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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Do you have any more graphic novels in your future?
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?
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!
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.
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.