Thursday, December 29, 2005


Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?

I grew up in Long Beach, California, but went to high school in nearby Los Alamitos. In high school my twin brother, Tony, and I drew comic strips for the school paper. That continued into Junior college where I/we took only life drawing so we could get our portfolios together to get into art school. We both got into California Institute of the Arts in 1987-1988 to study Character Animation (yes, no diploma; I only went there for a year and a half). I was fortunate enough to have talented teachers like Joe Ranft, Rob Minkoff, Bob Winquest, Mike Giamo, among others. Additionally, I had talented classmates like Pete Doctor, Jim Capobianco, Ashley Brannon, Paul Rudish, and more. Because of how expensive Cal Arts is/was we HAD to get into the 1988 Disney Internship or go home. We got in. After six weeks we were both selected to move to Florida and help Disney open the Florida Feature Animation Studio in 1989. Tony went back to CA within a year but stayed with Disney. I stayed at Disney Florida for about 13 years animating on about 9 features. In 2000, I left Disney to work with Big Idea Productions, makers of Veggietales, to board, character design, and direct. After 2 and half years, I came back to Disney to animate on Brother Bear. After that, I started Funnypages Productions in Florida. A year later, in 2003, Rob Corley, fellow Disney alum and best buddy, and I moved our families to Nashville, TN to relocate and expand Funnypages Productions. I have a wife that was my high school sweetheart and 4 beautiful girls.

How do you go about designing a character, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?

The first thing I do is read the script, speak to the director or client, or read the manuscript depending upon what the character is intended for. I don’t do a drawing without establishing a few guidelines in my mind for how this character is going to be used (what form of media), and most of all, what the character’s personality is supposed to be. Those two questions will establish so much of what NOT to do that I am half way there before even putting pencil to paper. The next step is to start doing some research if it’s the kind of character that needs it. If I’m smart, I’ll do some research even if it’s just a rooster for a buffet restaurant chain. (An actual recent job.) You get something out of looking at real life no matter what/who the character is. At Funnypages, we love to do all kinds of different styles (mostly because we did the Disney style for so long) so the next step would be to consider what style(s) might work best. Then it’s all about drawing. As I draw I’m thinking about what shapes might sum up that character. I try different versions and varieties of shapes. Different hair styles, expressions, and poses. Sometimes just nailing the right pose and expression will make a design come alive because the personality starts to come out of it.

What do you think really helps you out in designing a character?

Sometimes its inspiration- from looking at other artists work. Other times it’s perspiration- in working through a design that isn’t working.

From your own experience and maybe from some people that you know, what should we put in our portfolio and what should we not?

I reviewed many portfolios when I was at Disney and the ones that stood out (besides having strong art in them) were focused. By that I mean only the strongest images were included and usually they showed a certain artistic direction the artist wanted to move in. If you want to be a character designer, show character designs! A couple life drawings, caractures, props, and color pieces will add to the designs, but just a few. “Less is more” is a term CREATED because of portfolios!

What are some of the things that you have worked on?

I’ve animated on 10 features films and 3 or 4 shorts including the films: “Beauty and the Beast”, “Aladdin”, “Lion King”, and “Mulan”. I’ve created storyboards for Veggietales and Duck Dodgers. Directed for Big Idea and via our company, we have illustrated over 20 children’s books (some Veggietales, some for Disney, and some of our own creation). I wrote and illustrated the 4 issue comic book mini series “Opposite Forces” for our own Funnypages Press indy publishing company. (BTW, it’s being republished, this time in color, through ALIAS right now; see your local comic shop.) We have a Christian girl’s chapter book series called “Andi’s Journal” (that my wife wrote and Rob and I created and illustrated) and out soon and- most important to this group-I just wrote and illustrated a book on the subject of character design. It’s entitled, “Creating Characters with Personality” and it comes out in Feb 2006 from Watson-Guptill. Commercial break over.

Is there a character design you have done that you are most proud of?

It would have to be “Mushu, the dragon” from the film MULAN for which I was a supervising animator. I look at the design now and wonder why I didn’t do more with it but the character will always be near and dear to me. I created the final design of the character but many people contributed to the design like Peter de’Seve and Chen-Yi Chang.

What are you working on now? (If you can tell us)

Funnypages is about to begin design and storyboard work for Big Idea Productions for their second Veggietales feature film, as well as design and development for a new preschool TV series for a major licensed property, development and direction of the pilot episode for a Christian anime’ series (yes, they exist), we are starting work on our own concept, “Tomo”, a Christian Manga (another oddity) series for Zondervan Publishers, and we are wrapping up the illustrations for a children’s bible with over 200 illustrations.

Where is the place you would like to work if you had a choice?

Right where I am now! I’m partner in a company with my best friend in Nashville, TN. What else is there?

Who do you think are the top character designers out there?

Too many to list but here are a few: Harold Sieperman, Steven Silver, Hank Ketchum, Paul Cocker Jr., and tons of new young faces that I don’t even know the names of. Thank you internet!
How do you go about coloring the character, what type of tools or media do you use?

I usually don’t do the final color as we have colorists that we use that know color better than I do. But the final answer is Photoshop. We FTP or email all of our work so working digitally is great. It also makes changes easier.

What part of designing a character is most fun and easy, and what is most hard?

Most fun are the faces. Most hard are the hairstyles and the clothes. I get lazy with those.

What are some of your favorite character designs and least favorite, which you have seen?

I love what Tony F. did with the “Incredibles” designs, Steven Silver’s “Kim Possible” stands, and the “Chicken Little” characters are fun too. My biz partner, Rob Corley, has a character, “Boyrobo”, which I would love to animate…..that is the biggest compliment an animator can give a character design- “I can’t wait to animate that!” There are plenty of designs that I don’t care for, but I don’t want to offend anyone.

What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?

Girls and Superheroes. Bother were things I didn’t draw when I was younger because they were too hard. I forced myself to practice them through the years.

What inspired you to become a Character Designer?

I never thought I would be. It’s amazing how often I do it now. At Cal Arts, I was blessed to have been taught character design by the great Mike Giamo. He made it look so easy and exciting, the seed was planted then. The frustration still follows.

What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?

To push myself. I can become lazy way to easily and “settle” on a design too soon. Looking at other’s art makes me push myself because I can either see how hard they worked at it or how easy it was for them. Both concepts push me. All these young, talented guys make me work harder!

What wisdom could you give us, about being a character designer? Do you have any tips you could give?

Out of a batch of different designs you show a client, make sure you like them all! They will always pick the one you like the least.

If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?

Website: and

Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbook, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?

As I mentioned above, I have my “how to” book “CREATING CHARACTERS WITH PERSONALITY” coming out in Feb. from Watson-Guptill. Some of the examples below are from the book. I am honored to mention that it has a forward from the great Glen Keane as well as art contributions from Peter de’Seve, Butch Hartman, J. Scott Campbell, Jack Davis, Mark Henn, Rob Corley and more!


Piotr said...

I would appreciate a update whenever the book is officially out. You can email me: piotr(at)

Dan Segarra said...

Inspirational read!

firstsingle said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
firstsingle said...

Tom Bancroft is a very inspirational artist and a very good teacher. I purchased his book,
'Creating Characters with Personality'
I've learned so much. I use to sit at my computer for hours, with my Lightwave 3D software fired up and ready to create a character. Nothing! Modeling I knew but, I didn't know anything about creating characters. Now I'm more equipped, and I'm only 1/3 through his book. I'm taking my time with this one. Can't wait til I'm done. I already have tons of character Ideas for my first short.
Thanks tom.

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