POSTED: Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Shrek, the prickly green ogre with the Scottish burr, is only marginally less famous than Mickey Mouse, and probably more so in the under-30 demographic. An unlikely icon from DreamWorks' 2001 breakthrough in movie-length computer animation, Shrek has returned again and again to pop consciousness, this year in a Broadway musical, next year in yet another film sequel.




Tom Hester


        The artist will speak about his green creation:

» When: 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday


» Where: Kapiolani Community College, Ohia 118


» Cost: Free


» Call: 735-3879


As Shrek said in the first film. “;The stars don't tell the future, Donkey. They tell stories. That one is Bloodnut, the Flatulent. You can guess what he's famous for.”;

Although Shrek was first created as a “;horrid little ogre”; in a William Steig cartoon, the task of making Shrek a movie star fell to conceptual figure artist Tom Hester, who turned a 2-D cartoon into a 3-dimensional creation.

Hester will give a free talk on “;Shrekology: The History of an Ogre”; at Kapiolani Community College.

Why there? “;My connection to Hawaii is through my family,”; said Hester. “;My maternal grandfather mapped Oahu for the USGS in 1928, and my mother was born at the Kapiolani Maternity Home that same year.”;

Why not? “;Shrekology”; was part of a larger program that Hester presented with other DreamWorks artists at a Siggraph computer convention. Now he's bringing it to those marginally less nerdy. “;I intend to make a habit of presenting it for other colleges and universities who are interested,”; Hester explained.

“;I'm an artist, primarily a sculptor, who grew up making masks and monsters and creating props, sets and makeup for school plays. My father was an orthopedic surgeon, and my mother worked for the L.A. Natural History Museum, so I had an unusual access to the natural world as well as to human and animal anatomy, which fascinated me.”;

Fascinated by classic Universal horror movies like “;The Creature from the Black Lagoon,”; “;The Mummy,”; “;Dracula”; and “;Frankenstein,”; Hester made a career of “;makeup and monsters,”; working in special-makeup FX departments in Hollywood.

“;After designing and sculpting creatures and characters for the film industry for so long, it finally dawned on me that it was the natural world that most appealed to me, and the 'monsters' that I enjoyed making the most were the ones that most closely paralleled an existing real-world creature. Truth is stranger than fiction!”; said Hester. “;That's how I look at things. For me the 'monster' aspect was far more about finding a balanced scale, or proportional distortion, rather than a shock value horror approach.”;

As long as he can remember, Hester always thought in three dimensions, a rarity in the flat-plane world of Hollywood FX.

; “;I guess I am wired that way. I love the tactility of traditional sculpture, and for me it is the best way to understand how humans and animals are put together. Sculpture on the computer is exciting and has become somewhat of a professional necessity, particularly because of the speed and agility it offers, as well as how the digital models fit into the modern production pipelines.”;

Is the mental or creative process different when you're sculpting with your hands or pushing a mouse around?

“;The creative process has a very different feel to it when sculpting with my hands as opposed to working in the computer. The digital sculpting software these days is phenomenal, and the advantages of instant symmetry, overall speed and scalability are amazing. The traditional approach, however, has such basic, direct and tactile aspects to it that I find myself craving it every now and then.”;

Early iterations of the character were a lot uglier, said Hester. “;He wore a more complex and tattered garb like the ogres of lore. That was simplified, primarily for technical reasons. I wanted him to have a very approachable look to him, especially in the structure of his face. I tried to give him a familiar look, like an average guy that the audience might recognize as similar to their relative or friend ... with the exception, of course, of being huge, green and having very strange ears!

“;I did more than a hundred 'clay sketches' of Shrek through his development, and I'd like to think that I gave the story department some inspiration.”;

The other half of the animation is voice work, and Shrek went through some changes there, too. Chris Farley was originally cast but died halfway through, then Mike Myers, and then Mike Myers asked that he re-record everything in the now-familiar Scot accent.

“;I had started the design of Shrek well before Mike Myers was cast,”; said Hester. “;Once it was decided that he would be the voice of Shrek, I studied stills of him and watched a few of his previous films to get a sense of his style of expression, and made adjustments to the design, paying particular attention to his eyes and eyebrows.”;

How does it feel to see your static creations come to life on the screen?

“;Hard to describe. Really, really cool!”;