AAU Fall Festival - Disney Art Director Armand Serrano

Hosted by the visual development department of AAU, Armand Serrano, who has worked on films such as Mulan, Lilo and Stitch, Surf's Up, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and Hotel Transylvania.armandArmand Serrano grew up in Manila, Philippines. While there are those people who tell stories of how they have loved animation since they were children, drawing everyday, and wanted to be in animation, Armand never actually intended to be in animation; he majored in civil engineering. Upon graduation, Armand needed a job and so he applied at the Hanna Barbera Philippines studio which was hiring character animators to train. He began as an inbetweener and worked on TV animation on shows such as Yogi Bear, Tom & Jerry, and Captain Planet. After leaving Fil-Cartoons, the Hanna Barbera affiliated studio, Armand went to become the layout supervisor of Marvel's Philippine based studio and worked on the Fantastic Four and X-Men TV shows. In 1996, Armand and his family moved to Los Angeles to further his career and then ended up in Disney's Florida based studio to work on four movies, one of which was Mulan. After the Florida studio closed down, Armand went to work at Sony. His is now currently back at Disney. He didn't work on Frozen as the movie was already wrapping up but he has worked on Big Hero 6 and is now working on Zootopia.

Armand describes visual development and design evolution as design is a process upon which the artist continuously builds and explores. To begin design, dynamic research is very important. Dynamic research is being active while researching, you are not just sitting in front of a computer scrolling through images on Google but rather are sketching and thinking while looking at reference. The purpose of thumbnails are to be simple and to get a point across, don't be intimidated by a studio setting and think that they have to all be detailed and refined. When designing, it is important to think about the needs and the wants. Wants are the things that are nice to have but are not necessary, however they should support the needs. The needs are what is necessary to have no matter what and are based on story and art direction.

Hotel Transylvania was a movie that went through development over a long period of time, long enough for the movie to go through five different drafts. During the first two drafts, Armand designed the hotel lobby. Without given a lot of direction at first, the first concept was that the hotel is carved from rock, out of the side of a mountain and everything inside is organic and symmetrical. The second concept was designed to be more of a castle and so there were a lot more asymmetrical and magical elements. It is important while designing to not hold back, push the design to the limit and then if it's too far then it can always be pulled back. Through the different drafts the story changes and thus the design also changes and evolves. While the final lobby is not the lobby that Armand initially designed it is not as if all his work was considered useless and done for naught. It is the build up and evolution that led the design to the final point. One cannot get to point C without going through point A and B first; the final design doesn't just appear. It is important to consider that your art is work being sold to the company and director so they have the choice of what to do with it.

When designing it is important to think outside of the box. Do something different than what others have done before, break out of the norm. Armand showed a painting that he did of vikings going to battle. Through his reference he saw that everyone painted such a scene to be dark so instead he painted a scene of vikings going to battle in bright sunshine. It is important when thinking of design to ask why and then why not.

Visual Development isn't just about designing a character or environment but also about designing a moment. Moments are a particular period of importance, influence, or significance in a shot that will then be used to define and establish a sequence and is used to show mood and tone. The important part of creating a moment is to put it in context and again to consider the needs vs wants in support of the story. To do so is to give the environment history and story. Without history and story, an environment is just an architectural drawing. When creating the history, nothing is wrong and nothing is right, it depends on the story that you want to tell. Adding characters may help establish the story and give the moment a different feeling and also consider the composition in terms of camera and shot framing as you are designing for film.

To end the night, Armand gives some tips to those of us who are seeking to enter the industry. There is not a clear cut that differentiates between professionals versus amateurs. It isn't so much about skill level but rather the differentiation is between experience and attitude. While working in a pipeline, it isn't so much about the individual but rather about the end product so instead of looking to hire genius artists, people would rather look for those who are a team player, have a good attitude, and are teachable. While you must have a certain amount of skill being a draftsman, being able to draw well isn't all it is about. Just going through the internet one can find plenty of people who are a good draftsman but what instead should be shown is content and originality. It is important to see what kind of ideas that you as a person can bring to the table.