Based in Los Angeles, Joel Fletcher has worked as a character animator and visual effects artist in the entertainment industry for 35 years, collaborating with some of the best directors and artists in the business. Although his professional work has been primarily achieved by his use of computer graphics, he has continued to pursue the traditional fine arts of drawing, sculpture, and canvas painting. As of 2021, Joel has transitioned to exclusively create artworks that express his own personal vision.
Joel grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, where he exhibited a talent in the arts at an early age. As a teenager, he began to paint prolifically, both acrylic and oil canvases, with the goal of becoming a book illustrator. As a result of making a Super 8 film for a school project, he became fascinated with the power of animation and ultimately changed his priorities. After high school, Joel continued as a true “starving artist” while painting and creating short films. Working various jobs to cover living expenses and the considerable cost of independent filmmaking, he had accumulated a body of work impressive enough to convince the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents and their affiliated PBS television station to give him a special filmmaking grant in 1981. In his spare time, Joel then labored over the next two years to create a half-hour production, in the 16 mm format, which combined both stop-motion animation and live action. On completion of that project, he realized that any opportunities for animation filmmakers would be nearly impossible in Wisconsin. Since a friend lived in Los Angeles, Joel decided to visit and ultimately move to the filmmaking capital of the world.
In 1985, an artist’s chances of getting in the door of a movie studio, without industry contacts, were quite limited; however, with persistence, Joel managed to find work as a model maker, prop fabricator, set builder, and finally animator. He contributed both his animation and model-making expertise to movie adaptations of children's books for the educational company, Churchill Films. These productions included Frog and Toad Together, Stanley and the Dinosaurs, and Runaway Ralph. During 1986, Joel became an avid 3D stereo photographer and soon found stop-motion scenes to be the perfect subject matter for 3D. He began working on several television commercials and specials which led to his being nominated for an Emmy, in 1989, for the title sequence of Pee Wee's Christmas Special. In 1992, he moved to San Francisco to work as a character animator on Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Back in Los Angeles, in late 1993, Joel continued animating stop-motion creatures for several feature films by Full Moon Productions. These movies were the last ones to be made using Ray Harryhausen's "Dynamation" technique, now obsolete due to the rise of computer graphics.
Realizing that the animation industry was about to change forever, Joel bought a Macintosh computer in 1994 and began teaching himself the art of digital character animation. Acquiring this skill helped him become one of the earliest converts to CG animation. He soon landed a position at Walt Disney Feature Animation to animate for their Dinosaur test project. Dinosaur quickly ramped up to full production as a feature film and Joel became a supervising animator and mentor. He worked at Disney for six years, moved on to more movies and commercials, then ventured into video game cinematics - short storytelling movies that occur between game levels. In 2005, Joel moved with his wife and daughter to New Zealand where he worked at Weta Digital as an animator for Peter Jackson's King Kong.
Returning to Los Angeles in 2006, Joel continued working on various projects still using computer graphics and expanding his repertoire to include theme park attractions and virtual reality. Additionally, he gave more priority to the fine arts, "brushing up" on his drawing and painting talents whenever time allowed. Growing increasingly disenchanted with the state of the animation and visual effects business, he ultimately decided to move on to his next stage - going full circle back to his first artistic love, the traditional art of canvas painting.
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