This interview was conducted for the Digital arts Chinese magazine CGW. Scroll all the way down for an English version of the interview.
1.The space in you artworks is always huge, and the colors are glorious. So beautiful. Can you share some experience about this?
The sense of massive scale and majesty, the sense of awe, has always been something that fascinated me. Eventually, depicting this kind of scenery makes me feel almost like I am not the creator of it, but I’m just a channel through which something much more immense than me is expressing itself. Sometimes, I look at my work and feel that it would have been impossible for me to do this; the feeling that something else, something I can’t comprehend, did it through me.
Does that make sense?
2.The world in your artworks just like comes from another world without gravity, the rock and the mountains are floating. Can you tell us that how you get the inspirations?
Very often through music. I used to listen a lot to music like Dead Can Dance, Enya, Loreena Mc Kennitt, lots of movie soundtracks, classical music, even Hard Rock music like Metallica. Sometimes, it can come through travel, but I think music is definitely the most powerful tool for inspiration.
3.Can you talk about the artists who impact you? Do you have idols in art?
Many artists influenced my work. Different ones over time. Frank Frazetta, Moebius, Alphonse Mucha, The Schuitten brothers, Alan Lee, The European Symbolists, The Hudson River school, The Orientalists, The Romantics, The American Realists, The American Illustrators, so many to mention. Even Russian and Chinese schools of painting.
4.You are an excellent traditional artist, when did you begin to have interest in CG? Why did you start dabbling in this field?
I started to get interested in CG when I worked on the Disney movie “Dinosaur” in 1996. At that time, I was doing visual development and color concepts on the movie. Some traditional artists around me were starting to use Photoshop and Painter once in a while, and I wanted to try. It felt a little strange at first, but I was fascinated by how much control on the parameters (brightness, color, saturation, etc…) CG offered. Eventually, I got used to it, and now, I use both, depending on the type of job I’m being asked.
5.Your resume is amazing. You can handle so many softwares expertly! And can you just talk some about your career of CG? Did you feel maladjusted in the beginning?
Well, as I mentioned before, it felt strange, at first. I started playing with Photoshop and Painter, then I started missing traditional paint, so I went back to it for a while. But I started to miss using the computer. So, I returned to it. Later, I also retrained with 3D programs.
I’m not an expert at everything, far from it. I was able to retrain on a few 2D and 3D programs, which allowed me to understand exactly how to make the transition between traditional and CG art, how to make CG an extension of what I already knew, and eventually use that knowledge to have a broader vision of the whole creation process on a CG animated feature film. Which lead me to Art direction, with the animation segment in the Disney movie “Enchanted”, and the full CG film “9” produced by Tim Burton.
That being said, the CG world evolves so fast, these days that it is sometimes hard to keep track of everything that’s happening, the latest technologies, which programs are new or too old, which ones have been updated, etc…
It is already a lot of work to keep my skills up to date: like design, lighting, texture, color, etc…You keep learning everyday.
You can’t be good at everything. It’s not impossible, but it is extremely rare. And there is a saying in America: “The Jack of all trades becomes Master of none”.
In other words, if you try to be an expert at too many things, in the end, you will be an expert at none.
6.You are a successful traditional artist. Do you feel that traditional skill have helped in your CG creations?
Absolutely. The more you develop your traditional skills, the more they are going to be used also for CG creations. I do almost all book covers with Photoshop now. But when you see them on the book, it’s not always obvious I did them with a CG programs. CG is just another tool that your brain and your eyes use to produce artwork. The brain is also what allows you to make the connections between what is possible in CG based on your previous knowledge in traditional Art.
The skills of concept design, lighting, color, are still the same. They have never changed. As I mentioned before, CG is just another tool, but the artist’s eye is still the tool that guides all the others. No matter how much computer you know, if you don’t understand design, you can’t be a Production Designer. If you don’t understand lighting, texture and color, you can’t be an Art Director. Those skills, you can develop with traditional tools, you don’t need a computer for it.
But of course, if you are Production Designer or Art Director on a CG film, it really helps if you know the CG tools the rest of the whole team is going to use.
7.You had worked for many animation movies, do you have a favorite one? Can we talk about this?
I think I have different favorites for different reasons. For instance, I liked working on “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame in 1996, because it allowed me to paint Gothic cathedrals, which I love. I liked working on “Treasure Planet” in 2001 because the type of Science-Fiction Pirate/Steampunk technology in Space was really cool.
But I have to say my favorite probably remains “9”, the movie produced by Tim Burton, that is coming out this coming September (on 9/9/2009).
I love the environment, the steampunk technology (again) and the dark and unique aspect of the visuals and the story. Very different from Disney, Dreamworks, or anything that’s being done in mainstream animation right now.
I like when some directors have the guts to do something different, like Hayao Miyazaki.
Besides, the guys I worked with were all very cool. We remained very good friends.
8.I feel “9” is a special animation, it has a dark world and distinctive characters. And I feel the style is not similar with your art works. Can you talk about your job of “9”? Why they choose you as art director?
If you check out my early paintings from years ago, you will see that my work can be dark too. I actually did not even post my darkest images. But people who know me know that I like dark images and I love to play with very dramatic lighting.
So, the reason why the Director of “9” picked me was both because he saw my early works and also because I was just finishing the animation Art direction on the Disney movie “Enchanted”. Even though “Enchanted” was a very different mood from “9”, I had shown at this point that I could do the Art direction on a feature film, and my “dark side” sensibility was pretty close to what the director was looking for.
The funny thing is that one year earlier, as I was still on “Enchanted”, a friend of mine sent me the link to the short movie “9”, and told me they were looking for an Art director to work on the feature film version. He told me: “It would fit your style perfectly”. I thought the same thing, but I told him: I can’t, I’m still working on “Enchanted” for quite a while.
Then, “9” went through 2 Art directors who didn’t work out. And when I finished “Enchanted”, I got an email from another friend who was the Production Designer on “9”, and he asked me if I was available. I met the Director and everything went great.
9.You have many identities: oil painter, art director, concept artist, visual development artist, etc… which you like most?
I like them all. I have a preference for doing oil painting or anything that is more personal of course, because it belongs to me, and not to a studio. But I think what I like the most eventually is to be able to do so many things, so, when I get bored doing one thing, I go back to another type of activity. As an artist, isn’t the goal in life to love what we do and have fun doing it? J
10. C a n y o u t a l k a b o u t y o u r p e r s o n a l p l a ns? - W h i c h w i l l y o u g o t o w a r d s i n the f u t u r e : C G o r t r a d i t i o n a l a r t ?
For now, I don’t have immediate future plans. The CG animation industry is slow right now, so, I am taking a break and am trying to get back into painting for galleries.
Maybe I will travel a little. I love traveling, and I love Asia. I was in China for a 3 week- trip last year. It was awesome.
As for the question on CG or traditional art, I definitely believe I’m going to keep things the way they are now, using both CG and traditional. It has worked for me so far. So, I have no reason to change anything.
11.As a successful artist, can you just give some advices to the Chinese artists and art lovers?
Persistence! There are a lot of ignored genius artists out there - because they didn't have persistence. Work hard, show your work to good professionals to get their advice, and when you are ready, show it to companies that might hire you. If it doesn’t happen immediately, try again later. Very often, it’s a matter of timing. Sometimes, a company will have too many really good artists showing their work and won’t be able to keep them all, and other times, they will need artists but won’t have enough candidates, so they will be ready to hire even artists with not much experience. Timing is everything.
Now, if they tell you your work is not strong enough, don’t get discouraged: go back to work on your artwork and try again later. However, always be aware of your skill level.
If your art is not strong enough and you think it is, you will run into a lot of trouble.
This generation has a lot of information tools (like internet) to learn and to gather reference material, something I didn't have when I was in my late teens. I would have done anything to access this kind of information. Use these tools! Get interested in everything around you, learn, find your own way, and be persistent!