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A way with shape and form

Damon Bard

Model maker, sculptor-designer for animated and live-action films and commercials. Also does fine-art bronze sculptures.

Credits: “Bee Movie,” “Enchanted,” “Ratatouille,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” “Surf’s Up,” “Kung Fu Panda,” “Shrek 2" and “Shrek the Third,” “Antz,” “Over the Hedge.”

Job description: Bard designs characters and also sculpts others’ character designs into models called maquettes. “I design in 3-D primarily. I do design for creatures and characters like what DreamWorks does, or I’ll design a monster or something for visual effects shows. If there is far too much [work], I’ll work with different sculptors. Mostly, of late, I have been doing character sculpture -- everybody seems to like what I do with that.”

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The grand design: “Sometimes a design is story-driven. Sometimes they’ll say, ‘We like this artist’s style, and this period in history has a certain aesthetic quality we want to see in the characters.’ Everything has to be kind of cohesive.”

Materials: “I use different kinds of clay for different maquettes. If we are doing a fast sketch, I may make it out of a polymer clay, which can be baked and painted. It is semi-permanent -- it turns rigid. When we get a design we like and we want to evolve it . . . I’ll do it out of a clay that has to be molded because it’s not permanent.”

Scanning maquettes: “That is what we used to do 10 years ago. It has been done fairly recently and some companies still do it. But some companies don’t because the modeling programs have gotten somewhat sophisticated. I still believe in scanning something that has been touched by the human hand and then the modelers can move it around from there.”

Sizes: “The quicker sketches, if we are just starting something, will be smaller, like 7 inches tall, and the final maquettes, when we are really trying to nail the design down, can be anywhere from 12 inches to 15 inches.”

Problem solving: “We go in one direction and then might drop a design because it’s not what a director wants or whatever and we have to start over. But the whole thing is problem solving -- at least in the engineering part: constructing the maquettes and finding the design. More and more, especially with these animation companies, it is designed by committee, in a way, because so many people need to agree about it and feel good about the whole direction it is going. It is just part of the process. That is the way it works.”

Background: “When I was a kid, very young, I started making [molds for] bronze sculptures [that were cast at foundries]. I loved movies and I saw publications that would show people making things for the movies, whether they were characters or models, and it was just fascinating to me. So I learned their names, and when I was old enough, I put together a little portfolio. I would go to their door, knock on it and . . . say, ‘I want to work with you.’ I was a little young at the time -- I started in grade school [with the bronzes]. But I was 11 or 12 when I started to make contacts. I graduated from high school when I was 16, and then I began working in Portland, Ore., at Will Vinton Claymation. And that is pretty much how I got in. One thing led to another. People like your work and like working with you. I think I have worked on 25 or 30 films.”

Union or guild: “There’s the animation union [I belong to], but I have my own company -- Bart Sculpture Studio -- so I have been an independent contractor for most of the people I work with.”

Age: 33

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Resides: Emeryville, Calif.

-- Susan King


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