Where did you grow up and when did you decide to become an artist?
I was born 1974 in former West-Berlin, Germany. I grew up in a divided city/country in the middle of the "Cold War". Actually as a child I was not really aware of this fact. All I knew was that the city was surrounded by a wall and that there was another part of Berlin and Germany behind that wall. Somehow it had a "mystical" aspect to me. Politics and the menacing background were far of my imagination and understanding. A lot of US, French and British military and families were based in West-Berlin. I still remember that I was fascinated by those big american cars and foreign languages. US, French and British culture had a great influence on the city and on me. I was a little boy that was hooked up by all these great movies of that time. "Superman", the original "Star Wars" Trilogy, "E.T.", "The Dark Crystal", "Asterix", "The Gremlins", "The Secret of Nimh" and so on. The toys and merchandise of these movies fulfilled a little boys dream. New or classic Disney movies came out during Christmas time. Since I was born in December, I can vividly remember that my parents took me to the movies on my birthdays and we were watching the newest Disney animated movie or even a classic like "Snow White" or "101 Dalmatians". The combination of birthday, Christmas and a Disney movie was very special and enchanting.
Besides a few Disney, Tex Avery or Hanna Barbera TV-shorts, I could discover some really nice Czech, Russian or Polish animated series such as "Bolek and Lolek", "The little Mole" or the Russian version of "Winnie, The Pooh" directed by Fyodor Khitruk. The animation was limited but full of character and poetry. The wonderful looks were extremely graphic and stylized. My elder sisters and me had a lot of audiobook records at home. We were listening to those fairy tails and adventure stories over and over again. I really enjoyed drawing scenes of those stories or even inventing new ones. Unconsciously I already linked story with drawing.
At an age of maybe 10 / 12 years I got interested in how movies were made. Especially the "magic" of special effects called my attention. Unfortunately there was very little information to be found. Short articles in some German movie magazines was the only thing that I could get. I treasured these articles. All these things fed my imagination. But I didn't really consider it as a possible career yet.
As a teenager I somehow lost that interest a bit. Drawing became a very loose hobby, something I liked to do once in a while. Until that evening (already 25 years ago) when my friends and I wanted to go to the movies. For a lark we decided to watch Disney's brand-new "Beauty and the Beast". Not really a movie that a group of half-grown-ups would watch. We gave it a try. Little did I know that this evening would change my life. At that time I haven't watched an animated movie for quite awhile. I was blown away by the visuals especially by the character animation. These were not only drawings that moved from A to B, these were believable characters. After that evening my love for character animation was born or, let´s say, recovered. I felt that "magic" again that I had when I was a kid watching animated features on my birthday. I knew that I wanted to become an Animator!
Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?
After watching "Beauty and the Beast" I started to find out as much as I could about the art of animation. There was no Internet and it was really hard to get information about this fantastic art form. However, I was still in high school and in my spare time I tried to teach myself as good as I could. I mainly designed my own characters and analysed the classic Disney and Asterix characters. At that point I had no idea about the 9 Old Men, Illusion of Life and the Principles of Animation. I just drew a lot. There was no artist in my family, so I needed to find someone who could give me feedback on my sketches and designs. I told my art teacher at school about my interest in animation and he tried to give me some feedback and advices which were very helpful. His "academic drawing point of view" showed me that I really needed to learn the fundamentals of anatomy and perspective. All that happened when the Wall came down and Germany was about to be reunited. It was a really intensive time, personally and globally.
One day a teacher at school gave me a brochure about the universities in and around Berlin. By accident and surprise I found out that the University for Film and Television "HFF Konrad Wolf" in Potsdam (a city next to Berlin) offered a classical animation program. BINGO! Things slowly took shape. After high school and civilian service I could finally apply for the animation program at HFF. I had never done a portfolio before in my live. That "monster-thing" of portfolio had the size of a fridge (...and I guess is was even heavier than that). It was full of character designs inspired by classical music such as "The Planets" by Gustav Holst, illustrations and classical pencil drawings of statues that I drew at museums ( I didn't attend any life drawing classes at that time). I even submitted my very first clumsy animation tests. It was all self-taught stuff. While I was waiting for their respond, I got an internship at HAHN FILM in Berlin. Hahn Film was one of the biggest and internationally recognized animation studios in Germany. There I got the first contact with the professional world of animation. A few weeks later, the university accepted me and I could start my animation studies with 8 other youngsters which should eventually became very good fellows within the next 5 years.
The time at university was one of the best of my life. Everything was so new and interesting. We were drawing A LOT. Classical animation exercises, stop motion, experimental animation, life drawing session, drawing and analysing animals and their movement at the zoo, learning about the history of animation and film history in general. We were trained in developing our own short film projects from story development, storyboard till design and editing. A whole new universe was spread out in front of my eyes. Sometimes I spend almost 24/7 at the university. Within more than 5 years I produced 2 shorts ( in color and printed on 35mm film) and countless pencil tests etc. I've not only learned from my teachers and co-students but also from watching entire animated feature films on VHS frame by frame. Priceless times! In 1999 I had the unforgettable chance to attend a 2 weeks summer internship at the Walt Disney Feature Animation Studios in Paris, France. The studio has just finished the work on TARZAN for which the Paris crew not only took care of the title character supervised by Glen Keane but also of many other characters, layouts and background paintings. The studio was packed with amazing artwork.
My assignment was the animation of a short dialogue scene with the fox character ROBIN HOOD. Under the mentorship of animator Borja Montoro, I was trying to get the character - somehow- under control - which wasn't easy at all. The design is beautiful yet quite complicated to draw. Actually I had to face a lot of drawing issues, not to mention the animation difficulties. Borja gave me great guidance and notes, which I still keep together with the animation test until today. He showed me the importance of thumbnailing, the planing ot the acting and above all: to be patient. Actually after those 2 weeks I even realized more than ever that animation is one of the most complex art forms...and I had just seen the peak of the iceberg. With all these impressions I came back to university and developed my diploma short film which eventually took me more than 2,5 years in the making. You can watch it HERE. This short film landed me a position as Lead Clean-Up Artist on the Spanish 2D feature film "EL CID - The Legend" produced by former Filmax Animation. It was a real roller-coaster for me. Doing professional Clean-Up showed me what it takes to do a solid and appealing line drawing that doesn't loose the spirit of the original animator's rough sketch. Quite a tough yet fascinating task. All my colleagues helped me to challenge it with patience, hard work and a lot of fun.
I could tell you many other stories but let me put a long story short: I am still developing my skills, every day. The way is to master your skills and discover new ones. And I am convinced that it will never end.
Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?
My family and friends always encouraged and supported me in my artistic life - and they still do. In the beginning my parents were not really sure if this path would be the right one. But they never stopped me. They have seen my enthusiasm and passion and that I could finally make a living out of it. I am really grateful!
What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics etc.. ) ?
My childhood was heavily influenced by the movies of George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Don Bluth and Ron Howard. I was a big fan of "Star Wars" and "Masters of the Universe" toys. Everything that had this kind of fantasy, fairytale magic was right up my alley. I also loved the already mentioned Czech, Russian or Polish animated series and the "Tom & Jerry" shorts. As far as comics are concerned, I read a lot of "Superman", "Batman" as well as "Asterix" Comics. Albert Uderzo is still one of those artists, that I really admire.
Did you have a favourite subject to draw when you were a child and do you still have one today? If you do, what makes it so special?
If I look retrospectively at it, I was always drawing characters rather than environments. Doesn't matter if it is live action, animation, comic, illustration or novels, most of the time a character is "taking your hand" and let you experience his / her story. I think this is the reason why I always loved to draw characters. These can be humans, animals, creatures... whatever you can imagine. But I can still remember the time when I was really keen on trying to draw almost photorealistic still life. I was maybe 14 / 15 years old. Today I really enjoy the combination of realism and stylization. In the future I would love to explore a more graphic, flat, almost abstract approach. So, there are still a few paths and subjects waiting to be discovered.
From the initial client idea to the final work: what goes through your mind when you are designing and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?
Usually it all starts with excitement that turns quickly into a kind of "stage-fright". Metaphorically speaking it is like entering a new "stage", a blank sheet of paper where I have to "perform", design the character. After the first nerviness has cooled down, I am going through the briefing again in order to check if I would need further informations from the client or not. For me it is essential to get as much input from the client as possible. I need to understand his/her expectations. Does the client have a clear vision of the character and the style? Is the client familiar with the process of designing? Is he able to handle rough sketches? Etc, etc... Once I got all the necessary information, the research process starts. Research should never be underrated. It helps me to organize my thoughts and how I'll approach the design process later on. It's my source of inspiration. Nevertheless I am trying to keep research as effective and economic as possible. Many times online research can be rather overwhelming and confusing than inspiring and helpful. On the other hand some clients neither consider nor schedule research as a necessary working step. I consider research as a constantly ongoing process that is part of every working step. I actually close research once the design work is finished.
After the first round of gathering inspiration, I am eventually starting the design work. "Character Design" brings up two important topics: "Character" and "Design". It is my task to find the right balance between the shape language and the personality of the character. For me the personality should get special attention - it's the most tricky but rewarding part once it is nailed down. Personally I am not thumbnailing a lot. It all depends on the character I have to design. I found out that thumbnails work very well when "shape driven" characters like robots or very bulky characters are the subject. In most of the cases I am roughing out first ideas very quickly. Here I am already trying to "marry" shape with the particular personality. The right attitude or pose is the goal. At this stage I am doing full body poses or just head studies which eventually lead me to a full body design. Most of my roughs require a second or third pass in which I am defining expression, details and props that support the character's personality. I always double-check my sketches with the character description, script, initial conversations with the client and my personal critique. The design process has a very organic, emotional yet rational and sometimes mesmerize "feel". The thought and search process can follow you all around the clock. Once the machinery is running, it is hard to stop!
All this has to be aligned with the schedule of the production. I have to make sure that a bunch of design suggestions are ready for the first revision meeting with the client. Sometimes I am getting a couple of weeks, sometimes a couple of days. This first revision should start a discussion that gives me even more information and ideas about the character. The initial sketches motivate the client to specify his idea about the character's personality and style even more. A variety of style approaches will help to narrow down the "Dos and Don'ts". The following design rounds will constantly carve out the final design. This may take weeks, months or in rare cases even more than that. Overall I can say that I have to understand and "read" the client's mind first. Once this is solved, I can dedicate myself 100% to the character I have to design. Being on the same page with the client and his vision is the basis of all. I am getting hired to create the look of the character, solve problems that will come up during this process and add something completely new and fresh the client has not thought about yet.
What is your process in colouring your art and what type of tools and media do you use?
I would consider my process of colouring quite simple. It is very rare that I am using special PS brushes or even create my own ones. So I stick pretty much to the preset brushes that PS is offering. Since I approach my design through drawing, it always starts with a sketch, followed by a more defined line drawing. I then throw in some flat colors and shadow layers. Most of the time I am keeping the line work still visible. More photorealistic rendering is something that I am able to do, but it is not my usual way of colouring.
What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?
For me there is no easy or hard part. Every part has its own challenges, fun and tricky issues. I enjoy all of them.
What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work/collaborate with?
Since I am a morning person, I am usually arriving quite early at my studio. In general I already have pretty much an idea of my assignments and schedule of the day. So, I am jumping right into some email correspondences with my clients, a few quick warm up sketches and my design tasks. There might come up some Skype meetings in the afternoon / evening. Overall I am trying not to work more than 10 hours per day.
What are some of the things you have learned from other artists who you have worked with or whose work you have seen?
Watching another artist drawing is one of the most interesting and exciting things for me. I could spend hours following another ones drawing process. It is almost like reading a map. Throughout the years I have learned a lot from that. Specially analysing diverse styles. Besides that, other artists have taught me in many other disciplines such as research, thumbnailing, shape languages, rhythm, solid drawing, thinking "out of the box", leaving your comfort zone and above all being self-critical, focused and humble as an artist and person.
Is there something that you have designed that you are most proud of?
Every design was influenced by countless circumstances, clients and my skills at the time of its creation. Somehow I am connected with all these designs- Even with the ones that gave me a hard time to get them "under my fingers". I think "Satisfaction" would be the right term here. With some designs I am more satisfied than with others. I am sure that an artist should never be 100% satisfied with the end result. This keeps the fire burning. For example: Look at a design you have done one year ago. Would you approach it the same way again? Or did you change your point of view already? Most likely you would do it differently. If not... you should worry ;)
What projects have you worked on in the past and what are you working on at the moment (if you can tell us)?
Within the last 15 years freelancing, I was working on many different projects. Besides some advertising and game gigs, I was mainly designing characters for Tv-Series and feature films. During the last 5 years I was fortunate enough to join a few feature film projects of Warner Animation Group, Reel Fx, Sony Picture Animation, Sergio Pablos Animation Studios (The SPA Studios), Studio 100 and a few other studios. Most of these projects are still in production or post-production. At the moment I am doing characters designs for various TBA projects at the The SPA Studios.
What is your longterm career goal and what would your dream project be?
Honestly I don't really have a longterm career goal. I am really happy with every new opportunity that comes up. Every opportunity is a goal and deserves focus. It lets you grow as an artist and person.
Working for a company or freelancing: what suits you best? And why?
Needless to say it is certain that working in the animation industry requires team work. If you are a team player, it doesn't really matter if you are working in a company or freelancing. In the beginning of my career I was working in a couple of companies and I really learned the discipline at work there. I also enjoyed and experienced the power of good team work. Later on I took the path of freelancing. I think the in house work in companies really helped me to start my freelancing more matured and canny. Freelancing gives many opportunities to participate in really diverse projects and working for different clients and team structures. I think I learned a lot of this multi-layered working system. And I forgot to mention one important thing: As a freelancer you not only need to be a good artist and team player but also a "business man". Making, maintaining and keeping contacts, talking business, clear correspondences when working remotely are just a few things I had to learn very well throughout the years. Nowadays I would consider my freelancing very structured and organized. It has to be like this - at least for me.
Concept art, animation, illustration, comics, there are lots of choices. When you’re young, sometimes you know only one thing: you love to draw. What should a young artist take into consideration to make the right decision when choosing an artistic path?
First of all: Always remain true to your passion. Never forget what made you start to draw. It starts as a hobby. No commitments, no restraints, just for the sake of joy and fun. This turns into passion, the feeling you really identify with. This makes you want to choose an artistic path. Passion will become profession. A young artist has to consider that there will be long hours and hard work at the drawing desk. Working as a commercial artist means that you will have to draw things that might be not very interesting or aligned with your personal taste. If you are part of a production you have to accept criticism and be open for feedback. On the other hand side you might be able to enjoy the power of team work and be surrounded by many other amazing talents. If you are ready to face all these and more, you can choose every artistic path. In time you will find out if the choice was the right one or not. There are no strings attached. If you feel that this is not the right path, go for another one. Sometimes it needs to take a side road in order to reach the destination. You will find the right way, if you are keeping your passion safe and alive.
Many art teachers and schools suggest to their students that a commercial artist should always work in one consistent style if they wish to have a healthy career. In your own experience, do you believe this to be true?
I don't agree 100% with that. Honestly I can only speak from my experiences and point of view as a character designer for animation. There are only very few designers in the industry that get hired because of their distinctive style. All the other designers - and I consider myself one of them- need to be very versatile and adaptable to the specific style and needs of each project. BUT this doesn't mean that you shouldn't have your own voice. The personal voice, the very unique approach, is what makes an artist original. I think an artist in the industry has to learn how much of his own voice can go into a clients project. It should enrich the project without being distracting. You have to serve the client's vision and his taste of style - over your own preferences. My own voice fully speaks in my personal art work.
If you had to recommend only one art book (a comic book, graphic novel, children book, ''how to'' book) to a fellow artist, what would it be and why?
"The Illusion of Life" by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston. Everybody who would like to work in animation - even as a designer - should read this book.
Who are the artists who inspire you the most today and what are some of your favourite designs out there?
Let me try to mention a few: Carlos Grangel, Sergio Pablos, Borja Montoro, Headless, Dani Fernandez, Patrick Hanenberger, Jin Kim, Shiyoon Kim, Peter de Sève, Carter Goodrich, Brett Beane, Tony Siruno, Marcelo Vignali, Jose Lopez, El Gunto, Luis Gadea, Wouter Tulp, John Nevarez, Florian Satzinger, Wiebke Rauers, Nico Marlet, James Baxter, Jim Henson, Brian Froud. I am really happy to say that some of these great artists became my colleagues and friends over the years.
We have a soft spot for hand drawn animation, what is your opinion about the future of this art form?
Even though it seems that hand drawn or let's say "classical animation" in US feature films was pushed back and left abandoned, I am still sure that it will remain as art form with a great future. Let's put it this way: Did Pop- or Electronic music "wipe out" Classical music? No! All these art forms co-exist and inspire each other. There are hand drawn feature film projects -mainly in Asia and Europe- that are keeping the heritage alive. As far as I see, there is a notable interest - especially of young talents and students- in classical animation. The TV-Market still offers a lot of hand drawn animation, even more than ever thanks to Netflix, Amazon etc.. And we should not forget the restless independent film makers that bring new and diverse approaches of hand drawn animation. So, without any doubt: There is a future!
Finally, Where can we see your art online and get in touch with you? How can we buy your creations and support your work?
You can visit my website at ( www.torschrank.com ). Here are the links to my two shorts that I have done at the university: "CAFE NOVA", made in 1998 (a team project with my co-students) I animated the penguin and fish character in the first episode: ( Click Here ) and "A Case of Doubt", made in 2002, which was my graduation short ( Click Here ).
Thank you Torsten :)