Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Man, The Myth, the Legend!

Man I look really young in that picture! I looked like I was ready to conquer crap! What the hell happened?? Where did it all go wrong?? This was actually taken about 6 years ago when I was still 20 something. That 's Sadao Miyamoto, or Miyasan, as we at Disney called him when he worked with us. He's now happily retired and playing golf out in Granada Hills. Although I only worked with him for a couple of years and we barely could understand each other (he spoke japanese to me and I don't know a lick of japanese), I'd have to say that he pretty much changed the way I look at life and art forever.

When I was a kid, drawing and painting was an amazing escape. I could remember spending hours and hours drawing cartoon characters in my room and never ever getting tired or bored. That changed once I got to art school and was surrounded by people who were ultra-competitive and a curriculum that was ultra-demanding. The schedule we had left little time for a breath of air. It really became work and I somehow lost the passion for being creative and having fun with it. Out of frustration, I tried looking for a job halfway through school and fortunately I landed a freelance gig at Disney Consumer Products.

My first desk at Disney was across from another designer named Yumi (who amazingly - after a bunch of re-org's and building moves - still sits next to me). She was one of the few on our team who spoke fluent Japanese. Every now and then, a gentleman - with a huge grin and a funny laugh - would visit her and they would tell stories in their native language and laugh up a storm. This was Miyasan. I knew he was a character artist on our team who had worked on cool projects like Tarzan and Lion King. She also said he was an animator in Japan. Talk about an understatement! (More on that later) Yumi was kind enough to show him some of my work and he reacted positively to some stylized stuff I had done on Monsters Inc. and Lilo and Stitch. All of the work I had done was digital and he hadn't quite wrapped his head around the computer yet. Every so often he would stop by to watch me trace out a character in Illustrator, taking notes on a pad while doing his best (with Yumi as a translator) to ask questions about the process. "I will learn" and "thank you" were a couple of things Miyasan would always say before he left for the day.

Although the gig at Disney really rejuvenated me in many ways, I was still at school the other half of the day so I can't say that I was totally cured. Seeing someone like Miyasan, who was energetic, happy, and still willing to learn something new, started to give me a new perspective. He was in his 60's and yet he seemed like he was having a blast! How the heck was he still enjoying this 'work' after doing it for so long?? It was beyond me, but then again I was kind of a sleep-deprived, cranky a-hole back then who took everything way too seriously. Somehow I knew that if I wanted to have a career like his, I had to stop looking at everything as work and find in it what I enjoyed so much as a kid.

The defining moment came one day when Miyasan was kind enough to bring in his portfolio of the work he accumulated during his career. I had only known the work he did for us at Disney but I remembered Yumi telling me he was an animator in Japan for some time. I was hoping to see some of this 'animation'. What I saw left me speechless and people ALWAYS tell me the shut up. Growing up, my main influences were Disney animation, comic books, and Japanese anime, namely this show that was called G-Force here in the states. I grew up on all the shows and books that featured this team of heores who flew around in a bitching spaceship dressed in bird costumes. It was the best thing ever! So you can imagine my fanboy freakout when Miyasan opened his portfolio and the 1st few pages featured his drawings of the initial design of all of the main characters. He was the animation director on that!!! I was floored. And that was just the beginning. He was an animator on Astroboy and a director/designer on about 20 other shows I used to watch as a kid. Page after page brought me immediately back to my childhood and those days that I had all the passion in the world for being creative. The guy who created all this stuff that influenced me to want to be creative as a kid sat in an office just down the hall, and I had no clue! It all came full circle. I would later find that he taught animation in Japan and had a bunch of amazing students who are leading the anime industry today. He came to the states to work at Disney and then to eventually retire and play golf.

With Miyasan, I got to see the blueprint of a successful career - make that a legendary one. And he did it all with a smile on his face, just glad to be doing everything he was doing. He has touched so many people with what he has done (me included) and it really makes me feel fortunate to do what I do for a living. I may not reach as far as he did (can anyone?), but I now know that something I do now can have an impact on some kid out there who happens to love drawing and painting. I can safely say that after seeing his portfolio, every day at work has been a breath of fresh air. On his last day at Disney, I passed by his office to say bye one last time. The space was empty except for Miyasan, the drawing table, a piece of paper, and a pencil. Even on the day he retired, he was still drawing away! I thanked him for all he had done for me and he simply smiled and handed me this:

Thanks Miyasan! See ya at the links!


Anonymous said...

Great story, loved it.

Craig Mackay said...

Thanks for sharing this really inspiring story. I love hearing about artists defining moments. I feel like your work makes so much more sense to me now because I totally see the fun behind every design. It's great you found a way to rise above the school mentality and find your own unique voice as an artist while enjoying yourself.

John T Quinn III said...

a great and generous artist. i promised him i would do his caricature when he retired. i took reference photos and attempted many times but kept choking. too much pressure to live up to his expectations.
this post makes me feel terrible for never finishing that painting. i'll dig out those pics and give it another try. damn.

Tanner said...

Thanks guys!
John, can't wait to see the caricature!! Ha!!
Craig, thanks for reading into the fun part of the work. I'm glad it's getting through. I hate to say it, but one of the things that struck me last time I went back to ArtCenter was a 'manufactured' look to the work. I guess it happens with such a rigid structure. The students that really stuck out to me were the ones who were doing their own thing. It may have not been the tighest stuff but at least it exuded a personality. That's what I thought I lost I guess.

Anonymous said...

Great story Tan. It’s been a pleasure watching you grow as an artist, not just a designer, over the past four years. You continue to inspire and motivate other people around you on a daily basis. I’m truly proud to call you a friend and look forward to all your future accomplishments.

flatelephant said...

wow, eric. Great story.

I never thought you were getting burnt out at the AC.

You were such an inspiration and a motivator for the rest of us. You really pushed us (at least me) to draw better.

I'm so glad you landed your dream gig while we were there. It is obviously where you belong.

That sketch is amazing.

Drew said...

Why can't I get paid in artwork? Well, maybe for freelance stuff anyway.

Tanner said...

Thanks guys! Hutch, I think we're so fortunate to be surrounded by ALL of the folks at the office. Everyone there is so talented, not just with the 9 to 5 stuff, but with all the personal work as well. I learn something new every day I'm there and it's gotten so much better over the years. It might have been before you came, but there was a time we didn't work closely with character artists at all. To sum it up, them days blew!

Larry said...

I'm envious, T.

Tanner said...

Haha! Ry, he's got that crazy samurai sword too! If you see a watermelon, RUN!!!
Thanks Larry! I was really fortunate to meet Miyasan when I did. Those folks don't come around too often in life.

Food and Drugs said...

Yes, this man had an impact on spanish kids as well.
This TV show was translated as 'Comando G' and me and my brothers get glued to the TV screen every time it was aired.
Please give him a friendly pat in the back in our name.
Beautiful story. I read it entirely even though my english reading is sloooow!

Anonymous said...

This is a beautiful story, man. Thanks for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Eric¡ We love your work so much.
It´s possible to get in contact with you for an interview in a Magazine about your work and experience ? Would be great... let me know at

lisa oyama said...

thanks for the great story, and for your amazing work! i found your blog after noticing your Up posters on a facebook page. i had seen the posters hanging in the main entry hall at Pixar when i was lucky enough to go to a screening there, and just loved them. i had assumed they were done in-house at Pixar, so i was glad i stumbled upon your blog link! my kids are creative and i often wonder how they feel with their crazy schedules, and how their interests will translate into their future lives. thanks for the insight. i will keep an eye out for your work! love it!