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Karen Nugent

Computer Graphics/Red Cross Instructor
California, USA

When you were a little girl, what did you want to grow up to become?

When I was little, most of my time was spent doing art projects, racing sail boats, playing tennis and other sports, and playing with my friends and pets, three dogs and a big fat cat.  In the 7th grade I was an extra in a Walt Disney Movie, called "BoatNiks" where I sailed my little boat around.  Working on movies always sounded like a fun job when I grew up, but not as an actor.

What inspired you to become an artist?

My Mom is artistic and my Father is an engineer, so I enjoyed designing and making projects, and fixing broken things.  My degree is in Art from Long Beach State, I am not the best artist but I have great ideas.  If you think of something then it can be made.

I have had many jobs in the art field, starting as a video game designer at Mattel Electronics, then computer graphics at Sierra-On-Line (a computer game company), colorizing old movies, and painting animation cels at Disney Studios.  Some of the movies are Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Lilo and Stitch and Brother Bear.  My name is under painters on the credits.  It's fun seeing your work on the big screen or on T.V., after all the hard work and long hours.  The money is good when you are working.

I also removed the wires on "Hocus Pocus" when the witches flew around and the wires on "Nightmare Before Christmas".  The past few years I have been on the Executive Board of the animation guild.  It sounds more important than it is.

How did you get involved in the video game industry and what did you do?

There was an ad at Long Beach State on the job board for a game designer at Mattel Toys.  It sounded like fun and they wanted an artist.  Most companies wanted business majors or engineers.  At Mattel I came up with new game ideas and graphics for Intellivision.  It was a lot of fun, to make games we had to be good a playing them so we played games all day.  The management allowed all of us to be creative, most large companies have too much management on creativity which kills creativity.  Managers need to leave creativity to the creative people.

What were some of the Sierra games you worked on? Did you work on any educational games?

At Sierra I worked on The Black Cauldron.  It seems like I was meant to work at Disney.  In the 7th grade I was an extra in the movie "Boatniks" then I worked on the Sierra computer game "The Black Cauldron", which was based on the Disney movie of the same name.  Then I worked in Disney Feature Animation.  Maybe I will end up there again.  Back to the educational games, I worked on a couple at Sierra but I don't know if they were ever made.  At Mattel I worked on several educational games: Flintstones Keyboard Fun, Driver's Ed, Scooby Doo, and I designed a few.  Most were never made.

How did you get a job in Disney animation?  What did you enjoy most about that work?

A friend recommend me for a job at Disney.  Networking is the best way to get a job.  It was fun working on some of the biggest movies ever, "THE LION KING", "BEAUTY AND THE BEAST", and "FANTASIA", and having a silver pass to get into Disneyland anytime with 3 friends for free.  There is a lot of talent at Disney Studios, and you don't have to explain a joke twice there, everyone has a brain.  But there are many long hours trying to get the film out on time.

Your work on Fantasia was really Fantasia 2000, no?

Yes, Fantasia 2000.  I was not born when the original Fantasia came out.  But in Fantasia 2000, I worked on all the pieces except "The Sorcerer’s Apprentice" which was from the original Fantasia film.

Can you describe what it is like to paint cels for an animated feature?  Is this the same kind of work that Walt Disney's wife Lillian was doing when he met her?

Painting cels is kind of like painting by numbers.  The Art Director picks the colors with the Color Stylist (color models) then the painters get a color palette telling what colors to use, like shirt color, pants color, hair color, shirt ink, etc.  Walt's wife Lillian was a painter when painting was with a brush and real paint.  Most studios paint on a computer now.  The animation is scanned then the painters ink & paint it.  When the animation is drawn by hand it is now called "traditional"; when it is animated on the computer like "Shrek" it is called CG or computer generated.

Have you ever been laid off?

My first job out of college was at Mattel Electronics, I loved the job.  After coming back from vacation I was laid off.  Laid off means the company no longer needs you to work there.  Then I worked at Sierra-on-Line, after the project was over they laid me off.  Then I went to Color Systems Technology for a couple years colorizing old movies.  You guessed it!  I was laid off there too.  Then I went to Disney Feature Animation, the studio decided not to make traditional animation movies any more, so I was laid off again.

Now, I have been taking classes learning MAYA (animation software-CG) the same software most studios use in animation now.  MAYA is used in both animation and live action movies like "Spider-Man" when he climbs the buildings.  I want to be a character rigger (character technical director) when I "grow up", which is putting a skeleton with all the controls in the character so the Animator can move the character around.  After a few years of being a character technical director I will most likely be replaced with a new computer.

Getting laid off is not so bad, it forces you to learn something new and so far all my jobs have been great experiences.  There are always new friends to meet at the new job.  Expect to get laid off at least once in your life, then learn something new and try to have a positive attitude.  A person with a positive attitude will be able to find new job experiences and enjoy them.

What do you do when you are between jobs?

Christmas Eve 1979 my grandfather had a heart attack and died.  Three weeks later I had a very bad car accident when a drunk driver ran into me.  I spent 10 weeks in the hospital with many broken bones, back, neck, clavicle, ribs, pelvis, etc…  After I got better I thought it would be nice to know what to do in an emergency, how to help people (family and friends).  So I took first aid and CPR from the Red Cross and after a couple of classes I thought I could teach the class.  I became an instructor in First Aid-CPR for adults, children, infants and dogs and cats.  I also teach emergency response which means preparing for a really big emergency like an earthquake, hurricane, tornado where many people are affected.  When it is safe to do so, we go into a building to rescue trapped people and treat them for injuries or set up a shelter.  We help the Fire Department.

I am an Instructor Trainer for the Red Cross, which means I teach the teachers.

How did you learn to do CPR on cats and dogs?

In LA the Red Cross offers a pet first aid class.  I never had to give CPR to anything yet, I hope I never have to, because that means their heart has stopped and that is a bad thing.  But I have pulled a dog from a pool, and stopped the bleeding on several paws and legs.

Have you ever saved a person in a real life emergency?

I have stopped my car to help several people in car accidents, picked people up from falls after checking for serious injuries, stopped bleeding on many cuts and splinted broken bones.  Now that I know CPR, I never had to use it, and I hope I never will, but I am prepared to do so.

What do you like best about your work for the Red Cross?

I enjoy teaching classes and meeting people.

What were your favorite subjects in school?

My favorite classes in school were art, science and sports.  If the teacher was good every subject was interesting.

What were your least favorite or most difficult subjects in school?

If the teacher is not fun or interesting the class is a waste of my time.

If you could repeat your school years, what would you have done differently?

There were no computer classes when I was young.  We didn't have computers at home or cell phones in our pockets.  We had typewriters.  I would have taken typing because it is taking me forever to type out my answers with two fingers!

If you could change careers, what would you like to do?

I am changing careers, because traditional animation is no longer being done in Feature Films.  So I have gone back to school to become a character technical director (build a skeleton and controls for 3D characters).

What advice do you have for students reading this interview?

It's much easier to go through life with a positive attitude, and everyone will enjoy having you around... and you won't be the first one to get laid off!

- 31 August 2004


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Last Updated:
5 September 2004

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