Pixar success story speaks to students

October 31, 2008

by Meredith Maines

Mastermind artist Bill Joyce, the well-known illustrator behind characters from Toy Story, A Bug’s Life and more recently Meet the Robinsons, spoke to School of Art students and statewide art faculty Friday as part of the Louisiana Art Education Association conference.

Joyce, a Shreveport native, gave students advice on pursuing an illustration career, especially in light of Tech’s limited illustration and animation curricula.

“You don’t have to get pegged into any specific [genre],” Joyce said. “You can adapt yourself into a million different ways. You don’t have to be in New York or L.A.; you can cobble your short [film] together and get noticed.”

As a five year old, the artist said he could not understand the concept of fiction; to him, the stories and movies he saw were real.

“My parents said, ‘It’s just a story; it’s just us.’ ‘Just humans?'” he asked them. “I was bereft.”

Joyce said he was left questioning who got to make up all this “stuff.” He wanted that job.

Wes Johnson, a senior communication design major, said he found childhood inspiration in much the same way as the younger Joyce.

But instead of Joyce’s favorite, Superman, Johnson said he enjoyed Super Mario.

“Mario Brothers really did have a huge effect on me and my perception of visual representation,” Johnson said.

Although he said he thinks a graphic design career comes close to his personal goals, Johnson wishes there could be more encouragement in the curriculum toward hand-drawn graphic elements.

“Drawing and painting by hand seem like such tedious processes once you’ve discovered Photoshop, but it’s just not that true,” Johnson said. “[Using an electronic graphics tablet] would be a nice, easy-to-implement step in the illustrative direction for our art department.”

Gary Hauser, director and associate professor of communication design, said there is no large move to increase the illustration curriculum’s reach at this time because the current School of Art faculty could not support a larger program.

“The problem we have is that we have to be a generalist program,” Hauser said. “It’s hard to get people on board to a program that hasn’t happened yet.”

So what happens to students with Joyce-level illustrative talent? Hauser said there are still opportunities within the department for those rare students to excel.

“When we see this much motivation, we allow students to take up to six course credits to specialize [in independent study],” Hauser said.

He also said art electives periodically arise within the curriculum that are geared toward illustration, animation and multimedia. But he said students who are inspired by Joyce should not merely depend on the curriculum to develop their careers.

“Students can’t come in without skills,” Hauser said. “The talent already has to be there.”