Francis Tsai is a freelance illustrator/concept artist for the entertainment industry. Boasting one of the most impressive resumes the Creative Spotlight has had the pleasure of featuring, Tsai has illustrated cards for the Magic: The Gathering collectible card game, among other things. Tsai has also provide visual development in the TV and film industries contributing concept artwork for movies Sucker Punch and TMNT – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and has contributed countless pieces of art for the comic book industry including Marvel and Top Cow. I sit down with Francis and discuss all these topics and more. Read below for the full interview…
Towards the end of 2011 you encountered some health issues. How are you holding up?
Francis: Taking it day by day. Thank you for asking!
Having an initial interest in chemistry and architecture, how were you able to switch gears after university and start in the creative field?
Francis: Easily. I had always had an interest in art, comics, science fiction, video games and things of that nature. It just took a while for me to realize I could make a good living at it.
When you do concept up some building drawings, what kind of advantages do you gain, having an architecture background, that many artists might not possess?
Francis: I probably have a little more mileage in terms of thinking about how buildings go together than some artists. Studying the architecture of other cultures throughout history is very valuable – there is so much to draw from visually.
You are definitely the type of artist who loves to share the wisdom that you have learned over the years. What is the golden rule that you try to instill in the your ‘students’ or those who are willing to listen?
Francis: I think you gain more as an artist by sharing what you have learned, and in turn having others share with you. Trying to keep all your “trade secrets” hoarded away seems a little shortsighted to me.
So what is the key to effective character design?
Francis: I think different people have different “keys” that work for them. For me it’s the narrative – what is the chatacter’s history, personality, values? Maintaining a consistent reality for the character helps tremendously when it comes to visual design.
Do you have any favorite Asian films or Anime? Have any been a source of inspiration?
Could you describe your time working on Sucker Punch? What was it like working on a major motion picture?
Francis: I actually worked for Michael Wilkinson, the film’s costume designer rather than the art department. I didn’t have much knowledge of the story or characters. I was usually just asked to come up with ideas for things like “WWI zombies” or “knights in armor. ” There wasn’t much iteration. Usually I’d take one or two passes and move on to the next thing.
You left your comfy full-time job to become a freelancer. Some creative don’t have the stomach to do that. What brought upon that decision and do you still feel like it was a good move to make?
Francis: Oh man. Wish I’d done it earlier. As to why, I think I had finally had one too many boring useless meetings at work.
What is the biggest difference working in the comic book industry, versus the video game industry and the film industry?
Francis: Here’s my take on that, based on my personal and somewhat limited experience: in all three cases you’re a cog in a machine. The difference comes down to how big a cog you are. In comics you’re (as an artist) one of maybe two, three or four cogs. What you do has a huge bearing on how the final product looks. In video game design, smaller cog but still fairly crucial to overall look and feel. In film, I couldn’t even tell how many other cogs there were! An interesting side note – the smaller the cog you are, the bigger the paycheck.
Lastly, what kind of projects, art books, tutorials, and releases can we expect from you in 2012?
Francis: I am on a bit of a hiatus for now. No huge plans art wise for the moment.
Want to keep tabs on Mr. Tsai’s work? Follow his cookie crumb trail below: