Artist Portfolio: Pascal Campion
Gary Evans maps out the successes – and setbacks – in the French illustrator’s globe-trotting career
We chart the highs and lows of the French illustrator’s globe-trotting career.
A fter failing to get into his firstchoice art school, Pascal Campion took a job as a dishwasher in Strasbourg. It was Christmas, dishes piled up all around him, and he’d recently lost half a tooth after being jumped by muggers outside the restaurant. The Frenchman remembers thinking: “Man, I’m so going to enjoy being an artist.” Pascal knows how to roll with the punches. He got into the art school the following year. In fact, many of the animator’s greatest achievements have followed major setbacks. The first of these came when he was very young. He still thinks about the incident to this day.
Pascal was born in River Edge, New Jersey. When he was three years old, his parents separated and he moved from America to France. His mother is French. He describes his childhood in Provence as “pretty idyllic” and remembers being surrounded by the “sunny, beautiful, vibrant colours” that now characterise his work.
His family owned all the Tintin and Asterix stories. Older brother Sean was into Marvel comics and would let Pascal read them, but only after getting him to copy the covers. Pascal says Sean is the main reason he’s an artist.
Yet not everyone was so supportive. When he was 10, Pascal told an art
teacher he wanted to be an artist when he grew up. He showed him work. “In a very serious tone,” the Frenchman says, “the teacher said I should probably not consider this, because I just didn’t have it. Up until that point, I really liked that teacher. That crushed me.”
Pascal studied at the Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg. To get in, he sent a portfolio, then travelled to the school for a week of tests. He picked narrative illustration as his major. But before that, the teachers – unusual in their methods – worked out what students liked to do best and made sure they did the exact opposite: everything from engraving to metalwork. In his final year, Pascal created three projects. Two of them had to be paid jobs, otherwise he couldn’t graduate.
“They didn’t tell us how to do things at all,” Pascal says. “We had to come up with that on our own, which was very frustrating at first. That said, the big thing we did focus on was on how to tell stories, how to control what you’re saying with your images, and how to make sure the audience understands what you want them to understand.”
Before graduating, in 2000 Pascal spent a year as an exchange student at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He also worked at Tom Snyder Productions. It was his first job as an animator.
Pascal flew to Kansas City to live with his brother. He wanted to work in
The teacher said I should probably consider not being an artist, because I just didn’t have it. That crushed me
the comics industry. But his career plans changed after Sean built him his first computer. Pascal began playing around with software called Macromedia Flash.
“All I had to do was press Enter and the computer would play back all the frames I had just drawn,” Pascal says. “I fell in love with it because I could make animations instantly.”
LIFE ON THE UP – AND DOWN
He posted these animations online and job offers soon followed. He worked at studios in San Francisco (where he worked on a web show), in Portland (where he became a storyboard artist), in Honolulu (where he met his future wife), and in Portland again (where he became a
director). He put so much into his work, his personal life suffered.
“I was realising how empty my life was. I had nothing going on outside of work and had a hard time making and maintaining contact with anybody. I had broken up with my girlfriend a while back. I was very sad about that.”
Pascal moved back to San Francisco to be with his girlfriend. He accepted a position at a company called Leapfrog as a lead animator, but he spent most of his time managing others. So he decided to come into work a little earlier each morning and draw. The Frenchman now has over 4,000 of these daily drawings.
“I start with a colour,” he says, “and work with it. Sometimes I draw a character or an environment and see what happens. In almost all cases, though, I have an idea of the emotion.”
His Sketch of the Day series led to some big freelance jobs. DreamWorks asked Pascal to do development work on a feature film. “I actually got fired, because when we got to production work – that’s the part where you stop doing conceptual work and you have to start rendering the elements as they will appear in the movie – they realised I didn’t know how to do that.”
A SECOND CHANCE
DreamWorks put Pascal on another movie, Mr. Peabody & Sherman. He’s also worked on projects for Disney, Paramount, the Cartoon Network, and many more. He creates covers for books and comics, does editorial illustrations, and works on video games and commercials.
Pascal describes working in these various fields as similar to speaking
I try to keep a spontaneity of motion – a flow and rhythm
different languages. They each require a different part of his brain. “In animation I don’t care too much about the quality of the drawing, because all I’m doing is matching it to the approved design, which is usually a simplified design.
“I can’t listen to music or talk to anybody, because my whole brain is focused on getting everything to work together. I’m also moving pretty fast because I try to keep a spontaneity of motion – a flow and rhythm.”
SETTING THE MOOD
Pascal describes his style as “loose and pretty utilitarian.” He wants the audience to understand in a split second exactly what’s happening in the image. So he makes each visual element as clear as possible. The same goes for the overall message – the audience shouldn’t have to work anything out. He uses light to set the mood, something that’s becoming an increasingly important part of his work. And he edits ruthlessly. No
chills “I was playing around with buildings in this one – how to suggest buildings without showing buildings. Buildings feature a lot in my work.”
WHEN THE SNOW FALLS “I love doing facades; I love people watching. I do a lot of these types of images and I’m always trying to figure out what other people’s lives are like.”
“At the beginning of my Sketch of the Day series, there was a period when I was drawing animals doing funny things. I still like doing some for my kids now and again.” A LI TTLE CL EANING, A LI TTLE DANCI NG, A LOT OF LOVE “I’ve done 4,000 Sketch of the Days now!” THE VIEW “This is a weird one for me. When I did it, I didn’t like it at all and showed it to barely anyone. But now it’s one of my most popular images. Funny how that works.” WATER GAMES
MEET ME AT FIVE? “This image was originally created for a workshop for ImagineFX! But afterwards I did this version, which is slightly different.”
“Every day in the afternoon we’d go with the kids to the park next to our house. They were still small enough that I could balance them all on the see-saw. I loved those days.” THE GOOD KIND OF HEAVY
TAHOE “When I drew this image, my family and I had just come back from skiing in Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America.”
“This image was inspired by my time living in Kansas City, Missouri. I stayed there with my brother Sean, who built me my first computer.” BLUEGRASS AND FIREFLI ES