Heavily influenced by films and varied storytellers, Kevin’s personal work breathes life into a diverse set of characters, oftentimes connecting them through tenderness, whimsy and ethereal moments in time. He’s had a colorful commercial career working as an illustrator, designer and Emmy award winning animator in feature film, broadcast, healthcare and the high tech industry. Read below for the full interview…
You had an early childhood love of cinema that stimulated your love of drawing. What were come of the films that inspired you the most?
Kevin: I was a quintessential kid of the 80s. Films like “Star Wars”, “Tron”, “ET”, “Neverending Story”, “Gremlins” left me with indelible images that I would doodle as soon as I got home from the theater. But thanks to the unfiltered taste of my parents, I was also exposed to a diverse range of films like “Koyaanisquatsi”, “Manon of the Spring”, “The Mission”, “Empire of the Sun”, and even “Gandhi”. A lot of it went over my head at the time, but what seeped into the recesses of my work were the emotional journeys. I feel that a lot of the films that were made for kids back in the 80s also benefitted from being less safe. Films like “The Dark Crystal” or “Secret of Nimh” were genuinely scary at times. I’ve always been a proponent that it’s okay for children to be confronted with their fears cinematically. You never know what kind of creative fodder will come of it.
You stated that you worked on Philip K. Dick’s ‘A Scanner Darkly’ and that by the end of the project you were going a bit nuts. What kind of demands did this particular project entail?
Kevin: I think by nature of working on a digitally rotoscoped feature, tedium was always going to be part of the equation. It was over 50 of us in an Austin office divided into teams working on specific sequences. There were long hours in store for most of us and as the final stretch of the production was approaching, an inevitable cabin fever started to creep in. For one, I have never had indoor semiautomatic BB gun battles (with safety goggles mind you) before or since. We also had fun movie trivia games and nicknames for each other. Mine was Sir Snacks-a-lot, which is self-explanatory. So inherent in all that nuttiness was a fair share of fun too. I will always treasure my time and memories with the Scanner team.
Why do you think A Scanner Darkly method of filmmaking/animation wasn’t used much afterwards? Is it just too strenuous for a filmmaker and his crew?
Kevin: I think one of the reasons is that the method and software itself is quite proprietary. Created from the ground up by the head animator Bob Sabiston, Color Engine did what it did beautifully, but would still take ages for a talented team to execute a few painstaking seconds of animation in the elaborate style that you saw onscreen. Many people mistakenly think that the process was accomplished through a software filter, but it took many man-hours of carefully considered stylus work. At the end of the day, we still had to be very judicious about how we drew and colored, especially with style guides locked down. Having said all this, I still think interpolated rotoscoping is a very valid use of the animation medium and would love to see it utilized again.
Last summer you had your very first gallery showing. Since that time, how have you matured as an artist in terms of showing your work to people and dealing with the thoughts that surround something like that?
Kevin: Having my personal work seen in such a public way has given me newfound confidence in my voice. People see and feel tales unfolding within the frame of my illustrations. It’s humbling to not only witness someone be moved by a piece, but also watch them actively fill in the blanks of imagining the world outside the boundaries of the picture. This sentiment shifted a paradigm within me, as I am now making a foray into children’s books as an author/illustrator. For years, I’ve heard this voice in the back of the theater of my mind telling me that this form of storytelling may be the perfect vehicle for my sensibilities and way of seeing the world. It wasn’t until I showcased publicly that I really listened to that muse. Thus far, it has been an inspiring, challenging, and generous new world to explore.
It is true that it doesn’t matter what medium you use to create art to create an effective message, but since you have done art on both sides of the fence; digital and traditional, which do you prefer?
Kevin: These days, it’s not so much that I prefer digital, it just happens to be easier to go from digitally storyboarding and animating for work to drawing for fun in the same programs. I do think that the pendulum will naturally swing back towards the traditional. I would love to get into sculpture and printmaking for instance, as I intuit it will show me whole other ways to approach my work. In order to create an effective message, it behooves one to not only be well rounded in a variety of mediums but to be an ongoing student of life as well.
Many of your pieces deal with nature and have very soft touches. Are these landscapes based on real life locales? Or is most of it from your imagination?
Kevin: My landscapes generally come from a mixture of both the imagination and the experiences or people I come into contact with. I also think that my natural bent towards depicting nature comes from a yearning to be in it more. It’s frighteningly easy for artists like myself to be hunched over a computer for far too many hours at a time. Meanwhile, red tailed hawks fly by my window and a glorious sunset passes me by. It’s my subconscious way of reminding myself to be present in the real world as much as possible.
What is your favorite Asian film of all time, and why?
Kevin: That’s akin to asking who my favorite child is. This answer changes often, but my overall favorite is “My Neighbor Totoro”. For me, it is the most accessible, joy inducing trip back to childhood that I can imagine. I can still remember watching it totally cold at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum in the early 90’s and feeling like being embraced in this amber of delight and nostalgia. In my mind, it also has the unique distinction of casting this magical story spell of seemingly not being about very much while simultaneously being about everything. No one, not even Pixar, has ever cracked that Studio Ghibli code as far as I’m concerned. I will still be watching this film well into old age… or until a Catbus picks me up.
Tell us about scratchboard illustrating, and what kind of effects you can get out of that technique?
Kevin: Scratchboard illustration is one of the most meditative things you can do with a sharp tool in hand. I say that because it’s a very zen like practice as it’s constantly challenging you to look at both the micro and macro in regards to detail. It’s like reverse printmaking in that you are scratching away at an inked surface to reveal the white underneath. It’s also a great exercise because you have to be very conscious of where the lighting is most prevalent, as that’s really what you’re trying to mine – carving out light. In some ways, I approach my digital work in the same manner, as I’m always focusing on how light brings form to substance and emotionality to the surface. The effects that you can get are quite varied, especially when it comes to depicting various textures, line weights, and even tone.
Since you are a freelancer, you can basically live anywhere you want. Why San Francisco? Would you recommend it for like-minded professionals?
Kevin: In many ways, San Francisco is a city of transplants from all walks of life. It certainly encourages creativity and thinking out of the box, especially with the entrepreneurial spirit alive and well in the tech sector. But it’s also a very expensive city with its own unique, sometimes snobby, hipster infused culture. San Francisco will probably always be home base for me as this is where I grew up and I have family here. But I would truly love to live and travel elsewhere for the right opportunity. Every time I’ve ever stepped out of my comfort zone and lived in another country or state, I’ve grown by leaps and bounds. Perhaps your readers have a recommendation for my next destination!
Lastly, you have had a diverse career working in numerous fields, numerous clients, and numerous locations. Taking that all into account, what is the single best piece of advice you could offer for any creative?
Kevin: I hope you don’t mind if I break the rules and say that it’s nigh impossible to go with a single piece of advice. Here’s 3 tenets I live that have helped yield return business:
- If at all possible, check your ego at the door. You can learn a lot from others and sometimes even more from the difficult clients when you stay humble (not to be mistaken for a pushover).
- Be dependable and do not promise something you can’t deliver. It’s your reputation that’s on the line here and oftentimes with tight deadlines, it can only help for you to be transparent about what’s feasible.
- Play well with others. Oftentimes, you will be called on to collaborate with fellow artists, consultants, writers and even executives. Learning how to communicate your vision is essential and actively listening will increase your aptitude for doing excellent work.
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