What is your name and your current occupation?
My name is Olga Stern. I mostly work as a visual development artist. So, sometimes I create visuals for feature films, sometimes for children’s television, and sometimes for illustrated magazines or children’s books. I love constructing worlds in my mind and translating them into visual images.
What are some of the crazier jobs you had before getting into animation?
Hmmm….I am not sure if I would describe the jobs as crazy. I worked in a sportswear store, I worked in a restaurant as a hostess, I worked a camp counselor teaching swimming, diving, synchronized swimming and arts and crafts, and I taught children art for a few years in a small private art studio during college.
What are some of your favorite projects you’re proud to have been a part of?
I loved working on “Justin Time” with Guru Animation. I think that the message conveyed by the show is great for children, the visuals of the show directed by Brandon Scott and Keith Lee are stunning and I loved working with Brandon Scott, Harold Harris and the rest of the guru crew.
Where are you from and how did you get into the animation business?
I was originally born in Kaliningrad and then lived in Odessa Ukraine, (still part of the Soviet Union at the time) until I was about 8 years old. Our family then moved to Toronto Canada where I grew up. I was lucky enough to audition and get into Claude Watson School for the Arts located in North York Ontario. Claude Watson is an amazing school for young minds. It combines drama, jazz, mime, art, choir, orf, and musical theatre classes with a regular academic curriculum classes. The program spans from grade 4 until grade 13, in grade 9 you choose what subject of the arts you would like to specialize in. I chose art. I was not sure what I wanted to specialize in when I was graduating the program in grade 13. I had considered going into fashion design, or studying humanities in university and had applied and had been accepted to several programs. I had also applied to Sheridan college to their BA animation program. I was happy to be accepted into this program and chose it as an exiting career path. I had been telling stories, painting and sculpting since I could remember, I even wrote a childrens book and illustrated it at the age of 6, sending it off to a Ukranian Childrens book contest. I really wanted to make a career out of art somehow. I really enjoyed my academics but I knew that I might be unhappy if that was my career. I also was interested in entering into fashion design I loved creating outfits but when I looked at what school in fashion entailed I saw that I would not be doing as much painting and designing as I had hoped. The Sheridan Animation program on the other hand allowed me to continue painting and drawing and building my skills in art in a technical way. It would also teach me about film and storytelling. I enjoyed the animation program,failed,succeeded,learned , and grew as an artist. I made a short film during school and was lucky to get the opportunity to intern at Head Gear Animation, a great animation company in Toronto in the summer of my 3 year of school. Then when i completed my last year at Sheridan I was happy to get the opportunity to Intern at Pixar animation studios. At both companies I learned a ton about the animation craft and gained confidence in my own abilities. At Pixar I was fortunate to receive a painting course from the very talented Bill Cone. He taught us a lot about light and color with our medium being chalk pastels. I learned so much from his course, continued to paint with pastels eventually switching more into acrylic paint and guashe. I found that understanding light and color really improved my art work by teaching me to see beyond line work and design which was my primary focus during the Sheridan animation program. After these internships I started working as a freelancer sometimes taking on long contracts, sometimes taking on shorter contracts.
What’s a typical day like for you with regards to your job?
Usually I wake up in the morning, eat some food,drink a cup of coffee and dive into working. If I am already in the flow with a certain assignment It is super easy to launch myself into that artistic meditative state. If it is a new assignment it sometimes takes a while before I can wrap my mind around how to approach the art. Sometimes it takes many failed attempts before you get something that looks appealing, sometimes you get something appealing right off the bat. Because I work freelance sometimes I work contracts that require me to be in house , sometimes for 8 months or a year, sometimes I work from home or from abroad from a personal computer. Lately I find myself drifting more and more into the latter which grants me more artistic flexibility and happiness.
What part of your job do you like best? Why?
I absolutely love the problem solving part of the visual development job. By that i mean that stage when you read what you are supposed to design based on the script or description of the client or director, and then you start gathering reference and forming the blueprint for what you will be painting. I also like drawing out the fine details, but it is really fun being super creative and combining really cool reference and then sketching out something onto paper or in Photoshop that you know previously existed only in your mind.
What part of your job do you like least? Why?
Probably the pressure formed by strict client deadlines. Since illustration and visual development for me is often a very emotional based skill it is sometimes quite difficult to pump something out that works and is appealing when you just don’t have it formed in your mind yet. Sometimes that really fun creative part where you are combining all that reference in your mind takes much longer then you originally expected and then you give something to the client which you know you could have done a better job with granted more time.
What kind of technology do you work with on a daily basis, how has technology changed in the last few years in your field and how has that impacted you in your job?
I work mostly with Photoshop. I remember transitioning throughout school from traditional medium to computer programs. Photoshop definitely changed the way I approached design and painting. It allows for more mistakes then traditional mediums but I find it also loses some of the “looseness” that arises from traditional mediums. Overall though its really great how much time Photoshop saves the artist.
What is the most difficult part for you about being in the business?
Probably the unpredictability. You never really know when you will have work or for how long when you are working as a freelance artist.
In your travels, have you had any brushes with animation greatness?
I have met many extremely talented artists throughout my years in the industry. In my mind they are all animation greatness.
Describe a tough situation you had in life.
I have had many tough ones. Creating a 4th year film was pretty tough. You are pouring so much of yourself into 3 or so minutes. I remember it was so hard to accept that the film was not going to be perfect, and having it screen for an audience just felt like you were standing there super exposed.
Any side projects you’re working on that you’d like to share details of?
I am currently working on a childrens book titled ” Ronik goes to Africa”. A part of a series of ” Stern Family Stories”. I wrote the book about 3 years ago with my mother’s help and help from some close friends, and this year I finally illustrated 10 out of the 20 pages. I am planning on bringing the finished book to the Bologna Children’s book festival in Italy this March and will hopefully get it published. I am also painting surf boards for friends when I go surfing. It is really different from kids books and from the animation industry and super fun to paint cool graphics that don’t necessarily have to tell a story.
Any unusual talents or hobbies like tying a cherry stem with your tongue or metallurgy?
Not sure if they are unusual. I spend my time working and then usually take off every year if I can afford it to surf around the world always in a new location. Surfing in my life is so important! When I am back home I will be snowboarding, skateboarding and doing ballet.
Is there any advice you can give for an aspiring animation student or artist trying to break into the business?The main advice i can give is do not doubt yourself. Everyone makes mistakes , don’t be afraid to fail and not be perfect. No one is ever perfect there is always someone who is doing the same thing as you something you do will be better something they do will be better try not to compare yourself too much to others unless it is in a constructive way. Its good to learn from those that inspire you, not good to let their skills discourage you from growing as an artist yourself. The industry can be tough,art is such a subjective discipline, you never know what the company is looking for,