Matt Boismier 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? 


My name is Matt Boismier or more commonly known as Tooninator online.  The name is silly, but it happened in college when I was looking for a clever website URL.  It had a good ring to it so I’ve just gone with it ever since.
I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to have my work featured on your site.  It’s been such a great resource for inspiration and insight into the lives and thinking of most of the major character designers in our industry.  I’m still trying to compose myself.

I grew up just outside of Windsor, Ontario (CANADA) in a town called Tecumseh.  It’s not exactly big city living, but my father was an artist and that’s where my interest in drawing and painting began.  I used to watch him work with all kinds of materials and I would be so amazed.  It seemed so easy for him.  When I was in the 3rd grade I remember my parents getting me my first ‘artist’ coloured pencils.  My dad put a banana on the living room table and told me to draw it. This was my first experience of still life drawing.  When my dad put that drawing in a frame with a custom cut mat, I felt like a real artist and never looked back.  No one would ever discourage me from drawing after that point.  I was the go-to artist throughout elementary and high school.  I was fortunate enough to be given special credit in high school to create content for the school each year and was even hired by teachers to paint murals in their homes.

Although my dad was a very experienced illustrator and painter, he always just gave me praise for anything I created.  I have to say that I’m not sure I would have developed (albeit slowly) as much as an artist had I been constantly told to do things a certain way.  There are a few nuggets of advice he gave me in passing (such as the importance of contrast) that still stick with me to this day, but overall, he really just let me enjoy creating and I think that goes a long way.
During high school I had already figured out that I would go on to study animation.  Cartoons were the only thing I ever drew.  Of course I had to try for Sheridan.  Unfortunately, I put together the worst portfolio ever.  I had never even heard of life drawing before I had to apply.  My hometown just wasn’t that artsy.  And so, I didn’t get accepted.  It was a bummer and my first taste of inadequacy.  But fortunately, St Clair College in my hometown was happy to accept me into their Tradigital Animation program.

The program was 3 intensive years of traditional and CG animation taught simultaneously.  It was intense, and a fairly new program with not a lot of credibility yet.  They were just starting to make a name in the industry as I was passing through.  I worked with some amazing people on some really fun projects and learned the value of beating an idea to death (or each other in the process).
Though I was a good animator and thought that’s what I wanted to do, by the time I graduated, I had come to the realization that I wanted to be an illustrator or designer in the industry.  Sadly, I didn’t have the chops to jump into the industry as a designer just yet. After my first round of weak applications and gentle rejections I held back from applying to studios for quite some time because I knew I wasn’t good enough.  

I didn’t stop making art or pursuing the dream, but I definitely took the slow road.  I spent half my time bartending and half making art for whoever would pay me.  Eventually I got the brilliant idea to try to go do caricatures live at Canada’s Wonderland (an amusement park near the Toronto area).  The experience was interesting and I think it deserves much of the credit for my confidence to this day.  Drawing live in front of an audience was my thing.  I loved the attention and thrived off the crowd.  It forced me to be decisive and fast as hell.  When you’re being paid by the drawing, you see the benefit in being fast.  I was addicted to caricatures and would spend a few years focusing on that because it seemed to be what people wanted from me.  Later I became a member of the International Society of Caricature Artists (ISCA) and even won an award for Best Digital Style in 2009.

I never stopped freelancing and it never got any easier.  It was a constant struggle and although I was becoming a stronger artist, business never got busier and I found it hard to make a living.  At this point, I eventually gave in to a 9 to 5 gig working for a small studio making Facebook games.  While I wasn’t thrilled to be moving away from what I saw as “pure art” at first, I couldn’t have made a better decision.  It was quickly apparent that I worked much better and more efficiently in a studio.  I helped the studio develop and release a few games within a year before I started to feel the itch for a bigger studio.  That one year of focused character design and visual development was all I needed to build a portfolio strong enough to compete in the big leagues.  

I took a trip in 2011 to CTN-X where I showed my work to some of the major players in the industry.  I was so overwhelmed with the experience and positive feedback that I felt I could finally make a big jump.  So without hesitation, as soon as I got back I applied to every studio I could and landed my current job across the country at Nerd Corps Entertainment as a Character Designer.  I can honestly say that I’m the most artistically satisfied I’ve ever been.

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

This is a good question because I’m not sure I’ve ever tried to fully dissect my process.
While I’ve always loved animation and telling stories, what I’ve always really been hooked on is just learning to be a better draftsman. Making the leap from “making pretty pictures” to building characters to tell a story is something that I’ve had to work hard at.  Since I work in a studio that does television animation, the first thing I have to do is read a script.  I take in all the information I can about whatever it is I’m supposed to design.  This usually answers just about all of the questions I might have.  Secondly, there’s always a client of some sort, so I’ll have a discussion with him or her about their vision.  The more information I can gather ahead of time, the clearer my direction is and the fewer revisions I will likely do down the line.  In the end, I am a production artist right now and it’s not always about what I want.  My task is to bring someone else’s ideas to fruition.

After I think I’ve got enough information from the client, it’s time to start doodling.  I work on a Wacom Cintiq, so that’s what I sketch with.  I’ll just start moving my hand around letting things happen naturally.  I doodle for a few minutes without any reference on screen.  At this point I want to see if I come up with anything genius as a gut reaction.  That is rarely the case, but you never know! I like to give myself that chance before getting influenced by outside sources.

Of course, this technique most likely doesn’t take me anywhere, so the next step is to hit up the Google machine on my second monitor and start compiling reference images of whatever it is I’m creating.  Most of the research I do will be of real life photos.  However, if I’m really stuck on breaking something down into its essence (ie, alligator), I might actually try to find children’s drawings of whatever it is I’m researching.  I find that kids have the most honest approach to design.  They will only draw the important details.  It’s actually an amazing trick to use.  I try my hardest not to look at what other professional designers have done, but of course that’s really hard to do these days.  The goal is to be as original as possible, but there’s just so much amazing work being thrown in your face all the time that it’s hard to remove those influences.

So now that I’ve compiled a whole lot of references, I start drawing again.  Depending on how new the subject is that I’m  working on, I might start by drawing realistically from the references.  I do this very fast, but it helps my hand learn the shapes so later I can rely on muscle memory to take over.  I also learn the shapes so I can dissect and enhance it.  I’m making this sound really methodic, but the reality is that I’m just moving my hand and hoping for the best.  And this is true.  

I also do a ton of thumbnail sketches.  I blast these little suckers out fast and most likely throw them away.  They’re just for me and it’s just a process for thinking.  No one really needs to see them.  It’s just a matter of eliminating options.  If you do 10 thumbnails for everything you design, hopefully you’ve figured out 9 ways of not drawing that thing.  This is very important.  Be okay with throwing away designs.  You don’t have to be married to your first attempt.  Your drawings don’t have feelings.  Take what you need to from it and kick it to the curb.

Another trick I use when I’m stuck on a design challenge is to switch up my medium.  In this case, it’s digital so it’s just a matter of changing brushes in Photoshop.  I have no one way of creating designs.  It’s like I have artistic ADD - I just need to switch things up.  This helps because each brush has a different feel which forces me to draw in a slightly different way and in turn changes my designs.  Approaching design this way means that I have to redraw the subject later to fit show-style but by then the design questions have been answered so the process is pretty quick.

Next I’m trying to infuse character into what I’m designing.  I can never design my characters in upright T-poses in the first stage of designs as is often required in the world of CG animation.  I find it much too stifling and restrictive. So, no matter what, I’ll start drawing poses that allows that character to create itself.  Based on the pose the character is pushing me towards, the design sense will come out of that.  I’m always concentrating on the flow of a pose or even a prop.  The viewers’ eye has to move around a design in a pleasing manner and not get held up with anything extraneous.
Those steps have served me pretty well over the last few years.  However, I’m always evolving my process in order to stay fresh, learning new things, and simply not becoming complacent.


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


A typical day for me is pretty busy.  I have a tendency to bite off more than I can chew. 
My morning begins with a good breakfast.  That’s key.  I wouldn’t make it an hour if I didn’t eat every morning.  While I’m eating I’m also checking all my social networking sites.  I’m finding it harder and harder to be as active on these sites, but I certainly enjoy checking out what other people do.  I respond to emails that are probably long overdue as well.  I love the fact that I get so many inquiries and emails, but it so easily becomes overwhelming and then gets put off for far too long.
I try to be in the office before the crowd so I can get a little bit of time to ease into designing without any interruptions. Unfortunately, the more responsibility you have, the less drawing time you get.  I spend my time at work sitting through meetings, dealing with different departments and approving and giving notes for designs coming through the pipeline from our team.  By the end of the day I’ll realize that I only got to sit for about two hours to produce any artwork.  It’s great to be so collaborative though.  I wouldn’t trade it.

I work with some amazing people.  Guys and gals like Andy Poon, Derek Toye, Edison Yan, Jimmy Ly, Peach Mork, Jack Yu, Bulat Irayliv, Francisco Avalos, Roland Sanchez, Tom Galvin, Byron Leboe, Benjamin Hayte, Jonathan Tiong, Shyh Chai, Tyler Bradley, Michael Michell and many others.  I don’t always get to work with them closely but the work they deliver is nothing short of inspiring.

Once I’ve put in all my time at work, I head home, but only on certain days of the week. Most nights I’m heading out to play volleyball or maybe hit the gym.  I need my daily fix of exercise or I go stir crazy.  After that, I’m most likely working on side projects from home.  For the last little while I was working on putting together my first art book.



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


I can’t say that I’ve had the most glamorous of careers up until this point.  It was a really slow start and there was a really slow learning process while I was a freelancer.  Being a freelancer pulls you in so many different directions.  You pretty much take whatever project comes your way.  At that point in my career, with no real studio experience, I wasn’t getting the good gigs.  I would accept just about any project someone was willing to pay me for.

I had a great opportunity to work on a series of illustrated children’s books starting back in 2007 when I was just a rookie.  I was super pumped to get a chance to see my work in print for once.  I’ve illustrated three books to date for that project.  It’s rather amazing to see how I’ve grown since then.
Another really neat project I was a part of was for a 10” vinyl Barack Obama piggy bank.  I designed a caricatured version of Obama behind a podium that would then be sculpted and cast as vinyl piggy banks.  There’s nothing like seeing your work in toy form.

Somewhere around 2010 I had an opportunity to work in a small studio in my hometown called iDream Interactive which is where I first got to focus on designing for animation.  We created Facebook flash games and that was pretty exciting.

After working on Facebook games, I made the leap into television animation and landed a job at Nerd Corps Entertainment in Vancouver  (Canada) working as a character designer on the TV series Slugterra.  That was exciting because the preliminary designs were being done by some folks I have looked up to for years. I’m currently still with Nerd Corps Entertainment, and absolutely loving my role there!

Right now, I’m also creating a mobile game\app with a small crew in my spare time.  It’s been a pretty slow process but is looking pretty neat so I’m excited to see that make its debut.


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


I would love to point out a design I’ve done that has been released already, but my favourite design work to date is actually currently underway and of course can’t be shown.  I’ve never been so fulfilled with a project as the one I’m currently working on.  It’s frustrating that in this industry you can’t show anything for such a long time, when all you want to do is show everyone what you’re so excited about!


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


Well, you know the nature of the beast!  I’m under NDA, but I can say that I’m working on a pre-school show that I’m super excited about.  It is amazingly written and fantastically storyboarded and I have to say the art’s looking pretty swell too.  It’s a super charming CG show that pays respect to great characters and story.


Who are some of your favorite artists out there?


This question is so daunting.  I feel like everyone has something great to contribute and you can learn a little something from each artist.  Of course there are some favorites: Guys and gals like Singer-Sargent, Gil Elvgren, Erich Sokol, Kiraz, Layendecker, Norman Rockwell, Glen Keane, Milt Kahl, Juanjo Guarnido, Bill Cone, Brittney Lee, Dice Tsutsumi, Devin Crane, Cory Loftis, Creature Box (Greg and Dave), Dean Yeagle, Paul Lasaine, Willie Real, Armand Serrano, Paul Felix, Robin Joseph, Nicolas Marlet, Bill Scwabb, Bobby Pontillas... The list could keep going and going.  I can’t imagine being where I am now without having the internet and all the amazing wealth of talent available at my fingertips.


Could you talk about your process in coloring your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?


I’ll basically draw with whatever is available at the time.  I go through phases of using certain mediums.  If you’ve ever checked out my blog you’ll see that I’m all over the place with content and styles.  When I’m not creating for clients or projects, I’m mostly working on becoming a better draftsman.  I like the technical aspect of the industry as much as the creative - always a student.  That being said, I’ll try to give you some insight into how I work with the tools I use most often.
Photoshop is the major player in this industry.  I know it like the back of my hand and it’s my best friend for anything commercial.  

 If I’m designing digitally I use a 21UX Cintiq.  I find every design requires a different approach so that each has a freshness and newness to it.  Generally I work on very few layers in Photoshop.  I do this for speed and sanity.  I love to paint in a seemingly traditional way...on one layer if possible.  I get too confused if there are too many layers.  If I have to concentrate on what layer I’m painting what, it’s most likely pulling my brain away from concentrating on any design questions. Also, painting on one layer allows me to paint at way faster speeds. Of course there is always a place for layers, especially in production, but I do my best to minimize it to only what is necessary.  This also means that I’m making decisions and I know what’s doing what.  Too many times I see fifty layers for a simple design and it’s impossible to decipher what adjustment layer is doing what and where a color is coming from.  You might have a great effect happening, but if you don’t know why, it could be pointless.

When it comes to brushes, there’s no secret.  You have to just try out a bunch of stuff.  I can say with certainty that I rarely use just one brush.  Even if it’s just for the tiniest portion of a painting, adding a slight texture or different brush stroke will add depth to an otherwise flat piece. 
Unfortunately, nothing I do is formulaic.  Sometimes I’ll sketch out a drawing first. Sometimes I’ll jump right to colour.  Sometimes I’ll use a straight lasso tool. Sometimes I’ll paint freehand.  I’m all about doing whatever is needed to get the job done.


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


Everything about designing is fun.  It’s why I do it.  I really love building the character and the world they live in.  When it’s being driven by story I find that almost all the answers are already given to you, you just have to move your hand and let the character design itself.  I have started to really enjoy digging deep into the details that create a world for the characters. 
I would say the hardest part about designing is not being influenced too heavily by other artists.  Now that I don’t have as much time to sit and look at blogs and other art sites as I used to, it seems to keep my head free from too much influence which is helpful in the design process when you’re trying to bring a fresh approach to something .  It’s great to see what other people are creating, but it can become daunting if you start questioning your own design sense or if you start putting unnecessary stress on yourself. 


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


In order to stay creative and sane, I make sure that I give myself a break and get some good old fashion exercise.  I sit at a computer all day so I have to get out and do something physical as soon as I can. 
I’m always taking on projects outside of my day-to-day gig.  If I didn’t do that, I’d just draw sexy girls allllll the time.


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


There is so much great stuff out there and it’s all great for different reasons, it’s tough to choose. But I would have to say that when I first learned of Erich Sokol and the other Playboy illustrators from the good ol’ days, I was floored.  Those illustrations have so much character.  I’m still hoping that one day I’ll create something as cool.

Juan Guarnido’s character designs in the Black Sad series are some of the best I’ve ever seen.  It’s definitely what I strive for.  Rapunzel is my favorite Disney heroin.  Glen Keane is a legend and the tiny nuances to her personality and expressions are what I hope to achieve in anything I create.
I think we can all agree that Nico Marlet has magic in his pencils.  The designs for How to Train Your Dragon are pure gold. 


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


Women.  No explanation needed.


What inspired you to become an Artist?


I’d have to say my father originally,but I think somewhere down the road I realized that being an artist was going to be a never ending journey and something about that seemed appealing.  I couldn’t imagine a better life choice than creating art.  It has given me every opportunity to fail and every reason to succeed. 


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


It’s tough to pinpoint anything in particular that I’ve learned from any one artist.  It’s more of a constant learning atmosphere  in a studio where if you’re open to it, each and every person can teach you something -  whether it’s to do with technique or how to just be an awesome co-worker.  The reality is that you can be the most talented individual but if you don’t mesh with a team, you’ll quickly be passed over for the next artist.  There’s so much more about working in this industry than raw talent. 


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


The only broad advice I really know how to give is to work as hard as you can.  Draw every day.  If you want get better, study from life.  I heard someone wise once say “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect”.  Take the right steps and practice them even when it gets hard.  There is no substitute for the time spent doing. There’s no book that has all the secrets, no brush that holds the talent, and no school that can teach you everything.  Just love the process.  Art wouldn’t be fun if you ever actually got as good as you wanted.


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


If anyone was looking to contact me, my email is matt@tooninator.com. 
Or even follow me on Instagram where I’m most active @thetooninator



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?



Funny you should ask.  My first art book is actually currently being printed.  It’s for sale over at my blog, www.tooninator.blogspot.com.  It’s a relatively small run and going fast and I’d certainly appreciate any support.  With this book’s success, I will be starting to plan out my second book with all original content and theme.  It’s been a really fun process. 

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