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‘Frozen II’ artist encourages students to follow people who inspire them

 

(Published Feb. 28, 2020)

The Department of Art + Design and the Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts welcomed award-winning senior matte painter and environment designer Heather Abels to Austin Peay State University on Wednesday, Feb. 26.

“Abels is a Clarksville resident and friend of the Department of Art + Design who works with major film, TV and animation studios such as Walt Disney Animation Studios, Rhythm and Hues and Nemesis Collective,” Michael Dickins, chair of the Visiting Artist Speaker Committee, said.

Abels has worked on matte painting for various movies, including “Frozen II,” “Deadpool,” “Game of Thrones,” “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” “Django Unchained,” “300: Rise of an Empire” and “Moana.” She also worked on Academy Award winners in best animated feature or visual effects, including “Zootopia,” “Big Hero 6,” “Avatar” and “The Golden Compass.”

The Department of Art + Design and the Center of Excellence for the Creative Arts welcomed award-winning senior matte painter and environment designer Heather Abels to Austin Peay State University on Wednesday, Feb. 26.
Heather Abels.

During her talk at Austin Peay, she discussed with the students three major things that she has learned throughout her career: inspiration, failure and acceptance.

Abels was inspired early in her career by legendary matte painters. She got her inspiration when she was a young child by watching “Star Wars,” “Toy Story” and “Jurassic Park.”

“When I talk about inspiration, I’m not talking about what excites you,” Abels said. “I’m talking about people that you surround yourself with and surrounding yourself with people who inspire and motivate you is one of the first things that helped me in my career.” 

She encourages the new generation of artists to take the next leap and evolve from digital 2D to digital 3D matte painting techniques. She has taught at several universities and has an ongoing workshop at CGSociety.

She reminds her students that they will fail at times. 

“It’s about failing and failing again until you get it right,” she said. “And it’s not always what you want. You’re trying to execute somebody else’s vision.”

Acceptance is being able to take the feedback and create something better.

“You don’t know what you don’t know, till you’ve learned what you didn’t know,” she said. “What I’m saying here is about being humble. There are a lot of artists whose careers haven’t taken off because they were unwilling to accept feedback, and visual effects is all about modification.” 

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