Catching up with Illustrator Whitney Martin
Whitney Martin is a freelance illustrator who lives in Eldorado, New Mexico, a small town on the
outskirts of Santa Fe. Over the last eleven years, he has developed an impressive collection of
credits, including work on Disney films such as
The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and
The Emperor's New Groove. He also worked on the animated television series,
King of the Hill. During that time, he has illustrated several children's books, including
two for Simon & Schuster.
Earlier this year his art was the subject of a joint exhibition in Eldorado, and until recently
he was hard at work with Disney on the sequel to
Chicken Little. In the middle of his busy career, he was nice enough to spare a moment to
talk a bit about his career, his time at the Academy, and his plans for the future:
Your career seems to really be booming. What was your path from graduation from the Academy
to your present success?
My path from the Academy to where I am now goes something like this: During my sophomore year, I
applied for and got the internship at Disney features in Florida. After successfully completing the
internship, I returned to the Academy for my final semester to get my degree in illustration. I was
then hired at Feature Animation in Burbank, where I worked as an in-betweener for almost five
While I was at Disney, I used to loiter on the third floor, admiring all of the development work
and storyboard art. It seemed to be more closely related to illustration than animation was. My
interest and curiosity grew and I started looking into what it would take to be a storyboard
artist. I started taking tests and ultimately applied to get on board with "Sweating Bullets,"
which later became
Home on the Range.
I was accepted as a Trainee on "Bullets." After struggling with contract negotiations, I decided
to move on. Two weeks later, I was on board with
King of the Hill as a storyboard artist. The experience there was fast paced and very
valuable. I worked there for four seasons. During my last season there, I started thinking about
illustrating children's books and did a book on spec for a friend of a friend. I knew that doing
something on spec was a risk, but I felt it was an opportunity to get something together for a
I started a self-promotional campaign and mailing campaign. I did a lot of research and homework
to hopefully find a market that would match up with my style. I got my first book deal with a
publisher out in Washington D.C. called Magination Press, a publisher that deals with special
issues kids are faced with. Then I got two book deals with Simon & Schuster, which was
fantastic. I've done four more books with Magination Press and I landed another deal with Holiday
House, the result of which will be released this fall.
The books have slowed down recently and I was able to get some freelance story board/visual
development work with Disney again on
Chicken Little 2. That project was shelved after Disney acquired Pixar. I was happy to
have gotten five months of work. I'm hoping to start on a
Peter Pan sequel for Disney again soon, as a storyboard artist. It was a lot of fun
Chicken Little and I had a lot of creative freedom.
When did you graduate from the Academy?
I graduated from the Academy in 1995 and it was a great experience. It was hard work, and I
worked almost full time at a retail store while I was in school. I was also committed to the Army
Reserves at the time, and it was a challenge to balance with school and work.
The School of Illustration's solid foundation and emphasis on figure drawing and painting was of
tremendous value in the real world of commercial art. Mellissa Marshall's interest in the students'
success and well-being was always appreciated. I remember that her Introduction to Illustration
class was very demanding and a good wake up call for me. Barbara Bradley's classes were terrific
and she was always a good mentor.
What advice would you give to a young illustrator like yourself who is looking to begin a
career in animation?
First, get the figure drawing down as much as possible; it helps all across the board. Do a lot
of plein air painting. Finally, try to find a voice and a purpose in your work. If classes are
available that focus specifically on creativity, take them! This is a difficult thing to obtain and
will be invaluable along with your technical skills.
What are your plans for the future?
I hope to continue to work as a freelance artist in animation and illustration as long as I can.
I have plans to create my own book, and hope that becomes a reality one day soon.
For more information on our Illustration program, please visit our
Illustration School pages.