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Catching up with Illustrator Whitney Martin

Whitney Martin Illustration of Chicken Little

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 Pocahontas, Tarzan, 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 years.

Whitney Martin Illustration of Chicken Little

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 portfolio.

Whitney Martin Illustration of Cable Car with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background

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 working on Chicken Little and I had a lot of creative freedom.

Whitney Martin Illustration of Cable Car

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.

Whitney Martin Illustration of a boy named George

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