Glenn Vilppu, no rules, just tools


Last June TIAC had the fortune of hosting a Figure Drawing Workshop with Glenn Vilppu, a great artist and teacher with a broad experience in the matter.  

As we read in his website, Glenn Vilppu is an artist whose focus in over 50 years of teaching drawing has been to bring to the student logic and practical application of drawing in communication. To him, drawing is thinking and feeling and "the needs of the artist today to communicate are no different than they have been down through the ages."

Vilppu's love for art began at the age of 6 sitting on the floor tracing through his father's art books while he was standing at an easel painting. Glenn's father was an engineer by profession, painting was his hobby.

As a teenager, Glenn had painting and drawing class at his home with a professional artist that his father hired for a group of local neighbors and family members. In High School he started going to local art schools on Saturdays, first to Chouinard Art Institute which eventually became CALARTS when Disney bought it, and then to the Art Center College of Design now in Pasadena Calif. Upon graduation from High School Glenn received a full scholarship to attend Art Center for the summer. At the age of 18 he felt he was not ready for the intense program, therefore he went into the Navy for 2 years "to grow up and see the world", returning to Art Center at the end of his tour of duty. He received both the BFA & MFA degrees from Art Center College of Design. Vilppu began teaching while still a student and continued for 13 years, leaving Art Center to start his own school and studio. 

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"Drawing is the most personal and is the foundation of everything" he answers when asked why did he focus mainly in drawing. "It is the interface between your inner world and the rest of the world. It is the most fundamental tool of expression. We can draw anywhere with the simplest of tools. The fundamentals in all of the arts are the most important. The level of skill in fundamentals has much to do with the quality of the art and its ability to communicate" he continues.

The most satisfying and challenging parts of Glenn's career were upon being hired by Disney. He confesses that he knew absolutely nothing about animation and was hired at the age of 40 strictly upon his reputation as an artist/teacher and his drawing skills. "Applying the traditional drawing skills of composing pictures and working from imagination to Animation surprisingly came quite naturally. My whole career as an artist up to that time had been based on painting large figurative composition, working from imagination. This was actually what they were asking me to do, just on a smaller scale. I was also teaching drawing at Disney as while working on production" he says.

Vilppu confesses that going to work at Disney was first, purely an economic decision. At the time he already had his own school. "I was doing everything myself, teaching day and night classes, hiring the model, keeping the books, sweeping the floors. I was looking for a more steady income with regular hours and was encouraged by my students who wanted to work at Disney to call them. That call is now history". Knowing very little about animation, Glenn had to buy a book on Animation and Disney when he left the studio after being hired. Since he said he didn't want to be an animator, which, according to him, "sounded like the most boring thing in the world, just moving a line a little to make it move", they let him go from one department to another to find where he would fit the best. To Glenn, this was a marvelous educational experience. He started working on a short Christmas special called the "Small One" directed by Don Bluth and then moved onto the "Fox and Hounds" and the "Black Chauldron" doing story sketches and layouts. While at Disney, he had the opportunity to work with many of the greats who were still there.


Glenn has also worked at Warner Bros, Fox, and many independent studios. He is still teaching in the Animation Industry, at the American Animation Institute, University Of California Los Angeles Film School's Animation Workshop and he was the Director of the Character Animation Program at CALARTS for several years.  

Glenn believes Art is based upon Art.  His whole focus in his studies has been on composition, by analyzing old and new masters. "The art of the past has been based upon telling stories. The study of composition is how you communicate these stories. The tools of communication are universal. The essence of animation is storytelling through body language and composition" he tells us. 

Nicholas Poussin the great French artist made the statement: you can read a painting by the poses, expressions and organization of the painting. 

This is no different than the way animation works.
— Glenn Vilppu
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To Glenn the challenge of the problem solving is the most fun during the creative process, keeping in mind that there are "no rules, just tools". He starts with simple scribbles, very small thumbnails, doing many opposites as he works on the problem. To him, the solution should feel natural. He focuses upon the whole, not the parts, "you should feel the movement, be it a figure or a landscape."

Glenn has chosen representational art because he believes as humans we relate to the human condition foremost, which is, according to him,  the emotional or subjective element that is missing in purely non-objective art. To Vilppu, it is the subjective human element that is we identify with most. The abstract arrangement of forms is an important tool in creating the subjective/art experience, but the human image, be it body language or facial expression, is the critical element.

NO RULES, JUST TOOLS is his message to the future generations. 

"Focus on the basics. Don't be preoccupied with copying, do as much drawing from imagination as you can, it tells you what you don't know and need to study. Two of the greatest artists of the past, Appelles of Greece and Michelangelo gave the same basic advice - DRAW, never a day without a line. Da Vinci said to go into the marketplace with a sketchbook and capture real people doing real things. I tell my students to always carry your sketchbook, it is my bible. Anyone who has spent any time with me will attest to the fact that I am always drawing!"

Anna Rosa Paladino