Aaron Gray traces his interest in design back to middle school and a fascination with American and Japanese comics. The son of an airline pilot, he spent lots of time on planes and entertained himself by drawing (sometimes on the back of those special bags you find in plane seatback pockets), playing video games and listening to music. Video games, in turn, set him on the course to industrial design and an internship with Hasbro, where he worked on Marvel (Spider-man) and Star Wars projects.
His career goal? To become a professional concept artist and work on games and movies. "I want to contribute to pop culture in a meaningful and positive manner," he says.
- Crazy for cartoons
His introduction to anime came at age 9 with the Japanese-produced cartoon "Gundam Wing." At the time, the characters weren't available as toys in the U.S. market, so Aaron made his own, using imported model kits.
"I was mostly into putting my action figures in the coolest poses possible and trying to sketch my own characters or drawing what I would look like if I lived in a particular show or universe," he recalls.
- Why industrial design?
As a high school student, Aaron spent a lot of time either playing travel soccer or sketching; his sketchbook never left his side. This interest took a serious turn the summer before senior year, when he attended the National High School Game Academy at Carnegie Mellon University, a six-week summer program on programming, 3-D modeling, level design and traditional sketching. The sketching instructor was an industrial design student who opened Aaron's eyes to a profession populated by concept artists who were paid to sketch and design for movies and games. Imagine that!
- Toy story
Character and story are essential elements of Aaron's design. "I think these two things add depth to a toy and help people imagine interesting scenarios," he says. "When you have a character and background, your mind can imagine what this character might be doing in his universe or what his personality is like. Of course, you can then break any of the established rules you want, because it's all in your imagination."
A fan of comic book artist Skottie Young and concept artists Ian McQue and Feng Zhu, Aaron sees style as a combination of influences. "This is most apparent in the way people sketch," he says, "because the art that people like will sort of seep into their work."
"I hate to be the guy who says design is a 24/7 process, but it kind of is," Aaron says. "Once you have a project going, it kind of nags at you, so you're always thinking about it. There's typically not much sleep at all, but I try to shut my brain down every once in a while to recharge. Watching movies, television shows and cartoons helps me do this while allowing me to get inspired at the same time."