspired by Edward Gorey. His illustration style to me is so perfect, it has so much texture and mood to it, while the style is funny. He created such a well crafted world.
I am much more inspired by aural and sculptural things right now than any art or illustration or photography.
What is inspiring you right now?
Blues singer and guitarist Bukka White. English spoonmaker Nic Webb. I love carving wood spoons by hand and his work is really very inspiring.
Scottish folk-baroque guitarist and singer Bert Jansch. Also, the West African gourd harp, the kora. Especially the playing of Ballake Sissoko.
What attracted you to this particular episode? Did you have a previous interest in Temple Grandin?
I did… Years ago, my wife Amanda and I watched all the episodes of Errol Morris’ show First Person. It’s a fantastic series that’s no longer on, bit each episode is a documentary about a really unique, brilliant person. One of them, maybe our favorite, was about Temple.
First off, I loved her name. Names and titles are extremely important. Second, I was very much inspired by her not “overcoming” her autism, but actually using it to her advantage to build things and design things that only someone with autism could do. I think that is the most powerful concept: conditions that may seem at first glance like a detriment, but they can very often be a positive thing.
For me, the worst part of every project is the beginning. I have an intense fear of the blank page! So I always like to ask people how or where they get started when faced with a new project. Some folks like to compile lots of research, some like to dive right in, others have little rituals to get them going…what was your starting point for this episode?
Oh no, I always hear writers say they fear the blank page. I love the blank page! It’s all potential–it’s usually downhill from there. The beginning is almost always my favorite part of a project (or the proto-beginning). I see something very, very cool in my head and I can’t wait to get the world created. Inevitably, it never turns out how great I saw it in my head, so as the project goes on, it tends to be a little discouraging, but yes, I do a LOT of research. Always, research leads to ideas. I also usually decide on a visual influence for the piece and everything flows from that. So that it feels like a self contained world, with it’s own laws and rules. But, yes, research or jump right in–but never, ever, over-think or analyze anything. That leads to an excuse to second guess, which leads to nothing happening.
Go with instinct always, never analyze. There is no point to analyzing anything, it does nothing for anybody.
I came up with a bunch of style frames that were very much inspired by the landscape of the front range of Colorado, where Temple works at CSU in Fort Collins. That’s also where my wife is from, so I know it pretty well. It’s wide open. But after that, I had to go to Sundance with some films and my assistant animator Dane Herforth and another illustrator that works for me, Gabe Adams, basically made the animation together. We also had Jesse Lortz, an intern from The Evergreen State College was working with us to help color art. So it was quite a team effort.
Was there any scene or passage that you really enjoyed animating?
I really like the gears in the head in the beginning…
But I always love things inside of other things!
Drew Christie previously worked with Quoted Studios on this video short of Charles Bukowski for HarperCollins. His hand-made imagery has appeared far and wide in places like The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and The Atlantic, and Juxtapoz. He lives in Seattle