Oscar watch: Art and set work by graduate shines in del Toro's 'Pinocchio'

Jesse Gregg, '01, was concept artist, set dresser for animated film

by Clémence Daniere, student writer

Grand Valley’s Laker Effect flowed to Hollywood, where Jesse Gregg, ’01, spent most of the pandemic working on the Oscar-nominated film, "Pinocchio," directed by Guillermo del Toro. 

The Oscars will air on Sunday, March 12.

Gregg’s background in animated illustration and set design led him to play a vital part of the animated movie from its illustrative conception to the finished product. 

"Pinocchio" was filmed in Portland, Oregon, which is a hub for stop motion animation and home to the new Museum of Stop Motion Animation, where Gregg serves as museum historian. For the film, he was the concept artist and set dresser.

Guillermo del Toro, left, and Jesse Gregg are backstage on the set of "Pinocchio." They are pulling down their face masks to show smiles.
Guillermo del Toro, left, and Jesse Gregg are pictured backstage on the set of 'Pinocchio.'
Image credit - courtesy photo

“One of the coolest things that I got to do was transition over to the shooting stages as a set dresser,” said Gregg. “Essentially, what you see on the screen is my work from the beginning and my work directly at the end.”

Gregg said he has always been interested in illustration and animation. When he arrived at Grand Valley in 1997, the illustration department was new. He said a creative problem-solving course taught by Paul Wittenbraker, professor and chair of visual studies and foundations, was especially impactful and remains relevant to his job. 

“There are aspects from that class that I still use today, like considering every detail in reaching the conclusion you are apprehending — even the most remote and awkward of paths — and realizing that sometimes the most intuitive solution will not yield the greatest result," said Gregg.

Jesse Gregg on the set of Kubo and the Two Strings
Jesse Gregg, '01, on the set of 'Kubo and the Two Strings.'
Image credit - courtesy photo
Jesse Gregg seated outside with a cup in his hand
Gregg earned a bachelor of fine arts in illustration and animation and has worked on many animated films.
Image credit - courtesy photo

Gregg’s illustration for his senior show turned out to be puppets, which he posed and photographed in different ways. It was almost a natural progression into working on "Pinocchio," he said.

After earning a bachelor of fine arts in illustration and animation, with an emphasis on stop motion animation, Gregg worked as the art and creative director in Grand Valley's Student Life Office before earning a master of fine arts degree in experimental animation from California Institute of the Arts. 

Gregg has worked on many animated projects, including "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," "Boxtrolls," and "Missing Link," for which he was assistant art director. 

del Toro’s "Pinocchio" has already received five Annie Awards from the International Animated Film Association, a BAFTA for Best Animated Feature Film and other honors.


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