San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

‘Shrek’ Director Speaks on Graphic Design

FROM a kid’s point of view, Vicky Jensen was one of the invisible hands responsible for Saturday mornings in front of the TV in the 1970s and ’80s.The graphic-arts professional was an integral part of animation teams during the cartoon evolution in technological complexity, from paintings on cels to digital graphics and progression into the computer age.Jensen ascended the animated-film ranks from a lowly start as a background painter to her debut as a director of DreamWorks’ “Shrek,” then “Shark Tale,” dabbling in live action and working for a handful of the biggest names in the industry.Last week, Jensen returned to her half- Costa Rican roots – her mother is from here – to impart some of her expertise to graphic design students at the private Universidad Veritas, in the southeastern San José district of Zapote. Her international heritage is fitting for Veritas, which has so many foreign students that it opened its own office of tourism.JENSEN had a hand in some of the defining cartoons of the ’70s and ’80s, such as Hanna-Barbera’s “The Smurfs” and “The Flintstones,” for which she painted the backgrounds – including those that looked like a single drawing on a conveyor belt when Fred chased Barney around their stone homes, passing the same couch a dozen times. She laughs about those, saying they are a sign of low-budget animation, called short repeat pans, which are a strip of background cels that are moved under the characters, shot twice with the camera, then moved again when new cels of the characters with limbs in different positions have been placed.Jensen drew the storyboards for the “He-Man” series of the ’80s, performing the creative work of mapping each scene with a pencil drawing, to be later drawn and painted by the art minions. “‘He-Man’ taught me a lot about visualizing a story,” she said. The animator also designed backgrounds and storyboards for heavyweight cartoon companies Filmation, Marvel, Disney Television and Warner Bros., working on “Tasmania,” “Batman” “Jem,” “Mighty Mouse” and “Ren and Stimpy.”“It’s the most direct way to get into directing,” she said. “You look at the script and try to make it funnier.”THAT fast track to directorship landed her a job as art director on 1992’s “FernGully: The Last Rainforest,” and she eventually signed on with Dream-Works, where she had a hand in “The Road to El Dorado” and “Chicken Run,” both released in 2000, before joining the crew of “Shrek” (2001) as the co-director with Andrew Adamson.“I was a bit of a ham,” she said. “I was loud and I drew well, so they decided I should direct.”Originally, comedian Chris Farley was slated to play the role of Shrek, and had voiced-over a few scenes before his death in 1997 at age 33. Mike Myers of “Austin Powers” fame then took the role, and most of the scenes were rewritten to accommodate his style.“Myers tried it with his own voice, then he thought it would be funnier in a character,” Jensen said.So, the Canadian-born comedian put on the famous Scottish accent that Shrek fans know – a decision that made him a little nervous, Jensen said, because he also used it for the role of Fat Bastard in the Austin Powers movies.Jensen herself nearly had a voice part in the movie – originally, she voiced the old lady who tries to sell the donkey in the beginning, but co-director Adamson nixed the idea, saying she sounded too much like herself.Both “Shrek” and “Shark Tale” were voiced in multiple languages for international distribution. Jensen helped find comedians in the destination countries to do the voices.THE animation expert offered a workshop to students last week, giving them pointers and evaluating their work. The little she saw displayed in the school’s hallways on mounts hung from the ceiling was impressive, she said.And it should be among the most impressive in the region; the Universidad Veritas students are the first in Central and South America to formally study digital animation in a university in their home countries.“(Usually) to learn this stuff you have to teach yourself or be from a wealthy family and study in the United States,” said Adekoye Adams, digital animation department director.For information on the university’s programs, visit or call 283-4747.

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