Home > Around Town > He’s worked with “The Mouse.” He’s worked with Spielberg. He’s worked with Singer.
He’s worked with “The Mouse.” He’s worked with Spielberg. He’s worked with Singer.
Film-maker/designer Terry Izumi visits IPFW
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
With over 20 years in the entertainment industry, Terry Izumi has a resume that most young artists and designers can only dream about.
For the past 12 years, he’s been a creative director or production designer, most prominently at Disney and Dreamworks SKG, hiring and overseeing teams of designers and artists. Along the way, Izumi says he’s developed so many different projects for various companies — some that were realized, some that weren’t — that he’s lost count. He’s worked on films, commercials, amusement parks, toys, computer games, and hotels, just to name a few. He’s come a long way since his early days, when he did time at the famously low-budget New World Pictures, doing set design, effects, and a little bit of everything else for flicks like Beastmaster.
In 1998, Izumi left Dreamworks to start his own company, Neuart Pictures, and create a fully computer generated animated independent film,, the sci-fi/fantasty adventure Aero-Troopers.
Izumi will be an artist-in-residence with the Visual and Communication and Design program at IPFW from September 14 -17. He’ll share his experiences and answer questions during a presentation/lecture on Wednesday, September 15 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. in Neff Recital Hall, Room 101. The event is open to the public.
The traditional story has Izumi dreaming about working in the entertainment business since he was a child. But Izumi’s career path is a little different from the one we’ve heard before. The truth is, Izumi didn’t even study any aspect of film-making. “I didn’t have a big dream of becoming a movie-maker,” he says. “I was an architectural student, ended up being good friends with a film-maker, and he kept asking me to help him do presentations for his film work. I just ended up wandering into that area.”
But he must have been working on Aero-Troopers for years, or at least thinking about it, right? Not quite. Izumi was on Christmas break from Dreamworks SKG and started casually making notes for a story, not sure of where it would go. The turning point came while he was having dinner with an old friend, who asked him what he was up to. Izumi says he just started talking about this story he was working on. The friend asked Izumi how much he thought it would cost to make the movie. Izumi told him, and the friend uttered the words every wanna-be film-maker wants to hear. “He said, ‘well, if it’s only a couple million dollars, I’ll back you,’” Izumi recalls.
So, Izumi jumped at the chance, right? Actually, it took Izumi some time to come around to the idea. He was very tied up with his work at Dreamworks; he had been with the company since it had first started, one of about three dozen people working there, and he explains that he didn’t want to leave them high and dry. “Plus, trying to make a film is a big endeavor,” he says. It took Izumi about three months to come around to the idea, form a team, and launch his own company, Nueart Pictures.
Disgruntled artist finally gets fed up with the limitations of the corporate grind and strikes out on his own, right? Well, not quite. While there were things about the creative process at the companies where he worked that frustrated Izumi, he has nothing negative to say about the companies themselves, or the people he worked with. “Overall, my time at both Disney and Dreamworks was great. The whole thing,” he says. “I left both companies without any sense of relief. I was amazingly happy. Any time I’m working with artists I respect and people I think are interesting, I’m happy.”
What did bother Izumi about where he worked was the old-fashioned “factory-belt” method of creating an animated feature. Basically, one group of artists does the characters, another does the trees in the background, another does the sky, another does the little furry animals, etc and those groups rarely intermingle. Once a group is done with its particular job, they’re done with the project. “I consider that unfortunate, “ Izumi says. “For one, having been an artist myself, I want to be involved in the whole thing; and two, it takes time to get the artists up to speed on a project. They get up to speed, and then you let them go. Now you’re going to hand it off to someone else, who has to get up to speed on it. And I found that working with the artists themselves, most of them were skilled at many things, but were only being utilized for one or two things, and weren’t bringing everything to bear on the project that they could. That’s time and money. You’re hiring five people to do five different jobs, when two or three people could do those jobs. If you can make the movie for half the cost, and have just as good a film, why not?”
The reason why not is because many of these companies have made money hand-over-fist for decades using the old method, so they aren’t about to change, even with computer animation making the process more efficient.
With Neuart, Izumi had the chance to put some of these ideas about efficiency into practice. Not that he had a lot of choice in the matter; a few million dollars doesn’t go a long way when you’re making a film. Still, Izumi says that instead of the typical CGI animation group of 100 – 200 artists, they were able to create the feature-length Aero-Troopers with 20 people in the same time frame. He’s very happy with it, though he thinks that with more time and money he could have done some other things.
Izumi continues to do contract work for Disney (he’s currently doing design work on the Tower of Terror ride at Disneyland Tokyo), and has a very high regard for the company. A large part of it is the sheer talent pool of artists Disney has at its disposal, but Izumi also says that he simply likes the thought and care Disney puts into their products. “I have an unspoken rule with Disney: if they ask me to do something for them, I will not say no,” he says. “The goal (at Disney) is to make a very good product that has a lot of meaning, positive meaning, to the public, whether they’re making a film or a theme park or a toy or whatever. What you’re doing there is always for the public. I suppose most companies say that, but (Disney) is very cognizant of that. (To Disney) it’s very important that what you do is of a quality above anyone else. They feel that that’s what differentiates them from everyone else, and I think the public has a sense of that greater effort.”
He does have a few minor criticisms of some of Disney’s more recent fare. It all goes back to the creative process at large companies that led him to try something different with his own film. “Projects only develop to a certain point, and sometimes never truly mature,” he says. “The last handful of animated films that actually came from Disney, not from Pixar, the stories have suffered. The animation is always fantastic, but I thought the stories were weak. Not that I’m an expert at story, but as someone in the audience, I found myself thinking, ‘errr, this is not as entertaining as it should be.’”
But just because Izumi has been happy with his time at Disney, Dreamworks, Paramount, and several other companies, doesn’t mean that he necessarily recommends it for young artists just out of school. Izumi says that as a recruiter, he interviews a lot of artists who have the skills and the talent, but don’t really know what they want to do in the industry. What happens is that even if they don’t necessarily want to, for example, design backgrounds and landscapes, they take the job because they want to be an artist.
He tells a story of doing a series of interviews with former students, and similar material kept popping up in their portfolios. “I asked them if they were all working on a project together, and the answer was yes,” he says. Izumi pulled them in and asked them why they just didn’t start their own company. “Here were a bunch of skittish kids who thought they had to rely on some company to provide for them and tell them what to do.” A year later, he says they’re doing pretty well, picking up more work and developing their own projects.
Most importantly, they’re happy. They enjoy being artists and designers, and they’re making a living at it tackling the projects they like doing. It’s something he tells a lot of students: the entertainment industry is basically an industry of freelancers, and if you have the skills, you can get work. There’s no reason not try it on your own first. “Why not? Your chance of failure is always there, there’s no guarantee of success, but the reality is, you can still try.”
Terry Izumi will discuss film animation and talk about his experiences in the entertainment industry on Wednesday, September 15 from 6:00-8:00 p.m. in Neff Recital Hall, Room 101 on the IPFW campus.