Thursday, August 27, 2009



Sandro Cleuzo Interview

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 was born and grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil and lived there until 1990 when I then moved to Dublin, Ireland.
I always drew and as long as I can remember I was always with pencil and paper in hands drawing everything and everybody. I would ask some relatives to pose for me so I could draw them when I was 5 or 6 years old. I also used to watch every animated TV show every day. The Saturday Morning shows that you have in the US would be shown in Brazil in the afternoon from 12:00 PM until 6:00 PM Monday through Friday. If I was not playing outside I would be in front of the TV watching the shows and copying the characters.

At that time what I wanted to do was comic books and that’s what I did everyday. I used to create characters and stories for them and did whole books.
One day, my 8th grade teacher saw some of my comics and asked to borrow them. She then sent them to the most famous comic book artist in Brazil. He is like the Walt Disney of Brazil, with comic books, merchandising, animation and even a small theme park. He invited me for an internship and I started there when I was still 14 years old. I would work from 8:30 AM until 5:30 PM and then I would attend regular school at night. My internship there was going well until one day when I met an animator from their animation department. She took me to visit the animation studio and I just fell in love with it. I was thrilled to see those exquisite desks and discs. I think I was already playing with animation. I had acquired the Preston Blair and the Treasure of Disney Animation books and was doing some animation, very crude stuff.

That animator who took me to the animation department asked me if I wanted to work there and I said yes but being young and naïve, I did not know I was making a mistake. I was officially working for the comic book department and I did not know about their rivalry. The comic and animation departments had a fierce competition between them and the 2 groups did not get along.
When I got back to work the supervisor already knew about my trip to the animation studio and that I had accepted their offer and fired me from the company on the spot. She was also the wife of the studio’s owner and very powerful. She was very upset with me and asked me to leave at once. I was really scared and did not know how to tell my parents that I blew it.

However, being fired from there was the best thing that happened to me. One co-worker there came to me and gave me a number and a name of another studio to call. I wish I could remember her face and name now. She was an angel to me because she directed me to one of the best animation studios in Brazil at that time and the place where I really learned and developed my skills. It was called Briquet Films. The owner, Luis Briquet, was the one who really gave me my start in the animation industry. I started there as an inbetweener and stay there for almost 4 years. I became an animator there and even though I left for a while to work at a couple of other studios I would always go back. I was also already working as a freelancer drawing comics for another studio and was getting stories published in a couple of comic books by another famous artist.

I left Briquet’s studio and Brazil for Ireland in 1990. I chose Ireland because Don Bluth had a studio there at the time. I wanted to work for Bluth since I saw The Secret of Nimh. I got there with my portfolio, knocked on the door and asked to see him and show my work. Don was intrigued with this situation and after looking at my portfolio he hired me on the spot as an animator. I was amazed because I thought I would start as an inbetweener or cleanup artist.
Don really believed I could be an animator right away and gave me my first job in Feature animation.

So, my schooling happened at work at Briquet Films in Sao Paulo and Bluth studios in Ireland so I thank these 2 men for giving me the chances that I needed. I had never attended art classes and animation schools were never heard of there at the time.

Also, I had to learn by myself and by working on the senior animator’s scenes when I could inbetween for them. In Brazil they never took the time to sit down and show me a few tips. They were afraid of new artists learning and eventually becoming good and taking their jobs. To give you an idea, there was even a meeting among them to talk about me and how no one should teach me anything because I was learning and getting better and would eventually be taking their jobs. Isn’t that crazy? We had to learn by ourselves, observing what the animators did, doing tests and studying animation frame by frame. But one thing I learned: You can not stop people from learning if they want to.

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

Well, let me try to explain. I think the way I work must be very much like the other designers. I first think about whom this character is and what it is, their personalities, and then I go for shapes. Shape first and then details. I would do lots of roughs and draw over and over again the same drawings until I get something that pleases me. I also think about contrast in shapes like big areas and small areas, straight against curves, etc. For films, if I know who the voice artist would be then it gets a little easier to start.

What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work with?

When I design characters I first gather a lot of reference and look at them, like photos, paintings, drawings, etc. I start by doing a lot of roughs throughout the day and at the end I choose the ones I like the best. I discard a lot of drawings.
If I am working with a main designer or supervisor like I did with Joe Moshier, I would then show him and get his input and suggestions and only then I would show the directors and art director and get their approval or notes.

What are some of the movies you have worked on?

Besides the TV commercials in Brazil, I have worked as an animator in quite a lot of features. For Bluth, I worked on A Troll in Central Park (My first feature), Thumbelina, which I liked to animate on it very much, Pebble and the Penguin and Anastasia, when they were in Arizona.
For Disney I started on Fantasia 2000, animating on the Firebird segment directed by the wonderful Paul and Gaetan Brizzi, amazing artists and with a very unique vision. Still for Fantasia, I animated on Tin Soldier doing some of the rats. After that I moved to Kingdom of the Sun in which I got to meet Joe Moshier and we started to work together. I helped Joe with the model sheets and turn around models. I also animated over a 100 feet of animation before they cancelled the project. While they were changing Kingdom, I helped a little on Tarzan and did a test and designs for a little short that I forgot the title of and when things started on Kingdom again I was called back to help do the models for the new characters and stayed as a lead animator on it, doing the old man who is thrown out the window, the waitress, the Theme song guy and the nervous official who tries to find a bride for Kuzko. It was now called The Emperor’s New Groove.

After Groove, I was hired by Mike Gabriel and Mike Giaimo to supervise the animation of the trio o Mariachis for the original Sweating Bullets. I again helped Joe with design and model sheets before animation begun. The project changed directors and became Home on the Range and I continue with Joe doing the models and also designing characters on my own which appeared in the movie. I designed the final Mariachis, some of the characters in the saloon, helped with Lucky Jack and the sheriff and final Jeb, the goat which I also supervised the animation along with the sheriff. During the production of Home I moved to Disney’s Orlando studio to work on My Peoples in which I did the final models of Edna Lee and Uncle Ned, which I just adjusted a little from what they had. During the production of my Peoples, Disney cancelled the project, closed down the studio and laid off everybody (Except for a few artists that they took to LA). I was also laid off, which I could not believe it. One moment they love you and another they don’t.

I then went back to Brazil and worked as a freelancer on a segment of the Proud Family Movie. I gathered a small crew and produced a 3 minutes piece from storyboards all the way through cleanup. It was a lot of work. I did all the layouts and poses and most of the animation. Besides that I animated for my good friend Sergio Pablos on Asterix and the Vikings and after that I moved back to Arizona to work with my good friend Len Simon on Curious George at his studio. We also worked on a little short that he directed called Rindin the Puffer.
After that I went back to Disney to design for a project called Joe Jump, again working with Joe Moshier and the director Sam Levine. The project was cancelled but I got a chance to enquire and get work with James Baxter on Enchanted, which was great. I worked for James on Enchanted from Brazil. In 2008 I was hired by Dreamworks to animate on the traditional shorts of the Kung Fu Panda DVD, which I loved and was nominated for an Annie Award for it. I was also hired back at Disney to animate on The Princess and the Frog.

So you were able to work on "Kingdom of the Sun" ?

Yes, and it was a very interesting time because I learned so much about how it worked at Disney to make a feature. I also felt so fortunate to have met Joe Moshier on that production and learn so much from him.
On Kingdom, I animated quite a lot of scenes and saw many of them going all the way through color. Roger Allers was the director and it was his project. Mark Dindal came in later as a co-director.
At one time I was put to work as an animator under Nik Ranieri on the Huaca character. The Huaca was a little Incan stone sculpture that was a kind of Jiminy Cricket and conscience to Kuzko. We did quite a few scenes of him and I wished Disney would release what we did on Kingdom as a bonus with the Groove DVD. When Kingdom changed to Groove Nik got the Kuzko character and I became a lead on some fun miscellaneous ones that I loved to do.

Were you able to see the Documentary called "The Sweatbox", and what did you think of it ?

Yes, I did and I thought it was very interesting because it showed the chaotic way that we were making the animated films at that time. All the story changes and animators loosing their characters and Roger Allers upset that they were changing his film and he was not part of it anymore.. Also, it shows a lot of Sting trying to cope with all the changes and being very patient. Very interesting stuff.

Is there a design you have done that you are most happy with?

I really liked the trio of Mariachis and also Edna Lee from My Peoples. It’s just sad that these characters that I really wanted to animate were cut or the project was cancelled. I remember that most people loved the Mariachis but in the end they had no place in the story anymore.

What projects are you working on now?

Right now I and my business partner are working towards the opening of an animation studio and school in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I really want to raise the level there because there’s a potential but not any good place to teach people properly and we need better artists there.
We also want to get projects coming our way to produce and we want to develop our own projects as well. One of my dreams is to make the first real good Brazilian traditional feature in the Disney style, with rich characters, good story and high production value. I have already started to develop it. I just have to learn how to get it financed.

What character are you animating in "The Princess and the Frog"?

In Frog I animated the prince as human under supervising animator Randy Haycock and also the butler transformed into the prince. I also designed and was lead animator of the Fenner Brothers who are 2 brothers who are businessmen. They have a small role but it was fun to do them.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

From the past , Milt Kahl is number one. He was complete as animator and character designer. I also like Marc Davis and Ward Kimbal as designers but I also like all the others too as animators.
As designers I also like Tom Oreb, Martin Provensen, Aurelius Battaglia, Chuck Jones, Hawley Pratt and Bill Peet.

Today’s artists I like Joe Moshier who is one of the best designers today. You haven’t seen nothing from him yet because you can not imagine the quantity of great, great designs that he did that were never used or seen it. He is a machine and can produce tons of designs in no time and all great stuff. Dreamworks is lucky to have him now.

I also like Nicolas Marlet a lot and also James Baxter and Sergio Pablos.
As for animators, there are so many and I love most of them all and I can not mention only a few names. Each one has their own special thing that they add to their scenes.
There is also a Brazilian illustrator that I like a lot named Negreiros and he is amazing. I try to collect everything I see from him.

Could you talk about what types of tools or media that you use?

I usually use pencil, pen and markers. For animation I start with a 2b pencil or softer and I would tie down in Col- Erase blue and graphite over it, when I have the time. For design it could start with a 2b pencil or pen and the tie down either with pencil or pen and markers and Prismacolor.

I am just now trying to work on a tablet and Photoshop but it takes a little time to get used to it.
I still love paper and pencil.

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

For me every step is fun. The difficult part is to create something new and fresh, that’s the hard part.

What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?

I keep drawing and working as much as I can. I also watch a lot of animated and live action films and I try to acquire every book I can that has great artwork in it that inspires me.

What are some of your favorite designs which you have seen?

Like I said before, every design by Milt Kahl I see is exciting; no matter how many times I’ve seen it. To name just a few, the designs for Sword in the Stones and 101 Dalmatians and Sleeping Beauty are just fantastic.

The designs that Joe Moshier did for New Groove and Home on the Range are great and the ones he did for Joe Jump which people won’t see because it was cancelled.
I really liked what Nicolas Marlet did for Kung Fu Panda, he is amazing.
I also like designs that I see from studios in Europe like the Gorillaz designs and others from Passion Pictures.

What was Joe Jump about, do you think they will ever bring it back?

I do not know if I can say much about it because they might bring it back one day. Joe Jump was started by my friend Sam Levine who was a story artist at Disney and the voice of the 3 brothers who work for the villain in Home on the Range. He worked on it for a couple of years but it was cancelled.
It was about video games and I was helping to design some monsters for it. Joe Moshier did great designs on it and there was a team of about 10 people designing characters and locales. One of the monster that I designed was already been modeled in the computer and I was helping with it to make sure it was on model. I really loved working on it.

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

I like everything. I like to draw humans caricatured a lot because everyone is so different. There are so many things you can exaggerate when you caricature a person. The possibilities are infinite.

Also, designing monsters, creatures and aliens are fun too because you are free to do anything with them. Also, insects are great to do too.

What inspired you to become an Artist?

Like I said before, I always drew as a kid and I think that was the main thing. I could communicate and express myself through drawings and I kept going. I am a very introvert person and through my drawings I would make myself stand out a little for a few minutes at school by winning art competitions or be asked to draw for a poster or the school paper. I was never good in sports so I was not very popular, except when they needed a drawing.
As to become an animator, what inspired me, besides loving the Disney animated films, was the possibility of making a simple drawing and design come to life and for me, there is no better thrill than that.

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

I learned a lot by observing and studying all artists. From Milt I learned not only about how to move a character but principles of design, like straight against curves, contrast in shapes and appeal.

From working with Joe I learned to push a design in ways that I never would of before. It was just amazing when he would go over my drawings and make it so much better.
From Ward Kimbal’s work I learned a lot about how far you can go with a cartooning character, how much you can stretch and squash it and have fun with it.

What are some of your favorite websites that you go to?

I like yours a lot for the amount of information about design, it’s great. I also visit Cartoon Brew, Hans Bacher’s, Didier Ghez’s Disney History, Mr. Fun Blog and many friends blogs.

What wisdom could you give us, about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?

It might sound clichéd but you just have to keep at it. Keep drawing and studying and observing people around you and how they are different than others and how they move. Keep taking life drawing classes and study great artists from the past and the best ones today. There are so many books with so much information today, more than ever. Learn to draw, even if you want to do 3D.

If you can attend an art or animation school, do it. You will not learn everything there but it will prepare you for a job at a studio. When you get hired at a studio one day, then you will start to learn from the artists there.

Is there anyway you could go up to John Lasseter for all of us animation buffs, and ask him to add all of the rough animation of "The Princess and the Frog" on the Blu-ray as a special feature?

No, I am not at Disney any more; I left there at the end of June. Also, I had never met John face to face. He was always busy and I do not think he knows all the animators yet, only the supervisors.

That's to bad, maybe someone reading this will be able to do something to make that happen.

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?

No. I never thought about publishing one but I might think about it.

Thank you Sandro

To see more of Sandro's wonderful artwork and some stories about his career in animation, you should go to his blog at

Sandro Cleuzo Gallery