Chris: You and Betsy are at the same agency and you and Elsa are on the same show.
Sarah: I know, like this craziness. So you really called it, good job. So they do this thing where we make our own postcards and then I get those shipped to the agency and then the agency will postmark them and send them out to all the art directors and editors because they have a relationship, all the publishers that I on a personal level don’t. That happened and then maybe a few months later, I got my first bite which was from Simon & Schuster who wanted me to illustrate two re-issues of an older middle grade book which was the Steal Away Home series which is a really awesome experience because I got to really own my own illustration which is different from the animation industry where most people don’t see your final product which is totally cool. The final product is the feature, and with book covers I get to take ownership with the direction of my art director and everything, and so that was a really awesome experience. And then kind of in between, I’ve worked with Candlewick and Penguin and Simon & Schuster again, and it’s kind of been a snowball effect where you won’t hear anything for a little bit but then I’ve been consistently doing book covers every couple months now. Kind of as a side thing and they always pop up at the most inopportune times.
Chris: And you have to say yes.
Sarah: And you have to say yes because oh my god it’s Candlewick. At the time that I did my Candlewick cover Winter Frost last year was actually the time I was testing on Nickelodeon and am doing OT on Book of Life so that crap was bananas. I didn’t sleep for like a month.
Sarah: But it paid off and because Book of Life is going to look gorgeous, Winter Frost got me nominated for an SCWBI thing and I work in Nickelodeon now. So that horrible horrible November/December was a good thing in the end. Now I’m actually at the place where bless my agent so much, she and I had a conversation and she’s like yeah, I really want to…you love things that are magical and fantasy, you tell really great stories – because I’ve pitched some things to her and she’s like, “Let’s focus on your ideas.” And I think this is a great prompt for anyone, she’s like, “Come up with a character and we’ll go from there.”
Chris: Oh my.
Sarah: And you know, I’ve already been spinning my wheels and doodling and all this kind of stuff, but it’s so awesome to have someone that believes in what I do and also wants to support me and bolster me. And having an agent is not for everyone, but for me it’s just been an invaluable thing. I mean Kathleen is just wonderful and it’s weird because I’ve pitched on different projects and not gotten them and I’m always like oh no I’ve let Kathleen down. And she’s like, “You’re going to get a better project and you’re going to rock it, and it’s going to be great.” Hearing that from someone who’s in the industry and believes in my work is really helpful because when you test or something and you don’t get it and you’re like stuck in this circle of why, like why didn’t I get it or what could I have done better and Kathleen will be honest with me for sure. She gives me the tough love when I need it, but it’s so cool to have someone that at the end of the day still has my back. I’m very lucky.
Chris: What can you tell us about The Book of Life?
Sarah: Oh man, The Book of Life, I get really emotional talking about it because I think I mentioned on The Rising Star podcast. But long story short, I was wrapping up as a coordinator on Despicable Me and I remember that year in March, I was like you know what, I’ve got to do art. I don’t know how I’m going to do it but I’m going to tell them I can’t be around the creative process anymore and not be creative. That was kind of the itch I needed to scratch after a year and a couple months of being in production. So I talked to my art manager, I meet with her once a month, or not art manager – production manager. And I told her I need to really do this and I would love to stay here, I love working with everyone but I have to do this and it’s kind of interesting because I guess I’d really proven myself as a valuable employee in production because it was, ‘oh like okay, we’ll look into it kind of thing.’ And I ended up doing a little bit of storyboard revisioning because House of Cool was doing the majority of the boarding, and we had my wonderful friend Rod being the only in-house storyboarder at Reel FX. And they needed help with simple things like, we need the mouth open, or can you darken the hair here, or can you make her hands clap instead of by her side, things like that.
So I had two computers, I had my production laptop and I have my iMac with a Wacom tablet and that was my desk setup for a month at Reel FX where I bill half and half time doing some cleanup work and then wrapping up…I was managing cloth at the time because most of the asset stuff had passed except cloth.
Sarah: On Despicable Me. Freebirds was just starting, Despicable Me was going away.
Chris: Okay, gotcha.
Sarah: So this is where the faded you never know kind of moment for me was, I had nothing to do so I doodled the main character Maria who is played by Zoe Saldana. And I doodled her on a Post-It, and my friend who is a, she was one of the coordinators for an editorial. She came by and saw it and was like, “Oh yeah, this drawing is so awesome! Jorge, the director, is going to love it! I’m going to take a photo of it on my phone and show him!” I was like okay, like go for it, I’m scared. And the next day Tiffany came up to me and she’s like, “Oh my god, Jorge loved your drawing. They want you to do a test. Don’t tell them I told you but I think they’re going to come to you because they really need help to get stuff ready for some meetings and blah, blah, blah,” and so it was literally that one drawing getting in front of someone who had hiring power that just kind of changed my life. And I did a test and it went well and I was actually the first artist brought on outside of the core team. So Jorge and Sandra were doing character’s design, Sandra is Jorge’s wife, and Paul Sullivan and Simon Virela were art director and production designer. And I was the first artist brought in as kind of the art team because most of the art team at Reel FX was still on Freebirds. So I started working with Sandra, especially I was focusing on character stuff because Jorge didn’t have enough time and that’s kind of how I started on The Book of Life. So that whole what is it, luck is opportunity meets timing or what is it? Prepardness?
Chris: I think that’s basically it.
Sarah: You make your own luck, I basically had been networking my butt off, I had gone to CTN and that motivated the crap out of me to start doing more art and I made the decision for myself to pursue art and that kind of influenced my current employer to try and do something about it. And then I by chance drew a drawing which I still have framed, it’s kind of like my dollar bill, you know that first dollar bill you earn? So I still kept that drawing after all this time and that was kind of the moment that my work was ready and I was ready and the opportunity was ready. And that doesn’t happen overnight and you don’t know when it’s going to happen but you have to be prepared for it, and that’s kind of how I fell into doing Book of Life and then I had the wonderful blessing of working for two years almost on a film that I think is just going to blow everyone away.
Chris: Yeah, it’s amazing.
Sarah: And you’ve been toured through some of the art, so you’ve seen what’s to come.
Chris: Good God!
Sarah: And Chris can vouch, it looks exactly like (inaudible) art, it’s a rare wonderful thing that this movie looks so close to the art that we all worked on. So I’m so proud of the team, I’m so proud of…this story is wonderful, a story about family and friendship, and I just…I don’t think a (inaudible) like that comes very often and I’m just lucky that it was my first feature where I worked in the art department on it because I feel like this movie’s art department will be very much appreciated for a while. So buy an art book because it’s going to look amazing and yeah, it was just a wonderful experience and Jorge, I mean he’s…I can’t say enough wonderful things about him and the entire team.
Chris: Yeah, he’s amazing.
Sarah: Yeah, if you get the opportunity to meet Jorge whether it’s at CTN or go to one of his talks, he’s just fantastic. He’s one of the most encouraging driven persons I’ve ever met. And he truly…it was so weird to see, like Reel FX was excited about Freebirds, it was their first feature, but the change in each department when they got to work on Book of Life, what is so palpable is the excitement that everyone has for like making and working on that film, it’s a once in a lifetime thing. You don’t get that excited about your day job every day and it was a really special thing just being so thrilled to get your next assignment no matter what it was because it was just a wonderful experience. I’m very very blessed that I got to work on it.
Chris: Are you able to perceive anything different in your art that developed, that caused you to reach that tipping point? Is there anything in your actual art itself that you feel like okay, I was prepared enough because of blank?
Sarah: Well CTN kind of I think took my work to a different level. I would say the feedback I got from the portfolio I brought, Pascal Campion gave me the most intense wonderful portfolio review I’ve ever had in my entire life.
Chris: He has that effect on people.
Sarah: Yeah, I was like shaking and crying you know. And so talking with you, everyone is so generous with knowledge at CTN. And I felt so prepared with conquering the next piece that I did going out of CTN because of the knowledge that I gained. And I would say that one of the other big turning points for me was, I was looking at a bunch of art every day but I don’t feel like I was employing what other people were doing as strongly because there was a fear of copying. I started really looking at what other people were doing that was working and picking what I liked about it and what I wanted to do with that in my work, talking about Pascal. Like his lighting, it is amazing, how can I take that idea of lighting and storytelling and put it in my own work and my own work flow? And I started really being more perceptive past like oh it’s a pretty image and really kind of dissecting what I liked about it even if it was just like a stylistic choice about how they did their hair or how they simplified building in the background. It was like oh, that’s how I can approach this in my work, and I feel like I wasn’t doing that as much until after CTN because it was a fear of not figuring out art on my own. The people that came before you were referencing other people who came before them, so you have to be like a sponge. Like you can’t just live in your own little artistic bubble because that’s not how you grow and how your work elevates to like the next professional level.
Chris: And come see us at CTNX in November.
Sarah: Yeah, I mean CTN was crazy. Crazy good.
Chris: You’ll be rocking it out, and you can actually get a portfolio review from Sarah herself which as a side note are amazing.
Sarah: I’m flattered. Yeah, I try to be honest because I was so moved by the people that were honest with my work that I would want that same kind of review. So that’s what I kind of try and give.
Chris: I mean, it is…a portfolio review from Sarah Marino is not to be missed.
Sarah: Oh no, now I’m never going to get to eat or sleep.
Chris: That’s what CTNX is all about!
Sarah: I know, I know!
Chris: That’s what it’s all about.
Sarah: Lots of Starbucks.