You’ve been using ZBrush for quite some time. What would you be doing if you were not in film?
Indeed, feel privileged to be a long time user. Film is my job and I love what I do, but I have many other facets to my life including an online FAN show called “The Squid Zone”. My wife and I have a foundation called “Saving Graces” which is set up to help children afflicted with Anti-NMDA Receptor Encephalitis. I love fishing, have a high interest in flying... I guess the answer is I’m not sure.
I would be living every day to its fullest as we are not guaranteed tomorrow. I almost learned that one the hard way, so I don’t take anything for granted.
Your reputation as a “go to” character design lead and director precedes you. From what or where do you draw inspiration?
Inspiration for me is a moving target. There are different things motivating my daily progress. My wife and children motivate me on many complex levels, whether it’s from the rudimentary father providing for their well-being to the incredible strength and courage of my daughter as a survivor of NMDA-r.
From an artistic level, I must admit that there isn’t much “new” artwork that I draw from. I do think there are incredible artists out there and I can appreciate their work. The thing that is difficult for me is that I see the influence of other artists in just about everyone’s work. (And by the way, even I fall into that category.) So I tend to fall back on my childhood favorites.
This is for two reasons. Firstly, if I’m going to be influenced it might as well be from the original source. Secondly, in the period I’m attracted to the art seems purer, less commercial and with more intent and stronger narratives. My work is far from matching that of my heroes, but I keep trying. I do find myself constantly looking at comic book artwork and children’s literature. These artists are telling stories in every frame. They are truly amazing sources that inspire creativity in me. I also do tend to look at a lot of old Rick Baker, Chris Walas and Steve Johnson work. I still marvel at their talent.
What are some of the associated challenges with remaining fresh and relevant in such a competitive market?
As I mentioned earlier, it’s very hard. The thing about designing is trying to come up with something you’ve never seen before. The problem with that notion is that you are limited by your grey matter. In other words you must have recorded it at some point in order to draw upon it. Imagination is difficult to hold onto. Most of us have had it summarily beaten out of us at a young age through mantras to “keep your feet on the ground”, “don’t daydream” or worst of all to “get real”. Consider yourself lucky if yours is still intact. As adults, we may even have to go out to special retreats to learn how to think outside the box.
Realizing that our imagination will serve us best is a tough concept to grab onto. If you’re extremely imaginative, your imagination is more often than not composed of images based on the mixing and matching of metaphors or images from within your mental database. So basically, you’re stuck with what you know or have processed/seen.
Or are you? My idea of using layers is about speeding up happy accidents. In fact, the more of these you have the better off you will be.
Designers overall don’t like this idea as they are control freaks. I know because I’m one of them. Over time I have learned to condition myself and have come to understand that happy accidents is what I am always seeking in design. Isn’t that the point of variations? To exhaust all the known in order to arrive at the unknown is the real journey. Happy accidents are what you are after.
At the end of the day, you have to learn it all in order to forget it, inform your brain and then call upon the elements you think will serve the design best. If you are like most, then you have a folder with hundreds of images you think are inspiring. I venture to say that you probably have not looked at any of them more than once or twice since you’ve saved them to your 100, 200, 300 gig (or larger) folder. Does that sound like someone you know?
To me, if it’s good enough to save then it’s good enough to study. Sculpt it! That way you will not only have the image saved on your computer, you will also have it stored in your mind. Even if scientists are right and you only use 1/5th of your brain (and by extension, the knowledge stored there) you are way ahead of the curve!
Do you have any advice for young artists trying to break into the business?
Practice, practice, practice...
There’s no excuse for failure these days. The internet is the ultimate level playing field. There are no borders or doors closed to you. Art is a relative thing but I guarantee you will find an audience. It might not be the audience you had imagined or predicted, but you will find a group that your work will resonate with.
Remember that art, like anything else in life is evolving. Don’t limit yourself based on foolish beliefs. Your views of your own work and self are far worse than anyone else's. More often than not the self-limiting reflection looking back in the mirror is the enemy. Give yourself a break and allow room setbacks. Through your failures you will learn.
Heed the advice of elders; they have been there before you and their advice is wise and will make your journey shorter. Be kind, be helpful and humble. The elevator to the top will eventually come back down to the basement and you will pass all the same people on your way down.
Above all pass it forward and don’t hoard information. Try to help others achieve their dreams. You will take a lot more from the experience of assisting others rise and feel better about taking part in something outside of individual pursuits.