Local cartoonist works for Turner Television on shows “Archer” and “Chozen”

CHESTER – Like a jazz musician improvising a riff of a well-known song, some caricaturists improvise the drawing of a subject; accentuating the nose, teeth, hair, chin or eyes while maintaining the true features of his subject.

This is so with Chester native Sagan Lacy. His caricatures can seem so far out there – if you didn’t know the person you would not be able to identify the person on the canvas.

Young Mr. Lacy is the son of local painter Terry Lacy and he said she was a huge influence on him, but he says his father, John Lacy, “also had the good sense to raise me on a healthy diet of Chuck Jones cartoons.” (Creator of Daffy Duck, Bug Bugs Bunny and Pepe’ Le Pew among others)

“In high school I approached the Village News and began producing a weekly comic strip for the paper. It fluctuated between incomprehensibility and gentle amusement, but I kept it up for four years,” Lacy said. “I also began taking an interest in the art of caricature, infrequently drawing at events around Chester and Petersburg. I didn’t decide to go into animation until I took a summer workshop at VCU. Seeing your drawings move for the first time is intoxicating, and I had to explore the possibilities.”

Lacy fell in love with animation and chose Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) to hone his skills.

“I didn’t have any interest in going to the SCAD until touring the school and the city for the first time. The looming live oaks and historic buildings make quite the first impression, and the vast school seemed like a haven for creative people. I was guaranteed a combined scholarship for my portfolio and SAT scores, which was handy, as going to SCAD is an irresponsibly expensive proposition to begin with,” Lacy said. “My time at school is a sweet memory, mostly thanks to the wonderful lasting friendships I made early on. We were all there for the same reason and we shared a great four years.”

Lacy continues his philosophy on art. It has to be funny. I have to draw people in while the audience is laughing.

“In addition to animation, I learned more about creating caricatures, further realizing how important exaggeration is to the art of animation,” Lacy said. “My favorite animated designs are heightened and stylized well-past reality, and successfully achieving that effect is its own challenge. When I saw “Ratatouille” in college, it was a formative experience. The designs were so funny and appealing that people were laughing at the characters before they had a chance to speak any dialogue. I wanted my art to have the same effect.”

And, Lacy’s caricatures have a way of engaging you, and then while looking beyond the exaggeration you see the real person.

SCAD is typically a job generator though halfway through school the job market dried up, just as the economy had. When Lacy graduated he moved back home to Chester, not sure where he’d go next. He partly stayed busy during the summer working for Chester native Les Harper, a former employee of Turner Animation. Harper was a freelance animator working out of his home. “I was able to learn a good deal about the tools I now use from the jobs I did for him,” Lacy said.

“That winter I got an email. Turner had reached out to one of my SCAD professors for names, and mine was one he had given them. After completing an animation test, I was asked to work on my first television show, “Ugly Americans,”” Lacy said. “I thought it was a bizarre coincidence that I was hired at Turner, but not as a result of my association with Les. However, Atlanta is one of the few places in the country an animation industry exists, and everyone within it knows everyone else.”

Lacy moved from Chester to Atlanta for a five-month job at Turner. He then followed a Turner coworker, Todd Redner, to Floyd County Productions, also an Atlanta production company, with the help of his friend. (Redner had previously animated on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” and is currently an animation director on “Chozen.”) Floyd County Productions is behind the TV shows “Archer” and “Chozen,” both of which are on the air now (Mondays on FX, “Archer” at 10, and “Chozen” at 10:30).

“Two weeks after I was hired, TJ Buford, “Archer’s” illustration lead at the time, asked if he could take some pictures of my head. Archer uses extensive photo reference to achieve its detailed illustrative style. This turned into a handful of photo shoots over the weeks, in full costume to approximate a pathetic character named Noah,” Lacy said. “Archer is a raunchy comedy, so it was interesting. I was even photographed squatting on a bucket with my pants around my ankles, but considering some of the reference we’ve needed over the years, I’ll consider myself lucky. Noah appears in Season 3 of “Archer” and I’ve heard from a few people who see the resemblance right away, despite the character’s balding pate, ratty long hair, and shabby shipwreck attire. Noah was voiced by David Cross, [best known for Tobias Fünke on “Arrested Development.”]

“I’ve been working there for two and a half years and it’s been a great experience. Though it may not have a lot of room for individual expression, television animation is a giant team effort. Over 100 people work at the studio, but everyone works amazingly well together... I don’t have a single fantasy about killing any of my bosses.”

Lacy said, “Animation is a rapidly changing medium thanks to computer software. Even so, it is an art, and the human element will always be the most essential piece. Our pipeline is essentially paperless, but we draw directly onto the computer. Computers make our production more affordable by automating some mechanical processes, but our hard-working artists are top-notch and show off their skills every episode.”

Character designing is a job suited for Lacy. With his experience in caricature work, characters are exciting to discover. A character designer uses model sheets to scratch out a particular character until it best fits the personality the designer is looking for. It is used to maintain graphic continuity along with character development.

“I am now one of several character designers – which is the part of production I most enjoy – working on the show “Chozen.” Making drawings move is rewarding but exhausting, and personally I prefer the problem-solving offered by creating the designs that others will animate,” Lacy said. “I’m only just starting to think of Atlanta as home, but I’m glad to remain on the East Coast, and I drive back to see my family in Chester a couple times a year. For the immediate future, I hope to remain at the studio, which has become like a plus-sized family. Years from now, I’d like to teach, but only when I feel like I have enough experience to confidently share.”

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