Famed animator Ed Murrieta drops in on local art class

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By Jamie Miles special to the citizen

People have a hard time saying “no” to illustrator Melindia Burnett. Just ask her art students and celebrated artistic friends like famed animator Ed Murrieta. Recently, Murrieta braved the drive from Atlanta to Morgan County – on a weekday afternoon no less – to lead a workshop for Burnett’s middle school and high school art students. Murrieta, a longtime friend of Burnett, has worked with all of the animation greats including Walt Disney, Warner Bros., Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network. Introducing himself to the expectant young artists he began with smile saying, “I’m not doing cartoons today. This is about art.” A man who worked on such classics as Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid and the Power Puff Girls not talk about cartoons? Well in the end, Murrieta did sketch a few, but the majority of his time was spent discussing the basics of drawing. It seems in art as in sport, greatness comes from mastery of the fundamentals. Born and raised in the poorest section of Los Angeles, Murrieta was accepted into the Art Center College of Design in Southern California, which at the time was considered the best art school in the world. “It was a life-changing experience for me, mind-blowing. I was just a kid from L.A.” On his admission into a program of that caliber Murrieta observed, “I had always drawn well but everybody did there. You needed to take it to the next level.” The Art Center introduced him to classical drawing and instruction such as color theory and composition. Murrieta couldn’t overstate the importance of life drawing. Seems that drawing a mermaid, wobbly bear or a pudgy dwarf starts with the human form. Most of us think of life drawing as merely sketching a naked person, but to the serious artist it’s not about beauty as much as intimately understanding shapes comprising the human form and how they move through space. “Once you learn to break down form, you understand how to utilize it in different ways.” Walt Disney recruited Murrieta right out of art school because the industry innovator looked specifically for artists understanding form. As a member of the last class to graduate from the traditional Disney animation school, Murrieta spent countless hours studying film, form and how form moved through space. His mentor was one of Disney’s great original animators, Eric Larson who taught many new generation animators including Tim Burton. Over Murrieta’s impressive career spanning the last 25 years, he has seen animation evolve from the drafting table to the computer. And witnessed full-length features shown only in theaters become digital images watched on a 3 x 5 smartphone. Through all this massive medium change he said simply, “I’ve made a career out of interpreting space and form.” His message wasn’t lost on the younger minds. Molly Head, age 11, was impressed how basic shapes are the beginning of every drawing. “Simple is a good thing to me.” And the art students were impressed with the iconic projects holding Murrieta’s artistic touch. Dana Hicky, age 16, said, “When he told us about his past jobs, it got me excited because he made it seem possible to have a dream job like that.” During the instruction, Murrieta said that copying a photo develops necessary hand-eye coordination. Adding that realistic drawings often get plenty of “oohs and aahs” from friends and relatives. “But creating a picture that looks identical is just muscle memory. You are merely interpreting something the way it was before.” Murrietta encouraged the young minds to get cerebral in creating. “A drawing is a design. It’s not something you copy.”  Sarah Collins, an 11th grader, got the message. “Everyone knows he’s a great artist, but he’s a fantastic down-to-earth teacher as well.” As Murrieta wrapped up his instruction, one young voice from the gallery piped up, “I think I’m already a better artist.” Murrieta, sitting at the easel turned around to look at his pupils and said with a smile, “Well then, my job is done.”

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