An interview with Carol Wyatt, background painter, color stylist, and color supervisor for animated shows such as Rick and Morty and HBO's Animals.
- My name is Carol Wyatt. I'm a background painter in animation and I'm a color stylist in animation, also a color supervisor. Those are three separate jobs that I do. A background painter is someone who, you're filling in the backgrounds that are already designed. You have layout artists who do the layouts and then a background designer who will design the original backgrounds that you're going to paint. And the color comes in, it's all separated in animation, so that it can get done faster.
So one person doesn't usually do the whole process. There's a layout, background designer, and then a background painter. And what we do is make sure that the lighting is correct, the mood, if something's really scary, if you're going to have an explosion, destroy a city, go underground, have a romantic scene, sunset, all of those kinds of things, that's up to us. We get everything in black and white and then we create the mood for the scene.
Color stylist is when you color everything but the backgrounds, or it can be all of it. Certain shows they'll want you to do everything all together, but normally a color stylist will do the characters, the props, and the effects, so explosions and things like that. Color supervisor works with the art director and basically carries the entire color vision throughout, it encompasses a little bit more than just color, because you have to work with some effects and compositing and you have to work with everybody.
It's a new show, it hasn't come out yet, it's called Animals for HBO, it's coming out in the winter. It's a Duplass Brothers production. I've been on Rick and Morty the whole way through and plan on being back on Rick and Morty next year. And I work on other shows intermittently while I'm working on Rick and Morty. Yeah, you have to work on a lot of things and keep your, you need to keep your contacts up to date and always be meeting with people and setting up your next job.
I started out on the Simpsons when it first started. So I'm always proud of that, 'cause that was the very beginning of prime time animation. And I worked on that the first four seasons, and then went on to work on some of the first shows at Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, and I worked at Hanna-Barbera before it was Cartoon Network. Most recently I've been working on Over the Garden Wall for Cartoon Network, which is a gorgeous show, and Rick and Morty.
I also, because I work on Rick and Morty, which is a Dan Harmon show, I also got to work on G.I. Jeff for Community, which was really fun. So whenever they have stuff that comes up I can work on those as well. I always wanted to be an artist. And my aunt was a graphic designer and taught art in public school. And so I knew that you could have some kind of job doing that. She lived it, so I knew it was possible.
And I just always drew and painted, always. I went to Otis-Parsons. I went into communication design for graphic design. My plan was to be in advertising and to be an art director and work at an agency. As I was going through that program at Otis, I started veering off into illustration. I found myself painting and drawing all of my projects for graphic design.
I wanted to do the lettering, I wanted to paint everything instead of take a photograph, and I got in a lot of trouble for that too, but finally I switched over to illustration. Our entire class from Otis practically everyone went into animation. It just kind of, we all just kind of tumbled into it. One of our friends from Otis called and said, "Oh, we need someone to paint, "We need painters, they're desperate for painters, "on these Saturday morning cartoons." And I said, "Well, that sounds like fun, "I'll go and do that, that sounds great." And it was actually a three month job, and that sounded amazing.
'Cause that was more work than editorial illustration, where you wait for a check for weeks and you do one job. So I went over to work at DIC on C.O.P.S., and the Real Ghostbusters, and Alf Tales, and all of those fun 80's Saturday morning cartoons. And then I met some people at DIC who went onto the Simpsons. We all went onto the Simpsons at the same time and we ended up calling everyone from my class at Otis to come work on the Simpsons, and pretty much everyone jumped into animation at that point.
'Cause we knew how to draw and paint, so all you had to do was learn the layering and all of the different technical aspects. I did assist in animation, I've assistant directed projects, I've done stop motion projects, I've done a lot of ink and paint, when it was traditional animation. I actually inked cells and painted cells, but I always ended up back painting. I always loved painting. So even when I would art direct a show or have bigger positions on shows I always kind of when back to painting.
The Simpsons was the first TV series to use computers in the animation process. And no one was doing that yet. And we had those little Macs, those tiny ones with the floppy drives, and a very simple paint program called Pixel Paint, which was the predecessor to Photoshop. And because it was so new I was getting calls from Pixel Paint and from other manufacturers asking what do you want to change? What should we do? 'Cause it was so new and so basic, very basic, and easy to lose material, 'cause if you left your floppy next to the computer sometimes it would erase and we would lose work.
(laughing) Things have really changed. But that kind of started me in computers immediately, but things stayed traditional for a long time after that, for a few more years, and then gradually Photoshop started to evolve into a really great program that you could use in animation. A lot of people ask me which programs they use the most in animation for painting.
And we mostly use Photoshop, but sometimes Illustrator. A lot of people use After Effects for smaller, simpler projects, but Photoshop is still kind of the main program. The business. At Otis we learned the business, because we went into advertising. So we learned how to run our own business, but kids who come out of Cal Arts they're really good at what they do, but they don't know anything about managing a business and marketing themselves.
They've gotten much better about marketing themselves, but they still don't know how to negotiate, they don't know how to sign contracts, they don't know, they haven't learned a lot of basic skills, so that's really important to learn. A lot of artists are taken advantage of because they don't know how to just do basic business. We have, we actually have a lot of people, I've been working lately with a lot of people from Art Center, and Otis as well. A really great director I worked with recently, a director on Rick and Morty is from Otis.
And everybody has gotten into the animation game, so they've learned that people can make a living doing this, so now there are lots of graduates coming into animation. It's more competitive now. It's a lot more competitive for me too. 'Cause they're younger, they're willing to put in a lot of time. They're very excited. When kids first graduate from school they're very talented, they're scary talented, and I mean they compete with me for the same jobs.
The difference is that they don't have the experience in traditional animation that I have. And I mean a great example is the other day someone was asking me like how I wanted things layered? And why do I need it layered? And why, why do you need something like presented this way? And sent to compositing this way? And all I could answer was well, it's animation and you do one thing on this side and the other thing on this side.
And that's how it originally was. It was a cell and a background and another cell in between. And they were like, (laughing) I don't understand. But then I realized that there are so many mechanics even in Photoshop and Illustrator that work because of traditional everything, traditional printing and traditional animation. And the newer generation, they don't understand why it's organized that way.
They don't know where it comes from. And really there were a couple of new kids working and they were asking questions about that, like, "Why? "Why can't we just do it this simple way?" And you could do it that way, but it creates problems down the road, but they don't know the whole process, they're learning still. Yeah, but they're very talented. I mean, they're extremely good.
And I'm learning a lot from them as well. Oh, I have to learn everything all the time. I haven't ever taken a class in Photoshop or Illustrator, I've learned on the job, but every time there are younger animators in the group, I learn a lot from them. I'm always asking them, "How'd you do that? "Show me what you just did". (laughing) And then, and that's kind of how I learn. And you learn by mistake.
You make mistakes and go oh, that didn't work. But I still paint very traditionally with newer mechanics. I still paint like a painter even though I have all these tools I still just use like brushes, and I'll layer things, and do things just like a painter would do. So I still think that way, even though I have all these amazing things I can do. Yeah, a lot of people can't draw really well, or they don't, sometimes they just don't know perspective.
Just simple things like that. And perspective is really important in animation 'cause you, somebody has to fit when they go through a door, they can't have the door this big and the character this big. That happens a lot, surprisingly. (laughing) Be persistent, stay current, be competitive. If you don't learn from people, take classes and always learn new programs, always.
And all the programs interlink. So you really kind of need to learn other programs and not just stick with one program. You really need to keep up with contacts and always see people, have lunch, go out for a beer with the guys. Do whatever you need to do to stay happy and fun and in the group. It's kind of like a popularity contest. (laughing) Actually a lot of the newer animation people inspire me.
'Cause they bring things I've never seen before. They'll do artwork that I've never seen. And on Rick and Morty it's a great, that's such a great show for learning, because it's science fiction. And I never worked on anything with science fiction before. And I really wasn't the right candidate for that show, but I loved it and I got really into it. But our supervisor, he just has every movie in his head and every science fiction scene in his head, and he'll say look up this scene and this movie and Star Trek, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
And you go in and you look it up and it's this amazing shot. And you're like, wow, I never, I never would even know that that was there. And so I learn a lot from a lot of the guys and a lot of the films that are made now are so beautiful. All you have to do is just watch those and get inspired too. Everybody's so good. (laughing) There's so much talent nowadays. (laughing) Even on the shows that aren't as sophisticated the talent is amazing.
Now you have to take tests, the studios give tests. We didn't have to do that when I started, because they really needed artists and they didn't have enough people, but now they have an abundance of people to choose from. So they do tests for specific jobs and they'll have 40 or 50 people send in tests for one job. It's very competitive now. And I'm not sure that system works very well because I know if I painted something for a test it might not be what it's supposed to be, but if I'm on a staff, and I'm with a crew, and I have the director, and I have direction, and I have the creator of the show there telling me, and I know what the characters look like, then I'm gonna hit it.
But if you're taking a test and you're at home, and you don't have all the information, and you really don't know what the show's feel is, you're just stabbing in the dark, you don't really know. So I kind of feel for those people that have to take a lot of tests. I don't, I try not to tests as often as possible. (laughing)