Saturday, 2 February 2013

DELAWARE EXHIBITION: RALPH EGGLESTON

This post is one in a series on the artists featured in the upcoming exhibition at the Delaware Art Museum,  State of the Art: Illustration 100 Years After Howard Pyle. 



Digital animation is one of the most important aspects of modern illustration, but it was difficult to identify a single artist to represent this rich and burgeoning field in the Delaware show.  A feature animated film requires a group effort, combining the skills of hundreds of artists, sculptors, writers, computer scientists and electrical engineers, so it was a challenge to isolate an individual artist whose imprint made a conspicuous difference.

Ralph Eggleston, production designer and art director for some of the greatest films from Pixar Animation Studios, didn't make my search any easier by insisting that his own work on films such as Toy Story, Finding Nemo and Wall-E was one small part of a team effort, combined with "many talented artists and film makers at Pixar who continually challenge and inspire me...."

Some of the pioneering artists of digital animation have now taken management jobs, but the Delaware exhibition is not an exhibition of business executives, it is restricted to artists who retain the eyes and fingers to craft images of enduring value.  Eggleston frequently works in digital media but adds,  "I thoroughly enjoy working in traditional media like gouache, oil, chalk and pastel."

Pastel concept drawing for Finding Nemo

The scope, duration and movement of a digitally animated film present Eggleston with a very different set of artistic challenges than those facing great illustrators of the past.  One hundred years ago, illustrators painted a single image on canvas, illustrating a single moment from a story.  In his "color scripts" below, Eggleston plans the movement of color and mood and the change of scene throughout the movie Wall-E:


 
Howard Pyle would have been astounded by this art form and its tools.  Yet, at its heart, animation requires the same aesthetic concepts-- design, composition, balance, harmony, contrast, proportion, variety-- that Howard Pyle applied to his oil paintings. This continuity between old and new masters points us to the most important elements of picture making.

In his statement for the show, Eggleston included this insight on his role as an animation artist:
Pretty pictures are nice.  But a good idea-- clearly communicated to an audience-- is my focus.  In doing my artwork, the element of time is foremost in my thoughts... I approach visuals with the idea of burning into the audiences's retina as much information as is needed as clearly and quickly as I can so they can focus on the characters and the emotional content of the story they are being told.

These and other original works by Eggleston, as well as film clips from Finding Nemo and Wall-E, will be on display at the Delaware exhibition.