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Hollywood Meets San Dimas Festival of Arts

with Tom Hester, master sculptor and special effect character designer

California Images & HistoryApril 28, 29 & 30, 2017

Long before Computer Generated Images (CGI 3D computer graphics used for creating scenes or special effects in film and television) were used for movie special effects and character design, gifted artists created them. Tom Hester was one of those artists whose career has evolved with technology. It began with the American Werewolf in London to Harry and the Hendersons (both Oscar winners). Then there were the convincing simian performances of Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan and Gorillas in the Mist. Outside of live action film work and his personal fine art bronze sculptures, Tom made a mark in the CGI field as the lead Character Designer for DreamWorks’ animated blockbusters, Shrek, Shrek 2 and Shrek the Third.

Puss in Boots by Tom Hester

Shrek by Tom Hester.

Tom Hester grew up in the San Gabriel Valley. As with many adolescent boys, he had a fascination with fantastical beings such as monsters. When he was just 13 years old, Tom had the opportunity to visit a workshop in which Halloween monster masks were made and this very moment influenced the rest of Tom’s life.

But it takes more than playing with clay and making latex molds to create an impressive career. Tom attributes his orthopedic surgeon father with motivating him to study human and wildlife anatomy. His mother, who worked at the Natural History Museum, encouraged Tom to volunteer there thus exposing him to animatics and lifelike animal sculptures. Tom’s own disciplined pre-med studies in anatomy enabled him to master his sculpting skills at academic levels.

Puss in Boots by Tom Hester

Puss in Boots by Tom Hester.

Under the tutelage of the legendary special effects master Rick Baker, Tom began his career in character design for animation and film. The first movie that Tom worked on was American Werewolf in London, which won Oscar gold for its special effects. Considered a masterpiece in cinema, Tom’s understanding of anatomy and fine art sculpting skills helped give the film authenticity to its supernatural savagery. Working with a team of technicians, Tom did this by creating body casts that would stretch and change for one shot to bring about the physical transformation of a werewolf. The whole process took up to ten hours a day as they applied multiple body casts that would stretch and change for each scene leading to the most memorable physical werewolf transformation to date.

An American Werewolf in London

Long before the animation Shrek, Shrek 2 and Shrek the Third hit the theaters, Tom Hester plunged deep into his imagination and developed the main characters for these blockbusters. Employed by DreamWorks as a Lead Character Designer, Tom spent over two years with five directors in intensive research designing and sculpting the bulldog-like character Shrek to be ugly but at the same time appealing. Once a final design was established, the CGI animators scanned Tom’s characters into their computers and created the main characters movements that we are familiar with today. Tom continued to advise the animators and technicians on his characters anatomical movements for complete accuracy and authentic movement.

Mountain Lion, sculpture by Tom Hester

Mountain Lion by Tom Hester; cast bronze with gold-brown patina on 4ft indoor/outdoor pedestal. Edition of 12.

Despite all his film and animation successes, Tom began to pine away for his traditional roots as a wildlife sculptor. He has since focused his career on sculpting, bronze casting and showing his work in fine art galleries. Only occasionally will Tom take on a ‘studio’ job when it sounds intriguing enough to pull him away from his art studio. But to prove you can’t completely take the special effects artist out of the sculptor, he joins other monster makers at Monsterpallooza at the Pasadena Convention Center.

Mr. Hester works will be exhibited during the Festival of Arts 41st Art Exhibition and Sale. Tom will conduct his seminar on Sunday, April 30, 2017 at 11:30am. Topics include how he applies wildlife art techniques to characters that see life on the silver screen.

More images available on Tom’s website: Thomas Hester Fine Art Gallery.

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