As an art director myself, Jerrod was a person I wanted to hunt down personally for the Creative Spotlight because he embodies what I want to become in my own art career. The perfect blend of humble, smart, genuine, and talented. In addition, like myself, he got started in his interest in art at an early age. So, what is Jerrod Maruyama all about? Well, he is a freelance artist specializing in illustration and character design. He earned a B.S. degree in Illustration from San Jose State University. Since then, he has worked as an Art Director for several educational software companies including Kaplan, SCORE!, Riverdeep and Computer Curriculum Corporation. Read below for the full interview…
You’re a freelancer at the moment, could you tell us a bit of your own experiences in terms of ﬁnding/attracting clients?
Jerrod: I believe in doing a lot of work. Take on a lot of jobs (small, big, whatever you can get) and do them to the best of your ability. Draw constantly. Whether it’s for work or for personal project – just keep drawing. Develop your style. Play to your strengths. I think the more you do what you love the better you get at it and the work will come. I post quite a bit of work. I keep a Flickr account as well as a professional portfolio website. I post everything I do on Flickr. I am more discerning when it comes to my portfolio page. But Flickr allows me to show all kinds of fun work. With today’s easy access to online social media, you never know where your image will end up or who it will end up in front of. I’ve received so many jobs this way. Other than that, I don’t have a lot of tricks or tips for attracting clients. Just get your work out there as much as you can.
Did your formal years at university really help you in your art career? I heard that the animation/illustration program is partially funded by DreamWorks, did that give you an advantage?
Jerrod: I was a terrible student. Absolutely awful. I just wasn’t inspired or motivated. I regret not taking advantage of that time to learn more than I did. But I did learn a lot. College is what you make of it. I don’t think ﬁnishing a program or earning a degree is a guarantee of work or a measure of talent. In the end, it’s what you do that counts. So, if you choose to attend college – and I highly recommend that you do – make the most of it. You will never again have this time to explore, learn and create. College forced me to use a lot of different mediums – mediums I might normally avoid. I took a computer arts class in College and was forced to learn Adobe Illustrator. I absolutely hated the program when I started. But by the end of it, I loved it. I use it almost exclusively till this day. So in that one small, signiﬁcant way, college was a huge asset to my career.
When I was attending San Jose State University, I was in the Illustration program. About a year before I graduated, they introduced the animation program as part of the department. At that time, Warner Bros. ran the program remotely from Burbank, CA. It was an intense set of courses and I learned a lot – mainly that I did NOT want to go into animation. But for those who were into it, I think it was extremely helpful. I know a lot of the students from around my time went on to work for the various animation studios- Disney, DreamWorks, Sony, etc.
Many of your works revolve around family friendly subjects and cuteness. Are there ever pressures of losing work due to falling into a niche? Or is this just the realm you are comfortable and excel in?
Jerrod: The cute stuff is what I love to do. It’s the most fun for me to do. It’s not the ONLY thing I do. I do a lot of work that’s a bit more traditional and certainly not as stylized as much of the “kawaii” stuff. But in general, kid’s stuff is what I do best. I want to attract that type of work so it’s what I primarily show in my portfolio. I’m sure I get passed over for some work, but that’s OK. I would much rather do what I love, what I am good at, then suffer through a lot of projects that I ﬁnd uninspiring. Again, I believe if you do what you love and do it well, the work will come.
You recently had an appearance at WonderGround Gallery out at Disneyland resort. What were the steps leading up to that? How were you able to get the attention of Disney?
Jerrod: The WonderGround Gallery was completely out of the blue. Disney contacted me. I didn’t apply or send letters. This was a new concept for them and they reached out to a wide variety of artists. This is what I mean about getting your work out there. There was enough “buzz” about my Disney work that it got noticed by the right people. I wasn’t shy about my love for Disney and their properties. I did a lot of fan art and tried to develop a distinct style. I did this in my spare time and just kept posting. That’s why I think it’s important to do what you love and do it well.
Pixar and Walt Disney Studios announced the re-release of several of their classic ﬁlms in 3D over the next two years, with the ﬁrst being Lion King that was released a few months ago. Do you think this is a good route for the ﬁlm industry or do you think ﬁlms should be left in their original state?
Jerrod: I understand that studios have to sell tickets. I think money drives a lot of these decisions. So, it’s not really a creative question. Do I think 3D can be used in interesting, effective and creative ways? Yes, absolutely. Do I think it’s always used this way in every 3D ﬁlm? Absolutely not. If it exposes more people to animation, if it sells more tickets which in turn allows more ﬁlms to be made, then ﬁne. Go for it. Just as long as we ALWAYS have the originals, I don’t mind 3D re-releases. I recently saw the re-release of Beauty and The Beast in 3D. It’s probably my favorite Disney ﬁlm of all time. I was just happy to see it on the big screen again. The 3D aspect didn’t detract from that.
Could you describe your creative process when conceptualizing a new character design? What kind of elements do you take into account?
Jerrod: It’s all about the story you want to tell. I always ask, what is the job of this character? Not speciﬁcally an occupation – but what does this character have to do? Does it have to tell a story? Does it need to sell something? Does it just need to elicit a reaction? To me, that’s what drive my decisions when designing a new character. There’s always a back story to every character I draw – whether that’s created by the client or myself. Every character needs to tell a story. Otherwise it’s just a graphic.
Since many of your illustrations portray happiness and an overall ‘cute’ tone, are you able to work when you aren’t in a state of happiness?
Jerrod: That’s hilarious. Absolutely. When I’m working, actually drawing the character, it becomes all about the work. Without thinking about it, I tend to embody the character – making faces or striking poses that the character would take on. The outside world tends to melt away. So good mood or bad, it doesn’t matter. It’s all about the work.
We’ve interviewed quite a few Pixar employees in earlier episodes, and having taken a recent tour (which isn’t open to the general public), are you perhaps close to joining the ranks of their stable of artists?
Jerrod: [Laughs] I wish. No such plans are in the works. I would love to work for Pixar. But my recent tour was just that – a tour. It was a fantastic experience and I am eternally grateful to my host. It was a dream come true.
What many people don’t realize is that executing such a simple style leave more room for noticeable errors, since there isn’t that much detail. How are you able to ﬁnd a nice balance between minimalism and depth?
Jerrod: I love this question. That’s pretty much the challenge of drawing simple characters- ﬁnding that perfect balance of simplicity and stylization. I often think people assume that because the style is so simple and minimalist it’s easy to do. I would disagree. It might not be the most difﬁcult style to take on but it certainly has its challenges. I don’t know that there’s a formula for “cute”. I really just go by what I like, what I ﬁnd appealing. The distance between the eyes of a character can have a huge impact on the overall look. The size of the nose (if there is a nose), head to body ratio, even color all make a huge difference when designing a simple, cute character. It’s a lot of trial and error. This is where lots of drawing is mandatory. You have to run through all the options and ﬁnd the ones that work. That’s why working in Illustrator is so fantastic. You can make small adjustments without completely re-doing the image. For such precise character design, this is extremely helpful.
Lastly, what advice do you have for a creative that could apply to both a freelancer or a full time employee?
Jerrod: I am no where near where I want to be as an artist. I have a long way to go in my own career and artistic journey. I’m not at that place where I can start tossing out advice to other artists. Every artist is on their own journey. What works for me may not work for them. There are multiple ways to reach your goals. There are no short-cuts. You have to do the work. You can’t avoid it. I guess the best advice I can give is be sincere. I think it shines through your work and makes people take notice. Also, be positive. I know it’s fun to by cynical and to tear things apart. It’s become a part of our culture to do so. But if you push yourself to be positive, to ﬁnd the good in every project your working on – you’ll be a happier person and your work will show that. Also, you’ll be much more pleasant to work with. This is not easy, I know. So for real advice from a real professional creative, I recommend listening to Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech to the 2012 graduating class of The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Inspiring stuff.
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