Growing up just outside Pittsburgh, Michael Knapp started drawing very young and chose his career path early on, inspired by Disney films such as Sleeping Beauty, The Jungle Book, and Pinocchio, and also by Don Bluth’s The Secret of NIMH and the Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit. He started taking art classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art in the fourth grade. There, every Saturday, he was surrounded by a collection that encompassed everything from the Renaissance to the postmodern era.Knapp began his formal art training at Carnegie Mellon University in their pre-college Fine Arts program. He learned about painting with acrylics through creating murals for his school district for more than seven years—his first paying gig as an artist. After a year working as a gopher for a graphic design agency in Pittsburgh, he attended Ringling College of Art and Design as an illustration major.
While this started out as the path to working in animation (Walt Disney Studios recruited from Ringling each year), he decided during his first year that he didn’t want to begin his career as an in-betweener (the traditional entry-level position at Disney), so he focused solely on illustration.
He now works at Blue Sky Studios as art director on the third Ice Age movie. He previously worked as a designer on the animated films Robots, Ice Age: The Meltdown, and Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!, and spent a few months art-directing the Academy Award–nominated short No Time For Nuts. His work can be found in Spectrum 12 and 13 and the Society of Illustrators Annuals 48 and 49.
Knapp’s list of influences ranges across the visual arts, from illustrators J. C. Leyendecker and William Joyce, to cartoonists Chris Ware and Bill Watterson, to directors Terry Gilliam and the Coen brothers. What appeal most to him, he says, are a strong graphic sensibility, a great sense of color and atmosphere, and a sense of humor.