Thanks again for the opportunity here to ask you a few questions. I appreciate the time and any information you’re willing to share.
-Your work stands out as wholly unique amongst a lot of other concept art out there. Regardless of medium or genre, your pieces always seem to nod to some underlying story and don’t necessarily focus primarily just on “looking cool”. Can you elaborate on your mindset/goals when developing characters, settings or illustrations?
- :) I don’t know if my stuff is so unique but one thing is true, I try to focus on the narrative aspect of a picture rather than the « coolness » of it. I think that « cool » is the new « lame » and that it is relatively easy to do. You just have to hit some obvious marks and poof, there, your stuff is « cool ».
Big guns, big muscles, babes with porn stars’ proportions, big ass spaceships, bad ass monsters, basically, if it has anything that’s “big” with guns or ass in it, then your image will look « cool ». But if you look at what is out there nowadays, everything is the same, there is only so much cool stuff you can shovel into people’s brains before you make them dumb.
I guess that « cool » the way most people see it is the very opposite of what I find interesting. Too much of the same garbage, now shewed and re shewed for years on end.
Let me tell you what I think, I think that too much cool kills the cool.
An example: “Transformers”, I’ve got the feeling I’ll use that example for a long time, it’s going to be a challenge for anyone to do worse than that movie.
So yes, Transformers: Beautiful work, the guys at ILM kicked ass… but there is TOOOOO MUUUUUCH of it, to much, too fast and very little or nothing else. It’s not their fault, they’re just doing their job, and very well in my opinion…
but it’s the market, the director, the producers and the investors bad tastes…
This « movie » has no scenario whatsoever, no logic in what is left. That doesn’t make any sense, it has no backbone.
For me this movie is just awesome moving robots… it’s a movie in the sense that, yes, granted, it moves. But that’s not a movie. It’s a joke. A very expensive one at that. It’s like buying a house that would stand on the strength of the paint alone or the beautiful cover of a very poorly written book. That’s just plain robbery… And I don’t even want to think about how many years of life the budget of that fast food for the eyes would have bought for a village in say, Africa. Not thinking about it. I guess if I was, I’d stop working in the industry.
But hey, money people have their own priorities, who are we to judge.
To get back to the « cool » factor in entertainment design, I think a good design should serve the story.
If there is no story, the design will, at best, only be a stupidly garish make up on an ugly face.
The same way, If the design it too loud, too present, much like with a badly written movie score then you can’t hear or see the rest, and the equilibrium is broken.
First Alien: perfect combination.
Just shown enough of the thing to leave some space for the audience’s imagination to fill the gaps. It didn’t insult its viewers by not letting them think.
I try to give to everything I design a meaning, beyond the lines of a spaceship, it should have a purpose, it should have a reason to look the way it looks, even if it’s not obvious when you just look at it, inventing a logic for its shape makes it look like it belongs, like it has a right to be there. The same way, when I do an environment or a creature I have to make it logical. Why is it that way, what’s its purpose, where does it go, what does it eat, how, when, a very long list of questions have to be answered before a design can be good in my opinion. It’s not just a picture. If you can’t sit on a chair because it’s fucking uncomfortable, or if your juicer can’t squeeze a bloody lemon, then it doesn’t matter if you’re called Stark, that’s a stupidly bad design. And people can feel that. If it’s just a nice object, just a cool design, and if it doesn’t make sense people will sense it and it will take them out of the story wondering how it works, or how comes that shit survives in the wild.
-You are talented in a number of different mediums and your interests seem wide from sculpture to illustration and comics, all the way to board game design. Is there a medium/genre that feels the most “at home” to the Black Frog, or a medium that feels the least like “work” to you?
- no, I feel pretty comfortable in all the mediums I use. that’s also why I use them :)
If it feels like work, I do something else :)
-When working on a movie or anything outside of personal work, how do you get through those days when it feels like work?
- I have been fortunate enough to work in the industry mainly as an Art Director and that allowed me to jump from one visual language to another without getting bored.
In the worst of the cases, I just try to make whatever is asked of me good enough – by my own standards – so I would not be ashamed of showing it in my portfolio. It proves to be a bit difficult more often than not actually :)
-Do you ever run out of inspiration or motivation? A lot of people in creative fields leave it all at the office and don’t have the extra “juice” to continue making time for personal work. Is bouncing around mediums important here?
- First, when working for others, I spend most of my time getting frustrated because they prevent me from creating. If I « create » it’s so far from the mainstream they’re looking for that, for them, it’s too « out there ». I don’t really understand why, after all theses years, it still baffles me I must say, but they all want the same thing: exactly what they have seen before, with their name on it.
Anything remotely new and they kill it. You can only trick them into accepting something original, but you have to have the will and the energy to make them think the idea comes from them. Not worth the pain really.
So when I come back home I have a full tank of unused juice.
So no, I don’t run into that problem.
Pesonal work is the main goal, it is my utmost priority. I take very little joy – other than doing my job well and making the client happy of course, that’s always nice – in working towards making the dream of somebody else.
I have my life to fulfill, and giving out time to others to help them living theirs only prevents you, at the end of the day, from living your own.
When I work for myself – which is at least half of the time nowadays – then yes, jumping from one medium to another helps me producing constantly. I might stop one thing but I directly start another and another to eventually come back to the first thing with a renewed desire to finish it.
Only work on things when you really want to, don’t force it, it would only make it worse.
I’m trying to make that my work’s motto.
I also truly think that a work of love will always be stronger.
-Regarding inspiration, can you name some of your influences or artists you admire across all the fields you love and explain how they’ve impacted your thought or technical processes? Often this can help shed light on how an artist got to develop their own visual language.
- Arg, Ahah, that’s a big one.
Insipration then :)
Star Wars 4,5 & 6
Délicatessen (Jenet et Caro)
The Black Hole
The day where the earth stood still.
The Baron Of Munshausen
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Grave of the fireflies (the saddest thing ever)
Ghost in the shell
The thief and the cobbler
The street of crocodile (brothers Quay – stop motion animation)
Wallace and Gromit (the original trilogie – claymation)
Nightmare Before Christmas (stop motion animation)
The Muppet Show
The Twilight Zone
The Kingdom – Lars Von Triers
Comic books and graphic novels:
Winsor Mc Cay – Little Nemo In Slumberland
The French Comic Book Artist/Illustrator Jean Giraud Moebius who recently passed away
- L’incal - Le garage hermétique
Mike Mignola, creator of hellboy.
Alphonso Font – Klark & Cubrik agent tréspéciaux – Le prisonniers des étoiles
Carlos Nine - Fantagas
Liberatore - Ranxerox
Manara – Jour de tonerre
Hugo pratt – Corto Maltese
Fred - les aventure de Philémon
Tardi – « Allo, Ici Même » – Les Aventures d’Adèle Blancsec
Mézière & Christin – les aventure de Valérian et Laureline
Le Magazine Métal Hurlant
Comes – Silence – L’ombre du corbeau
Alex Toth – Zorro
Jordy Bernet – Tropedo – Sarvane – Kraken
Alec Severin – la machine à remonter dans le temps
Alan Moore – The Watchmen
Frank Miller – Dardevil — in the magazine Strange — Dark Knight – Elektra
Beb Deum - Bureaucratica
The American painter John Singer Sargent
orientalists and Russian painters in general
The Italian sculptor Rambrandt Bugatti
Ilustrators and cover artists:
Thöny & all the illustrators from the WWI satyrical german publication Simplicissimus.
Movie conceptual arists
Neil « limbolo » Ross
video game conceptual arists
Stephen King - It
J.R.R. Tolkien – The lord of the rings
Ray Bradbury – Martian Chonicles
Jack Vance – Cudgel Saga
Michaïl Boulgakov – The master and margueritte
Gustave Flaubert – Salammbô
Clive Barker – Waveworld
Boris Vian - l’écume des jours
Keith Jarret – Köln concert
Taraf de Idouk
Half life 2
Oddworld Abe’s Odissy
Halo 1 & 2
rôle playing games
The Call Of Chtulhu
The rôle playing game of Middle Earth
Full Metal Planet
Kharé la citée des pièges (série Sorcellerie, illustrated by John Blanche)
There you go, that’s relatively exhaustive :)
as for what I have learned and keep learning from guys like Sargent, Sorrola, Neil Ross, Moebius, Mignola to only pick a few, is that sense of braking down everything to the bare minimum, to the very essence of things.
Even if it looks effortless to them, it is the proof of a tremendous mastery of skills to be able to boil down everything to the core, leaving nothing else to reduce, giving the emotion in just a hand full of strokes.
Less is more. Oh yes it is.
-People always talk about a search for “style” and again, your work look feels very honest. Did you ever focus energy into developing look, or was thing visual language something that developed out of just constant work?
- I think that wanting to develop a style is a mistake. To me it is like trying to run before knowing how to walk. It can only look fake and shallow. Because behind it, there’s nothing else than you wanting to be seen and recognized as a real artist. As if one was shouting in the crowd rather than learning how to have something to say first.
We all have our own voice, it’s there in us from the beginning. The work or the style doesn’t define us, we define them. Working on ourselves,finding slowly how to reach that deeper tune, this unique voice we have, is, I think, a very personal journey, that hasn’t got anything to do with appearances or showing off. Pride should not have any part in it.
I’m sorry, I sound like a guru, but this is really important to me, I think that if you don’t try all you can to find that true emotion deep in you, then your work will never have real style. Because you will not be IN it. You’ll just make it like you’d make a sandwich.
So yes, constant work, on yourself, then the technique only to have better tools to express what you have inside and then the style will come on its own effortlessly.
Besides, focusing on style might set your feet in concrete and because you’d get too attached to you beloved gimmicks, it could prevent you from evolving,from getting out of the box you created for yourself. Bruce Lee and his style of no style :) think out of the box to adapt and get better all the time
Stopping evolving is like saying that you’ve already reached perfection.
-Is there particular work you are most proud of? Or what work do you think is the best work you do? The answers to this often seem contrary to what might be the artists most popular work, so I’m curious what you mark as your great achievements.
I consider my little black and white graphic novel series « les carnets de la grenouille noire » being what I am the most proud of. This is what I have found the most challenging to date and I constantly look at what I came up with with wonder and amazement. :) This is certainly – I can already ear people say « what, that little thing? It’s just scribbles! « – the thing that made me grow the most of all I’ve ever done. And writing each book of 300 pages as an impro in a month is such a blast, I discover the story as it unravels… it’s like running on a clothe line stretched over a bottomless pit, eyes wide-opened in fear and realizing after each chapter that you did it, you’re on safe ground, you did the impossible thing, you’re on the other side.
I find that wonderfully exhilarating.
As for the visual technique employed to tell the story, — for the ones who can see it – it is all that I’ve ever learned, stripped to the bone.
The rest of what I do is not as challenging, I have learned to do most of what I do now on autopilot. All I learn from now on feels like it is just to finely tune my tricks.
So it might not look like much. But that little thing is what makes me proud, because it is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. :)
-I think that about covers it! Thanks again for taking the time to answer any of this stuff.
-You’re most welcome :)