We continue our month long spotlight on female creators, in celebration of Women’s History Month, with Sony Pictures Animation Production Designer and “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” Character Designer Lindsey Olivares. After growing up in a household surrounded by the different mediums of art, Lindsey brought her early passion for drawing and painting into the professional world — this time in the digital space. Read on to hear about Lindsey’s career journey and what led her to her work on 2022 Oscar nominee “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”.
SIGGRAPH: Share some background information on your career to date. Where did you start out? What led you to Sony Pictures Animation?
Lindsey Olivares (LO): First and foremost, I always loved to draw and paint. I was really passionate about art. Because of that, I knew I wanted to pursue animation for a career, which brought me to Ringling College of Art and Design. At Ringling, I studied computer animation, where I learned about model, light, composite, etc. While those skills were great to learn, they also helped me narrow down what my niche within animation would be. I discovered I didn’t want to be an animator, I wanted to work within visual development. In visual development, I got the chance to go back to the skills I loved the most: drawing and painting.
After I graduated, I got my first break working at PDI/DreamWorks in the art department, mostly working on “Madagascar 3”. I learned a lot at PDI/DreamWorks and it was nice to work in a smaller area of such a big studio [because] it allowed me to get close to everyone I worked with and make good connections. Eventually, I left DreamWorks to pursue freelance opportunities. For years, I lived in a small rural Northern California town, making art, living with my grandma, and picking up jobs here and there. A lot of the jobs I worked on were in the early development stages. That’s how I met Michael Rianda, the director of “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”. We worked together on the character development for the story, etc. Once Michael pitched the project to Sony, I hopped on to help him finished the project.
SIGGRAPH: What is the best career advice you ever received? Who gave it?
LO: When I was working at DreamWorks, one of my coworker’s wife was a brilliant illustrator, LeUyen Pham. She gave me advice that I still hold with me to this day but one thing stands out the most. She told me to “take what resonates.” Throughout your career — your life, really — you are going to get a lot of advice from a lot of different people. Realistically, you can’t take every piece of advice you are given, so it is important to listen. It is important to take the advice that resonates with you, that sticks in your mind. That [advice] is [what’s] going to benefit you and where you are trying to go. I didn’t end up going into illustration, but I remember her standing out.
SIGGRAPH: In your opinion, what technology doesn’t get a lot of love but has greatly improved the world?
LO: I would say recent technology excites me. More and more technology is being created that is accessible, like Procreate, for example. I love that there are these apps that are doing really amazing things, but are also super accessible and have no high cost associated with them. Now, more than ever, the younger generation has the ability to play around with professional-grade technology. It is going to transform the landscape.
SIGGRAPH: What excites you most about your work? Where does your passion come from?
LO: I strive for observation, specificity, authenticity, and creating things that are bespoke for a certain story. I think finding the style that makes sense for the story, that adds to the film, is what excites me to find the right style for a piece. I’ve been able to pursue projects where I get to do that, which I am really grateful for.
My passion comes from life observation: living life, experiencing life, other people. For me, it is all about finding an excitement that I want to funnel into storytelling. I came from a really creative family. My sister is an artist and my father was a musician. At a young age, I was always hearing art celebrated. Whether visual or auditory or digital, the importance of connecting with an audience in a bigger way stays the same. Art has always been a passion for me, and it continues to be a passion for me.
SIGGRAPH: What is one contribution you’ve made to the industry so far that has been most meaningful to you?
LO: My work on “The Mitchells vs. the Machines”. I have seen a lot of people see themselves in that story and really connect to the characters. I like to see my art extend beyond the screen and into people’s lives. And, that project allowed me to draw. We looked at drawings we liked and said, “How can we do this in 3D?”
The industry has developed so much to where animation can be completely realistic if you want it to be. That amount of opportunity in the space allows us to stand on its shoulders and innovate and change and make something new and handcrafted and bespoke to the story. We designed the style we wanted, and then brought it into the digital world. I am really excited about this time in animation. We are seeing bending and breaking and changing.
SIGGRAPH: What’s one thing you keep at your desk that you can’t live without, or that inspires you?
LO: I keep a lot of markers, a box, a bucket… I always have a bucket of different markers at my desk. As much as I work digitally, I love getting something down on paper. It’s always nice to get your hands dirty.
SIGGRAPH: Share some of your favorite resources you frequent for inspiration.
LO: It is hard to know exactly where I will find inspiration. I stumble upon a lot of it. Going to a library, finding a cool bookstore, etc. I’ve been fortunate enough to live near great art and photography bookstores. Sometimes my inspiration comes from traveling, sometimes it comes from something I run into on the street. Once you get outside and away from your computer, it will find you. I got a lot of inspiration for “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” at a gas station; stuff like that. I like not knowing what I am going to be inspired by. Lately, I have been wandering around the fashion district, looking at textile stores. Who knows what story or character could be created out of that inspiration? My inspiration is found by being away from the digital space.
SIGGRAPH: What is your fondest memory from a SIGGRAPH Conference?
LO: I went to SIGGRAPH Asia in 2009 and another SIGGRAPH conference around 2007, I don’t remember the exact year. At that time, there was this Viking Animator Competition where groups of three people competed in making a short film in 48 hours based on a common prompt. I did that with a couple of friends and we had a ton of fun. They brought in a bunch of distractions and played music. It was such a intensely creative atmosphere that forced you to be less precious and meticulous in your work. I met a lot of people during that competition. I loved that experience.
SIGGRAPH: Since we are celebrating Women’s History Month, tell us about a female production/animation pioneer you admire and why.
LO: One thing I have really appreciated in my career, is all the women I have been able to mentor [or be mentored by]. At my Disney internship, my mentor was Claire Keane. At my first job at PDI/DreamWorks, I worked with Kendal Cronkhite and Shannon Jeffries. I’ve always had the pleasure of being around women who were killing it in the industry. We have more men in leadership positions — most industries do — but, when I started, I was able to see first-hand powerful women that were respected. I encourage everyone starting out to find a female mentor, they are great reference points for inspiration.
SIGGRAPH: What advice do you have for the next generation of women entering production/animation?
LO: Find and bring your voice as an artist. It is important to be humble as you are starting out and eager to learn more, yes, but to have the confidence in who you are and what you feel and what your opinion is, that is just as important. Being young is exciting and being from a different generation than your counterparts allows you to add a new experience to the project. Art benefits from unique voices: use yours.
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Lindsey Olivares is the Production Designer and Character Designer on Sony Pictures Animation’s original feature comedy “The Mitchells vs. The Machines.” As Production Designer on the film, she led the art team to create a bold illustrative look that is a love letter to our imperfect human world. Before joining Sony Pictures Animation, Olivares worked as a freelance visual development artist and illustrator with a focus on character design and caricature. Her freelance clients include Disney Television Animation, DreamWorks Animation, Locksmith Animation, Google, and Facebook. Her film credits include DreamWorks Animation’s “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted,” “Penguins of Madagascar,” and “Trolls,” as well as Sony Pictures Animation’s “The Emoji Movie” and “The Mitchells vs. The Machines.” Lindsey is currently working at Dreamworks Animation.