Ep.11: Curious mind of an artist with Tod Polson (The Book of Life)

Tod is an animation designer and director originally from Wyoming, United States and currently living in Thailand. He has worked extensively as a director, designer, and art director, helping develop projects for companies all over the world including Walt Disney, Warner Bros., and Nickelodeon.

I met Tod while working at LEGO where he ran a week-long workshop about character design and animation.

Tod received both his BFA and MFA from The California Institute of the Arts (Cal/Arts) under a scholarship from the Walt Disney Co. At Cal/Arts, Tod fell under the mentorship of legendary animation designer Jules Engel, eventually garnering the “Student Oscar”, and “Annie Award” nomination for his short film, “Al Tudi Tuhak”. Between degrees, Tod apprenticed under the Oscar-winning team of Chuck Jones, and Maurice Noble.

Tod is known for his work on Howl (2010), The Secret of Kells (2009) and The Book of Life (2014). His animation design book, The Noble Approach, Maurice Noble and the Zen of Animation was published by Chronicle Books LLC. Currently, Tod is a creative director at large for the Cartoon Saloon studio in Ireland and is busy creating new personal short film projects through his own studio Prodigal Pictures in Thailand.

Get in touch with Tod

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Key Takeaways

“Try to find balance in your life, look at things outside of animation for inspiration – art, music, travel. Do all these things, because taking time from art will make you even better artist”

  • His dad, a rancher, wasn’t really convinced about his career until he was in his 20s and he could make a living out of it. He finally said, “I am proud of you” … it took a long time to get there
  • With his Mentor Maurice Noble, they were invited to make a short film in Thailand in the end of 90s. Maurice passed away. Tod went to Thailand and 6 months turned to 12 years and he is still there. Some people in LA were like “… you are throwing your career away, how brave!” … but he just wanted to try different things …
  • Tod mostly works on visual development, but also sometimes on the story. The director asks him, “What do you think this looks like?” Visual development can influence and guide the story. They bounce off visual and writing side.
  • “The greatest asset an artist can have is a curious mind and courage to explore it” – Maurice Noble once told him. Tod didn’t know what it meant for a long time. The ‘curious mind’ is easy, but the ‘courage’ to explore it is more difficult. Jorge (Gutierrez) is brave enough to put himself on the screen and people respond to it. If you can show something vulnerable on the screen, in the characters, the audience will respond to it …
  • Follow your heart and the things that interest you. If you put them in your portfolio, that’s gonna get you in the kinds of projects you want to be in.

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Resources mentioned

Special thanks to Tod for joining me today. See you next time!

All artworks by Tod Polson, used with permission

Click Here For The Episode Transcript

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