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Daisuke "Dice" Tsutsumi

by Susan Henderson on March 5, 2008

Dice Tsutsumi is an illustrator, painter, graphic novelist, and art director. He’s worked on such films as Ice Age, Robots, and Horton Hears a Who. Because he has his hand in so many creative endeavors, I was interested in hearing his thoughts on the difference between collaborative and solo projects.

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A current anthology he’s in focuses on this very idea. The anthology is called, OUT OF PICTURE, a term used to describe material that is cut from a movie. The book features the solo work of animators from Blue Sky Studios, including Dice and past LitPark guest, Peter de Seve.

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From the forward by Chris Wedge, Director of Blue Sky Studios:

This process by which each contributes a focused ray of their own talent, then steps aside to allow the next the same is one of measured sacrifice. In giving only what is asked of them, each holds back a reservoir of creative potential that roils, impatient for escape, within their hearts.

*

You come from a family of writers, and yet you are a visual artist. When (and in what way) was it clear to you that you were a different kind of artist?

I always liked drawing since I was little while my sister was always into reading and writing. But I never thought I was that good of an artist. There were so many kids around me who could draw so much better. It’s just that I knew I wasn’t going to be a writer since I never did well in literature/writing classes.

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Tell me about your career in the visual arts. How did you get started in this field? What kinds of projects have you worked on?

I studied very traditional oil painting. When I graduated, my visa didn’t allow me to stay in the States unless I got a full time job. That’s how I got into a video game company as a concept artist. Immediately, I fell in love with my job where I collaborate with many other talented artists. I soon made a shift to concept design for animated films.

I have worked on Ice Age, Robots, and upcoming Horton Hears A Who as a concept artist at Blue Sky Studios and recently I moved to Pixar.

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How do you approach collaborative projects, and how are they different from the personal or solo work you do?

It has its own set of challenges. Team work is so important. There are so many artists who are just as talented as everyone else. They all have great opinions but not necessarily the same one. So lots of compromises. But when it works, the final product comes out a million times stronger. It is very educational. I feel like I’m learning from my colleagues everyday just like how it was in school.

You told me you consider yourself to be a storyteller, and yet, you are not a writer. How so?

I honestly don’t have the writing chops, especially in my second language. But I always love to tell a story. Even in my single image of illustration, I would like to tell a story. I believe you can tell stories just with images. I think of good old silent movies. Some of them tell stories so much better and more clearly than current movies.

That’s why my graphic novels are my true passion. I have a long way to go but I’d like to keep working on my visual story telling skills.

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Talk to me about the Out of Picture project and about your contribution to it.

I came up with the idea of outside project with my artist friends at Blue Sky Studios. I always believed in my group who are all story tellers although we all illustrate someone else’s (our directors’) stories. I also managed the group along with Michael Knapp who is also a contributor of the book. It was a real tough challenge because managing your friends, especially if they are ARTISTS, wasn’t easy. Everyone had their reasons to be late or opinions on how to make the book. But someone had to still lead the group to one place.

Of course, on top of that, I killed myself trying to finish my own story which was really difficult. We all learned so much out of this experience.

Anything uniquely satisfying or difficult with telling a story through pictures?

Well, first of all, telling your very own stories with whatever talent you got is satisfying no matter what. Whether it’s in writing, singing, music, or images…

Looking back at OOP 1, there are things I would have done differently but that’s all part of the learning experience. I think my story for OOP 2 came out a lot better. If I can tell more with less writing, that’ll be my goal. Maybe I’ll do a graphic novel with no word at all one day.

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Do you have any more graphic novels in your future?

Yes, Out of Picture 2 is coming out in June 2008. Out of Picture 1 just came out in December.

Do you read any of the graphic novels out there? And if so, who do you enjoy?

I read A LOT of Japanese graphic novels. I guess I still prefer it because lots of them tend to have subtle storytelling. I’m sure there are tons of amazing non-Japanese graphic novels too. I recently read American Born Chinese and Persepolis, and both were amazing.

You have a project with your mother in the works. Can you tell me about that?

Yes.

My mother is a poet but she recently started writing children’s books. It was both our dreams to collaborate and finally we are making a children’s book that she writes and I illustrate. We are quite excited about it. It’ll be published in Japan but hope it’ll make its way to the American market too!

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Can you tell my readers about Sketchtravel. What is it, and how did this idea begin?

This is a project my friend Gerald Guerlais and I came up where we connect with artists around the world through one little sketch book. Each artist does an original sketch on each page of the book and “hand delivers” the book to the next artist. It’s been about 18 months since we started and we have 26 sketches done. Check out the website www.sketchtravel.com so you can see what has been done.

We recently were informed that there will be a French film maker to shoot the documentary of the project. It is a long process but it has picked up quite a momentum on its own.

Any advice to young artists just starting out?

Hope you are in it because you love it. If you love it, the money you make, the social status you have, or praises you get from critics won’t matter. You will keep creating simply it’s so much fun and by default, you will have a solid training without knowing. It’s got to be fun.

*

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Bio:

Born and raised in Tokyo, Dice moved to NY in ’93. After graduating from School of Visual Arts in 98, he started his career as a staff illustrator for Lucas Learning Ltd. in San Francico. Two years later, Dice moved back to NY to work for Blue Sky Studios as a visual development/color key artist on their blockbuster film projects such as Ice Age, Robots and upcoming Horton Hears A Who. After his long adventurous 7 year run at Blue Sky Studios, he has recently accepted the new challenge to join as an art director at Pixar Animation Studios.

Dice has actively been pursuing his illustration career outside of animation as well. His graphic novel, Noche y Dia is a part of critically acclaimed anthology Out of Picture. His next short graphic novel, Dream of Kyosuke as a part of Out of Picture issue #2 is due May 2008 from Random House Publishing. He also has been involved with a few potential children’s book projects.

Meanwhile, Dice continues to create his plein air oil paintings that have been featured in numerous gallery exhibitions. He currently lives in San Francisco.

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

DarylDarko March 5, 2008 at 9:12 am

Hello Dice! Honored to meet you here and learn of your work. The timing of your interview is serendipitous for me as I have had it stuck in my head that doing a “graphic” version of my novel is something important to consider, either as a side project separate and complete from the novel, or maybe more importantly as a developmental tool. Amazingly, I just found the perfect illustrator to work hand-in-hand with and, now, reading your interview I am convinced this is the right path to go. So thank you, THANK YOU both! ((any MySpace for Dice, Susan?)) … -=Daryl=-

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kategray March 5, 2008 at 9:42 am

First off, I want to extend some thanks to Mr. Tsutsumi and his fellow artists in that digital medium. My son, who is autistic, has learned a great deal from watching movies like Ice Age, Robots, and all the Pixar films. It sounds a little odd to those who haven’t thought of cgi films in this light, but the operatic exaggeration of facial expressions, character reactions, and the general over-the-top scenarios provides a lot of modeling for an autistic individual. One of the biggest disconnectswith autism is in the human emotion arena, and some of that, I think, is because of how well people tend to hide how they feel and what they’re thinking. With these characters, everything is out in the open. It’s being conveyed artistically, but also dramatically, in ways that Walt Disney and Warner Bros. could only dream about. With Ice Age, the very first cgi movie that my son latched onto, he sat and could anticipate what was about to happen with Scrat, down to the eye twitching. He had never responded to other programs like that, probably because of the 3-dimensional feel to to cgi…. Now, at this point, he has a whole range of shows he loves, and he models the facial expressions, and we talk about how the character feels, all of which is far more useful at times than trying to explain what our faces are doing. It’s sort of like Greek theater masks or Kubuki in that sense.
Secondly, I’m loving this graphic novel surge! It’s providing motivation for me to finally take the art classes that I never had time for when I was pursuing my degree in Classics. I have tried through the years to just do what I’m capable of doing, but have finally realized that my frustrations come from lack of knowledge and no basic foundation…so I’m going to sign up at the little studio here in our town and get it together!

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kategray March 5, 2008 at 9:44 am

First off, I want to extend some thanks to Mr. Tsutsumi and his fellow artists in that digital medium. My son, who is autistic, has learned a great deal from watching movies like Ice Age, Robots, and all the Pixar films. It sounds a little odd to those who haven’t thought of cgi films in this light, but the operatic exaggeration of facial expressions, character reactions, and the general over-the-top scenarios provides a lot of modeling for an autistic individual. One of the biggest disconnectswith autism is in the human emotion arena, and some of that, I think, is because of how well people tend to hide how they feel and what they’re thinking. With these characters, everything is out in the open. It’s being conveyed artistically, but also dramatically, in ways that Walt Disney and Warner Bros. could only dream about. With Ice Age, the very first cgi movie that my son latched onto, he sat and could anticipate what was about to happen with Scrat, down to the eye twitching. He had never responded to other programs like that, probably because of the 3-dimensional feel to to cgi…. Now, at this point, he has a whole range of shows he loves, and he models the facial expressions, and we talk about how the character feels, all of which is far more useful at times than trying to explain what our faces are doing. It’s sort of like Greek theater masks or Kubuki in that sense.
Secondly, I’m loving this graphic novel surge! It’s providing motivation for me to finally take the art classes that I never had time for when I was pursuing my degree in Classics. I have tried through the years to just do what I’m capable of doing, but have finally realized that my frustrations come from lack of knowledge and no basic foundation…so I’m going to sign up at the little studio here in our town and get it together! But I think I’ll put some pics of my stuff up on myspace….
(I couldn’t get myself logged in before! Disregard the prior comment…?)

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jessicaK March 5, 2008 at 9:52 am

Hi, Dice.
It’s fascinating to see the difference between your classic, impressionist painting and your current work. Yet both works have a textured quality to it that I enjoy very much.

Jessica

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Carolyn_Burns_Bass March 5, 2008 at 10:53 am

Ditto. I was going to say this, but Jessica said it perfectly.

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Carolyn_Burns_Bass March 5, 2008 at 10:59 am

Hey, Dice. I lived in Japan for several years and used to buy my children (who were both born there) those little pre-school books/magazines that came bagged with all of the little puzzles and activities. Through the years we’ve encouraged our kids to explore the rich Japanese culture and arts. My daughter (who was three when we left) is now taking Japanese in college, while my son (only a year when we left) is a huge fan of anime and manga.

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lance_reynald March 5, 2008 at 11:50 am

nice stuff, Dice!!

love the layout and style of the graphic novel there.

really beautiful.

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Brian_McEntee March 5, 2008 at 12:21 pm

Hey, Dice! I am so glad to see you here at LitPark! What a small world. I owe you a letter.

I worked with Dice on Ice Age (the first one) and loved every minute of it. This guy is a genius at visual storytelling, IMHO, and his work elevated the movie at every turn. This quote says it all:

“Even in my single image of illustration, I would like to tell a story.”

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robinslick March 5, 2008 at 12:51 pm

I could spend hours clicking on the links here today…and I will.

Dice, you (and your friends) are brilliant. I mean, it’s a really rare brilliance — one which is obviously an almost supernatural talent you were born with combined with years of study, experience, and hard work — and I am honored that Susan has introduced us.

Did I mention how much I love the sketch travel concept? Wow!

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Betsy March 5, 2008 at 5:17 pm

These are wonderful illustrations – I look forward to checking out the book!

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SusanHenderson March 5, 2008 at 5:38 pm

So glad to hear you’re inspired!

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SusanHenderson March 5, 2008 at 5:40 pm

Fascinating, Kate. I’d never considered this before. There are a whole lot of folks around LitPark whose kids have Autism, and maybe some will speak up or contact you some otherhow.

When you put the art up on your site, leave a link here for everyone who’d like to check it out.

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SusanHenderson March 5, 2008 at 5:41 pm

He has a great discussion on his blog about traditional vs. digital art. Worth checking out. Same with his travel sketches!

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SusanHenderson March 5, 2008 at 5:42 pm

What is “manga”?

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SusanHenderson March 5, 2008 at 5:42 pm

Hope your edits are going well. I miss you.

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SusanHenderson March 5, 2008 at 5:44 pm

It is a small, small world.

I’d love to hear the process behind the scenes, but I expect we’ll have to do that over drinks. xo

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SusanHenderson March 5, 2008 at 5:46 pm

Don’t the links just blow your mind? And on Dice’s site – between the raw sketches and the quotes and the travel paintings – I’m just in awe.

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SusanHenderson March 5, 2008 at 5:47 pm

Anyone else gonna see Betsy read at the Happy Ending on the 30th?

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DarylDarko March 5, 2008 at 6:04 pm

aw shucks, that happens all the time when i’m in your house!

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JamesRSpring March 5, 2008 at 8:36 pm

This is swell stuff. Truly great. Susan, thanks for exposing this artist at The Park…

Which reminds me of a story about a stalker at a park… Damn uncomfortable synapses…

You know what I mean, Susan?

I won’t go see Betsy read. I don’t like her. She sets the bar too high.

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Carolyn_Burns_Bass March 5, 2008 at 10:20 pm

Manga are Japanese comic books.

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Oronte_Churm March 6, 2008 at 10:14 am

Lovely work, Dice, and in the case of Batman with a Superman mask, hilarious!

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Xujun March 6, 2008 at 8:39 pm

Fascinating works, Dice. How did you get your nickname?

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SusanHenderson March 6, 2008 at 10:56 pm

You’re going to miss out. I hear Betsy’s bringing waxing strips!

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SusanHenderson March 6, 2008 at 10:58 pm

I hope you all are clicking his link and walking through his portfolio of work. It wonderful and diverse, too.

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SusanHenderson March 6, 2008 at 10:59 pm

Hi Xujun!

I think it’s because his name is pronounced “Dice”-suke. But he is absolutely welcome to come on over and chat with you guys, himself.

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Betsy March 7, 2008 at 10:37 am

Wait! I’m reading at Bluestockings on the 29th and Word on the 30th. No waxing strips for me this time!

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Dice March 7, 2008 at 6:22 pm

Hi everyone!

Thank you so much for all your nice comments!
It is my honor to be invited to be featured at the writers community place like Litpark.
I have been reading some of the older articles and there are some fascinating stories for sure.
I really have to thank Susan for finding me out of no where to give me this opportunity to meet your people!

Anyhow,

–Xujun
Yes, it was when I first came to the States 15 years ago when no one could pronounce my name correctly and someone started calling me Dice.
Now with the Red Sox pitcher Daisuke(Dice-K) Matsuzaka, lots of people learned to pronounce my name correctly!

–Oronte
thank you

–James
thank you so much

–Betsy
Thank you. hope you can check out Out of Picture 2 too when it comes out in June.

–Robin
Thank you. Yeah, the sketchtravel thing really took on life. now there are several sketchbooks started by other groups of artists

—Brian
yes, we hadn’t talked for a while until you contacted me when you saw Susan’s blog!
everyone, Brian was my boss on Ice Age movie and he taught me so much. I was still a start up young artist hungry for good training. Brian is an incredible artist who now focuses no writing. Wow.

—Lance
Thank you!!

–Carolyn
Wow. that is amazing. What made you pick Japan as one culture in particular you decided to expose your kids more to?
It’s so nice to hear when people find the culture of Japan so interesting. I think so too but you know, there are tons of others just as interesting.

–Jessica
Thank you. I am conscious of keeping up with my old classical approach when I do my current work.
Feel free to jump on to “digital or traditional” discussion on my blog

–Kate
Thank you. Wow. Sounds like you have quite a deep understanding of animated films!
I’m glad whenever i hear kids get into some of the films I worked on. That’s so rewarding.
I am at Pixar now and it’s nice to see how they make movies. A little different from how we made Ice Age at Blue Sky. Very story oriented which is why Pixar movies are always great.

And please! Try your graphic novel!
I think there’s a great amount of potential with this medium. Almost a half way between children’s book and a novel.
I hope more people do it. You can always learn drawing as you go. :)

—Darryl
Great to hear this article helped.
I would love to look into what writes would do with picture. I know you hire an artist to do it but sitll, it’d be interesting to see how you were visualizing while writing and how your illustrator can translate that.

anyhow,
thank you so much everyone!

dice

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