Zach Hefelfinger knows you can’t have nonsense without meaning. The Pennsylvania College of Arts and Design graduate’s solo exhibition, Sensical Nonsense, held at the PCA & D Gallery from March 4 to April 5, 2014, features his works from cartoons, character design, storyboards and concepts that demonstrate the madness method.
Hefelfinger, who works in Los Angeles and works at Nickelodeon Animation Studios, has done illustrations and design for iconic cartoons and characters such as “SpongeBob SquarePants,” “Rick and Morty,” and even developed his own version of Batman from DC Comics for collectible toy.
Hefelfinger, who will be participating in the artist’s performance at PCA&D from 2pm to 3pm on March 4, took some time to answer some questions via email before the show.
What are the most important lessons you have learned in PCA&D?
The programs at the school taught me what I needed to know to become the best technical artist, while my experience gave me real-life lessons that prepared me for the challenges I face today. One of the greatest lessons I learned while visiting PCA&D was to trust my own madness and believe in myself. No one will believe what you do until you take the initiative and make them believe it, see it and want it.
You’ve worked on some iconic cartoons such as “Rick and Morty” and “Sponge Bob Square Pants,” and also developed Batman’s own collectible toy for DC Comics. Were you a fan of these shows and characters before working on them?
I was totally! It’s, frankly, surreal and the dream came true. Many times I have to remind myself that it’s still work, and stay focused so as not to get too carried away! In this industry, there is a fine line between a fan and a professional, but sometimes it’s nice to study and let your brain melt.
It was a great honor for me to work with DC and create my own Batman toy. It is a great honor to be a part of the long history and artists who gave their performance of the Dark Knight!
Sponge Bob seemed to be one of my favorite shows, and as a child and as a professional he made the biggest impact. Every day I remember the times when my brothers and I sat in front of the TV and stayed up late watching these shows or starting the morning with friends from our favorite cartoons.
Now that I’m starting to work on the very shows that made my childhood so special, I can be a small part of creating the childhood memories of future generations, and one day my work will inspire them to make their dreams come true. It’s the greatest feeling in the world, and it’s a great honor and happiness for me to do what I do.
Who are your favorite cartoon characters? What makes them so great, in your opinion?
The best animated characters that have ever lived are Looney Tunes! I could watch these classic animated films every day and learn something new or discover new ways of filmmaking and comedy. As for the specific characters, I would say that “Wren and Stimpy” are first class. The emotional range of these characters has never been matched. The acting and visual gags are ingenious, and some of the best artists who have ever lived have enlivened them.
What are the ways to use animation to easily identify character traits?
Many principles and elements are laid down in character design. The most important factors will be the language of form, silhouettes, exaggeration and preservation of simple and iconic details. Along with strong drawing and drawing skills. So you highlight the character in the crowd. Remember any character you fell in love with … what makes them so unique? Why do they turn? What makes you hang out with them when the TV is off? Disassembling classic characters thus helps inform your own original characters. Understanding the purpose of a character also helps to inform about their design.
I love to draw inspiration from real life, encounters with passers-by or just people looking at the bench. After all, these characters need to be brought to life through movement, history and mass production by different hands of different artists. If your character has checked all these checkboxes, then you are ready!
How does humor affect your work?
I would say that humor is the biggest player in my work. Before I even pick up a pencil to draw, I mentally draw humor. For the most part all my work comes from the place of comedy at its core, whether it’s a funny image or pose, a visual gag or a plot. I force myself to have a range from great expressions to more subtle humor. I love irony, satire and the development of amazing obscure characters. It is said that tragedy and comedy are one and the same, so in many ways my work is a way to get rid of my difficulties and turn them into comedic situations to please others. I try to make people laugh when they see my work. Giving joy and smiles to what you do is the best feeling in the world.
Do you create your own shows?
Yes, I created some original concepts and had the pleasure of handing them out in different studios. There are two or three of my ideas that I really like, and I hope that one day we will finally implement these ideas in real TV programs. I would love to have my own children’s show, but I really enjoy the freedom of adult animation content. Maybe soon you will be able to watch these stupid ideas on TV!