July 19, 2010

So Fun You'll Just Want to Hug It!

An interview with Julius ‘Bulius’ Santiago

Part 1 of 2 (link to Part 2, including extensive ‘Bear Gallery’)
Click any image to enlargenate

I was recently asked if I didn’t enjoy living a bit vicariously through all the terrific people I’ve gotten to meet and know for the blog over the past years and months. Well, after looking up that multi-syllabic word and making sure it had nothing to do with vicars – which I would not have qualified for by any stretch (good or bad) of the imagination – I had to answer with a resounding ‘yes’. I do so enjoy the talent and the passion and the sheer ‘I’ve-got-the-guts-to-do-this’ spirit of the people I have met and keep on having the chance to get to know better.

Another part that I truly enjoy as well is the overwhelming sense of fun that I feel so many of the makers and artists I meet are having just through the joy of practicing their craft. Whether it be the welding of giant steel and iron statues in reverent praise of Mother Gaia or delicately weaving together different crystals to create a symphony of light patterns or even the ‘mere’ graphic arts that allow the widest spectrum of expression that imaginable – all of it just seems to be tons and tons of unabashedly fantastic fun.

It has been as well then this sense of fun that I have been lucky enough to share with this week’s guest, Julius Santiago alias Julius Bulius. Everything about this talented young artist’s portfolio strikes me as just being so much fun. A lot of this comes from his gifts and talents of playfully creating air-guitar wielding samurai robots or from the often big-headed world of nature, past or present. In addition, I have felt a true sense of excitement of knowing that he has worked on some of the world’s most popular video games of the past years, representing in terrific lay-out and fashion the beauty of what I call at least the one true game of football (hey, the rest of you agree to get rid of the Vuvuzelas plus do something about what you call ‘refereeing’ and we’ll talk again).

In addition, Julius has embarked over the past months on a journey of creating one new image a day in series. We have seen approaches like this before, including very recently with the tee-shirt designs of our favorite Flying Mouse aficionado (his
web-site remains one of my favorite places to visit and vote every week)! But in Julius’s case, he has taken this one step further – or perhaps better said taken this one step in a more difficult direction – and decided to ‘limit’ his designs, namely to a ‘one teddy bear a day target.

Now granted anyone such as myself with a pre-teen daughter at home has no doubt rolled their eyes by this point and said ‘oh believe me, you can find plenty of teddy bear designs all around… and trust me, our little one has!’ But 365 different types of teddy bears? And with every one of those nearly 400 bears being based on a motif that you’ve probably never seen before, let alone had to design yourself? Seriously?

Well, I don’t know about you but I know I can’t even count that high most days let alone try and think of a new and unique character 7 days a week. Trust me, I’ve tried: some 6 or so weeks ago I tried to push myself towards the modest target of one ‘sketch’ per day (no doubt a laughable target for most of you out there) – and I left out any theme restrictions. And in line with my half-millennial confessional technique, I will admit that I’ve managed to develop 3 in all, that is, beyond what I’d qualify as the ‘drunken doodle’ stage (think Jason Pollack in monochrome).

And so it is with great pleasure and indeed vicarious admiration that I introduce you to Julius ‘Bulius’ Santiago:

Hi Julius, welcome. First, let me ask you: who is Julius ‘Bulius’ Santiago and what can you tell me about him?
Let's see… well, first of all, I have an obsession with drawing animals with heads that are way too big.

On the other hand, my day job consists of a certain position in the video game industry that inevitably needs further explaining. Also, I ride my bike to work and spend way too much time reading blogs about pop culture. Oh, my wife and I have a pug and two cats.

Cool! Julius, one of the aspects of your work that struck me almost immediately was the creativity of your pieces balanced against an almost innocent simplicity. I’m always intrigued to ask artists that I think can achieve this just how they go about making sure that their message(s) is understood without over-engineering a piece.

With that in mind, let me ask you: Do you have a process for same, that is, for knowing when to put the proverbial pen down and leave something as it stands?
Luckily, I think that it's because of this simplicity that it's easy for me to know when I can put the proverbial pen down.

When making new illustrations, I sort of strive to make it as simple as possible. That's part of what I enjoy most about illustrating things. So when I have an idea for something, the piece is done as soon as the idea is conveyed.

I try not to think about it too much... how long do you need to think about a colon and a parenthesis to make sure your readers know it's a smiley face? (ZN: uh, what’s a smiley face? ^_^)

Julius looking a bit at your most recent ‘day jobs’: the gig especially with EA Sports seems to be an exciting one. Can you run us through what it is you’re involved with in terms of either the lay-out or even programming of the game? For example, if I took one of the screen shots from your portfolio collection, could you walk us through what we’re seeing and how you affected what it is we’re, uh, seeing?
I'm sure I could, but I promise you that my answers to your other questions would be much more exciting.

Okay, if you say so. But what is it exactly that an ‘Interface Artist’ does? Is this somehow related to your skills description as someone who ‘Bridges the gap between Software Engineers, Production, and Art Direction’?
Pretty much. Let’s just say I make all the not-fun stuff you see in video games.

I guess you could think of it as some artists want to make dwarves or dragons in video games; I take care of the main menus and HUDs and credits. You know, all the things you usually try to get through as fast as you can so you can move on to the fun of shooting things.

You also state that you’ve, quote, ‘Watched
Daft Punk live in concert. Twice.’ No after-effects? Honestly?
I will forever be a fan of electronic music. I try to incorporate this whenever I create my robots.

Your style – or let’s say more precisely your ‘bear stylings’ – evoke an almost Japanese or better said Manga feeling. Did video games or other Japanese art influence your development?
A lot of video games and anime influenced me, sure. But I’d have to say it was mostly
Sanrio stuff like Hello Kitty and Genndy Tartakovsky cartoons. Remember those*? Man, they were awesome.
(*ZN: are you kidding? ‘2 Stupid Dogs’ is a must see for anyone out there considering becoming a parent!)

What would you say have been your biggest influences? And in your younger days, was there a ‘flash of light’ moment that led you to wanting to this – uh – ‘this’ for a career?
I think it started with cartoons, but then moved more towards graffiti and independent comics.

I never thought it could be a career. Even now, I consider my art as more of a hobby than a career.

I’d always just assumed that I'd be doing web design right now. Pursuing that got me into UI (user interface) Design, but that also introduced me to Penny Arcade, Copper, and other artists that utilized the web as a medium. It was reading web comics like Apple Geeks and Mac Hall when I noticed these guys are art students just like me and there's no reason I couldn't pursue it myself.

Are you still located in the Tampa area? What is the general graphic artist (struggling or otherwise) design scene like there?
I've just recently moved to Los Angeles and I love it here. Suddenly, I find myself living in the same city as all the artists that I've been following. It's nothing short of inspirational to be surrounded by the art I love so much.

Have you seen ‘
Exit Through the Gift Shop’ yet? I saw it a couple of months after I moved here and all of a sudden I recognize all these places in the movie. It was nuts.

Are you working as part of a company or bigger collective? Or is your focus right now primarily on establishing your own solo work?
Solo dolo for now.

Half of me wants to live the dream and work on my art full-time.
However, the other half is just doing all it can to try and pay off these school loans!

Continued in Part 2, including extensified ‘Bear Gallery’ collection

So Fun You'll Just Want to Hug It!

An interview with Julius ‘Bulius’ Santiago

Part 2 of 2 (link to Part 1)
Click any image to biggenize

Julius, what means do you use to get your ‘messages’ out there (Facebook, flickr, etc.)? And which approach to you think brings you the most exposure?

I communicate with fans through both
Facebook and Twitter. They're linked together, but I think I have an equal following through both.

The most exposure I've gotten (and continue to get to this day) is from an article about my site that was on the illustration blog
(ZN: love this blog!)

You have had your work featured via a number of media, including illustration, buttons, fashion (I really want one of those skull belt buckles, too cool!), motorcycle helmets, photography and other neato things. What’s been your favorite media to express your work on so far?
Oh man, you’re right. I always forget about that belt buckle; that was really fun to work on! But in terms of media, my favorite has to be stickers.

The best part is seeing them in random places or on cars. It's sort of a big deal to be put next to a DARE bumper sticker, or next to the one from whoever you voted for three years ago.

Has there been an outlet you’ve always wanted to explore that you haven’t gotten to yet or even want to explore in more detail?
Even though I work in video games, it's a completely separate from my art.

But one day I am hoping to have my characters in a game. Especially since I've been doing football games for so long, it'd be fun to do some art for something like an iPhone... something that has more of a universal appeal.

I saw a cool bit on your home web-site where a pal (Chris Bromby) made your SumoRobo6k design into a 3D model, seen here below. Is that an, or even one of, the ultimate targets for your designs, getting them somehow ‘out there’ in the 3D or even 2D+ world?
My love will always be for the simplicity for 2D images, but I wouldn't mind maybe one day seeing my designs in 3D.

I have been sort of exploring 3D stuff more recently, especially now that it's easier to get 3D prints made. Still, I'm not really a 3D kind of guy, so I tend to focus on my 2D stuff.

Of course, we can’t let you go without asking how the ‘Bear a Day’ project is going. So, um, how is it going? What inspired you to effectively ‘discipline’ yourself enough to approach this project?
The ‘
365 Bears Project’ is going pretty well. It's probably the best idea I've had as far as inspiring myself to keep cranking out art. Seeing the traffic on the site increase as time goes by doesn't hurt either.

As far as where I got the idea, I was just browsing some design sites when I came across some guys that did similar projects. I had previously asked for requests on my original blog, and thought that building off that would be a good idea. With that in mind, I was hoping that creating some sort of dialogue with the audience would keep me from quitting.

So far it's working, and I'm half-way done!

Now that the mid-year is essentially here, how much tougher is it getting to come up with a new idea every day?
The ideas were actually kind of hard to come by in the beginning, but I've started doing themes that go throughout given weeks. I even have a few themes that I hope to revisit in case I run out of ideas for themes. I don't think that will ever really happen, but we'll see.

It’s kind of like if you’ve ever have a problem trying to figure out what you want for dinner. Then as soon as you narrow it down to sushi or pizza you know exactly what you want, right? No? Oh well, never mind then.

Okay, I’ve decided not to avoid this question after all: where did the ‘Bulius’ moniker come from?
It was a nickname that kind of stuck in college. As in "Julius bulius bo bulius, fa nana nana bo bulius..."! (wow, I think that's the first time I ever typed that out)

It’s funny, but in fact at the time, I was trying to come up with a cool address for my portfolio site. Julius.com was taken, so I thought the next memorable thing would be "julius bulius."

Looking back, I kind of wish I chose something I could say with a straight face in job interviews… but in the end that's kind of why I like it so much, too.

Finally, a selection of ‘what if’ questions:
If you could get a hold of any project you heart could desire, what would it be and why?

Plush toys for little kids.

I think my style has always been towards making characters you'd want to hug. But on a more conceptual level, I like the idea of how cartoon characters in art are so accessible.

My favorite example of this is
Murakami's Superflat. I like the idea that even babies can enjoy art.

You’ve just won the Super Florida Lottery, and you’re suddenly richer than Bill Gates. What becomes of your illustration career and why?
I've always told myself that if that happens I'd keep my day job and invest in something responsible… you know, like a mutual fund… or perhaps bringing dinosaurs back to life. But I guess that's not very exciting.

So for a more exciting answer: I suppose I would start my own company and hire all my friends. Then I'd have this super awesome design-/video-game studio that also fixes cars and bikes and serves awesome food, coffee, and boba tea.

And I'd do all the art!

What is a super cool-as-shucks fact about yourself that you would like to (or can) share without getting arrested, beat up in a dark alley or even worse, being forced to vote for Sarah Palin in 2012?
I sleep with my eyes open... like a Ninja!

Well even though that is true – the bit about sleeping with my eyes open I mean – it's actually not all that exciting. It creeps out my wife and I'm always tired because I'm a super-light sleeper.
(ZN: I’d just point out that Julius has moved beyond ‘a fun person to be lived vicariously through’ to kindred spirit… and yes, it creeps people out all the time, especially when they try to talk to me in meetings…)


Julius Santiago has been the lead UI Designer of the #1 Football Franchise ever, having been credited on seven
EA titles. He has spent at least 3 years working with NextGen Systems (Xbox 360 and PS3) and is quite knowledgeable in the usability and graphic design aspects in video game creation, as well as motion design, video editing, and graphic optimization. His experience list reads like a sports-based video game junkies dream including the design and implementation of menus for next generation video game consoles having game credits with Madden 08 and 09 (lead UI Designer for Xbox 360/PS3), NCAA 07/08 (Xbox 360/PS3), NASCAR 06 (Xbox/PS2), NCAA 07 (Xbox/PS2) and more.

Julius brings to the table extensive expertise in Adobe After Effects, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Dreamweaver, Adobe Flash, and Quark Xpress, just to name a few. He has also done work with Tampa Bay area newspapers as a graphic designer, worked as a Senior Lab Assistant diagnosing hardware problems in a Mac computer lab, and contributed graphic work for other public and independent publications.

Educated at
Stetson University in DeLand, Florida, Julius graduated with a B.A. in Digital Art. Among his various honors and awards include receiving the Outstanding Senior Award, Digital Art Department (2004); being listed in Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities (2004); being named the Florida Bright Futures Scholarship - Recipient (2000-2004); and also being decorated with the Audience Choice Award - Stetson Student Video and Animation Competition(2003).

And if you act fast, you can even
send your proposals or requests for teddy bear designs to Julius! Who knows, maybe your dream teddy will become a reality… hm, maybe I should re-phrase that… oh well, you know what I mean!


All pictures, videos and other media are used with written permission of Julius Santiago also referred to as Julius Bulius, or are available in the public domain (noting copyright and other restrictions, accordingly). No further reproduction or duplication is permitted without contacting the artist directly.

Some pictures have been modified slightly or combined only for the purpose of space limitations.