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Cory Loftis Interview
Tell me a little bit about yourself, about your life? Where did you go to school, and what classes did you study? What helped prepare you to become the artist that you are today?
I grew up in Corsicana, Texas. Its kind of a small town, the kind where almost everybody knows each other in some form or fashion. Everybody knew I was the kid that drew, so at a pretty early age, I was volunteered to draw all kinds of stuff; yearbooks, t-shirts, posters, murals, mascots...you get the idea. It was awesome to have something you were good at and I was really proud of everything I was asked to do. Luckily, my parents wanted me to have other options so they encouraged me to try lots of extracurricular activities.
I played sports, raised livestock, played bridge, went fishing as much as possible, and even joined a soil judging team. It was a "varied" experience. I studied engineering in college, focusing on naval architecture (shipbuilding). When facing a career as a naval architect, my parents noticed I just didn't seem happy. They suggested that I take a chance and head to California to study 2D animation.
I went to art school in Laguna Beach. I met a lot of really talented artists that kept me motivated during my first couple semesters. Unfortunately the bottom fell out of 2D, just as I was hoping to enter it. At that point I left school and started to focus my personal work on character design and illustration. My love for 2D animation is still present in my style. My engineering background helps me solve problems and my childhood is a gold mine of ideas that I constantly pull from.
I'm really lucky to have had so many different experiences and they all somehow ended up working together for me.
How do you go about designing, and what goes through your mind, from start to end?
On almost every design I start with shape. Using almost any color, I’ll just start blocking in shapes that work for the problem I’m trying to solve. Then once I have a shape I’m happy with, I start layering color and value until my design starts emerging. That’s when I really start drawing. Popping details, defining form and tweaking the overall design. At every point in the process I weigh what's currently looking sweet on the screen against the requirements of the task. But I wouldn't say I go into the design with a plan.
If it’s something dangerous, menacing, or evil (for example), are my shapes sharp? Do my colors set that mood? Do my details share a common theme? If my design doesn't solve these problems, I just scrap it and start over. I don't tend to "massage" designs; they're very disposable to me. I also try to create a story for whatever I’m drawing, I think it makes the design more personal. Here's a little sample of my thought process:
If I get a character request for a burglar, shapes that come to mind are wave shapes, curves, "wiggly" shapes for a guy who can wiggle out of tough situations. Wave shapes also suggest tails, cats... cat burglar... I’m on to something maybe. A guy who lives in the shadows... desaturated colors. A fun pattern, to separate him from something more sinister like a murderer. Murderers aren't typically seen in argyle or a summer scarf. Dark eyes, cause he doesn't get much sleep... too busy stealing stuff. Soft shoes to be quiet. A bunch of keys around his waist for the quick alibi that he's a locksmith.
A dumb way of hiding his face... a really lame homemade mask thing. If I had been tasked "thief,” maybe a cooler mask - they can be classy like jewel thieves. But the word burglar doesn't evoke a picture of a suave jewel thief. Burglar's steal hamburgers, cookie crisp, and typically get caught because they aren't that good. I'll then check to make sure I haven't posed the character in a lame way, like the feet at 45 degrees, one arm down, one arm up making a hand gesture pose. This is the pose I always tend to make if I don't put thought into it ahead of time... one of my worst habits.
That’s essentially it.
What is a typical day for you, and who are the people you work with?
I'd love to say I start by sketching at an outdoor cafe or trendy bookstore. The reality is I spend most of my morning in a Mountain Dew induced frenzy trying to wrangle concepts together for the art department. My particular studio only has four concept artists including myself so we are very busy. It’s a level of busy that I really enjoy - it keeps me focused and the work really fresh. Concepting for my studio is great; we get to design absolutely everything. The players, the outfits, the monsters, the rooms they're in, the carpet on the floor, the doorknobs... everything. Its so much fun to work from such a varied task list, switching skill sets constantly really keeps you from getting in a rut.
I have a 21" Cintiq at work and a second monitor I keep up for emails and the ever-present flow of B movies or Deadliest Catch. I spend most of the day drawing and helping other artists by offering critiques or painting demonstrations, when needed. I work with some amazing artists, most of whom you'll find linked on my blog. It’s a great office to be in - at any point if I’m feeling uninspired I can just spin the ol' chair around and see what everyone's working on. Sitting right in the office with me are Johnson Truong, Andy Cotnam, and Mindy Lee. Super talented concept artists you should check out.
What are some of the things that you have worked on?
I've done quite a bit of freelance work for various clients, but for the past 5 years I’ve been working for Carbine Studios as their Lead Artist. Past that, my work probably wasn't good enough to point out.
Is there a design you have done that you are most happy with?
I'm almost never happy with a design the second time I see it - I could always have done something better. I'll know I’ve stopped growing as an artist, when I stay happy with a design. I'm most pleased with myself when I conquer one of my limitations. For the longest time I sucked at drawing feet. I just avoided them completely, hid them below a long skirt, put the character behind something, made an artsy portrait. And then one day I finally got fed up and drew feet until I beat the suck outta me. The first character I drew with bare feet after that, was extremely rewarding. In no particular order, here is my list of particularly satisfying victories: feet, hands, undersides of faces, vehicles *ugh*, cute children, lizard scales, and bird's legs. If I've completed a design that contains one of those things, and you think it looks good... that was a design I'm very happy with.
What projects are you working on now? (If you can tell us)
I'm currently working on an unannounced MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) for Carbine Studios.
Who are some of your favorite artists out there?
I like so many artists it’s impossible to name them all. Mostly I find myself inspired by the Disney and DreamWorks studios. Their work is just so, so good. I'm a fan of Eric Powell, Mike Mignola, Jamie Hewlett, Pierre Alary, Man Arenas, Eric Canete.... basically comic book artists who look like they're really passionate rather than just putting down garbage quickly to make a buck. I like a "handcrafted" experience.
Outside of people currently in related industries, I love Waterhouse, Winslow Homer, Sargeant, Elvgren, Wyeth, Frazetta, Glenn Barr… man the lists goes on. My tastes are always changing, which I think is good thing.
Could you talk about your process in coloring your art, as well as the types of tools or media that you use?
I almost exclusively use Painter and Photoshop. I typically start sketching in Corel Painter, as I've mentioned, until I reach that point where I become dissatisfied with an image. That’s when I switch to Photoshop to tweak colors or transform, if I'm really off the mark. Then it’s back to Painter. I'll just flip flop like that until the design's finished.
What part of designing is most fun and easy, and what is most difficult?
Designing is never easy, but it’s really fun when you make it look that way. Solving a problem with a picture is the most rewarding part of my job. Characters are often written with complex emotions, specific settings, and hard rules that sometimes contradict each other. So when you’re able to sum all of these things up in one image, that’s something special. That one image may have taken a lot of time to think of, to get the pose just right, to find the correct color palette, research costumes, etc. But nobody usually sees that, they just see the final result and that end product is the most fun for me.
The hardest thing is that drawing is an inconsistent ability. It depends on the day. Some days are just off and some days are gold. When I hit a good streak, I try not to leave the desk...or change anything for that matter. I'll watch the same movie twenty times in a row and not stand up for hours for fear that if I break the routine, I’ll lose my good drawing juju. On a day where everything you draw is garbage, it gets hard to stay motivated. You just question every move you make.
What are some of the things that you do to keep yourself creative?
I try to keep a varied bunch of interests and stimuli. I watch kid's shows (Dora & SpongeBob) in the morning; listen to bluegrass on the way to work, and watch fashion documentaries while I draw. I try to get out of the house as much as possible, there's just so much to see and hear that can keep your brain refueled with new ideas. I think your ideas can stagnate; you have to pump some fresh material in there almost every day.
What are some of your favorite designs which you have seen?
Kung Fu Panda and How To Train Your Dragon just rule. Nicolas Marlet is like bottled motivation for me. Such an amazing designer. Almost anything Milt Kahl ever drew. Foster's Home makes me giddy every time I see it. I also really like designs I've seen in Ben 10. I think I lost my cool when I saw the new Tangled trailer and featurette, GAW-JUS. As far as comics go, I’m a big fan of the Goon character design, Hellboy, and Frazetta women. I love how Enrique Fernandez styles everything. With games, I love Team Fortress 2, Mark of Kri, Odensphere, and the new Ghibli/Level 5 game, Ni no Kuni.
Basically I love things that have high personality, a strong style, and consistency. Designs that just stand on their own and don't need explanation.
What is your most favorite subject to draw? And why?
Dinosaurs. No question. I just wish I had more reasons to draw them. It’s a shame they aren't a more common task, because dinosaurs are an easy solution when you just need to add more awesome.
What inspired you to become an Artist?
I've always been able to draw, and its one of the few things I’m happy doing all of the time. I loved Disney animation when I was growing up. I always dreamed of working there and it was always that desire that made me dislike anything else I was doing. But it was my family that gave me the encouragement to actually do something about it.
What are some of the neat things you have learned from other artists that you have worked with or seen?
The most important thing I've learned is that even the best artist can have a bad day. It was such a relief to learn it wasn't just me.
Until art school I’d never heard of digital painting, ever. I was looking through the Phantom Menace book with my friends Andre Medina and Steve Munoz trying to figure out what medium they were using. Was it gouche? Was it magic chalk? I don't remember which of the two pulled backed the curtain for me, but they said "That’s Painter, its digital." I raced to get my hands on a copy of Painter 7 and started using it right away. Unfortunately, I was trying to draw with the mouse. Took me days to get a method that produced results I was happy with. When I showed Steve what I’d been working on, he said, "Dude, that'd be way easier with a wacom." What was this sorcery? I'd never heard this word before in my life. But he called a friend who had one and let me borrow it, and my mind was blown again… I was hooked. So yeah, that was neat.
What wisdom could you give us, about being an Artist? Do you have any tips you could give?
Don't waste time reworking old failures. Leave them alone. I used to keep a big Rubbermaid bin of old Colerase drawings that I’d root through if I found myself in a slump. I used to think I was finding inspiration... all I was really doing was repeating old mistakes. If you keep going back, you're missing out on a chance to do something new.
If people would like to contact you, how would you like to be contacted?
Check out my blog, http://www.tabletmonkey.blogspot.com or you can email me directly, email@example.com
Finally, do you have any of your art work for sale (sketchbook, prints, or anything) for people that like your work can know where and when to buy it?
Nothing yet, but I'm working hard to remedy that problem.
Everyone needs to go check out the comic Cory is doing on his blog, hopefully he will be publishing it someday.