Harley Jessup was born in 1954 in Corvallis, Oregon. Shortly thereafter, his family relocated to California’s San Joaquin Valley and the Bay Area. Growing up, Harley always had an art project growing and his parents were always very supportive. He loved messing around with typography and type design was ecstatic when he learned that Oregon State University offered a graphics design program.
He earned a BFA in graphic design from OSU in 1976 and then attended Stanford (to get closer to home). He developed an interest in animation while attending and earned his MFA in graphic design from Stanford in 1978.
After graduation, Harley joined Korty Films and worked on various projects including segments for Sesame Street (using paper cut outs and stop motion animation). He then moved into production design on Twice Upon a Time (others who worked on this cult animated film that has never seen a DVD release include Henry Selick and David Fincher). The movie saw a very limited release and was deemed a failure and Harley decided to move away from the animation field.
He landed a job at Lucasfilm to work as art director on several live action films before joining Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) in 1986. As a visual effects art director, Harley received an Academy Award for his work on Joe Dante’s Innerspace and another nomination for Steven Speilberg’s Hook. Harley also worked on The Hunt for Red October, Ghostbuster II and Fire in the Sky.
Harley missed the animation field and left ILM in 1994 to serve as production designer for Henry Selick’s live action/stop motion Disney film, James and the Giant Peach.
In 1996, he had lunch with John Lasseter and was offered a job on the spot to join Pixar. He worked on storyboards for A Bug’s Life and did visual development on Toy Story 2.
Harley was heavily involved with Monsters, Inc. from its inception and his production design can be viewed in great detail in The Art of Monsters, Inc.
For his next assignment, Ratatouille, Harley looked to live actions films set in Paris (such as Amelie and Bon Voyage) to get a feel for the great city. It was important for audiences to feel connected to Paris and be able to see the city through the eyes of the film’s protagonist, Remy. They captured this “rat point of view” by getting down on their hands and knees and seeing the city through Remy’s eyes.
For his amazing work on Ratatouille, Harley was honored with the ANNIE for Production Design in an Animated Feature Production. This was followed by production design duties on Presto and Cars 2 and back to the art director’s chair for Pete Docter’s Up.
In addition to his work on films, Harley has written and illustrated two children’s books, What’s Alice Up To? and Grandma Summer, both published by Viking. He also illustrated the books, Just Enough and Flower Girl.
- Twice Upon a Time (1983) (art director, character designer)
- The Ewok Adventure (1984) (art director)
- Return to Oz (1985) (storyboard artist)
- Innerspace (1987) (visual effects art director)
- Ghostbusters II (1989) (visual effects art director)
- The Hunt for Red October (1990) (visual effects art director)
- Joe Versus the Volcano (1990) (visual effects art director)
- Hook (1991) (visual effects art director)
- The Public Eye (1992) (visual effects art director)
- Fire in the Sky (1993) (art director: alien sequence)
- Eye on the Sparrow (1997) (production designer)
- James and the Giant Peach (1996) (production designer)
- A Bug’s Life (1998) (additional storyboard artist)
- Toy Story 2 (1999) (visual development)
- Monsters, Inc. (2001) (production designer)
- Ratatouille (2007) (production designer)
- Presto (2008) (production designer)
- Up (2009) (art director)
- Cars 2 (20122) (production designer)
- What’s Alice Up To? (1999) (writer, illustrator)
- Just Enough (1999) (illustrator)
- Grandma Summer (2000) (writer, illustrator)
- Flower Girl (2002) (illustrator)
- Harley worked very closely with Ellie Docter (Pete’s young daughter) on Ellie’s Adventure Book, which is featured prominently in Up. Ellie created the childhood drawings and handwriting and Harley ensured that the art was adapted to fit in the various places on the cover and pages.
- Harley currently lives in Marin County, California, with his wife. He has two daughters (Alice and Katharine) and a son (Graham).
- Animation Art Conservation – June, 2007
- DVD Talk – November, 2007
- SplineCast (Audio Interview) – September 29, 2007
- The Ward O Matic – September, 2007
Here are a few concepts and color studies by Harley. Just click to enlarge.