Meet the Team: Anna Rettberg
Anna Rettberg is an incredibly talented illustrator, pictured above in her typical work attire. I have the pleasure of working with her on Molly Rocket’s upcoming interactive fiction project, for which she draws so much character art that we quite literally have to invent new things for her to draw so she doesn’t get too far ahead of the rest of the project.
For this brief biography, I asked her a series of questions about her personal history, and dutifully recorded the answers:
When did you first start drawing?
Basically from the time I could hold a pencil — or a crayon, I guess it would probably have been a crayon. That’s what adults give children so they don’t stab themselves.
What did you draw?
Mostly horses and dogs.
No people?
There were people, sure — but always animals and living things.
But mostly horses and dogs?
Did you always think you were going to grow up to be an artist?
Should I elaborate on that?
Seems like it might be a good idea, since this is a biography and all…
Well, there was a sign I made when I was six or seven that said, “I want to be a Disney animator.”
A “sign”?
It was a piece of paper with writing on it — possibly in crayon.
But if it’s a “sign” presumably it was hung somewhere?
I had a little art table that I did art on, and it was above my little art table.
Do you still have it?
What happened to it?
No idea.
It’s just gone? Somebody threw it out, or you lost it in a move or something? You didn’t even notice when it had disappeared?
I really have no idea. We did move when I was twelve, so it’s possible that’s when it went to Little Paper Heaven.
Was this during the classic Disney animation period, when they still drew things by hand, or was this when they’d bought Pixar and were all 3D?
This was “second golden age” Disney. So, all the good ones that came out in the 90s…
Such as?
Lion King, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pocahontas, Hercules… all that.
Were any of those movies any good? I don’t remember any of those being good…
(Cold stare)
Um, really big fan of those movies, I was… uh… loved ‘em all! Moving on… so did you go to school with the intention of being a traditional animator?
I think I wasn’t really fully aware of what kind of work went into making a hand-drawn animated film. But I began to realize end-of-high-school that I was more interested in the concept art side than the actual hand-drawn animation side. Also, by the time I went to college, there weren’t really any options for hand-drawn animation. Everything was CG, so I figured the only option I had was concept art anyway.
You do draw remarkably fast, though, much like a traditional animator would…
That’s something that was always really stressed in college. Being able to produce work quickly was considered a valuable thing, since illustration is ultimately for a client, a purpose, a product.
So, what was your experience like going to college for animation? You went to Syracuse, yes?
Yeah, I went to Syracuse. I went for illustration, not animation, because in high school I had a teacher who helped guide me down that route. I didn’t really know what the best degree would be for doing concept art.
So what was the experience like there?
At Syracuse? It was both good and bad. I had a pretty clear vision from the start of what I wanted to do, so I found a lot of the foundation and exploratory classes frustrating. I knew what I wanted to do, and that was character art for animation, not editorial or anything like that. Also, there weren’t a lot of options for animation. I did have a friend in college who was very interested in animation, though, so together we were able to find ways to bring our interests into the assignments and the classes.
Another thing was that they really emphasized more traditional ways of creating art, like painting, but I was always more interested in digital art. There wasn’t a lot of good instruction for more modern methods, the way the industry is now. It was very old fashioned.
But, at the same time, I did have one of the best figure drawing teachers, Richard Williams, who had worked for Mad Magazine for many years. He gave me some of the best figure drawing advice I’ve ever received. It was amazing.
Overall I found my time there fun, but also stressful and kind of frustrating. Toward my senior year, it started to fall in and move forward a bit with the times, and it looks to me that the program there now is starting to catch up a little.
What did you do after college?
I moved back to my hometown and started working freelance. I was lucky because coming out of college I had a small children’s book job and another small on-line magazine monthly illustration series. They were just little jobs, but I was always working and it kept me busy, which is good for someone fresh out of college with an illustration degree.
I also started to really push myself to get better. For some reason, the year after college, I improved more in a short amount of time than I ever have. And I’m not really sure why. I was looking at a lot of really good artists, and I was super inspired.
What artists?
I think part of it was that I discovered tumblr, and found a community of young, talented illustrators. They were all people working in styles and in an industry that I wanted to be in. They were doing the jobs that I wanted to be doing and they were people I was never really exposed to in college. We had always been looking at more traditional illustrators. Now I was finally seeing all these artists making the kind of art I wanted to make.
How did you get your first freelance jobs?
My first freelance job? I have a cousin who is a surface pattern designer.
Sorry — “surface pattern designer”?
Someone who designs gift wrap and that sort of thing.
Ahhh… The French Champagne!
The French Champagne is the finest!
Anyway, she had a client that she’d worked with before who was writing a children’s book for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation. They were looking for an illustrator. They’d approached my cousin about it, but she was busy, so she suggested me, and I took the job. It was a small job and it didn’t pay a lot but it was a really good first experience for a baby illustrator.
And while you were freelancing, you started doing Sketch Dailies… that’s how I found you. How did you end up being involved with that?
A bunch of the artists that I was following on Twitter started posting their Sketch Dailies illustrations, and I thought it looked really fun, so I started doing it. It became kind of addicting and it was always exciting to look forward to the next day’s prompt.
Were you expecting that people might contact you with job offers from that, or was that kind of a surprise?
I wouldn’t say I was expecting people to contact me, but I definitely thought of it as a way of promoting my art — especially because the Sketch Dailies audience was pretty big and seemed to like my work. But either way, whenever you post art on the internet, there’s a little part of your brain that goes, “I hope I’ll get a job because of this.”
Had you thought much about working on games as a career before Molly, or were focused solely on the movie concept art track?
I’d never really considered games, but only because most of the games that I saw were in a style that wasn’t applicable to me. A lot of them are hyper-realistic, and that’s just not what I do. Now that I’ve been exposed to more of the indie side of things, I’ve realized that there are a lot more art styles out there in games, and it seems like now there really is a place for my kind of art.
In some ways it’s almost full circle, because video games, in particular the Nintendo 64, was a huge huge part of my childhood and my early illustrations. I did lots of Diddy Kong Racing fan art in, like, first grade. So it feels like it makes a lot of sense in some ways. I’m not super suprised that I ended up in games.
Can we see some of that Diddy Kong Racing fan art?
I’ll get my parents to scan some. I wrote a whole little book assignment on it — not even kidding.
That sounds epic.
It’s not.
We’ll be the judge of that.
If you really want, I can see if they can scan it. You don’t have to write this down. But you could post it in the post if you want.
That would be fantastic.
If they can find it.
Yes, of course. So, you recently moved from New York to Seattle. Was that a big change for you?
Yes, but it’s a super exciting change. Seattle’s pretty awesome.
What was your home town like?
Vestal, New York? Pretty depressing, I guess? It’s a good home town, I’m a fan, but, I was so ready to leave.
I wanted an adventure! I like stories, and they’ve given me false expectations about what life will be. So of course I wanted an adventure.
Was there a particular story you have in mind?
Not really. Though I will say, in Tangled, the Disney movie, the main character sings a song called “When Will My Life Begin”, and I felt really connected to that song because I didn’t really know when my life was going to begin. Then I moved to Seattle, and I felt like finally my life had begun.
Wow. Were you feeling trapped back home, then? I mean she’s in a tower, in Tangled, isn’t she? Full disclosure: haven’t see it.
Yeah, I definitely felt… well, the thing about freelance is that it’s never guaranteed. For an illustrator who’s just starting out, that’s really scary and it’s hard to make a leap, because you don’t know if there’ll be work in the future. There’s definitely a feeling like, “What if I have to stay here forever?”
Well, I am certainly very lucky you were feeling that way then :)
It all worked out pretty spectacularly!
How have you been settling in to Seattle? I mean you’ve only been here a few months, but already our neighborhood has been locked down by the President of China and then Obama. Did you realize we were this worldly and diplomatic?
I was not expecting the President of China to screw up our food truck situation, that’s for sure.
Yeah we had to walk pretty far for food while he was visiting, didn’t we?
Yeah, I mean your foot broke! It fell off!
Well, OK, my foot did not fall off per se…
Basically. Let’s be honest here. It’s dying, slowly.
I agree that it is not the most healthy foot.
I could cut it off — I mean, I’m not a doctor, but it doesn’t seem that hard to amputate. You just kind of hack it off?
1785 called. It’s for you.
Man up. Just man up.
Look, we can’t all be Young Marlon Brando, carrying buckets of water in a sleeveless shirt…
Why not?
Do you know how much time we would have to spend in the gym?
Just add it to our wrist-ankles-neck workout, it’ll be fine.
Would you perhaps consider letting us all be sort of later-years, out-of-shape Marlon Brando? That’s very doable.
I hold my friends to a higher standard than Post-Chub Marlon Brando.
You may need to prepare yourself for some disappointment.
Fine, fine. Moving on — you’re about half way through your first game project. How has it been?
Awesome. It’s been a really fun collaborative process. And there’s a problem solving element to it that’s really fun.
Problem solving?
Well, situations will come up that you didn’t anticipate, and you’ll have to figure out ways around them. Even the challenges of determining, you know, the way that I put together the layers in a file — like whether the body is one piece, or do we do multiple pieces, are the arms on separate layers from the body — I actually enjoy that kind of thing.
So, you like some of the technical aspects of preparing the art for games, where you have to think about how to structure the art because of the interactivity?
Definitely. It feels similar to claymation. I remember having some of the same feelings — these problems that you didn’t anticipate pop up, and you have to think up… I almost want to say an “out-of-the-box solution”, that’s different than the way you would have done things, but often ends up being kind of cool.
OK, last question: the artwork for the blog has been pretty hilarious. I don’t want to spoiler anything for the folks at home, but let’s just say that I was looking at your rendition of a certain famous actor today that’s for posting a few months from now, and it was pretty spectacular. How has it been doing the blog drawings interleaved with the game art?
It’s been really fun. It’s a nice change of pace to mix things up and do the blog illustrations. They’re just silly and stupid and really fun.
Which one is your favorite?
That’s a tough question.
I know, I’m having trouble deciding myself.
Actually, I’m a fan of the press page illustration.
Me too!
And also Drunk Or…
No spoilers!
It’s OK, we’ll edit that part out. Well, before we wrap this up, is there anything you’d like to say to all the people out there?
Hello people of Earth! Casey and I have been working really hard on our interactive fiction project and I can’t wait for people to start seeing some of the art from it.
This edition of meet the team (not to be confused with “mete the team”, which is when we dole out harsh punishment to team members who are underperforming) was brought to you by Anna Rettberg, who created the illustration, and Anna Rettberg, who spoke the answers while Casey Muratori transcribed. It was first posted on September 12th, 2015.