Spotlight On Art: Michael Defeo

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The animated feature film characters of the Ice Age series, Despicable Me and Robots among others were sculpted by the Westchester resident artist Michael Defeo.

Michael Defeo drawings

Head of the sculpting department of Blue Sky Studios in Greenwich until last year, and now a top “Character Development” freelance artist, Michael Defeo has been behind-the-scenes of such famed movies as the Ice Age series and Despicable Me, as well as Horton Hears a Who, Star Trek Insurrection and Alien Resurrection.

He is also responsible for the 3D characters of the much-anticipated Blue Sky Studios’ new animated feature Rio, opening in April.

Complementing his very successful commercial work, Michael creates his own art.  In his loft apartment in the Lifesavers building in Port Chester, Michael sculpts for himself, because he has fun doing it, he says.

Using mostly Epoxy resin and marble, the sculptures are very loose expressions of his emotions.  To the hard strong piece, he adds fabric in a very arbitrary manner, and then paints it with iridescent color.  The result is a cross between Giacometti, Dali and Dr. Seuss… fantastic, original and new…

Born in the 60’s, long before the digital era, Michael always knew he wanted to be a sculptor.   As a child, fascinated by the Frankenstein movies, he would build his own puppets, creatures and monsters from all kinds of materials.  After High School, he spent six pivotal months at the Tyler school of Art in Philadelphia.  There, he discovered a passion for Gothic Architecture, Van Gogh and specially Giacometti’s sculptures.

From there, Michael worked for a silk printing manufacturer, in a glass making shop and in a welding factory where he learned to cast, paint and work in three dimensions.

In 1985, Michael took a makeup course with Larchmont artist Dick Smith, known for his work on such films as The Godfather, The Exorcist, Taxi Driver and Amadeus.  With Dick, Michael pursued his passion for special effects and makeup, making sophisticated stop-motion puppets for commercials, television, theater and film.  In the early 90’s Jurassic Park — the first-ever animated movie that used computerized sculpting — prompted Michael to attend the School for Computing Animation, a move that helped him land a job at Blue Sky Studios a year later.   From modeler to head of Blue Sky’s sculpting department, to  “top of his field” freelancer, Michael transforms drawings into living 3D characters.

Michael Defeo

Michael travels to Paris often, where he works with production studios.   He also teaches 3D design in the Masters Program at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

Watch for Michael Defeo’s upcoming movies in 2012: Ice Age 4 , Hop and The Lorax.

Michael takes his sketchbooks everywhere, and draws in the subway, at the coffee shop, in museums… you can find him at Cafe Deux Magots in Paris or Starbucks in Westchester.  He is the guy with the sketchbook.

Talented artist, humble, intelligent, kind and handsome, Michael considers himself the luckiest guy ever.  But he says, “It’s a very good idea to have a back-up plan.”

“I’m ready to sell wire sculptures on the street, if it all comes crashing down,” he says.

To learn more about Michael, please visit his website.

Michael Dafeo Sculpture

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