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Pixar’s Matte Painter Paul Topolos Conducts Creative Masterclass!

Paul Topolos during his session in The One Academy’s Virtual Masterclass.

The One Academy recently held a monthlong event – the Virtual International Design and Creative Masterclass which ran across three consecutive weekends and served to create a platform on which we can learn from creative experts from all over the world.

Paul Topolos, Matte Painter at Pixar Animation Studios was invited to share valuable insight into the world of digital animation. A veteran in the industry, Paul has been working at Pixar since 2002 having done work on movies like Wall-E, The Incredibles, Cars, Finding Nemo, Up, Soul and more! His sharing covered his journey in the industry as well as advice to young creatives looking to follow in his footsteps.

Everyone knows the term animator and what the job entails but bringing an animated film to life often require hundreds if not thousands of hands. One of the many people working on animated games, movies and more are matte painters whose are in charge of painting a landscape, set or distant locations that would be expensive, inconvenient, or impossible to film live. Think of films like the original Star Wars films, Titanic, Harry Potter series and more which had fantastical backgrounds, imagery and locations. All these were made possible with the help of matte painters!

The session kicked off with Paul talking about his college days during which he found himself lost and unsure of what step to take next. He then watched an interview of Joseph Campbell whose book ‘The Hero With A Thousand Faces’ had served as inspiration for Luke Skywalkers of George Lucas’s Star Wars. During the interview, Campbell had said “follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be”.

Thinking back on his younger days, Paul recalled how the moments he felt happiest was when he was doing something related to art – be it drawing an image with a story or his love for movies, theater, plays and paintings. It was then he knew he had found his bliss.

In 1977 when Star Wars came out, he was completely blown away by the design of it. “It felt like a real world that we did not have in our lives, but it felt real and complete. All the objects were unique and it was my Harry Potter, I was obsessed with it”, he said. His mom had presented him with ‘The Art of Star Wars’ which introduced him to the world of the designs, concepts and artists behind Star Wars and it sparked his interest in the field.

Unable to afford an art education at a major institute, Paul enrolled in a junior college where he met his first mentor who laid the foundation of his art and design career. Spurred by his interest in the field, Paul applied for a summer scholarship programme where he suddenly found himself starting from the bottom.

“Compared to the others, I was the worst draftsmen there”, said Paul. Under the mentorship of artist, illustrator and arts educator Chuck Pyle, he began to learn the ropes and decided he wants to work at Lucasfilm as an artist. It was here that he got the opportunity to meet the artist, writer and filmmaker Ian McCaig.

One of the very first matte paintings done by Paul for film was for Titan A.E.

Paul was awe-inspired upon meeting Ian McCaig – then a watercolour artist at ILM. “He was working for the directors that I looked up to and I was amazed. When I met Ian, I realized it was my only chance to meet somebody like this and I realized this was achievable and I had to get my work up to a standard that I never thought I would be able to do”, said Paul.

Soon after, he landed a job as a storyboard artist at Lucasfilm where he worked on artwork for Star Wars video games. Paul fondly recalled memories of feeling absolutely in over his head during his early days at the company. With the guidance of Ian, he slowly began to produce work that he was confident in. Paul went on to create incredible digital art used in various Star Wars films throughout the years.

His journey continued with him getting an offer to work at Pixar on The Incredibles, which he accepted wholeheartedly. Come June 2022, Paul would be celebrating his 20th year at Pixar during which he had created countless matte paintings, concept design, lighting studies and more for many renowned movies.

Inspired by Paul’s journey in the field, participants learnt that in order to achieve their dreams, one must always remember to follow their bliss.

The session wrapped up with a Q&A session during which the attendees asked questions on portfolio preparations, key skills they need to master in the field of animation as well as Paul’s hope for the future of the field.

“What I like is that there are a lot of new storytellers. The great thing for young artists is that technology has made it easier for anybody to make a short film. You don’t have to be a major studio and I think that is exciting”. Further elaborating, Paul concluded that with the advancement of technology, it is possible for anyone anywhere to create exceptional stories and movies.

Paul had done matte painting work for the iconic Pixar film ‘Up’.

The One Academy is committed to providing the best art education programmes and continues to nurture its students passionately through its ‘Masters Train Masters’ coaching philosophy, which has been practised for over 30 years, by providing diploma and degree courses namely Advertising & Graphic Design, Digital Animation, Digital Media Design, Film Visual Effects, Interior Architecture & Design, Illustration, Fine Arts, Paris Fashion Design & Pattern Making, Computer Science, Game Design and Computer Science in Real-Time Interactive Simulation. For more information on The One Academy, visit www.toa.edu.my or call (+603) 7875 5510 or e-mail your enquiries to [email protected].

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The One Academy of Communication Design

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