On a canvas or in the movies, Pete Oswald brings landscapes to life

By Christina Campodonico

From the tropical environs of Angry Birds’ Bird Island to the serene curves of the California coast, Pete Oswald creates landscapes with a life of their own Images courtesy of Pete Oswald

From the tropical environs of Angry Birds’ Bird Island to the serene curves of the California coast, Pete Oswald creates landscapes with
a life of their own
Images courtesy of Pete Oswald

Artist, animator and Santa Monica local Pete Oswald sees a character in everything. From the sloping coastlines of California to the craggy cliffs of the Angry Birds’ Bird Island, the art director for film and painter “on the side” looks to nature and the environment for inspiration in both of his artistic lives.

Oswald sees feathery down in the flora and fauna of Bird Island, which he collaborated on as production designer for “The Angry Birds Movie.” He thinks the geography of the West Coast projects the attitude of a laidback listener with a sense of adventure, an idea reflected in his latest paintings: a series of plein air style landscapes of the California coast.

While his animation work is larger than life on the big screen (also appearing in “Hotel Transylvania” and “Cloudy with A Chance of Meatballs 2”), Oswald’s paintings, based on photographs and sketches taken on personal travels along the West Coast, are more of a private affair — or “therapy session,” as he says.

Oswald is showing just over a dozen of these paintings on Saturday as part of “Pacific Abstract,” a one-night only pop up art show at Timothy Hogan Projects in Bergamot Station. The Argonaut talked with Oswald about balancing fine art and animation in his life and the inspiration that “bleeds” between the two disciplines.

How do you balance your painter side and your animator side?

They’re all connected. It’s a creative process, but they’re a different process. When I am working on my personal work it’s just me in the studio. On a movie, I’m working with a giant team of people. So I’m constantly interacting and addressing notes and making sure that each step is consistent —is what the directors, the producers want.

But I think the more personal work I do, the more creative I am at work. I don’t always preach what I practice. But I find the more personal work and time I spend on myself, the better I am at my day job.  … This is what the “Pacific Abstract” art show has become for me. It’s almost like a therapy session for me, because I get into my studio by myself and I’m only working with myself for myself, as opposed to working on these big films. With myself, I make a decision for myself and I’m done with it.

Doing landscape painting on one hand and creating these animated worlds on the other, do they inform or influence each other?

It totally bleeds over to both sides. I think they definitely inform each other. These environments actually become characters themselves. Whether I’m painting a landscape of the Monterey coast or designing a character for a film, it’s all informed and it all becomes a character itself.

How would you characterize the West Coast?

I would characterize the West Coast as somebody who is easygoing; who’s a listener, but has a sense of adventure. What amazes me about the West Coast is the variety of the terrain. You know, in some sections you’ll get kind of this very beachy, soft sand feel, and then you go north and there’s these cliffs and these mountains and it’s rugged.
So there’s  a lot of contrast. You’re going to get some dark side and some very bright side. And that’s what I love about that. It is that contrast and that imperfection.

What’s the Angry Birds’ bird world like for you as an animator?

So the birds, they live on Bird Island, which is inhabited solely by birds. And it’s a very kind of primitive environment. They don’t have electricity or anything, so everything is made by the birds, for the birds. But they have things like a Main Street and there’s stores. It’s a small little village that they live in, but we wanted to use things that people know in the real world that birds have — like bird nests, bird baths, those types of bird-related objects — and then create this village and the sense of life, a whole world.

And because these birds can’t fly — they’re flightless birds — they’ve never left the island. So we wanted to have them have this affinity for the island. So we made little touches, even in the foliage of the trees and the flowers, you know, bird feather motifs. It’s something that you probably wouldn’t see in the first viewing of the film, but if you went back and looked at it a second time, you’d kind of notice the tree bark and the flowers and stuff kind of feel like bird feathers … little Easter eggs.

Do you have an especially fond memory of the coast?

There’s one specific hike that I took that actually kind of planted the seed for this whole show. And it’s this hike up Malibu Canyon, and in Malibu it’s called Coral Trail. It’s a hike that my wife and my two kids and I will take quite frequently. It’s just right off PCH. … As you come up over the ridge you can see the ocean and I just thought, ‘God, this is so beautiful.’ … I did the painting and then I was like, ‘Oh that would be a cool theme for a show.’ That one was kind of the igniter to the whole idea.

“Pacific Abstract” is on display from 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, at Timothy Hogan Projects, Bergamot Station G7, 2525 Michigan Ave., Santa Monica. Visit peteoswald.tumblr.com for more info.