Armand Baltazar believes in the ability of children to see their future and make a meaningful difference within it.
It’s confident and competent kids like these with which he populates his book Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic, the children’s epic novel that he both wrote and illustrated. Baltazar was on campus recently for a visiting artist reception, where he signed copies of the book and demonstrated and talked about his technique and writing style with the audience.
Timeless, now being made into a major motion picture, is a coming of age story that happens on an earth that has been the victim of an event called the “Time Collision,” during which the past, present and future have become melded together. Elements of science fiction and fantasy complete with giant robots and dinosaurs come together to find thirteen year-old Diego Ribera fighting, along with some friends, to protect his world with strength and bravery.
According to his website, Baltazar began his film career in feature animation, first as a background artist, then as a visual development artist and art director for DreamWorks Studios, Walt Disney Feature Animation, Image Movers Digital and Pixar Animation Studio. The book began as a project for his son, who, at the time, was about three years-old. As Baltazar’s work with Pixar began to get more demanding, however, he put the story away for a bit. When his son turned eleven, he asked Baltazar to pick it up again, and he committed himself to working as hard as he could to finish it. It was picked up by HarperCollins and eventually became the first book in what is planned to be an ongoing series.
Baltazar said that he had a vision for what kind of book he wanted kids to be able to have in their hands, but that it was his son who was the catalyst for creating the world in Timeless. With the help of his son’s young imagination, Baltazar came up with the range of characters, creatures and beasts encountered in the book. When it came to bringing the characters to life in writing, Baltazar said that he tried to put himself back into the shoes of his own youth. “I can remember what it was like to be eleven, twelve, thirteen years-old,” he said. “You’re right on the cusp of two different worlds, really. I wanted to address that and write something with a sense of wonder and awe.”
Baltazar explained that early in the creative process, and particularly when he is drawing and designing a character, he normally has a clear, preconceived notion of what the characters should end up being, but that when he starts writing, that notion very often changes. In that way, Baltazar said, he and the characters “share the reins” as the story develops. “Sometimes things will come into play in unexpected ways,” he shared. “I’ll have a character, for instance, that I have as a villain, and I’ll maybe have a vivid dream wherein he’s a good guy; so I’ll do that instead. When drawing, I might see what I think this guy is going to look like, but a shape that I make might inspire another shape, like with some armor or something, and then I’ll start to riff. It’s not a straight line, by any means.”
One thing of great significance that goes beyond the actual pictures and words in the book, Baltazar explained, is the overall message behind it. He said it was very important to him to show kids, through the attributes of the book’s characters, that they’re worthy of attention and accolades. “I don’t like stories that are dumbed down for kids,” he said. “When you do that, you sort of deny the respect due to them for their intelligence. I wanted to write a story that showed kids who will ultimately have to take responsibility for their world and that they need to be strong people because of that. Kids need to know that.” He went on to say that, with the encouragement of his wife, he also purposefully created “really strong girl characters,” of which there are two–Lucy and her friend Paige–who form half of the group of four young teen friends.
This message of respect and good character that Baltazar views as important rung true in a statement he made. Baltazar, who is currently working on the second book in the Timeless series, said that when he felt doubt, he’d often remind himself of something he learned at Pixar. “That is to make the best possible story you can,” he said. “Realize this is the best you could make at the time you made it, and move on and make an even better one.”
Such is true, one can gather, in books and in life.