Miami Valley native Martino directs ‘Ice Age 4’

Film director Steve Martino traces his love of art back to his days growing up in the Miami Valley.

“My dad loves creating art, and he always provided access to tools and art supplies,” says Martino, a pioneer in the field of computer animation.

He’s making news this week as the co-director of “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” the 3-D computer-animated action/adventure that opened this weekend around the nation. The film features the voices of Ray Romano, Denis Leary, John Leguizamo, Queen Latifah, Wanda Sykes, Keke Palmer and Peter Dinklage.

Martino, who lives in South Salem, N.Y., grew up in Trotwood and Washington Twp. and currently works with Blue Sky Studios, the company that produces the “Ice” series.

About the film

The essence of the fourth installment, says Martino, is that Scrat — the saber-toothed squirrel and the mascot of Blue Sky films — chases his acorn down to the center of the Earth and ends up creating the continents we know today.

“The core of the story is that Manny (Ray Romano) has a teenage daughter, and he’s a parent who is holding on too tight,” says Martino, who has two teenage girls and says he can completely relate.

“His teen, Peaches, wants to stand on her own two feet so in the middle of a physical rift, they are also having an emotional rift,” Martino explains. “The land mass breaks and sends them out to sea on a big chunk of ice so the story becomes almost a Homer’s Odyssey of Manny’s quest to get back to his family.”

About the field

Martino was art director for the feature film, “Robots,” and co-directed “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!,” released in 2008.

Computer animation, he says, wasn’t around when he headed for The Ohio State University after graduating from Alter High School. He studied graphic design.

“The field of computer animation has really grown,” says Martino, now 52. “Now you see programs around the country and my daughter has friends who are thinking about motion graphics and animation as a career path.”

An Introduction to Animation course at Ohio State changed his life.

“In graphic design, you were creating logos or brochures and you didn’t see how your audience reacted to what you had created,” he says. “I made a short film, and when I sat in the audience and could see them laugh and react, I got hooked!”

These days, drawing is a language that Martino uses as much as words. He carries a sketch book with him everywhere.

“My job is to create a vision for what we want to accomplish in the movie we’re creating,” he explains. “I work with over 400 people who end up touching the film. My communication is often sitting with a layout artist — I’ll sketch out what I’m looking for in terms of a shot.”

In the case of “Ice Age 4,” he says, the film-making process took three years and began with a series of simple drawings done in storyboards. Martino says the film is really about what it means to be a family and what makes a family different from any other group of people.

“A family means you’re willing to sacrifice yourself for others in your family, willing to stand up for them in times of trouble,” he says. “In the film, it’s an unusual, an odd family, we have interesting unusual characters — like all of our families in a way — but we’re still family.”

About his influences

The film’s final song, “We Are” is applicable to Martino’s family as well. When it comes to his career, he says, they’ve influenced him in significant ways. His mother, a special education teacher in the Centerville School System, always believed the extra work involved in making something ‘special’ was worth the effort.

“Her greatest contribution to the work that I am involved with today is that she instilled in us (my brother, sister and I) the belief that anything worth doing is worth doing all the way,” he says.

Martino says his father, Armand Martino, wanted his children to find enjoyment in seeing and creating art, but never forced them, allowing them to seek their own paths. His dad was an art teacher at Meadowdale High School who later became supervisor of art for the Dayton Public Schools and still teaches at the University of Dayton’s Lifelong Learning Institute.

“He always turned a museum visit into a game,” says Martino, who followed suit with his own daughters, now 14 and 17. “He kept our museum trips short — we never spent more than an hour there — and he made games out of the trip.”

When the family walked into an art gallery, for example, his father would invite his children to pick one painting to take home and hang on their bedroom wall.

“It forced you to look at the work and formulate an opinion, a decision,” Martino remembers. “It would send us scurrying around looking at each piece. We were excited to say which one we picked and he would always ask us why. It might have been the color or the subject matter.”

Martino’s sister, Vicky Ryan, lives in Centerville; his brother, Tom Martino, lives in the Seattle area. He’s planning to come back for his high school reunion for Labor Day, and enjoys going back to Ohio State to talk with students.

“I am blessed to work in a field I love and to have people around the world see the results,” he says. “I would never have expected it 20 years ago.”

Contact this reporter at MMoss@DaytonDailyNews.com.