Casey Matsumoto is a concept artist working for film and video game industries, currently working as freelance designer in sunny Los Angeles, CA. Upon completing high school at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, he attended Art Center College of Design, majoring in Illustration with a focus in Entertainment Design. After graduating from Art Center College of Design, he promptly starting working at Konami Digital Entertainment in Los Angeles as a 2D artist/concept artist. Casey’s last position as a concept artist for Rhythm and Hues allowed him to work on environment / set designs and creature designs for Sergey Bodrov’s THE SEVENTH SON. We talk a bit about ZBrush, his idea behind being a concept artist, his time with videogame companies, and more! Read the full Q&A below…
We interviewed Sei Nakashima late last year who told us that during work on Seventh Son, A lot had happened during a year and half production time but over all it was all positive. Could you shed some light upon your own experiences working on the film and how you contributed.
I was brought on-board when the production was already in post production of “Seventh Son.” Sei Nakashima was the art director of the movie and he needed me to assist in creating environment designs or rather set designs of what the architecture would look like. It was difficult for me who has never seen the production reel or concept art so trying to blend in was challenging. For the first few days, I was given a set of production arts and reels of what they have so far. It was amazing how the artist (3d modelers, lighters, matte painters, fx artists, compositors, etc.) make everything from scratch. My position as a concept artist was to understand the world of that universe and to create a bridge between an idea to the finished vision.
Of course, some of the designs were ejected from Sei and the creative director so I had to keep trying different things to keep the process going. There was a lot of different iterations that were taken place and a lot of there were scrapped but that’s part of the process. I would start by creating a reference sheet for myself so I don’t get lost into cranking details. Mostly I would take those images and put them into the concept art so I can speed up the process. I would also ask for a 3D model if they have any to paint over them in Photoshop for what may or may not look like in the final design.
What is the biggest difference between working on film and working on video games? Do you approach concepts differently?
The biggest difference between working on film and working on video games is the scale in audience and medium. In games, you can create an entirely imaginative world with no limitations of explosions, rendering extras, giant creatures and machines that doesn’t need to function. In movies, it’s all about function and reality-based because the production set has to work in reality with the actors and actresses. Furthermore, not everybody plays video games especially elders who are in their 50s unless they are in the game business so the demographic margin is very limited.
What makes it sell is the storytelling. The graphics is always going to improve as technology advances so the only place that can improve or execute will be storytelling. A lot of the movies nowadays push the CG technology and simply it looks amazing but it can lack in story and character development. Recently, games such as Konami’s Metal Gear Solid series or Naughty Dog’s Last of Us has a great story and visuals so both is very important to sell the franchise. It is common now in the next generation console games that narration and cinematic is necessary.
I usually don’t approach concepts differently in games or movies because function is important in both worlds. If I would to create a massive, epic-scale environment in film or games, I would start out with a 3D model with bunch of boxes for place holders and paint the scene in Photoshop so I don’t need to worry about perspective, lightning and scale at first. I can tweak them while rendering it in Photoshop by creating a perspective grid to make it look like objects belong in the environment. I would water the design a bit so I’m not compensating the original design if it cost a lot to make the product. In games, it doesn’t matter because it will all be about constraining with the poly counts per model. Those are the two main factors I worry about when creating a concept art.
I hear concept art for games is more in demand then for film but the pay is worse. What is your stance on that?
It’s mainly because of budgetary reasons. Film requires a lot of man power to create one thing unless you don’t require any special effects or cg work. Even in games, AAA titles are expensive too and there are lot of people working on one single title but the difference is the production pipeline. Often times, when a production have a budget problem, they would cut the costs from the artists (or layoff) and make them stay for overtime. I have couple of friends who are employed as salaries so they have to be there overtime and then get let go after the production is over.
To minimize the damage for both parties, artists should be getting paid by hours. If the client or studio can’t pay them, artists can walk off with how many hours they worked on rather than getting cheated by having them stay overtime and fire them when they have no money to pay the artists. Most of the time, It has nothing to do with the performance of the artists.
There is uprising in the independent developers (indie) in both films and games. With a small budget and crew, the project can be successful. Often times, they would to submit their project on Kickstarter to get their project crowd-funded. A notable mention is a indie game called, “Hyper Light Drifter.”(https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1661802484/hyper-light-drifter) It was created by two developers, Alex Preston and Beau Blyth. It was initially asking for $27,000 but got funded to $645,158. The 2D Action RPG game garnered a huge fan base and it’s still in production with community support. Even a small team can make a great product. There’s an interivew he did that was inspiring and informative: https://soundcloud.com/the-collective-podcast/the-collective-ep-26-alex
What was is like working for Sega in the late 2000′s?
I was working as a concept design intern at Sega in Tokyo, Japan for three months. It was definitely a great run as I was learning the production pipeline that was uniquely different compared to here in US. Most of the designs were all done in line drawing with color swatches to show variations as opposed to working at a studio in America, it was all about the rendering and the final look of the character or environment with values and lighting.
And the transition to Konami…was that seemless?
Konami was a different experience. After graduating from Art Center College of Design, I worked at Konami, located in El Segundo, California as a 2D Artist working on various projects such as Playstation Home, Metal Gear Solid series, Frogger, Silent Hill series, Castlevania series, etc. I was mostly associated with the social media marketing with creating art assets and graphic designs for marketing purposes.
Is ZBrush still your go-to program to create organic concepts? How has this process evolved over the years?
I still use Zbrush as part of my pipeline for both organic and hardsurface modeling. Zbrush has changed my view in creating concepts because while schooling at Art Center College of Design, I was honing my traditional skills in designing using markers, pens and pencils. After my second year in Illustration, it was then that I started doing more digital art work and learning how to render in Photoshop. It was not until my senior year (2010) when I took a class at Concept Design Academy (CDA) in Pasadena where they offered Zbrush for Concept course with Bryan Wynia and Josh Herman. The program had a steep learning curve where I had no idea where the tools are but Bryan and Josh were very informative and taught the class the basics of how to engage with Zbrush with the right tools of creating illustrations and concept art for video games and film.
When an art director wants me to create an orthos (top, side, back view designs) and I can’t vision the side view so I would block it out in Zbrush which only takes me few minutes and use that as a guideline so I don’t need to figure out what the side view looks like. It’s only a tool to boost my production speed and I don’t see why I can’t use it. I can get my black and white values already done by pressing the render button and colorize them in Photoshop.
As a concept artist, how do you struggle with coming to the understanding that your work is not your own? I know working collaboratively it goes directly against the game or script of the film being created.
Most of the work I do for client(s), on a freelance basis, are not really my vision but to offer as many designs as possible for the clients to see what appeals to them the most. I usually crank out at least ten different variations at first and then “frankenstein/ kitbash” (coined term for mashing up different designs) from each parts so they can see it entirely a new design.
Working with another artists can be difficult at times because one has a specific vision and the other has another direction to what the final product would look like. Collaborating can tend to lead into production problems and ultimately lead into a halt but to solve that, I think it’s important to be flexible and open to what the client or art directors wants in the final look. I ran into a lot of situations where the client(s) would have a hard time understanding what the character, creature, or environment design would like so I would ask them to give me a sample reference sheet of what their initial visions or direction were.
I try to invest in my spare time in my sketchbook at a local cafe so I can liberate myself from clinging onto a project. Later, I would take some of the sketches I did and render them in Photoshop or even take them further into 3D. It is always important to get fresh eyes when you are on a project for so long to see designs in a different way. Of course, I’m just there for the caffe latte and macaroons [laughs].
Lastly, any advice for any budding college grad looking to break into the industry?
Be aware of the trend that is going on and be different from it and believe what you think is different from your peers. It’s essential to build a large visual library of various cultures from literature, science, literal arts, comedy and even a little kid’s preschool drawing. It takes time and practice but spending 10 thousand hours on one particular thing you enjoy most will definitely take you even a greater leap of success. Just like an Olympian runners do, the more hours you spent on a craftsmanship, you’ll improve as time goes by. Digest and evaluate what you learned because speed will come later.
“The White Storm” is a totally unreal movie about three Hong Kong narcotics cops trying to bring down a big time drug dealer. Director and co-writer Benny Chan should stick to directing. Chan’s previous movie, 2011′s “Shaolin,” was a very well made movie that held your interest throughout. “The White Storm” is mainly a series of gunfights, very well choreographed but totally unreal. More a video game shoot-em up than a movie. In the middle of the movie, the HK cops are in Thailand to trap the drug lord. During an ensuing gun battle, the bad guys bring in a helicopter fitted with a mini-gun that blasts away at everything. For me, that was the high point of the movie, just mindless destruction with no shallow dialog from the three buddy cops.
The action set-pieces use the locations very well. From the night market streets of Mongkok, to dilapidated sleazy apartment blocks, to the forest of Thailand, the action is well-framed and shot. The sound design is out of this world – so much stuff is happening from the sides and in the surrounds. It would have been just plain stupid if it’s just action for action’s sake. No, Benny Chan always emphasizes the melodrama behind all the action pieces. One of the best shoot outs I have seen in recent years occurs at the end of the second act. Breathtaking… the see-saw shifting of power, empathetically seeing an officer get shot, all hell breaks loose, culminating to the heartbreaking scene where Sean Lau has to make the choice of his life. It’s Hobson’s choice really… any which way he chooses, the brotherhood disintegrates.
The acting? No need to say. The three of them play off each other very well. Of the three, I enjoyed Nick Cheung’s arc the most. He is a complete revelation in any role he has taken up. The ever dependent Sean Lau plays his character without histrionics but I could feel his pain. Just look at the scene where he has to make the Hobson’s choice. A lesser actor would have over-acted, not Sean Lau. Then Louis Koo. He has definitely improved much in his acting but I do feel he got the short end of the 3 sticks.
The writing is quite inspired and for some reason it reminds me of John Woo’s Bullet in the Head. A simple recurring motif cements the entire narrative together. There was no need for too much homo-erotic knowing looks or nods to suggest the themes of loyalty and honor. My wife’s favorite scene is when the 3 are at the hospital seeing Nick Cheung’s mom for the last time. It is an incredibly written scene. I have seen so many of these death scenes but nothing like this. The words that spew out of their lips are amazingly poignant.
Dave Wong is a troubled police officer, a loner whose only friend is an old lady he calls granny. Shunted from precinct to precinct due to perceived mental problems, he winds up stationed at a police box inside a hospital. Wong is inextricably drawn into a violent armed robbery case when Hon (Nick Cheung), the cop killing leader of the gang of robbers, is seriously injured while trying to escape the scene of a heist, and is brought to Wong’s hospital. Wong unwittingly provides the blood to save Hon’s life, who subsequently escapes to continue his brutal work, leaving more cops and innocent bystanders dead. Berated by his peers for having saved the killer, Wong’s already damaged and fragile psyche is pushed ever closer to the edge as he sets out to make amends.
“That Demon Within” ends up a moody mess. Lam juggles so many tropes — the vigilante cop, the man with a mysterious past, the visual blur of reality and fantasy — everything tumbles. Action movie shootouts, fight scenes, and explosions undermine the story of Wong’s deteriorating psychological state. Meanwhile, Wu plays Wong with such grim-faced, shell-shocked catatonia, it’s difficult to empathize with his mental struggles.
Lam keeps tightening the screws and the atmosphere bleak, but the narrative spins askew when Wong starts to play on the already divided loyalties of Hon’s fellow jewel thieves. The gratuitous raping of a blind woman (just so a witness can hear, and not see, someone cry out: “Hon!”) is distasteful enough, but the script also seems to lose sight of where it is going for about 15 minutes. The scenes during this lapse have dramatic value, but with both Hon and Officer Wong absent from the screen for a considerable amount of time the film loses its central relationship and the established tension. Thankfully, the story’s gyroscope does regain its balance and, skilfully, even commits to its genre (supernatural or psychological thriller? I’m still not telling) in the film’s last 20 minutes without betraying the set up or cheating audiences. Forgive the narrative bump in the road, because for the rest of the time That Demon Within is a helluva ride.
That being said Lam’s film is great looking, exciting and always interesting, it delivers something that feels fresh, never easy in the cops and robbers genre. It will be interesting to see where Lam goes next, given just how different That Demon Within is to the crowd pleasing Unbeatable, on the strength of this film, I’ll be along for the ride.
Featuring a cast of a retired-police-dog/werewolf, a yandere-male-cross-dresser, a very attractive police-officer who dotes on his daughter, and a pathetic, poor assistant by the name of Kei (the sole sensible character of this series), this anime has both great art, and is absolutely hilarious. The art style chages from chibis-to-attractive-full-size characters every second frame, as well as the mood changing from serious to gag 5 times in 5 seconds. Finally, so far there have been no hint of somewhat-useless, irriting, female characters, making this show a must-watch if you’re looking for something to laugh at.
Cuticle Detective Inaba quickly introduces key characters and their relationships in a way the viewer can follow. With an art style that is both similar and different to that of other recent animes (with the added chibi popping up every few frames) CDI has a refreshing sort of humour that may not be appropriate for younger children but is not vulgur at all. The gags which make up about 99.9% of each episode are new and not easy to predict (or maybe they are easy to predict but I just wasn’t able to catch on). The overall story is wolf detective and cop versus goat detective and wolf terrorists lighthearted comedy, but involves some scenes where the plot gets quite a bit serious. However those heavier scenes are often interrupted by comical punch lines here and there. You can say it’s trying to relieve the atmosphere but it choked the tempo for me.
Later on in the series however, there is a hint of darkness and seriousness that pulled me into the story and wanting to know more about the secret doberman program. With all the craziness and humor this show has, its no surprise that some would stop watching this after the first episode(I had the same idea as well). As the “story”(I promise you, there is some story to this, I’m not kidding) progress, it gets a little bit more interesting and somewhat serious. The crazy humor is still there, but it somehow blends in with the story, making the show a little bit more tolerable to watch In the end, this show became a favorite of mine this season. It’s not perfect, but it gets me cracking up every time.
Cuticle Detective Inaba is possibly the most random show I have ever seen. All the characters are brilliant, my favourite has to be Don Valentino, he is the funniest character in the show (in my opinion) he and his sidekick Lorenzo are an excellent duo. Inaba and his gang are brilliant also, the interaction between these characters can be laugh out loud funny sometimes, especially so in the scenes with Don Valentino and Lorenzo. This show is definitely not for everyone, but it’s hilarious in it’s own way and doesn’t seem to take itself seriously–something I enjoy. The humor is strange, too strange for a lot of people, but if you’re into something a little weird I highly recommend checking this one out. The characters are all a bit “colorful” (a werewolf/dog/human hybrid private detective with a hair fetish, a violently jealous transvestite, a detective who can double as an ultimate shield and spear and a mafioso who happens to be a goat), there doesn’t seem to be a plot (it could be inferred to revolve on the main character’s family troubles, but other than that there doesn’t seem to be a plot point besides capturing the wily goat), and I’d have to say it’s very similar to Gintama in this respect.
Randy Noborikawa works in neon, fine art painting, Lenticular painting, graphics, and other mixed-media projects. Needless to say, he is a madman by being so well-versed in so many disciplined, but that is exactly what makes him extraordinary. We spoke with the artist recently about his plans for 2014, learning the Lenticular style, and his take on formal education. Oh, and anime! Read below for the full Q&A…
Your mom was quite artistic. Did she make a career out of art as well?
Not quite yet! She suffers from the same “too many interests” that plagues me as well. She spent some time as an interior decorator back in the early 80s, and shes quite into architecture and jewelry making. She’s a career scatterbrain, like me!
It seems as though lenticular printing is evolving from an advertising gimmick into a serious art form. What is the greatest challenge presented to you when you decide as an artist to explore depth and re-examine viewer interaction?
I’m really interested in lenticular pieces for a couple reasons: I really like the natural abstraction that happens when you [are] mashing two sliced images together and you can never really plan those results, you can image them and design the images, but its just a real surprise when you put them together.
The obvious visual dichotomy can really engage the viewer to move around and walk back and forth from side to side, its fun to see people enjoy the interaction. It’s really endless as far as subject matter and story telling are concerned. It’s quite a process for me to come up with a concept that seems valid or un-contrived. The actual act of painting the thin slats is really quite challenging, which makes it a bit more appealing (not that painting on a flat support isn’t challenging enough!). I devised a couple ways to hold the slats, made jigs out of wood, and a secret method I’m not ready to divulge [laughs].
You seem to be inspired by new locales, concept and construction. Which places in the world would you feel would be the most inspiring to you that you have yet to visit?
I’m grateful to have traveled as much as I have. I usually find inspiration anywhere. I could literally find some cool characters to paint in a KFC at 11pm, but I don’t like chicken…but the grit is where things seem to get interesting. I’ve not been to India, and I’m sure that would be mind blowing. Just the street markets and colors.. and smells…etc. I really like Japan, although I’ve only been to Tokyo, I know the cultural levels go very deep. Metropolitan areas really inspire me, seeing how people are forced to tolerate each other in much more closed quarters like public transit, parks, riding bikes, etc. you just get a natural buzz of it. It’s funny because I love the nature and escaping and the solitude just as much…it’s a good balance.
You didn’t receive formal training until late in your youth. And then, you decided to do it big. In the past two decades, the Academy of Art has grown 10 times in size to nearly 20,000 students. Do you feel a big environment like that is helpful to an artist just starting out?
I have really mixed feelings regarding school in hindsight. Yes, you learn a lot of technique, and yes, you see alot of other talent, but alot of peeps default to painting like instructor “A”, you know what I mean? If you learn traditional painting or sculpture, you can walk a dangerous line of not being able to break away from it, or rather think differently from it. You start to think “this is the proper way to draw an eye orbit..” and start referring to the damn anatomy reference. It’s good to have that knowledge, but it can also hinder you. There were always the kids not in art school doing pieces and half the time, they were just as good, if not MORE creative. That may seem like a weak rant, and it might as well be, maybe I’m just self loathing because I didn’t get into enough graffiti at the time. That’s where my respect lies… illegal public art.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or Anime?
I’m pretty inexperienced with current media, as I’ve disconnected cable, and don’t watch many movies. I did really enjoy Vampire Hunter D, Aeon Flux, and Akira!
You definitely aren’t bogged down by one medium. Being disciplined in so many artforms, is there another medium you would like to explore down the road? For instance, maybe sculpting, or carving?
I’m always looking at welding [and] I’m saving up for all the equipment, but at some point, I have to decide on what I’m trying to accomplish and what is the best medium to do so. I really like neon, but I don’t have a shop. That’s a pretty substantial investment. I really enjoy painting on surfboard foam [see picture 1], its very delicate and has a unique hand feel. I think I have a long road ahead to learn about all the other possible materials and processes, and that’s fun.
How can artist apply Ashtanga Yoga to their daily lives?
I know it helps before and after a surf or mountain bike ride! I use a 6″ PVC pipe as a back roller, and have a little stretch routine I try to do daily. That’s the extent of my yoga!
Now in your 30′s, have the subjects of your work grown with you or do you generally gravitate towards younger (or older) figures?
Some days I think of “mature” subject matter, and feel like I’m “designing” smartly, with “life experience”. I think for figurative work, it’s more interesting to find an older, weathered subject… someone with lots of character… like at a 24hr donut shop.
Any group/solo shows for 2014? What is on your plate?
I’m just working on new stuff. I don’t have anything on the books yet. I’m really trying to have a fresh start again, but a fresh start on more lenticular pieces. I will be painting a fair amount of surfboards, which is always fun!
Lastly, any advice for any artists who might be struggling creatively?
[Laughs] I’m the one who needs the advice! There’s a cool zen saying I always refer back to: “Doing something is NOT always better than doing nothing.” I love that one. Justifies laziness…
Want to stay up to date on all of Randy’s work? Visit his official website below:
Like Emir Kusturica’s Underground, Devils on the Doorstep is a great, epic comedy-drama which examines how history can effect and destroy a small group of people. Like Underground, Devils mixes Rabelaisian humour with powerful drama to create a rousing, albeit bitter, commentary on the foibles of the human condition. Devils begins as a humorous comedy-drama examining how a group of Chinese villagers react to two Japanese POWS who are dumped mysteriously into their village. It is both touching and hilarious to see how the villagers deal with the POWS. However, Devils takes an unexpectedly tragic and violent turn in the last quarter of the film, when the realities of WWII destroy the lives of all the villagers.
This is truly a masterpiece. I didn’t plan to write a comment, but there are only 15 comments. Then I found out that it was banned by the Chinese State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television due to its political incorrectness. So I am compelled to write a comment. This film was never released in mainland China. Is that government that afraid? Why do the Chinese filmmakers have no freedom? Those great Chinese directors, actors can not live on forever. When will the Chinese filmmakers have the freedom to make films that they want, so those films can be forever treasured by the generations forever.
This film reminded me of the other film called “Life is Beautiful.” They are both funny and about world war II. So few people in the West knew about the Japanese invasion of China during world war II, and millions of Chinese were brutally killed. Who could have thought that this kind of war movie can be super funny and meaningful? If they can give Oscar to “Life is beautiful” and “Schindler’s List”, they should also give Oscar’s Best Foreign Film of the year or maybe Best film of the year to this film. This is just a rare epic coming from China. I have seen quite a few so-called best foreign film of the year given by the Academy, they were not great at all.
Most of the Chinese and Japanese actors were pretty good. However, David Wu as Major Gao did not perform well. When he first appeared, he actually was speaking Cantonese instead of the standard Mandarin Chinese. Then when he was delivering his speech, he also said a few words in Cantonese. Overall, he doesn’t look like a Chinese nationalist army major at all. Comparing to “Life is Beautiful”, this film lacks of the beautiful music. I can laugh and cry when I watch “Life is Beautiful.” I can only laugh and feel sad when I watch this one. I can see why Chinese censors would take offense to the film. China is painted as the victim that it is so often stereotyped as. However, with the country’s continued objections against the Japanese glossing over wartime indiscretions, it could be seen as having nationalist overtones. I don’t see the film as necessarily sympathetic to the Japanese: at the end of the movie, they are still the “devils”. Additionally, when the plot is extrapolated outside of the film itself, the irony is of course that Japan was defeated by a powerful external force due to their brash political maneuvering.
Stasia Burrington (born Stasia Kato) is a freelance illustrator, sequential and fine artist who is currently living in Seattle, WA. Her passions lie in the visual arts – in all forms, experimental cooking, camping, theology and science fiction, among others. Washy drawings covered in flowers… flowers that happen to be hand-cut from quilt fabric, which are then glued on, resembling tattoos, gardens, or scars. Needless to say, her work is gorgeous. I had a chance to catch up with her to discuss a variety of topics. Read below for the full Q&A…
How does theology translate in your art and vice versa? Are their religious undertones in your work?
If anything, I lean towards Zen Buddhism. I can’t remember where I read it, but I stumbled across the words: “Love and Curiosity are enough,” and that sounds good to me. I believe in personal religion, in seeking out your own truth, and for me, creating work and seeing the work of others is a way of exploring, recognizing our patterns and shedding our skins.
Taking it one step further, some of your pieces contain hand-cut quilt fabric which is then placed over an illustration. Will there be eventual branching out or will you stick to a feminine look and feel?
On a recent trip to the fabric store, I was feeling adventurous and bought some swatches covered in bacon and hotdogs. I cut some out and arranged them on a drawing, and – wow. It was really bad. But I love both bacon and hot dogs, and am going to find a way to incorporate them!
Now, I know there’s a way to make work less feminine without going whole hog [laughs], so I’ll take it slowly. I am starting to incorporate more male models into my work, but I still love the delicate feel of the fabric and the flowers.
What brought upon using multiple mediums in one piece?
Originally, my frustration with paint, and my desire for more color and texture. Now, because it’s an interesting constraint with which to work, and lets me focus on composition.
Your store front provides a rich assortment of goodies. As a creative how do you achieve balance tackling so many projects? Shirts, cards, art, etc! How do you find the time?!
Besides creating, I don’t many hobbies [laughs], so my work is my life, and making things is what I do for fun. Also, I get special requests all the time, and I live to please.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
Oh, it’s a long list: Films: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring. OldBoy (and Lady Vengeance, and Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance), Dolls, A Tale of Two Sisters, Lust Caution, Grave of the Fireflies, Nausicca of the Valley of the Wind.
As for anime, I did love Sailor Moon and Dragonball Z growing up. I don’t watch a ton anymore but Mushishi is pretty good, and pretty pretty. I also have a sweet spot for these TV series: Nodame Cantabile and Suika. So romantic and bittersweet!
In 2014, you came out the gate strong! What was is like participating in so many group shows so early into the year?
Crazy, really. Though I can’t complain! Deadlines are very motivating for creating new work. That’s why I wait till the last minute! Early January 2014 sucked, actually – as busy as I was, I came down with the first flu I’ve had in over… 20 years? Yikes! So for a few days I was really crabby and miserable but still really psyched about the amazing shows in which I got to take part.
As an artist how do you evoke a viewer to feel inspired by curiosity and allow themselves to reflect on themselves by looking upon your work?
Most of my work figures a single figure, either with her face obscured or very simplified. The figure is an invitation for the viewer to step inside and inhabit the space for a moment. I mimic childrens book illustration, though don’t include a complete story, encouraging you to put the pieces together, or make up part of the story yourself. That way, you are also the author.
As a freelancer, is this lifestyle what you prefer over the stability of a full time illustrator? What luxuries does this afford you?
I love being my own boss! I enjoy not having to run things by anyone else before making decisions. I can take the day off if I feel like it, and choose which projects I want to take on. I sleep in and stay up late, and meet and get to talk to and work with the most interesting, creative and passionate people.
Your floral tattoo patterns are quite amazing. Any tattoos yourself?
Ah, thank you. No, not yet. I’m saving up for a full bodysuit – and those are expensive [laughs]!
I really love your Double Amputee piece. Has there ever been a piece that you started that was so emotionally hard hitting and draining that you weren’t able to complete it? Or perhaps you had to go back and revisit it at a later date?
Those usually don’t make it out of my sketchbook. One of my more recent pieces, “Twice” – I created specifically for a group show about love and heartbreak. All pieces were meant to be titled after a song, and the song I chose is by Little Dragon and is a sad, lonely one. I put off even starting on the piece for a long time. When I did, I painted the back of a woman’s body, and left an empty gap behind her. I hung the piece up on the wall and stared at the absence for a long time. My habit is to fill up the space with flowers or pattern, but for this piece that didn’t feel right – I really wanted to show how bad it feels to miss someone. I was running out of time and could have stared at the emptiness for ages, but I finally grabbed my Xacto and started cutting strips out of the space, and into her body. I was pretty emotional and felt like this decision might ruin the piece, but so what. While cutting I realized how missing someone is deeper than a merely them being gone, it’s like a vacuum – it’s more active than passive.
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In the film, the main female character is not in anyway involved in pornography but has sexual interest in her old friend which happens to be a porn star. He though isn’t able to express his sexual attraction to her because he has absolutely no interest in sex. Sex being his profession and not his pleasure. So he escapes into surreal fantasy of musical sequences. Which happen to be some of the funniest dance sequences I’ve ever seen. That said the film is slow, poetic and completely captivating. That is to say, don’t bring your kids to see this — but adults will be able to see that it is not porn, but rather a critique of porn. This is a simplification, since the main theme of the film is general alienation.
On the other hand it’s also outrageously funny (some memorable scenes including watermelons and crabs) and includes half a dozen absolutely insane musical scenes. Apart from them, the film is completely without music, which adds to the comical power of the musical scenes. The disconnection of humanity from humanity, the isolation in the modern world, shows up as Shiang-chyi and Hsiao-Kang are unable to find any meaning in their lives beyond base existence.
It veers between the common and the theatrical so organically it stops feeling strange when the sing-along, follow the money shots, which flow into images of watermelons floating down a river. As for what “Wayward Cloud” means, I would say it’s a love story. The two lead characters, I later read, were in a previous Ming-liang Tsia’s film called, “What Time Is It There?” and this is their “Before Sunset” second chance at love. It would have been simple for Ming-liang Tsia, to make a moody little film, about an alienated women infatuated with an alienated man, doing alienated things, which is basically what the film is. However like a true artist Miang Liang imbues the proceedings with a cinematic spirit, through editing, cinematography, MUSIC, and subdued/wildly theatrical performances that becomes transcendent of the films run-of-the-mill social yearnings for genuine connection in the cold, cruel, world. I can’t think of any film as repulsive, arousing, beautiful, fun, and sad, at least not with all those gears running at once like they are here. In a way I thought it was a happy ending. The couple has come together right?
I understand the perspective of those who argue that Tsai doesn’t have a clear point here, as he does in his other films. I would argue, though, that the film is more challenging because it does not offer the glimmer of hope found in Tsai’s previous films (the woman pulled up in The Hole, May’s dignity even as she cries at the end of Vive L’amour). The viewer has to piece together any hope from various parts of the film, as the shocking finale is not at all uplifting. Tsai has some real insights into the human condition here. Xiao Kang’s autoerotic sexuality has a lot to say about loneliness and insecurity. Also, the flirtation between Xiao Kang and Shiang-chyi is very charming, even sexy (I’m thinking especially of the way Xiao Kang leans against the elevator after their date.) I think this film’s vision brings to light the way sexuality has become a commodity, and I find it tragic that Xiao Kang and Shiang-chyi find that there is great difficulty in overcoming that commodification.
Written by Paul Schrader and Robert Towne, The Yakuza shows us a different side of the Gangster world than we have been privy to before. This is not a movie of good vs. bad; it’s a movie about loyalty and honor to friends and family. We follow Mitchum as Harry Kilmer on a mission to save a friends daughter. For most movies made these days, that premise would be enough, but The Yakuza is deeply layered and far more interesting than that. It turns out that Harry had been in Japan after WWII and had fallen in love with a beautiful woman, Eiko. 30 years later Harry is back in Japan, much has changed, but his feelings haven’t. Harry teams up with Ken Tanaka, Eiko’s brother, to find the kidnapped girl. Samurai swords slash and guns blaze, adding intense, well-choreographed action as the plot thickens and Harry realizes that this is no ordinary rescue.
It is not a film that wears its emotions on its sleeve, and is all the more affecting for that the awkwardness of Mitchum’s meeting with Ken and the hesitancy of his reunion with Keiko (and the subtle re-enactment of the old photos in her album) – everything is in the pauses and between the lines. It’s these emotional undercurrents that make it stand up to repeated viewings. The early seventies was a last golden age for the eternally under-rated Mitchum, with outstanding performances in The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Farewell My Lovely and Ryan’s Daughter, and this is one of his best. His ‘strange stranger’ and Takakura Ken’s ‘man who never smiles’ (“He’s been unhappy ever since he lost the war. I keep trying to tell him it’s not his fault but he won’t take my word for it”) is a match made in casting heaven. Their screen presence is remarkably similar, exuding a lifetime of world-weariness and personal loss that attracts both empathy and respect for their characters. Both give superbly understated performances, with the great Takakura Ken getting his best English-language role to date. Jordan gives a nicely unassuming performance in the juvenile lead, making the most of his romantic subplot by showing the least, and there’s an added poignancy to his fate since the actor’s death.
Then there is the long expositions of back story and how Japan is different; and also the dreaded Western perceptions of Japanese myth and ritual. All that Asian mysticism bound up with warrior culture is well beyond its use by date now. It was new in 1974, but that dates the film and its sensibility very strongly. Then there is Mitchum and Keith. Mitchum was a straight up no nonsense actor and worked well as a tough guy, but here he is too stony faced; too much like a dead fish and wooden that it drags on the film. He stands, speaks and reacts but hardly acts. Keith is not much more interesting and a lesser presence. It’s not helped by direction that is sluggish, lacking dynamic energy and close to a “Starsky and Hutch” episode.
Another of the film’s quality points, mentioned earlier, is that this is a movie that exists to examine obligations, the “burden hardest to bear” as a Japanese word has it. Pollack gives us a well-constructed story in which to help us make our own examination. For those who enjoy things Japanese, another plus is the care Pollack took to capture the look of Japan. The Yakuza never becomes a travelogue, but there is much of Japan to see in the movie, from a game of hanafuda to all those pachinko players, from a quiet temple to a narrow Tokyo downtown street, from a hostess nightclub to a bathhouse. It all looks right. And finally, the movie works so well because Mitchum gives an excellent performance. At 57 when he made this movie, he brings the authority of experience to the part. He is matched by Takakura Ken. The two actors both are heavy-weights. Mitchum doesn’t dominate the movie so much as he shares it equally with Takakura. The secondary characters all do fine jobs, too. The Yakuza is a fine and unusual action movie.