Isaac Orloff is an illustrator and visual development artist for the television and film animation industry. Since graduating from Maryland Institute College of Art in 2009, he has worked with several animation studios such as Calabash Animation, World Wide Biggies, Zynga, CloudKid, Digital Kitchen and many more.
Issac was born in Brooklyn, NY but soon moved away to Montclair, NJ, where he started his future career as an artist on television and film animation. Ever since, he then moved to San Francisco Bay area to work full time on a video game.
While working full time and as well Freelancing on Animation, Isaac also teaches a Visual Development workshop at The Academy of Art and is also working on a book for CTN animation expo.
Thank you very much Isaac Orloff for this interview, we would like to start with you by telling us about yourself?
Hello! Thanks for the opportunity to let me tell you a little about myself! I am a visual development artist currently living in the San Francisco Bay area and I currently work fulltime for a video game company in addition to freelancing for animation.
I also teach a visual development workshop at The Academy of Art. I’m a big art nerd, but I also have other interests like spending time outdoors doing things like mountain biking, hiking, or traveling with my two dogs.
Where are you from, and how did you get into the animation business?
I was born in Brooklyn, NY but soon moved to Montclair, NJ. After moving to Maryland to attend school, I started to grow interested in animation as I explored the different facets of illustration in college.
Did you use to draw a lot growing up? What kind of style you liked the most?
I always drew as a kid. I was extremely fortunate that both of my parents were professional Illustrators. They provided me with a lot of support and always encouraged me to draw and to make the most of my abilities.
I was always drawn to artwork that made me smile or was engaging. I was never inspired by much of the work by old masters, but I grew a strong affinity for modern art forms like graffiti and street art, typography and characterization. I didn’t discover the world of visual development and animation till a bit later in life but as soon as I found it, I was hooked.
How and when did you realize that you wanted to become an illustrator?
Well, I don’t think this was ever in doubt. I’ve never considered another career my entire life.
Which art school did you go to? And when?
I attended Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and I graduated in 2009 with a BFA in illustration.
What was your first work you ever worked on?
This is a tricky question because in college everyone takes the odd craigslist freelance job. My first real job, that paid real money and required me to actually present work to an art director etc, would be a spot I did with "Digital Kitchen" for the United States Census Bureau. This job was amazing; we ended up making over 200 frames of hand painted animation in just about 2 weeks. Super fun job and you can check it out here...
How did you end up illustrating for Animation companies? Why didn’t you choose other medium of illustration, like games?
I actually work for a ton of different companies. I enjoy doing work for advertising, games, animation, television and more. Illustration is a very flexible genre that can be utilized by a variety of outlets.
Which project(s) are you working on now?
I am working on an unreleased game title, as well as taking some time off from freelance to work on my own book project.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
My favorite project recently was a pilot I completed through a third party studio for Nickelodeon. Unfortunately I can’t share it yet.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
I take the train to work in the morning and I always draw other commuters in my sketchbook as a warm up. Once I get to work I spend a lot of time getting requests from designers and doing concept sketches for assets that need to go in the game.
Once I receive feedback from my director and make a bunch of iterations, I will move on to providing texture information and a rendered version of the concept to the modelers. Sometimes the requests are different, but 9 times out of 10 I am providing concept work. And I play basketball at lunch!
What part of your job do you like best and why?
Visual problem solving is my favorite part of doing concept work. I love solving the issues that come with creating work that has to abide by certain rules.
Figuring out how to make my design visually appealing to the viewer while still satisfying anatomical guidelines and functional requirements. This can be a difficult challenge but when you get it right, the final is always something you can be proud of.
What’s your workflow look like? How do you visualize the settings, backgrounds or characters for an animated cartoon or movie?
This changes with every project but universally my process always starts with reference. Sourcing reference material and getting a proper understanding of the direction you want to take a piece of art before you start is paramount.
Not to say that it cannot change along the way and grow in new and unexpected directions, but it helps greatly to start with a good foundation.
Aside from that, workflow is defined by style of the project of what kind of work I am doing, whether it is boarding, concepting, or background painting. I try to post some workflow tips and recording on my blog so others can see how I do what I do.
What is your favorite 2D or 3D animated film, and why?
Oh man, this is impossible to answer. There are so many individual things about different animated films that make them great. The stories of "UP", and "WALL-E" are by far two of my favorites.
It is rare that films touch you emotionally with such strength and both of those films are just choc full of really touching moments as well as really great underlying social and moral commentary.
There are so many films that have outstanding design in color or environments etc., but the films that make you feel things you don’t expect while still bringing that high visual bar…that right there is the sweet spot.
What are your thoughts about Japanese Anime? Are you a fan or prefer good old American animation?
I think everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and although I will admit “Anime” is not my cup o’ tea, I will not say that others shouldn’t enjoy it.
I do think that anime relies heavily on a very formulaic visual language, which I do not find visually appealing. However, maybe Japanese Animation buffs look at the traditional Disney style and have the same opinion? It’s all about perspective, but I personally enjoy work in which boundaries are broken and individuality is embraced instead of weeded out.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the animation or art business?
Finding time to be myself and continue my own personal growth. As a production artist you spend a lot of time doing work that conforms to the needs of others. Sometime it is work you may not enjoy. Making sure there is always a balance of work that feels like it’s giving you an opportunity to be challenged as well as pay the bills is always tough. I could use a few extra days in the week.
Have you ever had a visual setting or designs that was too difficult to draw? Which movie/project was that on?
I have never encountered something “too difficult to draw”. I have had many challenges where I have had significant trouble achieving the look and feel or a desired result.
That is never the fault of the object or the content, but instead it is more of an internal struggle. Drawing is about mileage, there are times when I feel like I am unsatisfied with my work, and sometimes I am satisfied but it doesn’t usually last for more than a few weeks before I see room for growth.
Artwork can always be better, you just have to do the best you can and move on.
Who influenced you the most? Who is or was your ultimate Mentor?
I think our influences shift as our taste evolves. I think we have break through moments as artists as we continue to progress, but one artist’s direct advice helped omen my eyes and change my entire way of working after that point.
I had the opportunity to get a personal portfolio review from Peter DeSeve when I was a senior in college and he gave me some priceless advice that to this day still helps me do what I do.
2D vs. 3D what are your thoughts on this endless battle?
Technology improves, markets shift, it’s hard to keep up with the latest and greatest thing. It makes sense for an art form to progress, especially one that is so heavily dependent on technology.
The day that 2D animation ceases to exist is a day that I very much doubt will ever come. I think 2D animation is experiencing a shift to a more intimate audience, but the love will always be here.
People still listen to records don’t they? The mass markets may not listen to records, but those who do are fiercely passionate about them.
Tell us a little about the tools that you are using, what’s your preferences?
A variety of Photoshop brushes; right now I am making an effort to use brushes that strongly resemble traditional media. I am also using a variety of markers and pens for sketching including "Tombos", "Pilot Fineliner", and "Sakura Pigma Graphic Pen".
What do you prefer mostly, digital art or traditional art?
I wish I could paint traditionally the way I paint digitally. But I don’t have the time or the resources to do so. But if it’s drawing from life, I only work traditionally.
Doing digital art, which software gives you the most freedom to create?
There’s an amazing variety of software available for creatives. I personally use Adobe's "Photoshop CS6" because it is the industry standard. The learning curve required to adjust to new software is so large that I feel like I cannot afford the time it would take to reach the same level of knowledge I have achieved in Photoshop.
However, I welcome the opportunity to learn software that enables me to develop new skill sets, like 3D software or Animation software. Like I said before, I would love to have few more days in the week.
How do you do idea extraction when it comes to visual development for a project?
When I am brainstorming for a project I love to do a lot of thinking and preparation before the pencil hits the paper. I love to think about the fiction behind a scene or character and invent content that helps my guide the direction of a piece.
It takes a great deal of patience to delve into the who, what, when, where, and why of a piece of artwork. Figuring out some of these things before you get started can help you maximize the believability and the creativity in a final product.
Do you have a lot of people in the animation business that you connected with? Do you share ideas?
Absolutely! Everyone has something to offer and everyone works differently. It’s great to learn from friends and collaborate. The animation community is by far the most social and collaborative of industries I have encountered.
What are your plans for 2013-2014? Any great projects lined up for you?
This year is almost over! For the remainder of this year I am planning on wrapping up a small book project in time for CTN Animation Expo. I also am going to be taking a class at the Animation Collaborative with Dice Tsutsumi.
The coming year is all about growth and taking my art to the next level. I have some serious issues I would like to resolve in my work and I aim at tackling those issues... hopefully soon.
What would be a dream job for you? Working for a major company maybe?
My dream job would be working as a Visual Development artist at a studio that encourages and promotes creativity, high production value, and great story.
I love a collaborative environment where everyone is equally invested in their work and eager to assist each other to challenge us and grow as artists and people.
Being an artist myself, I love the sketching, drawing or painting on a digital hardware like the Wacom Cintiq, what are your thoughts on it?
I love my Cintiq, wouldn’t trade it for the world, but printing your work out of a printer is nothing like hanging your own painting on the wall.
Nowadays, with tablets like the iPad, do you think artists are more liberal in their creations? Are you using one for your daily sketches?
I don’t think mobile drawing technology has advanced to the point where it does not inhibit the user. Screen glare, limited space, battery life are just a few of the drawbacks in using technology for artwork.
I always prefer to draw traditionally when I am on the go, I leave the Cintiq at home and get out in the world. It’s a fantastic experience.
Lastly, is there any advice you can give to an aspiring animation student or artist trying to get into the animation business?
Never give up, never stop challenging your self, stay humble and treat those around you with respect at all times.