(cont’d) Tracing your resume, it’s interesting to see how you were pulled out of that familiar big studio environment and forced to reinvent yourself for your new market here – working in several boutiques and probably from home at times.  For years!

But then you came “home” so to speak.  Was the Flash work a fun break from the norm or were you hoping to get back into film work during that period?  I mean, a lot of us develop a “plan B” skillset that can make for a fun break to switch things up, but then the question becomes how long do you want to hang out in that alternate reality…   how did it feel when you were able to return to the film world at Bent Image Lab on Gus Van Sant’s Restless, and then taking a staff position with LAIKA for ParaNorman?

Susanna:  When I moved here I was very happy to be away from the big studios actually.  Don’t get me wrong – they can be a lot of fun to work at – the perks can be very nice indeed.  But the grind of working at a huge corporate studio like that had actually made me ill in the end and I truly needed a break.  Being freelance for a while was wonderful in lots of ways – the freedom to work for yourself, make your own hours, break the day up as you like was pretty great.  But of course that needs to be balanced against the uncertainty of the paycheck, the paying higher taxes, and sometimes the loneliness of working from your own studio.

Working on Restless was in some ways like coming home again. It felt really good to be back in a studio with storyboards on the walls and everyone pulling together to get someone’s vision made, the creative process bouncing between people, even the various stresses of working under pressure like that.  Turns out I thrive under those conditions.  Getting hired at LAIKA – it being a much bigger outfit – was even more so.  Ultimately I’m really comfortable working in a studio and I hope I get to do it for a long time.

VFX/PDX:  Well, you’ve been around ol’ Portlandia for seven years here now.  What do you value most about Portland as a city?

A perfect Stumptown Latte

Susanna:  The coffee.  Just kidding.  🙂

Portland is a place you can be whatever you want to be, no matter how out there, how strange or dark or weirdly niche – and people will support you. I really love that about the place. It’s a vibrant place, for sure and I truly do think that the climate has a lot to do with crafting the place. Anyone could move here because they’ve heard about the great food and the music or the livability, but it takes a special kind of person to stay through all the grey months and the rain and cold, and find a way to thrive in that.

VFX/PDX:  I like to think we’re a more resilient breed, yeah!  We all have our secrets for the rainy months.  Speaking of, what’s on your Powell’s shopping list right now?  Seriously?

elemental_magicSusanna:  I was lucky enough to get something from my list for Christmas – Volume 2 of ‘Elemental Magic’ by Joseph Gilland is on my coffee table right now and I’m itching to get into it.  It’s brilliant.

VFX/PDX:  Yes, that one’s very ‘you!’  Cool!  I have a stack I’m trying to get through during some down time…  will be good to actually read them and relieve them from their usual use as ‘remote control holders.’  Tim Burton gave us all a copy of The Art of Tim Burton when it came out during the production of Alice in Wonderland, and several friends have borrowed that one already.  Hopefully soon I can finally read it myself!  Love those ones that make you smile as soon as you start flipping through.

Now we’re getting into those sources of inspiration.  Do you admire any local artists around town?

Aimee Erickson

Susanna:  I don’t own any of her paintings yet, but I have a huge artist-crush on Aimee Erickson. Her paintings are so gorgeous! 

Eduardo Fernandez

And I think Eduardo Fernandez’s life sketches are fantastic. 

Also I absolutely love the charcoal works of April Coppini – she does these brilliant, very lively animal and insect studies on paper in charcoal and I very much would love to have one or two of those.

VFX/PDX:  Which begs the question – do you consider yourself more drawn to First Thursday or Last Thursday?

April Coppini

Susanna:  I’d have to say Last Thursday. It’s just more fun, though it can get a bit annoying sometimes, later in the evenings when the bacchanalia can take a turn for the frat house. But I like the informality of it and the variety of things usually going on – homemade cupcakes next to gourmet ice cream, fire-breathers and hulu-hoopers and lots of ‘put a bird on it’ art. It has much more of an inclusive, community feel to it than the more chi-chi First Thurs in the Pearl. Not that I’m down on that, particularly, I’m just more comfortable with the former.

VFX/PDX:  Anything else that you’ve surrounded yourself with at home that you find inspiring?  I remember walking into your house for the first time and immediately being hit with that feeling that “this is the home of an artist.”  And I mean a traditional artist.  But I’m not sure if I said, “you did that spiral one, right?” if I would even be making any coherent sense…   but I have to ask, what is up on your walls at the moment?  Mostly your own work?  Work of friends?

Susanna:   I do have some of my own paintings and sketches on the walls.  I have some work by some friends too.  I have one piece I really treasure, which was done by the artist Kazuhiko Sano when I was at the Academy in SF.

Kazuhiko Sano

He was a brilliant painter and movie poster designer and I was lucky enough to take a couple of his classes.  The piece I have on my wall was a demo he was going to throw away and I asked him if I could have it.  He was really puzzled about why I’d even want it – but I think it’s beautiful – layered paint and mixed media with the image of a door key in it.  He was even more puzzled when I asked him to sign it!  And I have a lot of books of other people’s art.  But I think I’m most inspired by what I see out in the world – it’s usually something in nature, or some story or movie I’ve seen that keeps me making my own art.

VFX/PDX:  Have you ever had a gallery show?  Or a local coffee shop?  The LAIKA Canteen (where they exhibit the art of the LAIKA community)?

Susanna:  Yes, I’ve been in a few shows over the years – some in galleries, a couple in coffee shops.  At one point I had studio space in the Troy artists’ Co-op in SE Portland and we had a couple of open studio events that were fun – I love seeing the spaces other artists work in.  It’s a huge amount of work to get a show together though, as well as quite an investment in framing, too, so I haven’t done it in a long while now.

Digital painting: Susanna Luck

VFX/PDX:  Knowing that you have both traditional and digital skills, how do you choose which toolset to go with when starting a new piece at home? Do you feel the need to stay sharp in one or the other? Or does the piece sort of make the choice for you?

Take the character portraits you did digital paintings of, inspired by the show Lost. When you were getting started on those, was there something specific that pushed you towards digital?

Digital paintings: Susanna Luck


Susanna:  Yes: it was quick!  I did each of those in two to four hours. I just got on a kick with it (and had some time on my hands).  I do feel like I need to keep my painting chops up while I’m animating so much. It’s a totally different skill set and I can always see and feel the difference when I’ve set it aside for too long.

VFX/PDX:  Ha – I hear ya!  I think that’s why I got into photography at one point – because it’s such instant gratification.  I think my attention span has shrunk over the years and it’s harder to start more epic journeys these days. 

Digital Paintings: Susanna Luck


At least you can keep digital painting within the scope of a day, most times.  I have a friend that records his digital paintings and then puts them up online for playback at superspeed.  I think it’s officially become known as speedpainting!  But now, does that make it a form of animation in the end?  Ouch, my brain hurts!

  -A ‘speedpainting’ recording of the digital painting process by NZ artist Dean Packwood

We should talk a little shop while we’re on the subject.  When you paint, do you prefer a Cintiq to a tablet?

Cintiq or Tablet?

Susanna:  I prefer the Cintiq, just because the hand-to-eye experience of having the line you’re drawing or painting appear directly under your hand – as opposed to on the screen, away from the hand drawing off to the side on the tablet – is so much more like analog drawing or painting.  I find that when I go from using the Cintiq at work, to using the tablet at home, I really have to give my brain a little while to readjust – the sensitivity is gone for a while as I get used to the tablet and that disconnect again and for about the first hour – if I’m out of practice – it feels more like trying to draw with a potato than a pen or brush.