Female Filmmaker Friday with Lead Sculptor Vicki Saulls

by admin

Hi Vicki! Thank you for joining us today! To kick things off, what is your role here at Blue Sky?

Hi! I am part of the art/design department here at Blue Sky and my role is Lead Sculptor. I sculpt physical or "practical" maquettes (small sculptures) of most of the main characters for Blue Sky's films.

How does sculpting fit into the pipeline? 

 I work directly with the character designers, production designers and directors of each film to help visualize the main character dimensionally before the character is moved into production.  The character designers work on developing lots of iterations of a character in 2D until the design meets the approval of the directors and they settle on a significant pose/expression that is the essence of the character.  I will then use that drawing and replicate it in Sculpey (a plastic clay). I work with the designers and directors to flesh the maquette out and make any changes that may be necessary. Once the clay maquette has been approved, I have a digital scanner where I can scan it into the computer, then the modelers have a direct digital template of the character, along with the actual maquette, which they can use to reconstruct in Maya. I do, sometimes, sculpt characters digitally in Zbrush as well.  The maquettes are also used by other artists and animators in various departments such as "Fur", "Cloth", "Story" and "Animation" as reference.

How does your work impact the final film? 

If I've sculpted a character for development, a maquette can be used to help "pitch" a film idea when the directors are trying to get a project green lit. Usually maquettes impact the final film by way of clarifying a character's design dimensionally and are used as a visual reference for the character pipeline. Since the maquettes I sculpt are most often "practical" rather than virtual they are primarily used to carry the directors' vision along, as each department adds to a character's design as it moves through the pipeline.  

When did you know you wanted to become a filmmaker? Tell us what your journey to Blue Sky looked like. 

I came to filmmaking in a very round-about way. I started sculpting at a young age and I have always been a pretty good replicator.  Awhile after college, I began sculpting for natural history museums, aquariums and parks which was a HUGE education. I Learned about fabrication and materials as well as how to strengthen my ability to sculpt a variety of forms, from realistic trees and rocks to tiny prehistoric creatures and their skeletons, to very stylized sculptures. This led me to work as a public artist, and then, allowed me to sculpt characters for CG live-action film. From there I heard about Blue Sky signing on to create "Horton Hears A Who!" and knew it was where I wanted to be and so, very fortunately for me, I was hired!

What are some of the most challenging aspects of your job and how do you break through? 

I would have to admit that probably the most challenging aspect would be getting out of my own head.  As confident as I am about my abilities, I always have self-doubt. At the start of almost every sculpt, I have a moment (or a bit longer) where I wonder if this is going to be the one that I won't be able to pull off. Then after I start roughing out the character in clay, something (the doubt) shuts off and I relax and it all works like a reflex.  I guess at this point I am very familiar with my habits and I don't let the doubt debilitate and overtake me. I think I now use any doubt as a kind of fuel to consider different approaches or methods of working out a problem in a sculpt, and then just move on ahead. 

Was there a specific obstacle you faced in your career or on a specific film that you can share that you were able to overcome?

Probably the biggest obstacle I faced was about 5 months after I came to Blue Sky. I was in a pretty major car accident and broke my neck.  I was incredibly lucky, I didn't need surgery, I could move and feel all my limbs and I only had to wear a neck brace, constantly for 5 months.  After 2 months I came back to work at Blue Sky, having to wear a neck brace for a few more months along with severe vertigo for many years to follow.

 Anyone who sculpts knows you have to get in a variety of positions to get around what you are working on even if it is small and that was a huge challenge.  Along with the help of others, I figured out tools to help me work as I recovered, such as sculpting on a gimbaled turntable so as not to have to move my head upside down or tip sideways as much. I found people who helped me with physical maintenance, acupuncture, physical therapy, etc.. and realized ongoing self-care is a good thing regardless of injury. That was in 2006, it was a challenge to get my body to do what my mind wanted, but through it all I felt very lucky to even be alive and was pretty determined that I would be able to continue to sculpt. A few years after, I even played on Blue Sky's softball team!

This is your 14th year at Blue Sky. What still makes you excited to come to work every day here at this studio? 

I get to sculpt for a living!  How great is that??!! I love the variety of character designs that I get to sculpt, which is always a great mental challenge since no two are the same.  Blue Sky is filled with super skilled artists that constantly inspire me with their work, dedication to filmmaking, and their own artwork outside of the studio.  It really is a pretty darn perfect job!

Who are some of the people you look up to in the industry?

Besides my incredibly talented coworkers (present as well as former) here at Blue Sky, Leigh Barbier and Jordu Schell. They both have been in the industry for years and not only are they supremely talented, they are also wonderful human beings. Look them up!!

Besides the 2 artists I just mentioned, an early mentor/teacher was Betty Davenport Ford, she was an ENORMOUS inspiration at an early age, I think she was probably the first person who taught me how to see and sculpt form.  Her stylized animal sculptures inspire me to this day. Two other female sculptors I find inspiring and greatly admire are Ruth Asawa and Beth Cavener. Again, if you are not familiar, look them up!

What advice do you have for young women coming up in the industry? 

Just because you haven't done something before doesn't mean you can't do it. If you want to do or achieve something, go for it! It may, and often will take repetition, perseverance and hard work but the excitement of learning something new that you love should never be a hindrance, it can only lead you forward.  Perhaps not always in the direction you initially thought! Doors can swing open to unusual and interesting paths not previously considered, but that's all part of the excitement of doing what you love. So be open to what comes your way!

Thank you so much Vicki for joining us today! We can't wait to see your work in SPIES IN DISGUISE, coming to theaters this Christmas!

Be sure to follow @blueskystudios for more behind the scenes updates and for our next #FemaleFilmmakerFriday.

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