We are going to begin doing interviews with artists that we feel are at the top of our industry and we have the priviledge of starting with an incredibly talented artist and current art director at design studio Buck: Chris Lee.
The Beast Is Back
Evan Schaible interviews Chris Lee of Buck TV
I had a wonderful privilege recently to ask one of the industry’s finest a few integral questions. It is a great thing to see the inspirational work of those that we look up to, it is quite another to actually get to pry into the depths of their minds in order to see what drives that creativity, and what got them started down the path that is now paved with great design. Christopher Lee is one of those artists that add something fresh and unique to the industry, and it seems that his innovations in art never cease.
His clients include HBO, DirecTV, Ford, Old Navy, AT&T, and many other large and small companies and individuals. His fresh style keeps new clients coming, and old clients returning, as is evident by his website: www.thebeastisback.com. He is employed as the art director for Buck TV and travels worldwide because of his work. But enough with the fanfare and trumpets, let’s just get right to it because you, by this point, don’t want to hear me anymore. We will learn a great deal from Chris regarding inspiration, education, and many things that are important to only the serious artist.
1. Chris, from looking around your website, it is clear that your style is unique and clean, what is it that inspired your specific style of motion design?
The style that I employ in my motion work was the effect of a natural transition from my illustration style. Prior to Buck, I had no experience in the motion graphics field. I came into the studio with the confidence that I could add diversity to their team of designers. I’m in love with all forms of character design and when jobs requiring characters come along I’m definitely in my element. I’m also a fan of simple shapes, retro styling and vintage effects. The rare job does come along from time to time when I can use all of those things in conjunction with one another, but when parameters are limited, I try to find some way during my problem solving stage to incorporate at least one of those principles.
2. How do you gather your inspiration during those inevitable dry times? Some guys walk in the park, others watch a good commercial, so what does Chris Lee do when things dry up?
The fact that I have the means to create whatever my imagination conjures opens up a realm of possibilities. I’m inspired by that never-ending potential. When I work for clients either at Buck or in my own freelance illustration work, it is nice to kick back and indulge myself in the ideas I have been putting on the back burner. And believe me, that list gets longer every day.
3. I noticed that in your work for the Vancouver Olympics you did extensive 2D animation. This type of work can be tedious, and often times very slow. What is your workflow for a project like this? Obviously not from front to back, but what are the key points that you make sure and employ when taking on a project of this magnitude?
The main key point is to have a plan, ha ha. We had a tad over a month to do five minutes of animation with a team of about 6 people (including myself). It was a grueling process. 7 weeks, 7 days a week. To make it manageable, we decided not to freak out and follow all the normal steps for all animated pieces: schedule, storyboards, assigning scenes, etc. Since this piece revolved around a very specific style, a style that we actually had to emulate from the original creator of the characters (Meomi), I really needed to trust my freelance illustrators to adapt. Like South Park, all these characters were animated in Maya much to everyone’s surprise. My animators were absolutely amazing and required very little guidance. They got into the heads of the characters and gave them personalities that didn’t exist before this project. Once we had a rhythm going everyone ended up being completely self-sufficient which lowered the stress and increased productivity. All in all, if I had to pick a single key point that made this workflow a success would be the element of trust. I hand-picked the illustrators and animators I wanted on this project and I knew they would be able to come in and do what they do best.
4. Okay, in the times we are living in now, 3D has become an almost irreplaceable and unavoidable art. As a 2D artist, how is it working alongside, and integrating your work so closely with that of 3D artists?
Thankfully Buck attracts very 2D oriented work. When a 3D intensive project does come around, we have a really talented and versatile 3D force that can handle that on their own once style frames and art direction have been supplied. However, where I am most involved in terms of the 2D/3D relationship is when I need something rendered/modeled for a style frame. I had no 3D knowledge prior to Buck and now I know what specularity, occlusion, normal maps, Z-depth and UVs are, ha ha.
5. You are currently the art director for Buck TV. If any of our readers are seeking to get into a studio like that, what should they be sure to demonstrate in their reels or artwork?
Individuality. We see a ton of student work (both motion and non-motion related) that focus on a lot on trends. Trends are not a bad thing, but when one person’s reel has the same vibe as another and another, it is hard to differentiate that individual visual voice. However, I do understand that often artists come to Buck with a specific skill (i.e. animator, 3D generalist, compositor, etc). For people with those backgrounds, we have more experienced staff in those fields that know exactly what they’re looking for. To me, those reels just get “oooos” and “aahhhs” from me, ha ha.
6. In your experience, what are the greatest assets for someone to possess who is looking for job on staff with a studio?
Technical proficiency aside, you really have to be able to meld with your new team. If you’re a hot shot freelancer with an ego just as big, you might get a cold shoulder. As an “art director” I believe any pretense is optional. I prefer to be a leader and friend to my co-workers; offering wisdom when they need and a morale boost during those tough jobs and inevitable slow periods. There is never a shortage of jokes at Buck!
7. Many people think that the creative industry is all glitz and glamour, but there is considerable stress with tight deadlines and all sorts of technical and creative problems that daily need solving. How do you unwind after a day of trying to meet a deadline?
The thing is, there is always ANOTHER deadline to meet. But when I’m not forced to work after work, it’s all about spending time with the girlfriend. She makes the best desserts. I also watch a lot of HGTV. I’m an Amazon.com/eBay addict and always try to find something new to add to my wish list/watch list. Sometimes I boot up MAME and play one of my favorite arcade beat-em-ups like Final Fight or X-Men.
8. There are many young artists that are reading this interview, if you were able to give them the most important advice you know regarding the creative industry, what would that be?
You really have to love what you do every single day. If you tire or get bored or get impatient with moving your way up the creative ladder than this industry is not for you. I started from the bottom working at a tiny design studio in Sacramento creating brochures, hang tags, newsletters and logos for our non-profit clients for over five years. Those five years took me from a naÔve 18yr old kid in his first semester at Community College taking “Beginning Illustrator” in 2000 to a 23 year-old student seasoned in the print industry. The point I’m trying to make is to put in your time, both inside the classroom and out. No matter which school you decide to attend, it’s all about putting in the time. Homework is homework whether it’s a typography assignment or chemistry equations. What matters is how much you want to push yourself outside the classroom. How badly do you want it and are you willing to sacrifice lots and lots of time to achieve that goal? You should enjoy the journey, as the process of growing is often more rewarding than reaching its peak.
9. One last question, well, really two questions in oneÖ Who was the biggest inspiration to you as an up and coming artist, and what did you study in them that was so inspiring?
In 2004 at the very beginning of the budding designer vinyl toy explosion, a particular illustrator named Pete Fowler from the UK caught my eye. He had this series of characters called Monsterisms that was humorous and rich with its own mythology and even zoology. When I saw his work I said to myself “you know, I want to create a cast of characters like that.” Born were The Urbanites, which I used as my ticket into the art world and beyond.
I also find inspiration from time periods…moments in history that had specific illustration/design styles. I am inspired by the animation style of the 50s and 60s, Simple shapes and patterns that communicate really well. I love silkscreen and letterpress work. I like to make a lot of my stuff have an “old print” quality feel to them, especially in my personal work.
Thank you very much Chris for your time. It is great to be able to have practical tips and insight from such a talented artist.
Here is a good example of Christophers motion graphics work:
You can also visit the Buck website for more videos.
Examples of Christopher’s work can be found on his website, as well as a very intriguing show reel and examples of his motion graphics work. To contact Chris with any further questions you would like to ask there is a convenient contact form on his site. Until next time, my name is Evan Schaible.