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James Stewart brings movie creatures to life

James Stewart and two of his clay sculptures, part of his Pangaea collection, inspired by the diversity of the earth’s population.

If you are a fan of the film adaptations of the Harry Potter books or The Chronicles of Narnia, then, no doubt, you are a fan of James Stewart.

The 40-year-old visual artist, a resident of Vancouver, designed and sculpted many of the fantastical creatures seen in those movies, and more.

A fine arts major from Bishop University in Sherbrooke, Stewart trained in animation at the Vancouver Film School, graduating in 1997.

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One of his first jobs was making visual effects for the Canadian television series, ReBoot, a cartoon about characters living inside a computer, he says.

Stewart also worked on The Faculty, shot in Quebec.

"To put it simply I create to motivate," says Stewart. "I sculpt and design characters for the silver screen to excite audiences. But I also create with a mind to capturing subtleties which I rarely see in sculpture."

In 2001, he moved to Los Angeles, becoming the lead modeller on The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the first instalment of The Chronicles of Narnia film series.

Two years later, Stewart had graduated to creature supervisor on the second film in the series, Prince Caspian. In 2004, he was a modeller on Shrek 2. "My skill set built along with my reputation," Stewart says. "With every movie I made I became more connected."

On the basis of his reputation, Stewart was invited to England to create the character department within the Moving Picture company in 2006.

"I had been purely character focused and they needed that expertise to hire and train the department which is now one of the leaders in the industry for character films," Stewart says. The 2007 Harry Potter film, The Order of the Phoenix, was one of the films that went through Stewart's department as he was developing it. Stewart worked on it as creature supervisor, a role he repeated with the 2009 Oscar-nominated film, District 9.

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"Art is paramount to any career in film," Stewart says. "Be it painting sculpture or drawing, the development of the eye is translatable."

"There is not a movie without art," he continues. "The film industry is just one way to express art."

After two years in England, Stewart returned to Vancouver where he founded The Creature Shop, an umbrella organization for artists specializing in film production creature work.

Stewart calls his latest venture his chance to give back.

"I am an art mentor," he says. "My door is always open and I do talks every year to students from grades 7 to 9."

Stewart also teaches a character design course at The Art Institute and mentors graduating students at his alma mater, the Vancouver Film School.

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"If I am a catalyst, it is in my efforts through art," Stewart says. "I truly believe that I can make a difference. I teach, mentor and most importantly I show through example how powerful art can be in one's life. The skills are transferable and the passion is innate in all of us."

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About the Author

Deirdre Kelly is a features writer for The Globe and Mail. She is the author of the best-selling Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection (Greystone Books). More

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