Interview with Chinese Fantasy Art Magazine (2006)
1.Could you give us some background information about yourself and tell us what inspires you to create Art?
Well, I'm 39, French, and grew up in a remote central area of France that looks very much like Ireland and famous for its Celtic/Roman shady past, its sorcery (still practiced nowadays), and its dark legends: for those of you who have seen the movie "The Brotherhood of the Wolf", well, that's my region right there. And that story is the most famous legend of the area. Also, in "Interview with a Vampire", the main character -Lestat- comes from that same area: Auvergne.
I attended Fine Arts school there for 1 year. Then I went to a University of History of Arts for 2 years. This introduced me to medieval architecture -which I used a lot later. I did illustration for homebuilders architects for a while and then had to do 2 years of civil service instead of the army.
I started animation in 1989 -on "Ninja Turtles"- and worked my way through different studios in France. I finally ended in Paris where I entered the Disney studios in 1992. There, I became head of backgrounds on my first Disney feature animated film: "A Goofy movie". Following that, I worked on the 'featurette' "Runaway Brain" and "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame" (the great thing was that the cathedral was 15 minutes from us, and I tell you: by now, I know every single statue on the front of this building!!).
After that, I could negotiate my way to the US in 1996 and went to work in Burbank, California, on movies such as "Hercules", "Dinosaur", "Fantasia 2000", "Tarzan", and "Treasure Planet".
In parallel, I had started to develop my own work on the side. I entered the Los Angeles gallery Morpheus in '97, then Powell street gallery in San Francisco, and finally Kaleidoscope gallery in Mission Viejo.
In February 2002, I quit Disney to spend more time on my personal work. I signed a contract with Duirwaigh Gallery and publishing in Atlanta, Georgia, almost 2 years ago.
I went to Dreamworks SKG and worked for a year on “Sharktale”, then went back to school full time for another year to learn 3D principles in depth on Maya and Zbrush.
I am currently working on a Disney live action movie that has 12 minutes of animation in it. I am doing concept artwork and backgrounds. On the side, I am still doing book covers and am Art directing a short 3D animated movie.
2.You are considered both a painter and illustrator, a character designer, layout artist, background painter, conceptual artist, digital artist through different mediums (Photoshop, Maya, Zbrush, etc…).
In your own eyes, what do you consider yourself most?
I think every activity brings its own challenges and rewards. And I like to go from movie work to book or cd cover to personal work, etc…It’s different everytime.
But of course, the most rewarding is your personal work. Because you own it. You own the copyrights and no one can tell you what to do. I think before anything else, I consider myself an artist trying to express his imagination.
3.Could you explain the shape of your logo? it looks like a rose in bud.
My logo represents the initials of my name: a C inside a V (a rose shaped V).
4.There are many stones in your artworks, and they are very mysterious. Why do you seem to love them so much? Do they mean anything special to you?
There is almost a religious or supernatural mysterious power in your works.
Could you explain your original creative intent?
I'm not sure exactly. One day, I started to have an urge to paint this, and it never left me. I would probably say that when they are not floating cities, they represent some kind of guiding Spirits, personified by the ultimate symbol of matter: rock, like in “The Messengers”. Their appearance was definitely inspired by the medieval feeling -both Celtic and Roman- of my hometown area.
If you want a longer answer, you have to go into deeper analysis: if you consider Rock as the symbol of earthly dead Matter, and Movement and Light as the symbols of Life and Energy, then a floating rock with light coming from within is something that seems so impossible that the vision of it becomes the ultimate symbol for Life incarnated into Matter. Does that make any sense?
No, I didn’t take any drugs this morning, I swear J
5.In your artworks "Claire-Vallee", "Spring", "The Messengers", "Norova", you show landscapes of pure and clear mountains, quiet and secluded valleys. Are they related to your experiences of travel, your past, your childhood maybe?
Yes, very much so. Places I traveled to physically or in my mind. “Spring” was inspired by the Colorado mountains, where I visited friends often; and “The Messengers” was painted after pictures of Ireland I took when I visited it in 1995. It might also be a piece for a future storybook project I have.
6.The female figures in your paints are very beautiful, especially in
"Resting", "The Long Sleep", "Endlessdream". The fabric in Endlessdream has complicated folds: every detail is described with perfection and delicacy.
How did you do this?
I took pictures of a friend, made up the landscape and reinterpreted the lighting in the pictures slightly. Taking pictures and copying the pictures is not too hard; but if you really want to do a good job, you need to modify the lighting conditions while you’re painting, bend the rules. In order to do this, you need to know about the rules of light reflection, how you can use the balance between warm and cool colors, light and dark, and how you can apply it to the object in the picture. So, instead of having black shadows, you think of the possibility of having a soft blue reflected light and how it would affect the drape on the women. And you mix your knowledge with the painting of the picture. It’s not easy, but when it works, it works very well.
7. Your artworks emphasize aesthetic very much, almost perfectly. What is the measure of it in your creations?
Which movement do you feel closest to? Realism, Pre-Raphaelites, Romantism, Symbolism, Classical?
Aesthetic is very important in my work. It’s all about the natural elegance and the composition of the images. I am a perfectionist, but sometimes, I push it too much, and I should let the work go a little looser.
Anyway, I don’t think I feel closer to anyone of these movements, because all of them influence me one way or another, each in its own way. Symbolism for its mastery of drama; American Realism for its muted colors and sense of detail simplification (a little bit like in matte painting), Romantism for its dreamy reality, etc…
And when you think of it, all these styles were pretty close in time from one another. So, the have similarities, and that is probably why I can learn different things from each of them.
8.The move from France to the USA has been the most important turning point in your life, What prompted such a far relocation?
When “Lion King” became a hit at the box-office in 1995, all major Hollywood studios wanted to open animation departments. I was able to negotiate pretty easily, and Disney made the best offer.
I had a very familiar feeling about the U.S. that never left me since childhood. When I was 7, my parents had a record of Dvorjak, Symphony 9: Symphony of the New World. I used to listen to it all the time. On the cover, there was a picture of the Grand Canyon. For some reason, the music and the picture stuck together in my mind and -although I didn't know exactly why- became a symbol of my distant future.
It's not that easy to leave everything behind, to change your life and dive into the unknown. I saw a lot of French people who, either could have done it but didn't want to, or wanted to do it but didn't measure the consequences of such a choice: to leave everything behind costs a lot, emotionally and psychologically.
It is often after you have left something that you realize how you really miss it. Nevertheless, in my mind there was no half measure: to come to the US had always been a Lifelong dream. And with the different trips I had made in the US before, I was used to the mentality and the difference of Culture.
9.As an artist, you have to give up your original art so that others can admire it in their homes. What do you think about this?
It is something you get used to with time. If they stayed in my apartment, they would take space, and would become a problem every time I want to move somewhere else.
As long as I keep a good reproduction and a professional slide to be able to make as many good images of the painting as I want, I am ok to let go the original artwork.
10.Your images display some magnificent epic scenes, such as "Claire-Vallee", "The Giants", "The Guardians", "Stormbreakers", "Entering the_Higlands".
They seem to be influenced by the Mesoid culture. Are you familiar with it?
Like I mentioned before, I grew up in a very medieval area, high middle age (very old), so it was very dark and mysterious. It played a major influence in my life.
I also went to the University of History of Arts, where I learned medieval History and Architecture for 2 years. That is where I learned to love Roman and Gothic Art.
11.Some works such as The Promise, The Messengers, The preparation and so on, have names that seem disconnected from the actual images. Could you explain the relevance of the names in light of the works? Or can you tell us the backgrounds of these pictures?
Sometimes, images are connected to very personal experiences, or specific symbols, and I like to keep the actual meaning somewhat undiscovered, or should I say, personal to anyone who sees the image.
“The Promise” was representing the way we make promises sometimes: they seem strong, but the way we really attach ourselves to them can be very fragile, like a thin string, easy to break.
In “The Messengers”, I liked the idea of how important a simple message can be: some people will brave the worst weather or life conditions to carry a message that might be of vital importance to someone else. So many love letters were lost and never came to destination. In this image, some brave messengers, guided by Spirits –symbolized by the floating rocks- are going through the storm to deliver a message.
“The Preparation” is more abstract: I just wanted to represent some kind of preparation for a mysterious celebration in a strange environment.
12.Nowadays, many young artists are leaning toward realism and pragmatism.
Do you think this conflicts with the nature of an artist? Could this be related to school practical education? How do you feel about this tendency?
Can you talk about the advantages and disadvantages of art college education according to your own experience?
Every artist is different. Some like Abstract, others like Cubism, others Romantism, etc…But I believe the comeback of realism in Art is a good thing, as it has been neglected for so long.
My Art school was not unusual in that respect. It was focused mainly on modern Art -like most schools these days, which is real sad. The only class we had related to the past techniques was how to prepare our canvases the old way, but nothing about painting techniques. Well, even this class has disappeared now anyway. The way my mind opened to classical Art was meeting other artists who were searching in the same direction, and had different information and education than I had.
I believe that Art College education is an excellent thing if it focuses on a real training, not just telling the students they can do what they want. Students go to school because they want to learn. After learning, they can choose for themselves to use that knowledge the way they want, or even to throw it away. But at least, at that point they need to understand the foundations.
Nowadays, Fine Art schools –at least in the Western world- are full of teachers who are frustrated unsuccessful artists, and got a job not based on their skills, but rather on how much they know the system, and on their ability to convince an audience that it's all right to nail a garbage bag on a wall and call that Art. And now, these people have a steady position that they don't want to lose. So, the best way for them to do that is to make anything that requires skills look bad, because they themselves don't know how to do it or are not good at it. Free expression is a nice thing, but from my point of view, you shouldn't have to explain what you put on a canvas in order to convey emotion. It should hit the viewer in a direct way, through beauty; and only then lead the viewer to deeper questions or meanings, if it's the intention of the artist. And in order to do that, you have to learn how to do it.
In everything, there is a learning phase, including in Art. You can't just start from nothing and pretend you know Art or that you are pushing further the limits of Art! I had a philosophy teacher who used to say about that: "On the road, when you want to pass a car, you have to know first how to drive, and then get to the same level of the other car before you pass it".
I’m glad the younger generation is now using any resource it has –especially internet- to learn the older ways of painting.
After that, whether they want to keep that knowledge or not is their own decision.
13.When did you start painting digital? How do you traditional painting skills translate into the digital medium? What essential differences are there between the two? What are the pros and cons?
I discovered Digital for the first time working on Art concepts for the movie "Dinosaur". I did paintings and photo manipulations on Photoshop and Painter. Then, I dropped it for a few months and went back to traditional. But I started to miss working with Digital. So I went back to it. And I learned how to really appreciate. Since then, I bought my own material, and constantly juggle now between Digital and Traditional. For instance, I do my paintings for galleries with oil or acrylic paint, and most book or videogame covers on Photoshop. It's faster, more effective, and the control of all parameters (values and tones, color saturation, etc…) allows easy changes. And publishers don't need originals, only the image. To paint for a gallery is different. People who buy a painting don't do it only for the image, but also for the tactile and sensual experience. Something that Digital will never be able to give -at least not the same way.
Painting in one medium or another is not that different, really. The same visual skills apply: your image will still need the same composition, staging, color and lighting rules than with traditional artwork.
In terms of 3D, I did a little bit of traditional sculpture, and I’ve been learning Maya 3D intensely for the past 12 months. I'm really interested; it's a different world, and full of potential.
14.According to your resume, you have many important clients.
Walt Disney Pictures, Dreamworks SKG, Harper Collins, Wizards of the Coast, IDDH
When you complete an assignment, if it happens your clients have new suggestions and requests and ask for changes, how do you reach an agreement with them?
Do you compromise or do you try to persuade them to accept your ideas?
An assignment for a client always goes through a series of changes and compromises. If the image is complete, it means that client and artist have reached an agreement.
Of course, along the way, I try to defend my own ideas. Sometimes, the client listens, sometimes not. Eventually, it all comes down to having the skills to read your client’s mind while still coming up with ideas you like to paint.
15.What qualities and knowledge do you think an artist must have, besides owning solid Art skills?
Persistence! There are a lot of ignored geniuses out there - because they didn't have persistence.
This generation has a lot of information tools (like internet) that I didn't have when I was in my late teens. I would have killed to have access to this amount of information. Use them! Get interested in everything around you, learn, find your own way, and be persistent!
16.At Disney, there must be so many excellent painters. Do you feel pressure while working, or are you worried about your style being lost in the uniformity of the company?
If you come across this kind of situation, how do you deal with it? How do you feel about working for a corporation?
Could you give some practical suggestions to young artists about your work experience?
Many artists are reluctant to work for a studio because they have the feeling that they will "lose their style", or they will "be lost in the crowd, become a number", or that animation "will steal their soul".
Well, on the contrary, in animation, you meet a lot of artists coming from many different horizons, with many different styles. The fact that they got a job there is already a proof that their work has higher standards. So, there is a lot of exchange going on: techniques, ideas and friendship. Even though we have to work on the same project and learn to follow the same style at a specific time, it only adds to our own skills, enriches our own style and pushes us to be more professional and demanding on ourselves. And if we're not happy, we can step out of animation at almost any time.
At Disney, I had the chance to meet people who pushed me to completely reconsider my way of painting and showed me older techniques and other ways of "thinking" a painting. From there, I could mix it with things I already knew and skills I already had.
In twelve years of animation, I have worked for and visited a lot of animation studios.
And studios like Disney, Dreamworks, Pixar or Blue Sky are definitely the best studios out there for quality standards, although you can find excellent artists in smaller studios as well. And not to forget someone important, Hayao Myasaki is one of these rare directors out there to have understood what animation is all about: story, poetry and imagination.
17.Can you please explain steps in your digital painting process, that could be learned by Chinese artists?
The process of painting digital is almost exactly the same as painting traditionally.
Inspiration for a subject comes very often with music. At that moment, I draw a quick sketch, to be able to remember the concept later when I need to paint the full image. From there, either the image is very clear in my mind and I don't need any other elements, or I try to find visual references: pictures for similar landscapes, color inspiration or models. Then, I conceive the final sketch, carefully paying attention to composition, shapes and scale. Then I start the painting. Most of the time, I will paint a first overall rough painting with all the colors blocked in, before I work in it again refining only the places that need to be refined. I use layers and masks sometimes to adjust the color or value of specific areas. Eventually, I save it in tiff format for printing.
18.In the movie “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”, the staging of the architecture and lighting is very clear and exquisite. How did you obtain this kind of effect?
Which softwares and/or skills did you use?
We didn’t use any software for painting in this movie. It was plain old school acrylic painting on board. The look of the movie relied only on the visual and artistic skills of traditional artists.
19.What kinds of music do you like in your daily life? What are your hobbies? What influences do your hobbies have in art creation?
My range of music is quite wide. From Loreena Mc Kennitt to Dead can Dance, going through Enya, Metallica, U2 and a lot of movie soundtracks. The list is non exhaustive.
In terms of hobbies, my second passion is Martial Arts. I have been practicing them for 22 years, from Vietnamese Kung Fu to Kickboxing or Muy Thai, I have practiced dozens of them, and am still learning.
I also do swing dancing, diverse sports activities, horseback riding, etc…
20.Who had influenced your art life most? When and how?
And do you have objectives for your future?
Well, at first, I wanted to be a comic book artist. My first influences were famous European comic books like Tintin, and a lot of Italian black and white monthly comics. At 13, I discovered the world of super heroes (Daredevil, Iron-man, Spiderman and other X-men). I can say my life really changed then. Moebius and the birth of "Heavy Metal" magazine (when it was REALLY creative) were also a major influence to me.
Then, I went to a Fine-Arts school, and it opened my eyes on classical Art, although illustrators like Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo, Wojtek Siudmak or Michael Whelan also fascinated me.
Since then, things have changed. I've met dozens of amazing artists in animation (particularly at Disney) from whom I've learned a lot. I have broadened my horizons in Art and discovered many different styles and schools, from the Realists, Pre-Raphaelites, Romantics, Orientalists, Symbolists or Visionaries in Europe, to the Hudson River school, American Realists, American impressionists and Plein Air painters in the US, not to mention all the generations of great American illustrators.
As for my future, at that point, I’m not exactly sure. I think I want to leave Los Angeles, discover something else. And I still haven’t found my soul mate, so, I guess I’ll just go where the wind pushes me.
But I want to put together all my images and produce a book soon.
And I have a project of illustrated fantastique adventure book for teenagers, also for a close future.
I’ll keep you informed.
Thank you for this interview.