Many designers spent their teenage years doodling jet-propelled cars and robots. As did Jay Shuster – only he also made it his career. As art director at Pixar Animation Studios, Shuster’s love of sci-fi coupled with his skill in mechanics has carved him out an enviable niche in the increasingly space-age film and animation industry.
“I saw Star Wars at age six and it pretty much entirely informed my design brain,” says Shuster, who grew up in Detroit immersed in car culture and dreaming of space travel. “I thought: That’s it, nothing else matters.”
Shuster’s fixation with designing all forms of mechanised travel was cultivated from structural input from his dad, a designer at General Motors, which exposed Shuster to a broad range of rolling design work and engendered a love of the hybrid in design.
“Growing up in a manufacturing society such as Detroit … planted the seeds of purpose in design,” says Shuster, who graduated from the College of Creative Studies in Detroit in 1993 with his love of sci-fi tempered by an urge to create real working machines.
That contrast was highlighted when Shuster landed the design gig ‘kit-bashing’ and sketching in a competition with the London art department to create the pod racers for George Lucas in Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace. Shuster successfully designed and detailed the ‘reins’ connecting the floating chariot to the ‘Repulsor Lift’ air-driven engine.
From Lucasfilm, Shuster moved to Pixar Animation Studios in 2002 as a concept designer, where his love of sci-fi mechanics and his junkyard aesthetic found him a hardware niche.
After he anthropomorphised the vehicles for Cars, Shuster was handed his dream project, the design of WALL·E, the loveable, child-like robot to star in the apocalyptic animation of the same name. With a grocery list of features that needed to be incorporated into the design, Shuster spent his days in junkyards “looking for discarded manufactured material gold”.
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