Brian McEntee on Feature Art Direction

Following Keith Lango’s blog post about how clunky CG film production pipelines result in awkward looking features, Brian McEntee sent over some additional thoughts on why animated features look the way they do nowadays. McEntee was the art director of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and CATS DON’T DANCE and production designer of ICE AGE making him well qualified to speak on this topic. With his permission, I’m reprinting Brian’s thoughts below:

Production Design and Art Direction are rarely taken seriously at the studios these days, and this is why statements like “nobody ever saw this all together until it was too late” make me cringe. It is the Art Director/Production Designer’s very job to guide the many parts of an image into one complete whole (and I wish we could dispense with the splitting up of the singular art direction task into Production Designer and Art Director – a big mistake in my book.)

The unfortunate reality is that the position(s) of Art Director and/or Production Designer these days are many times viewed as a perk or promotion, and given to someone the studio or director likes rather than to an individual who demonstrates the proper skill set for the job.

Then there is the “director/auteur” problem: the studios overindulge the Director’s ego and in essence make the visual contributions of the Art Director – who was hired to oversee the visual “direction” – irrelevant. Same problem again with studio brass, who feel the need to “shop” through any and all design drawings in order to pick and choose things they like, rather than allowing the Art Director to develop and produce one cohesive style. This results in movies that resemble rock collections rather than animated worlds.

I have personally been fortunate to have worked with several fine Directors and studios who gladly let me do my job, but such is not always the case, as is all too painfully clear.