Although he’d always dreamed of a career in the film industry, Jay Shuster was hesitant to move to California without a job or any connections. He didn’t want to end up working random jobs to make ends meet. Yet with his portfolio in hand and fresh ideas in his mind, he headed west. Since then, he’s landed work on some of the biggest films in the industry.
“Growing up designing, going to school for design and absorbing everything design was vital; that's the great thing about it—design is universal,” said Shuster. “If you don't get the job you want at first, there’s usually a good alternative for the time being.
“Out of school one of the few recession-proof jobs offered to me was a software test-pilot position at Alias in Toronto. Since Alias was the predominant supplier of software to the movie industry, I realized the job was a vehicle to a destination.”
Shuster got his start working in Hollywood as a storyboard/concept artist on Star Wars: Episode I under the design direction of fellow CCS alumnus Doug Chiang (’82). He conceptualized the podracers and many of the worlds featured in the movie.
Pixar hired Shuster as an entry-level sketch artist, and he spent the next several years working his way up to an art director position on Cars 2. Shuster’s other film credits include the original Cars, WALL-E and Toy Story 3 at Pixar. His work on WALL-E received recognition for Best Character Design from The Visual Effects Society (VES) in 2008.
“Learning how to design something from the inside-out does inform the appearance of objects I create for the screen,” he explained. “WALL-E is an example. He's designed to transform, compact garbage and convey an emotional range that melts the audience's hearts. Every surface, pivot-point and rivet was thoroughly considered to enable all these actions—there was little room for cheating!
“I’m realizing ideas I had when I was a kid on a daily basis! When you can connect with that kind of playful imagination and contribute and build on a great story that is in synchronicity with a room full of like-minded people, it’s a beautiful thing!”
Throughout his career, Shuster has been influenced by the artistic foundation he established at CCS. A historical perspective of design was omnipresent in his coursework and instructors emphasized the need for strong, clear communication while pursuing striking visuals and aesthetics.
“Patience is a virtue in this industry,” he said. “Be prepared to find freelance or contract work between bigger projects. But if you design well and can convey your ideas clearly, you will not have trouble finding work. Good design is the basis for a successful career. Industrial design, movie design, graphic design—there is no difference. Good design is buoyant; it will always float to the top.”
- Graduation Year: 1993
- Employer: Pixar Animation Studios
- Title: Art Director
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