E. Michael Mitchell was my drawing mentor while at CalArts.
E. Michael Mitchell and I first met during my first year at the Character Animation program at Cal Arts in 2005.
When I first attended his class life drawing class for film, my eyes were opened to the possibilities of drawing. Ultimately, it was the first time I realized how much of an impact drawing would be in my life. Every year at CalArts I spent with E. Michael Mitchell, he guided me through the realm of fusing observation, drawing, and imagination onto paper.
E. Michael Mitchell early years
You won’t find much information on him, after all he was the one who suggested to the elusive J.D. Salinger to “avoid the press at all costs”. This frame of mind was first sparked in his teenage years he left Canada to join the Royal Air Force. Flying over Great Britain during the Blitz over London during WWII.
Catcher in the Rye was written by J.D. Salinger in the small guest house behind Mike’s house. Salinger would come in to the house everyday and read to Mike what he had written. He said that Mike was the greatest writer, that didn’t write, he had ever known.
E. Michael Mitchell was the best man at Salinger’s wedding. Salinger’s short story De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period was inspired by Mike.
After WWII Mike worked as a graphic artist in New York City. Illustrating in some of the top magazines. During this time Mike also exhibited and sold his fine art to collectors.
Visual development in the animation and movie industry
Mike developed and sold a film idea with just drawings. He developed the story completely visually, no words, no text. Gorgeous pastel drawings. What the film became was so much less than the art conceived it to be. The film was Fern Gully. The original tree cutting truck as Mike envisioned it, was a mile wide.
He later moved to Los Angeles to fully immerse himself into the animation and movie industry. Taking over the role of production designer of Yellow Submarine in the midst of production. Mike went on to contribute, mostly uncredited, visual development to hundreds of animated TV shows and films.
Including Little Nemo. Mike worked on Little Nemo with my other art mentor, Corny Cole. Both of whom said it was financed from the infamous Japanese Yakuza. Each telling separate stories of Japanese men wearing suits with tattoos peaking out from the neck and sleeves visiting them at a house rented for the development process.
Teaching in the CalArts Character Animation program
Finally, perhaps the most influential time of Mike’s career was his time teaching drawing and visual development at CalArts. Mike had a fine art approach to storyboards. As a result, led him through a wonderful career as a production designer and concept artist.
Rather than making tiny storyboards constricted into a square frame, he made massive drawings. For instance, a scene of a film would take over an entire wall. Pinning row after row of large graphite or pastel drawings up for directors and producers to get lost in.
Here’s a video of E. Michael Mitchell showing some of his pastel drawing for one of the last films he consulted on:
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