Kenny is a sound composer who has a lot of interesting works in the pipeline. Aside from his usual plate of to-do’s, he has an ongoing Kickstart campaign (already successful after a few days) to showcase his EP. The original intent of “Faker” was to cover the darker end of his first impressions of moving to Los Angeles. Classically trained in piano from age 5, Zhao won a string of statewide competitions before studying composition and music production at Northwestern University. As a creative wearing so many hats, we decided to take the opportunity to pick his brain. Read below for the full Q&A…
You’re composing a soundtrack for a video game. Could you tell us a bit about that? Do you need to see a rough build of the game before you can determine what kind of mood you want to evoke or what music complements a particular stage or area?
The game’s called Dark Storm, and it was actually recently greenlit on Steam. It’s a first person stealth shooter, and it takes a lot of cues from the Metal Gear Solid series. This particular project is kind of a special case because I’m working with composer Chase Bethea and he’s writing all the in-game music. I’m primarily in charge of the cinematics, and that allows me to be much more movie-like in my approach – timing accents and other musical cues with the story being told on-screen. But that approach is fairly standard, I think. Game design is a long process – often much longer than film production – and inevitably designers and programmers become inspired by one another throughout the process. So it’s fairly necessary that I get the closest thing to the final product, before I can be sure my music will deliver the right tone. Hit all the right notes. So to speak.
What is it about the soundtracks to games like Skyrim, Soul Calibur, Halo, Mass Effect, Oblivion, that you just think, ‘Yeah, these guys got it right!’.
Massive titles like Skyrim and Mass Effect – those soundtracks hit hard with me because they are 100% aware of their responsibility. There’s a level of service in those games that I admire. More so than films, game soundtracks have an added responsibility of familiarity, of nostalgia. I have friends who have played Skyrim for over a hundred hours, and for them the music is like coming home.
And then you have something like Mass Effect – that music sneaks up on you. I played the whole trilogy at the beginning of this year and I still think about that score. The basic in-game tracks are so minimal, but then something will happen in the story where the music takes over. It’s really rewarding to sense that balance, that intimacy in the design of a game.
How do you approach composing for a video game differently than you would for a film or just a video?
I like to think of game composing as similar to designing a sound installation. You have an audience that’s creating their own unique experience from a carefully constructed environment, and that opens so much possibility in terms of surprising people. One of the fundamental qualities of a sound installation is that it offers one experience to the person who’s just passing through, and it provides another to the person who wants to linger for an hour or two. Another is that it welcomes interaction, it welcomes incidental happenings in the space. So to me a game’s soundtrack has the opportunity to have the same conversation.
Grand Theft Auto is a prime example of this. You can ask anyone who’s played over 10 hours what their favorite in-game radio station is, and most of them will have an answer. This is the music blaring out their window when they’re on the run from the cops. This is their go-to station after forcing a civilian out of a car at gunpoint. I like to think some players even feel a spark of something when they get in a freshly-stolen car and it’s already tuned to their station. Now, GTA made $1 billion in three days, and players are having unique experiences like this all over the world. That right there is a pop sound installation.
You’ve worked for some high profile clients and respectable studios. We understand what does and doesn’t work when it comes to applying Hollywood talent and methodologies to game productions. But for those that don’t, could you elaborate on the evolution of this notion and how it’s evolved over the years?
It’s funny, pretty much everyone agrees that the game industry is booming, people love talking about how huge it’s become. Ten years ago actors wouldn’t touch video games – it was like doing television after doing film. Flash forward to 2014, and I was at E3 when they announced that Kevin Spacey is the face of the next Call of Duty. Not to mention, television for actors has become a very reputable transition – or even alternative – to film. Games have simply gotten to a level where they can’t be ignored anymore. And now the two sides are attempting to speak each others’ language.
The culture of the two worlds is something I find very amusing. You have all these game people – fundamentally passionate, under-appreciated and occasionally outcast – getting attention from glamorous Hollywood. And on one level game people are flattered by the chance to be noticed. But they’re are also very defensive of their craft, and understandably wary of anyone who isn’t as passionate as they are. I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen conversations lose energy because an excited Hollywood-type accidentally reveals that the last game they played was on an N64 or, god forbid, a smartphone.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
My brother and I recently watched Snowpiercer, and it completely blew me away. It’s a perfect blend of Eastern and Western pop culture, and as an Asian-American I feel it’s one of those movies made specially for me. All of Bong Joon-ho’s films have that quality on some level, but Snowpiercer is the first one I’ve seen that takes so many western influences and has them work in service of a fundamentally Eastern approach to storytelling. Growing up I also loved Stephen Chow’s films, but he seems a little less interested in building bridges. I’m a huge fan of animation in general, particularly when it pushes the boundaries of reality. For that reason my favorite anime are the visually stunning ones like Red Line and Paprika. But my favorite anime hands down has to go to Cowboy Bebop. The visual style, the title sequence, the music, the characters – it’s all perfect.
Let’s talk a bit about your Faker EP. First off, congrats on hitting the goal. Secondly, how important is it that additional tiers are reached so that it encompasses your overall vision for your EP?
Thanks! This is the first Kickstarter I’ve ever launched, so naturally I was very cautious about setting the bar too high. For that reason my budget goal only included the essentials – enough to have CD’s printed, to pay my artist, and to get my film friends set up with locations and casting for the music video. Everything else we spend will either come out of our own pockets, or hopefully from our reach goals
For one, I’m hoping to enlist some help on the mixing end of things. The Faker EP is about addiction to routine – to the natural highs and lows of daily life – and how that mirrors drug addiction as an escape from ambition and real progress. I want my tracks to reflect that musically by being immediately appealing on the surface. To me that means high-end pop production, and it’s absolutely essential to the aesthetic of the EP. My film team also has a huge laundry list of items. The script for the video is a narrative taking place in LA, and depends heavily on getting the viewer invested in its problems. So we’re hoping to hire a makeup artist, gather some high-end equipment, and potentially hire union actors for certain hard-to-fill roles. Music video production gets so expensive, it’s unbelievable.
LA strikes me a bit like NYC where no days are dull. Yet you coped with the madness that comes from working and living out of a single room. Do you view this experience as inspiration for the project or regret as to not have been more free during that time period?
Isolation is a huge theme in The Faker EP, but it did take me a while to find something constructive to say about it. Big cities like LA have a tendency to convince you not only that you are alone, but you are the only one who is alone. Luckily, I found out the truth fairly quickly. When I first moved to LA I became friends with a number of recovering addicts, and it became apparent that isolation and insecurity are common feelings, even in a city known for its social butterflies. I’m definitely working to communicate those feelings in the EP, and have even been embracing the lifestyle a little bit. I hear about these romanticized album backstories like Bon Iver, who kept himself secluded in a cabin in the wilderness to record For Emma, Forever Ago. And to be honest sometimes feel I can relate to that. There’s just as much loneliness in a crowded city, and it’s all the more unsettling because instead of silence, it’s the bustle of people you don’t know.
You collected an amazing group of people who are attached to this project. How did you acquire people like Nicholas Napoletano?
Nick Napoletano is actually dating one of my good friends from high school who is also an artist, Kathryn Goshorn. I met with Kathryn after graduating a couple years back, and I hung out with the two of them a few times before moving out to LA. They are both immensely talented, and I’ve taken to bouncing my experiments and ideas off them. My other friends working on the project (Alec Ziff, Sarah Jane Inwards, Sam Hazlett) are people I’ve been collaborating with since college. These are all people whose ability I trust wholeheartedly; people I hope to still be working with twenty years down the road.
You said you can’t rap. If you were to have a hip-hop feature on one of your songs, who would be a dream collaboration for you?
Ooh, that’s a tough one. I think Earl Sweatshirt would be fantastic to work with, especially in the spirit of capturing some of LA’s essence for The Faker EP. There’s another rapper Nick and I are obsessed with – Blu – who balances casual with personal in a way I think would fit really nicely.
Lastly, any advice for any struggling composers or musical producers out there?
I’d say one of the most important things is to not be shy. Composing and producing are both highly collaborative, and making music on your own is such a different experience from the cooperation and compromise that takes place in a shared musical space. The other thing would be to find value in all opportunities, especially where music is concerned. I can’t say I’ve ever worked on a project that didn’t make me a better musician in some way or another.
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Hosuk Chang is a person I really wanted to feature in the Creative Spotlight as his resume proves he is one of the most accomplished creatives we have had the honor to speak with. He studied Graphic Design in University of Seoul in Korea and Visual Effects in Savannah Collage of Art and Design. He worked at Blizzard Cinematic Department as a Senior FX Artist 2, to which you might be playing his latest game Diablo III. Currently he is keeping hush-hush on big projects over at Pixar Animation Studio. I decided now would be a great time to pick his brain on both sides of the fence — films and video games, and how each one sizes up for him. Read below for the full Q&A…
You initially started out studying graphic design. Why did you eventually transfer your focus to Visual Effects?
The official name of my major in Korea is Visual Communication Design which covers mostly graphic design area. However, in 1996 when I was freshman, it also covered web design, multi media design and little bit of animation since there weren’t many schools that offered courses about those new types of arts (game and animation etc…), so there were few senior students who were interested in 3D computer graphics and animation in my major, and they used to work on their projects in the school lab where I was also hanging out and gradually introduced to softwares like Electric Image, Strata Studio and After Effects in 1996. What fascinated me the most was the fact that I could make moving image on my desktop.
Since that, my main focus had always been computer graphics, but I had to graduate and had to take graphic design related classes which, I think, is the best part of my early education. What I learned in graphic design classes was nothing but problem solving which is exactly what I do today with different tools. In the graphic design world, there are a lot going on even before start to draw a single line. The design process requires multiple level of problem identifying, solving and strategic planning. There is always specific goal, and I was trained not to forget what I design for. In visual effects, there is also specific goal in every shot and effects. I have to identify problems for the goal and break them down into smaller tasks. Once the problems are identified, now it’s the fun part. I can try all different styles, methods and techniques. I like going extreme because I can always come back if I don’t like it which is one of the reasons I like working on a computer. I think I was fortunate to start as a graphic design student and moved on to visual effects.
Is there a different methodology of teaching practices between Seoul and the U.S. where you obtained your Masters?
It is difficult for me to talk about the difference because I was in different kind of programs in U.S. and Seoul. From my limited point of view, the course in SCAD(Savannah College of Art and Design) were more about practical skills that students can utilize even right after they graduate whereas the courses in Seoul were more like fundamental and academic. I guess I’m comparing apples and oranges. I was BFA in Seoul and MA in U.S. I’m glad that I experienced both. I like them both.
What initially attracted me to this interview was your work on Diablo III – Reaper of Souls, especially with the new reissue expansion hitting next-gen consoles. Was that your last project for Blizzard before moving onto Pixar?
Yes, it is my last project at Blizzard. I worked on the soul-sucking effects and mummification effects for the intro cinematic. The mummification effects was fun because it was not like traditional effects work such as smoke, fire or destruction. It was volume based blend shape between two polygon models that have different topology. I also got to develop a couple of plug-ins and shader during the production. It was also really good cooperation with the modeling department.
What is the biggest difference between the two work environments — Blizzard and Pixar? Can you comment on which one is a more organic, nurturing atmosphere for creating?
They are actually pretty similar. The people in both places have passion and love their own product and also have great attention to detail, and even the effects pipelines are similar. The effects team use Houdini and RenderMan. To me, the notable difference could be engineering support. Again, I’m comparing apples and orange. I can only talk about the cinematic department at Blizzard and Pixar as a company. Pixar is large and has relatively long history, so there are more in-house tools and resources which makes me focus on what I do. Blizzard cinematic department had quickly grown in last few years from 2x to 150, and I was lucky to be in the transition. I had a chance to contribute their effects pipeline which was the fun parts and why I have few development projects in my portfolio. I learned and grew a lot at Blizzard.
There is one thing I can say I like better at Pixar. Pixar University. There are a lot of classes that are directly related to work such as art, computer and business. There are also the other types of lectures and events that are not directly related to work. Literally every week, there are events at Pixar in lunch time. They are similar to the “Talks at Google” but more about art, culture and technology. Sometimes a famous director comes and talk about his or her new movie, sometimes a graduate student comes and talk about his experimental project, and sometimes fisherman comes and talk about fish in Bay Area. I’m not sure how those events can help our productivity, but I just love to hear their inspirational stories.
How important is it to know other scripting or programming languages, like Python or C++?
For effects technical director, I would say it’s not required but definitely a plus. I don’t usually have a development project as my main task. They usually start as a side project during production as needed, and I sometimes spend some time improving it in down time. I like this approach because I can always start from a problem.
Programming language is a powerful tool. More and more softwares offer some kind of programming environment. Python became almost universal scripting language for a lot of graphic applications. C++ is the language that you can write plug-in with for most software. You don’t have to be an expert of language. Even if you know little, I think it still can make your life much better.
Your area of expertise seems to be particles, water, smoke, debris, etc. Little tiny details. How is the process to make things life-like?
Reference is critical, and choosing what to steal from the reference is more important. When I see a beautiful image, I try to find why I feel this image is beautiful. There must be something that makes this image different from the other images, and I try to identify and duplicate it in my work. That initial direction is more than half of work. There are cases where you can’t find a reference like magic or something that nobody has seen. They also need to be believable. You can’t just ignore the force of gravity and basic law of physics even if they don’t exist in real life. I try to find a closest reference in those cases.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or Anime?
I like Korean director Lee Chang-dong and Hong Sang-su. The Secret Sunshine by Lee Chang-dong was especially great.
Are you able to talk about Finding Dory? As the Technical Director, what kind of effects are you and your team doing to progress realistic water simulations? Any stand out scenes you’re excited about?
Sorry, I can’t talk about it. It is confidential. – I love to say this actually. This is one of the parts that I like about working at a well known place. I feel like I’m hiding something amazing. Yes, it is going to be amazing.
[Laughs] Fair enough. How important is it to be familiar with compositing software? Does knowing how your effects will be composited into a shot change the way you set up simulations?
It depends on artist’s working style. If you are asking me about my working style, it is absolutely important. Compositing is the backbone of my work. I always create my own effects comp as complete as I can. I use the comp to make a decision on what kind of pass I need to create. I usually have no idea how many passes I’m going to create in the beginning of the process. I change my simulation set up a lot based on the comp. At Pixar, effects technical directors are not expected to make a comp for the final image, but I still use my own comp for my own preview and give lighting artist my comp as starting point for my elements.
What’s the most common mistake you see young effects artists making and what advice do you have for them?
First pretty image, and then creative process. I see few people who can do really interesting and complicated things in their process, but unfortunately, their works are not getting enough attention just because the final images look boring. Audiences including computer graphic experts see pretty image and then wonder how it’s made. If they fail to get attention in the beginning, there is no chance to show off the process. In another word, getting attention as an image is the most basic goal of the process which many young artists often forget.
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This week we feature Nobumichi Asai who is a Japanese digital artist and leader in projection mapping technology. What exactly is Project OMOTE? Well, projecting computer graphics onto buildings to make them digitally come alive isn’t new, but how about if your canvas is a living, moving, human face? OMOTE does just that, a combination of real-time face tracking and projection mapping that takes a model’s face and turns it into something far more mesmerizing, even as it moves around. Asai is staging a live demonstration of his technology in Tokyo on August 28, 2014. The event is free but space is limited. You need to sign up for the raffle to win a spot. In the meantime he answers a series of questions about the project. Read the Q&A below…
What is the purpose of the work?
I am always thinking how we can use high-technology to invent new entertainment. The theme of this work is our root of Japanese traditional mind. I wanted to express the mixture of Japanese sense of beauty, spirit of samurai, the environment of high-tech, and subdividing Otaku-culture. And when I have seen the face mapping from samsung before, I thought I could be able to make it more interesting. The reason that I chosen “face” as the screen was that I’ve been very interested in face as media. Faces are the most sensitive and powerful media. With a difference of lip colors or eye lines, faces completely changes. I’ve been very curious to see new type of expression when we can control the impression of faces.
What is “OMOTE”?
We use projection mapping to put CGI onto a real face. For real-time face tracking, we use the IR sensor, called Opti track. It is similar to kinect, but it can react to movement faster and more accurate. Opti track is the best when we need the accuracy of movement and details like face. The all programming was written in C++, and it reduced the latency very well. Paul, French member of our team, showed his exclusive skills on programming.
From where did you get the inspiration?
I am inspired of the artists that I watched in my childhood. Bjork or Steven Spielberg in particular.
Do you have any plans for the next work?
I want to make some work which can be received in general. I am believing that technology has a possibility to bring us to express universal beauty.
Now your work is getting popular through the world. How do you feel about that?
I am very happy and excited. I didn’t make this not only for commercial, but I wanted to pursuit the way of art. And now, I am very happy to share it.
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Hye Jin Chung is a New York based Korean illustrator. She was born in Singapore and has lived in several countries before settling down in New York. She received her MFA degree in the Illustration as Visual Essay program at the School of Visual Arts, New York in 2013! We sit and chat about how to deal with clients, education, films, food and more! Read below for the full Q&A…
Moving and living in various countries before settling down in New York; was that to find a place that suited you or were those decisions out of your control?
I lived in different countries because of my father’s business.
Would you say formal education in Korea is beneficial to your career? Is there a big difference in how people approach graphic design in Korea compared to the U.S.?
I studied graphic design in Korea and I’d been getting design and illustration jobs since my graduation. My interest toward illustration had grown more and more but i realized that the illustration market in Korea was small and also history of illustration was not that long compare to some other countries so I decided to study abroad to learn more about illustration and its field. And because the illustration history in America is longer and the market is bigger than Korea so it seems people in general appreciate illustration more. I would say that the basic ideas of graphic design I learned in Korea somehow help create images. For example, I learned how to make images strong and well to convey the idea with using simple graphics and that idea still works when I create illustrations.
New York must be a stressful place to be a creative. What was it like when you first arrived?
People are very competitive and everything moves quickly. But it’s the same as Korea so I had less hard time to fit myself into the life of new york. In a career wise it is stressful but also very motivated at the same time because there are so many talented people who dedicate themselves to their jobs.
Do you experience any bounding boxes of creativity when doing illustration work for major publications? Is it sometimes a restrictive environment?
Yes I do. For instance, some magazines prefer bright colors with cheerful images and newspapers don’t want to express races. These conditions don’t help create images freely but sometimes I can get unexpected results which I like from these restrictions.
I love the ‘My Job’ series where you can effective illustrate someones profession from the neck up. What is the creative process like coming up with themes for work such as this?
That series of illustrations were part of my thesis project. The theme of my thesis was obsession and i created four series of images about OCD. I had a various(some of them were ridiculous) ideas about obsession. These ideas moved to another new ideas and this process eventually led me think about people’s occupations like experts in their jobs. There are so many different jobs and i picked/created unique/weird jobs which would be good for creating images.
You’re also well versed in adapting multiple mediums. When you were approached to doodle on umbrellas, what was your initial reaction?
Those umbrellas are for editors who visited Converse office for Fall 2014 Press Preview, so I tried to make patterns that doesn’t look too common but also considered people’s preferences. And I had a few tools to use (a few brushes, sponges, and a Converse shoe sole), so tried to make various patterns or images in a limited materials.
What is your favorite kimbap recipe?
Tuna kimbap and cheese kimbap! Don’t forget to roll them with sesame leaves.
Favorite Asian films?
There are many. Some of Korean movies I like are Memories of Murder, The Host, Snowpiercer, Nameless Gangster: Rules of The Time, The Chaser, King and the Clown and the list goes on and on. Some Japanese movies I like are Between Calm and Passion, Bayside Shakedown, Josee, The Tiger And The Fish, Honokaa Boy, Love Letter, etc.
What steps have you taken as a creative to effective evolve you way of conveying the idea or story well, visually through your art? Is it frustrating when your work is misinterpreted?
First I spend time for getting references. And then I do really quick thumbnail sketches when ideas come up. If I spend a lot of time for doing sketches, then I usually get lost what I initially wanted to draw. My sketches are super loose but when I do sketches for my clients, I try to make them neat. And then I scan my sketches and paint colors on photoshop and if I think I pick the right colors then I start to make the colors and apply on paper. I also make textures (because I don’t like just using flat color) and start to do collage.
When I work for clients I usually explain my ideas. It is sometimes bit frustrating when clients pick the sketch I don’t like but eventually I follow their opinions. And it is interesting to know when people interpret my work in their own ways. I feel like sometimes they understand my work more that I do.
Lastly, any advice for any creatives out there?
Keep making images you like and keep doing your personal work.
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Personal Website: hyejinchung.com
Eric Chow, a London-based illustrator from Hong Kong. After graduating from London College of Communication in 2012, he has been working as a graphic designer in London and building up his illustration collection at the same time. Recently, his illustration entry, The Lady Bridge, won the Bronze prize at Serco Prize 2014. He now marks the second employee working at I Love Dust in Portsmouth. Read below for the full Q&A…
Let’s go back a few years. What was your portfolio review like at London College of Communication? Were you a bit anxious about showcasing your work for the interview?
My portfolio was a bit messy at that time, i got different style of works and I didn’t know what I was looking for until few months after my graduation. Here are a few of my previous works that you cannot seen my website anymore.
A few years ago we interviewed I Love Dust’s first hire, cross-media creative Shan Jiang. What kind of creative presence do you bring to the environment there? What kind of project are you working on?
In I Love Dust, they know that I am pretty good at drawing and with good sense of perspective. They give me a lot of freedom on the way i work, and this really help me pushing my skills forward. I just finished an illustration for WWE magazine at I Love Dust.
Do you have strong ties to Hong Kong? Now that you’re away from there, can you see more clearly how it influenced the way you think?
Although i have a strong ties to Hong Kong, it’s hard to say how do my background influence my thinking. I may come up with more reference from asian culture when i am doing research, but i can’t think of anything else.
Alot of your work has negative space and you really know how to make a strong image without filling up all the space. What is your creative process for communicating a message through your art in the most impactful, yet accessible way?
I love using metaphor and surrealistic idea to communicate a message, mind-mapping and doodling will help when i can’t think about any idea. If i have a strong idea for a message, i prefer using limited amount of colours and less distractive elements to keep the picture clean.
You work as a designer but you excel in illustration. How are you balancing the two worlds while still improving as an artist?
I am trying not to define myself as a graphic designer anymore, because i feel much confident and comfortable just to be an illustrator. Narrowing down my portfolio can give me a better positioning in the industry, it’s also helpful for people to expect what kind of works i can deliver.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
Edmond Pang is my favourite Hong Kong director in recent years, you can see lot of bizarre ideas and jokes from his works. I would recommend You Shoot I Shoot, Trivial Matters, Love In A Puff and Vulgaria. For anime, I am a big fans Hayao Miyazaki, i would say my favourite are Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away.Neon Genesis Evangelion is also one of the best in my mind, i am looking forward to the final movie of the remake series.
What would a piece of yours look like if you opted out of sketching, mind-mapping and the quick brainstorming processes?
Sketching is quite important for me, I can’t imagine how my works will looks like if I opted it out.
What plans do you have for 2015?
I don’t have a very specific plan for next year, but I think i will stay at i love dust. Also, I will keep up on my self-initiated works and try some more animated Gif illustration in the future.
Lastly, any advice for any creative out there that could help them in their art?
Just work something out before planning or thinking too much. Work harder, keep sending out your works and be patient for the opportunities.
Intervewing Cun Shi couldn’t have came at a better time. He is literally at the cusp of stardom, in our opinions. He is a freelance illustrator currently based in New York City but was born in Beijing and grew up in the Pacific Northwest. This year, Cun received his MFA in Illustration from the School of Visual Arts so we thought we’d pick his brain on what the journey was like, executing screen prints, and more! Read below for the full Q&A…
Freelancing in NYC. Is that as hectic as it sounds?
Things can definitely get hectic when there are multiple assignments on the table. When I’m not working on commercial projects, I try to experiment and work on personal pieces instead. There is always work to be done.
How has the aid of formal education, in specific, your MFA, aided you (or how will it aid you in the future)?
It was absolutely tremendous. My background was primarily in painting and graphic design – pretty much two opposite ends of the spectrum. I was trying to figure out ways to combine the two and before the MFA program, my personal work was all over the place. I felt confused as to the kind of works I wanted to do and when I discovered illustration things started to change. The MFA program at The School of Visual Arts was structured in a way that encouraged exploration and experimentation through both short & long-term projects to help students produce a cohesive body of work. The courses themselves were quite open-ended and allowed me to really experiment and find a balance between different skill sets amongst a group of like-minded peers.
Based on your illustrations you seem to have a love for hip hop. What is one West Coast rapper you’d like to illustrate but haven’t had the opportunity to yet?
Tyler, The Creator would be a really fun rapper to illustrate. His personality combined with his lyrics presented in some kind of wacky, surreal visual narrative would make a great full-page editorial piece.
How does the sketching process help in your final pieces? Do you use them as jump off points, or just daily practice?
The sketching process acts as a place for dialogue, where I try to figure things out before they’re finalized. I also did quite a bit of figure drawing back in the days, but I feel like it’s never enough – and in that regard part of it becomes a daily practice in order to keep the limbs flexible so hopefully I won’t break an ankle on stage.
Really love your screen prints. Could you tell us a bit about your selection process how you choose screen printing over giclee’s, the unorthodox sizing of 13×24 and the small run sizes?
The series of prints that I recently did was a collaborative effort done with my buddy Dave Toto, who owns a small print studio right here in Brooklyn. The size of the image was dictated by the content from the start but I eventually decided to keep the edition small as it was an experiment at the time. Overall it was still a very time-consuming process but the finish was something that’s very difficult to achieve even with high-end digital prints. I’m not an expert by any means, but one of the big differences I noticed during test runs was that with giclee prints, the colors were very saturated but appeared flat even on the best photo rag paper. With screen prints, even though the pigments were mixed down and not as saturated, it had a wonderful density and texture, almost as if you could pick it up and eat it.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
One of my favorite anime is Blue Submarine No. 6, which I saw when it came out in ‘98. The story made quite an impression on me at the time and the overall color palette was really beautiful. I also really enjoy old films by Zhang Yimou, who directed Hero. There is always a very complex, yet subtle level of interaction going on between the characters in his work that can get fairly heavy at times, but never dull. Much of his early work (pre-2000) are about desperate people struggling on the edge and some were banned in China when they first came out.
Some of your work even addresses current event such as Alibaba’s dominance of online retail in China, which faces its biggest-ever challenge. They lost market share last year while its nearest rivals all grew! How do you go about tailoring your style to do unique editorial illustrations?
It depends mainly on the article I’m illustrating and also the client. Sometimes the art director is very specific about what he/she wants, and in that case it’s more about bringing the idea to fruition visually. But on the other hand, if I’m asked for me to present ideas, I try and figure out a way to connect with the article on a personal level – even if the subject at hand is not something I’m interested in. I haven’t been in the industry long enough to be considered a true veteran, but from my experiences so far, a big part of editorial illustration is about problem solving and there are always multiple solutions to a problem. However, the most unique ideas often stem from something that is personal, and ultimately, the goal is to create a beautiful image that will hopefully evoke some kind of emotional response from the audience and make you want to look at it.
Do you ever feel a restriction in content or creativity doing work for such large companies where thousands and thousands of eyes will see it?
There are restrictions to every assignment, and some assignments certainly have restrictions that are slightly more conservative towards the results than others. I’d still hope to be expressive and push the envelope visually within acceptable limitations, but it’s always great to receive a job that allows plenty of creative freedom.
What lies ahead for you this year and in the coming new year?
For now, I’ve been working to expand the previous series of screen prints, as there are still quite a few ideas tucked away that needs to be brought out on paper.
Lastly, any advice for any bumbling creative out there?
One of the most important thing I learned during the MFA program is that there is a big difference between the work I thought I should do versus the kind of work I actually wanted to do. I suppose it’s a bit of a paradox… but doing the work I thought I should got me absolutely nowhere as a creative individual.
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This episode of the Creative Spotlight links up with Japanese born, berlin base artist, Hiroyasu Tsuri- aka TWO ONE. In the 10 years that have passed since he graduated from college, Hiroyasu has been evolved into a number of group exhibitions, and constant commission mural paintings. In 2008 Hiroyasu became well noticed from “One Thousand can show” that his first solo show with one thousand of individually hand painted Spray cans. Now he is expending his field to painting, Mural painting, sculpture, and live performances to sound installations. We dive into subjects of his new work, creative processes and why Rashomon means a great deal to him. Read below for the full Q&A…
Yokohama is a great hub for an artist to grow up in as it shares a mutual influence between Europe and Japan. Did European art have any influence on you as a budding artist growing up?
I’m not sure if there are stronger European influence in Yokohama compared to other parts of Japan in this time and age. But I was very interested in skate boarding and all other street culture as teenager, I was skating around Sakuragicho where there was a 2km stretched wall all covered by Japanese legends graffiti. That was for sure my main entrance to graffiti and street art.
Why did you settle on using animals as a vessel to express your artistic metaphors? Since art is subjective are you fearful people might misinterpret your message?
I’m not settled on it, I’m still searching a lot for other things too but I use animals as symbols to express different peoples personality and behavior. Because animals seems to have similar understanding on their character, and personally in any country and culture, it is even more interesting when they have totally opposite meaning to the animal, depending on the culture. Because it’s just like humans, that it depends on who you are, and what you are, your perception of the person changes quite dramatically. Just like how Akira Kurosawa showed that in his movie “Rashomon“.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
We’ll there are too many, but I like Akira Kurosawa films, which are super classic. I grew up watching Totoro on VHS so many times, so I can say that is on my list. And Akira by Otomo Kazuhiro.
How do you view the metaphysical? Typically we view human consciousness as a variable, optimizable thing, which you can cultivate, ultimately arriving at a state which is typically called enlightenment. Do you explore that side of the spectrum or do you like depicting the dark side?
I’m not sure if I see human consciousness as just a variable. I’m sure it can be optimizable, but it’s a very subjective thing. So in my work I’m just visualizing what I see, and feel, without categorizing it as bright or dark. Every human character and behavior has both strengths and weakness. One’s hero can easily be one’s enemy.
Do you find showing your work in different locales having an influence on how you create? For instance, does an audience in London differ then an audience in Hong Kong?
It naturally happens when I’m living in different towns. As I meet deferent people, and I get different experiences, my artwork is heavily effected by it.
What is ahead for you? More prints? Large scale murals?
Any advice for young artists?
I think my travels [have] helped my art practice, and my life to be lot more colorful and enjoyable. As you go to other countries, you get to see a bigger picture of the world. You meet new people, and it stimulates you in different ways. Also I always left my own marks in the form of sticker, murals, and all other out door activity. So more people know that you exist in this world.
Kevin Wada saw the potential combining pop culture and fashion. Some of his most famous works thus far come from his X-Fashion series: a series combining X-Men characters with high fashion. Working directly with Marvel put him on our radar and his work is amazing. I love artists who can take something iconic and put their own unique spin on it. I had an opportunity to sit down with Kevin and ask him about formal education, his process, films, and more! Read the full Q&A below…
What impressed me the most about you is your sketches. They look like detailed watercolors at a short glance. How did you evolve your style through the years?
Well chances are if you’re looking at a colored or bw sketch of mine, it is watercolor or ink. All my finishes are in watercolor as well. But it didn’t used to be that way. I started out in traditional media – mainly acrylic, and I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. A teacher in college pushed for me to try digital and I went for it. I was able to achieve a level of finish I wasn’t able to in traditional mediums and so for the rest of my college career I produced digital work with some rendering done in ink wash. Post-college I was becoming tired of working in the computer and decided to brush up my skills with watercolor. I realized I’m not a painter…at all. I consider myself a draftsman first and foremost and I felt watercolor was a medium in which you could get away with simple color and letting your line work sing. Over time, as I became more confident with watercolor I started becoming more painterly with it and doing more rendering with it and now I have the style I have today.
It wasn’t until you graduated that you became more comfortable as an illustrator and who you were. Are you an advocate of formal education or did you find it to just prolong your career and oppress you?
This is a great question, and one I get quite often. I really don’t know where I stand on the issue. I go back and forth constantly because art school is no joke in terms of time, commitment, and most of all, money. On the other hand, many see art school as, and many art schools are, a joke. Some will take any applicant and basically steal your money. I think at the end of the day you have to weight out whether or not art school is worth it for you. It sounds harsh, but really gauge if you have the work ethic, skill, and talent to fully utilize schooling to the best of your abilities. Because it’s a lot of money. A lot. But you’re also able to cultivate a community with other artists and receive mentoring from talent you might not otherwise have access to. There are other ways to find these communities and mentors that won’t require $60,000 a year commitment too. So be sure you’ve explored all avenues before you dive into a formal education.
How has the T-Shirt shop been coming along? Where did the interest in selling more of your work come from?
The T-shirt shop is dead in the water at this point, unfortunately. I really, really would like to get it off the ground sometime soon, but work has been tugging at me in all directions. I’m not sure why I wanted to branch out into apparel. A few people had asked me if I would ever consider it and I came up with a concept and look that I felt could work in graphic tees so we’ll see if I can ever get it out there. I’m terrible at momentum so I’ll have to kick my own butt and get that project going again.
Lets talk a bit about your ‘fashionization’ or iconic characters. How do you go about transforming a character but keeping the integrity of the original?
I think it’s a mix of, “what would this character wear?” and “how would you translate their costume into wearable everyday garments?” I meld those two together and pick and choose elements that I think would look good and work for the character. Color schemes iconic to the character usually come into play, or other visual cues inherent to the character like Psylocke’s butterfly motif. At the end of the day, I always shoot for a striking image, no matter what the character ends up wearing.
Do you still get flack for gravitating more towards a fashionista vibe? Or has this become your signature style per say?
I think in certain realms of the comic world my work is too fashion driven. I’ve heard people say my work is too gay. I really pay it no mind because the people who enjoy my work, no matter how small in number they are, are very vocal and very unwavering in their support and it really makes me feel like my perspective is appreciated within this community. I embrace what I do and the different vibe I’m able to bring to a sometimes stagnant visual industry.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
I remember being obsessed with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon for the longest time. I grew up watching Sailor Moon and Gundam Wing and Pokemon everyday after school. Miyazaki is obviously a god, and I’ve enjoyed a few things from Studio 4°C.
How do you pick your subject matter? From Janelle Monae to Chun Li, it seems a bit random.
I guess I pick my subject matter based on my interests outside of art. I’ve embraced the notion that in order to stay productive you have to create work that excites you, and thus in my free time and for my own personal work, I will attack subject matter that I have a strong interest in. Janelle and Beyonce or fighting game characters or fashionable men. I indulge myself in order to keep the creative juices flowing :P.
I also really like how you ‘mature’ these characters up. I noticed your Wonder Woman and your NightCrawler all had elegant garbs and very profound facial expressions. Is there a story you like to tell with each portrait or is it just your own interpretation?
When it comes to my interpretations of characters I tend to default to a more reality based depiction. Part of the fun in reimagining a character is getting to do something a bit different with them, and in many cases that means maturing them up or giving them more grit. Sometimes I’m playful, sometimes more serious, so I think there is a little story writing that has to go into each representation.
What lies ahead for you?
I have a bunch of covers coming out in the next year and I couldn’t be more excited. I will be attending Austin Wizard World Comic Con in August and will hopefully be at Emerald City Comic Con after that in March and maybe San Diego next year. It’s going to be a good year, I think, so look out for more covers!
Any advice you could offer up to any young artists trying to find their way?
Just keep creating. Embrace your likes and interests and give in to them. I think the best advice I ever received was to just allow yourself to create work that excites you. Don’t worry about some checklist of a portfolio that someone else has told you you need to have in order to succeed. If you keep creating and producing, your work will get stronger, and the stronger your work is, the better chance you have at landing gigs. But, if you’re like me at all, the impetus to produce can sometimes be taxing. So give in to the type of work you enjoy making, because it will make your portfolio that much bigger and better much faster.
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This week in the Creative Spotlight we feature Amei Zhao who is quite passionate about utilizing illustration/sequential media as a conducer for emotional and thematic resonance. With her PhD in hand, she is a unique candidate to feature as not only her art is powerful, but her speciality in host immunogenetics within her field of Medical Science makes her a double threat! Currently residing in Sydney, she works in visual development and production design for TV and Feature Animation. We talk about her new publication project, creative processes, films, and more! Read below for the full Q&A…
OK, so this is pretty huge, you have a PhD in Pathology and Medical Science, yet your artistic career is front and center. Could you tell me how this career path came about and how you deal with juggling the two?
Given how prevalent the internet is, it’s getting a lot easier to pursue a variety of interests. Because of this I feel it’s not so unusual for people who currently have art as a career to come from a different field altogether. Like everything else in life, multitasking is about setting priorities; so for the duration of my PhD, any time I was not in the lab, I was drawing. Honestly speaking this was an imbalanced lifestyle, and possibly the main reason I made the switch. Since I’ve always liked drawing as a hobby; when my flatmate mentioned there was an opening at the studio she worked at, I submitted my application and they hired me as a colourist there.
If you had to do it all over again, would you have pursued formal education so heavily, now that you are knee deep into your career?
My scientific work exposed me to a lot of different people and situations that I probably wouldn’t have experienced had I gone straight into an art career, so I’m very grateful for the time I spent with the lab. Before I left, my supervisor gave me some really good advice which went something along the lines of, ‘don’t regret the choices you’ve made in the past, because chances are it was the right choice for you at the time’. It’s something I’ve always tried to remember.
Every element of your story should support the theme in some meaningful way. How do you make sure you achieve this when you start an illustration or sketch?
I don’t have a cognitive approach to illustration. It’s a very ‘emotion of the moment’ sort of thing. Sequential art is a little different in that respect.
How do you decide upon a color pallette. Or Perhaps even leaving an drawing in black & white?
Having no art education, I do mostly everything by gut feeling. I grew up in a small town with a lot of bright sun and vivid colours, so I tend to use these a lot in my work. Black and white tends to have a different feel, sometimes I leave it greyscale because I like the lines of a particular piece.
Alot of your themes deal with romance. Some even look same-sex. Is there a certain element to the idea of two people getting together that you like to illustrate?
I think this is possibly due to the fact that I learned the most about myself, and how to deal with other people, during my relationships and subsequent break ups (both homosexual and heterosexual). You always feel you want to understand the people who are closest to you, so I hope to use the romantic aspect of my personal work “Nameless and the Scientist” to explore this sentiment, and through it, expand this empathy towards people in general.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
Tokyo Story by Yasujiro Ozu is probably my all-time favourite film, it taught me so much. Other films I enjoy include Farewell My Concubine, Ashes of Time, Rashomon, The Woman in the Dunes, All about Lily Chou Chou, and most of early nineties Zhang Yimou. Anime has a big influence on me, especially the works of Kunihiko Ikuhara (Revolutionary Girl Utena, Mawaru Penguindrum), Satoshi Kon (Paranoia Agent, Paprika) and Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, Only Yesterday, The Tale of Princess Kaguya).
Could you tell us a bit about your artbook. Release date? Surprises within? and why a collaborative effort with Wrat?
You’re very up to date! It’s a small run book made for a local convention in early August! We’ll announce more details closer to the date. Wrat and I are flatmates and we get along well, so we thought it would be nice to explore the similarities and differences between our art in a physical book. We might do a reprint for online sale sometime in the future.
What are some childhood memories you’d like to draw but haven’t had an opportunity too yet, or perhaps are too intimidated to attempt?
I’m little too young and self conscious to draw a direct biography, but all the landscapes I draw are surreal versions of places I have been to in my childhood. There’s a certain nostalgia in each piece that is drawn from real life.
What plans do you have for the duration of the year?
Currently I’m working freelance as a storyboard artist and a colourist, while in-between jobs I work on the second book of Nameless and the Scientist.
Lastly, any advice for any struggling creative?
Please never forget what you love to do, and why you love it.
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