August 15, 2010

Hey You There! Donkey Wonky Do!

An Interview with Illustrator and Graphic Designer Vince Chui

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

I first came across
Vince Chui’s work owing to his participation in the consortium of cool characterizationizers known as the Sketch Motel Illustrators, whose inputs I follow fanatically via Facebook. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are LOTS of talented artists in this group, including one of my all-time favorites in the guise of Charlene Chua. But somehow, as I began to dig deeper into Vince’s work, well, I literally began hearing voices.

No, nothing morbid like ‘I hear dead people’ or anything that would make you say ‘keep the women and children away from that fellow’ – nor as many of you suspect did it have anything to do with prescription medication. It’s hard to explain; but the voices were the same that I used to hear the better part of three – yikes, now going on four – decades ago. You know, those same ‘you cannot resist me’ voices that I HAD to listen to, despite my mom’s threats of grounding me to my room until I was, quote, ‘retired and in a wheelchair!’ You know, the kind of voices that would say: ‘aw, the heck with homework, let’s grab our skateboards and head to the park’. The same voices that would speak to me every Saturday morning about how they would love to get truly marooned in the ‘Land of the Lost’ or get to see the gods up close as they conducted an amazing cosmic smack-down, which I would referee mind you. And of course, the same voices that even to this day say: ANYTHING to do with robots is automatically cool.

And so it was with this accompanying inner dialogue that I began my research into Vince’s work. It was a fascinating look into what includes not only a range of freelance and amazingly detailed pieces from his offers as a professional graphic artist, but also a wide selection from the worlds of moviedom and video games. I mean, is this like the ultimate pre-/post-pubescent boy’s dream or what? Hang on, let me put on my old AC/DC tee-shirt (barely threads by now), their Greatest Hits CD and we’ll continue. Ah, there... and so, even though it is much more difficult to type while I slam my head back and forth, it is with great pleasure to bring you the very cool art of Vince Chui!


Hi Vince, welcome! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Ha ha, right off the bat, the first question is probably the hardest one for me to answer!

Well, I’ve always thought of myself as a little bit quirky and a bit goofy. That’s probably a really general statement, but who doesn’t have a little bit of that in themselves? Hm, this is a tough question. It’s just usually I find that asking someone who knows another person best can give a better representation of how that person is and what they’re like. Same with me!

So after saying that, I think there’s GOT to be a better person out there that can answer that question much more accurately than I could. (Phew, dodged that, didn’t I!!)

I absolutely love the name that you use on-line, but I am curious: why did you pick the moniker ‘kidchuckle’?
That’s also a funny story! It’s a name that I’ve used for ages and it’s kind of stuck with me.

It originated way back when I signed up for all the different social networks, some of which required an alias when you joined. The ‘kid’ part is easy: that comes from me just being a big kid at heart, and ‘chuckle’ is just part of my personality. I’m a bit of a joker: if I’m not laughing, I’m trying to make someone else laugh.

Even back in college, some of my classmates used to call me ‘Chuck’ for short, instead of Kidchuckle. Although when I stop and think about it now, it really hasn’t aged that well with me in terms of how I am today. I mean, it’s true most of the time, except when it comes to work ... and then I’m a classic worry-wart. But it still retains some of the spirit that is me (and it’s a bit easier to remember how to spell than other options, too!).

Why we’re on the topic of kids, what made you decide to become a graphic artist / designer / illustrator? How did you get to the point where you are today in terms of expertise, education and more?
I think as far as back as I can remember, I’ve always been fond of drawing. That plus the fact that my imagination was fuelled at an early age by cartoons and comics. Even as a kid, my cousins had shelves full of comics that I would look through even before I could read.

In terms of my ‘formal’ education, I went to the Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD for short) for Illustration. Then I did a post-graduate at Sheridan College for computer animation. Soon after that I went to work in the video game industry.

I started interning at Pseudo Interactive and then got a full-time position mostly doing the texturing for 3D models and some concept art on the side. It was a small company so it allowed me to bounce around and experience a lot with the different tasks they had me doing. As the company grew, I was allowed to focus more on concept art.

It was a really good 6-year run for me. Sadly though, after the economy turned for the worse, the company folded. After that I decided to go freelance and just allowed myself to explore and try out different things in the world of illustration.

Your career seems to have focused in large part on illustration, concept artwork, and character design. What are the differences in these ‘fields’ for you, both from ultimately ‘putting ideas on paper’ and also from a creative perspective?
From a creative standpoint, I think that particularly for concept art, there’s a few more concerns to keep in mind in terms of spatial relationships and even scale. For example, with video games, you may have to work closely with level designers to get it all right and to make sure everything all fits together.

I guess to put it in more perspective: as a concept artist you tend to be working as part of a team, that is, with other visual artists and other collaborators. After you finish a piece of art, you have to ensure that when you hand it off, there’s enough information there for another artist to work with it. The person ‘following’ you has to be able to elaborate from that visual on where to go with it; for example, if you’re giving it to a 3D modeller or texture artist, they have to be able to run with it right away. The images and work you work on have to evolve as much as the ideas and the story of a game do.

On the other hand, with character design, I find there are very few restrictions. In this case, most clients usually have a rough idea of what they want. Still, they usually want you to just enjoy it and search for something yourself to add to their own original ideas. I mean, they may have some general restrictions, like if they want you to avoid being too ‘cartoony’ or even too realistic, or if they want you to keep it somewhere in the middle of these extremes. But most of them are open to new ideas.

The main concerns in this area arise after you’ve completed that part. It’s at this point that you then have to figure out the scale in terms of a particular character’s relationship with the world around them and, of course, other characters. In addition, you really have to be able to make a character express a feeling through body language or color proportions.

Comparing all that to illustration itself, well, my experience is that you tend to be more focused on delivering a message or feeling with illustration – but in the shortest time possible. This is another important factor: namely, just the basic amount of time that is ‘allotted’ to you to create things. The turnaround times for illustration can be quite demanding, even if you only are focusing on a few illustrations. This compares to the work with video games, where you typically have a bit more time to let ideas and the overall visualization germinate. But then again, you usually have to deal with a greater volume of work as well.

Despite all the differences, I enjoy the varied aspects of each of these areas. It’s challenging ... and the experiences I’ve had have been quite unique to their own world.

I was watching recently one of my favorite illustrated videos, namely the ‘
Hellboy Animated’ DVD (not shown here mind you). In the extras section, there were some interesting questions posed for the artist that worked on these, Sean ‘Cheeks’ Galloway, who was charged with bringing Mike Mignola’s fantastic character into the new ‘non-graphic novel’ format.

Besides just finding his style amazing, they discussed that originally ‘Cheeks’ was hired as a lead character designer, which involved turn-arounds (360° views of heads, bodies, etc.), coloration under different lighting and more. But eventually they found that his skills were more geared towards working on the project as the lead conceptual artist.

Now after that somewhat long introduction, what I want to ask is: In your own experience, where have you found yourself working most, that is more character or conceptual work? Do you have a preference for one approach or the other in that regard? Also, do you think there’s that much difference between the two, or is it even project dependent?

Okay, first of all I want to say that I think both Cheeks’ and Mignola’s work is AWESOME. I just had to get out of the way before I answered your other questions!

Now coming back to your question: I think that most of my projects I’ve been involved with were made up of equal amounts of concept backgrounds and character work. I can’t say there’s been too many projects I’ve worked on that were strictly character based. Although I do enjoy characters a lot more, again I think character design tends to be strongest when you present them within an environment in which they can appear to be ‘at home’.

It’s just that emotional content, body language, structure and story are all so integral to the process of character design. It’s what ultimately makes the characters come alive. There’s a lot to be said about perceived personality, that is, what we’re assuming from sight alone. I think it’s in our nature to pick up these things consciously or subconsciously.

A subtle example would be if a man points with his glasses in his hand while he talks. You can get make assumption how his eyesight is (you can tell his eyesight isn’t too poor and only needs to wear it occasionally). Another example would be choosing to have the last button on someone’s shirt unbuttoned: this can speak volumes about a character in the right context (is it unbuttoned at a formal event, or at the beach? Does this give us a hint if that character is ‘proper’ or more of an easy-going type or even rule breaker?). Is your character slouched, or do they hold their back straight? Hands stiff at their sides, or do they look more relaxed, you know, maybe with their hands in the pockets? So all aspects of the design come into play here.

For environment concepts, you almost want to express things differently. Yes you still have structure, spacing, scale and story attached with the environment. You can also have emotional content, too, but that’s almost artificially applied to it. Environment is an inanimate object, but I think as people we want to attach emotions to it as well.

With that in mind as well, what kind of work have you done for movies? For example, I’ve ‘survived’ both ‘
The Love Guru’ and ‘Land of the Lost’. Now, if I can manage to somehow bear to watch those DVD’s again, where will I see your work and/or influences on display?
‘Survived’! Ha ha ha!!

For ‘The Love Guru’: well, I didn’t really work that much on the film itself, though I thoroughly enjoyed the experience working on set. I think I only worked on that project for 2 weeks. I was there working primarily for the make-up department, helping them with Photoshop mock-ups.

However, I did get to hang out in the art department with my friend
Sanford Kong who worked on the big bulk of the concept pieces during the time I was there. There were only a few moments where I had some down time from my main tasks, but even then I got to do some small things for the art department. So I wound up able to do that mock storefront of the Cinnabon store front.

On another note, I sheepishly met Jessica Alba for a very brief moment. End of story.

For ‘Land of the Lost’, I worked on the illustration for the
end credits (note that you can also find input from the director on the project, Jeremy Dimmock, at this link). There were a lot of people involved from Direction, the Producers and the animators from the main part of the film.

We had to work on the credits based of the script plus only a few of the images from the film ... and that was it! To be honest, I still haven’t gotten around to watching the movie.

(ZN: thank the gods, we still have a chance to save his immortal soul!!)

Continued in Part 2!

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