Monday, April 23, 2012

Andy Ristaino Lead Designer on Adventure Time Interview

At the LA Zinefest, Andy Ristaino, Lead Character Designer on Adventure Time was kind enough to start the process of an interview with me. When he's not designing some of the strangest and most outlandish things for Adventure Time he's working the indie seen with his comics. Below he explains his role on the show and what he enjoys out of life. He also disputes the scientific fact that (read outloud as a German scietist) The Adventure Time crew has no fashion sense.

Jonathan: So could you please explain your job in detail again, I believe your doing a great job as lead character designer on Adventure Time, what does that entail?

Andy: Thanks,  it was a pretty easy transition for me. When I came onto the show in the beginning of season two Phil Rynda and Pen Ward, had already developed the look of the show, so all the hard stuff had already been figured out.  I just had to get used to drawing AT style.  And when Phil left I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time and stepped up into the lead design position.  As lead designer on Adventure Time, I basically have to go through every storyboard and pick out anything that moves and has not been already designed for a previous episode, and design it.  Things like character turnarounds, mouth charts, props, effects, or any sort of special pose that the characters are doing that we want to make more dynamic or make sure the animation company overseas gets it right.  It's our job to make sure we give the animators all the information they need to animate the characters or objects in space.  I work with two great designers Michael Deforge and Michelle Xin, we have about a week to a week and a half to do an episode, so things go by at a pretty quick pace.

How'd you become part of the show? What are some others you've worked on?

Adventure Time is actually the first show I've ever worked on that's made it beyond being pilot.   When the pilot for Adventure Time first got released onto the web I immediately connected with it, not that long afterwards I heard that they were making it into a series through my friend and fellow comics artist Thomas Herpich.   Immediately, I emailed him an asked him to give me a heads up whenever there was a job opening.  He was kind enough to set me up with a storyboard test, which I failed!  A little time after that I took a design test and got the job.  

What are some of your favorite things you've designed on the show? What about the hardest thing?

 As far as favorites go.  I would definitely say the subjects of the flame kingdom were my favorites to design.  It was the first time we really got to see the flame kingdom so I got to go to town creating the look and feel of that place.  I also love to draw effects and explosions and think about the movement of energy but I don't get to do much efx designs since I took over the lead design position.

How's it like working with the rest of the crew, in the last group picture on Adventure Time Art I noticed everyone had bad fashion sense, so you all seem to be together on that.

That statement on bad fashion sense seems more like an opinion, rather than science fact. (Oh, it's science fact) Working with the AT crew is super inspiring.  Pen put together a team of people whose artwork he personally enjoys, so everyone working on the show is an amazing artist.  It's actually a lot quieter than people think it would be, we're all pretty serious about what we're making, so usually everyone is busy working. Most of the staff still works on their own work outside of the job, being around so much creativity gets you all amped up!

I've heard that everyone on the show has input on an episode, what exactly does that mean? I would think the story boarders would just control their episodes.

The story boarders write all the dialogue for the episodes, but no ones going to turn down a good joke or idea if someone gives one to them.  What I meant when I said that was that Pen is very open to everyone’s ideas.  Anyone on the show can pitch an episode premise, it doesn't mean they will make it to be an episode, and if it does make it, it will probably have changed a lot on its way down the ol' animation pipe.

Please tell about your independent work, I recently enjoyed your indie comics from L.A. Zinefest. "The Tunnel" was spooky fun.

Thanks! I'm usually pretty busy outside of work drawing comics, zines, or creating art for art shows.   I have a few graphic novels available from SLG comics,  The Babysitter and Escape from Dullesville.  I'm in the process of creating a bunch of horror comics as well as a series of character design zines each focusing on one idea.  The first one was all people from the future, the next one will all be strange creatures.  I also draw a bunch of post its.

 What's your process for creating work, do you need music or something in the background? Do you work out the ideas with sketches and then put them together?

It's different for my personal work than for the job. On the job we barely have enough time to finish drawing the characters every week so there's not much time for experimentation and development of ideas.  I go through phases for what I listen too.  Podcast phase, music phase, audiobook phase.  If I really need to think (like when I'm writing) I usually listen to music or nothing, but if i'm just drawing usually I listen to podcasts, I find it's nice to hear peoples voices when you're working.

What are some of your nerdy interests? Hobbies?

I collect comics pretty hardcore.  I love going to used books stores and digging through the graphic novel sections.   I also fiddle around with music.  I have a whole bunch of synths and a theremin.  I guess I specialize in weird noises.

Gotta ask, favorite video game, are you playing anything right now? 
 My xbox red ringed (ouch), so I'm mostly playing games on my iPad.   Neuroshima Hex for the most part.

 Who are some of your favorite artists from any medium?
I'll just talk about comics.  See next answer. 

I believe you wanted to be in comics more than animation, what were some comics that grabbed you? What are you currently into?

The big ones in no particular order were the original TMNT series, clairmont x - books, fantastic four, the far side, calvin and hobbes, the tick, replacement god, geoff darrow, hellboy, Akira, moebius, charles burns, eightball, christopher blain,  my favorite books at the moment are locke and key, and prophet.  I just got this amazing and huge EC wally wood book from IDW's artist series.

Your jobs based in Burbank, so what are some of your favorite spots in LA?

I don't get around very often because I'm always working but here's a few of the places I dig; the Illiad in north hollywood, secret headquarters, forage, masa, pins and needles, and origami vinyl in echo park.

Where did you learn to play the theremin?

Totally self taught, and by self taught I mean I bought a theremin online and then people asked me to be in a band.

You can keep up with Andy via his Twitter, Formspring and blog. Be sure to watch Adventure Time with new episodes Monday, check local listings.