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I live and work in Utah with my beautiful wife and four kids. Describing what I do for a living as far as art goes has always been difficult, as I'm the type that will try anything once. I'm at odds giving myself some sort of title which ties it all together.

I have worked for about 20 years in the film business (features, IMAX, MOW's, series, commercials, PSA's) variously as a production designer, art director, set designer, storyboard artist and concept designer as well as concept artist in the themed attractions and exhibits design industry with projects worldwide. I've been fortunate to be involved in some fairly large, globally recognized projects as well as smaller, local gigs. I am also graphic designer, having done the normal stuff such people do, plus film graphic design (signs and graphics used as props, etc.), concert posters, t-shirts, even 'soft-books' for kids. I am an illustrator: book covers, cartoon characters, architecture, etc. I'm a sculptor, a model-maker, a project manager, a... Basically, I enjoy it all.

To keep my wife sane with a budget I currently work at Brigham Young University as Associate Director of the Center for Instructional Design. I have a staff of about 8 full-time and 15 part-time graphic designers, illustrators, 3D and Flash animators, programmers and video people. We create really cool interactive media and independent study courses, about 50 projects per year. It isn't that far removed from film production, really, aside from the slower speed of completion.

In everything I do, I benefit most from the collaboration I have with groups of very smart people, the research necessary to get the job done, and all the technology toys I get to play with. Freelancing here and there with film design, theme parks and other endeavors makes it...hang on... (I just got a call that my daughter won her 7th grade spelling bee -- no lie!) ... a full life.

When did you first decide to become a graphic designer/ illustrator? Was there a pivotal moment?

My father, bless his hide, was the head of publications at Thiokol Corporation back in the 60's and 70's, where they now build the solid booster rockets for the space shuttle. He always had oil paintings and drawings around the house, and would bring home cool illustrations of NASA technology -- you know, those "where will we be in 20 years?" illustrations of space stations and moon bases. I always thought that would be the cool est job ever. Seeing Ralph McQuarrie's concept art for Star Wars back in the day made me think even harder about it. I knew I had a shot when kids in school would ask me to draw dinosaurs on their pee-chee folder during recess. Where are they now ?? (the kids -- not the dinosaurs nor the pee-chee folders)

Who or what inspires you?

The older I get the more I realize I know so little about what I do! There are so many talented artists out there that it can be a little overwhelming, so I try to concentrate on my own stuff and just try to improve. I also try to attend conferences ( ADAPT 2006 conference in Montreal was fantastic) in my fields of interest for inspiration. I read a lot of historical non-fiction and biographies, software manuals and obscure pseudoscience websites. I often haunt or to see what those who draw and paint far better than I are doing. I'm new to SFG but I'm really liking what I see here, too!

Where does your training come from? Self-taught? College/Art School?

I spent considerable time and moolah trying my hand at majoring in fine art, computer science, CAD design, geography and even anthropology. 10 years and 3 universities later I finally figured out what I'm best at -- design (I have a degree in Industrial Design), but I also realized that my interests didn't nicely fit within the university's compartmentalized mold. I don't fault those whose interests do, but I was always looking at "that other department over there", wondering why they looked like they were having so much more fun. Now, if I see something I like, I try to duplicate it. I think my Industrial Design training made the biggest impact on my marketability, as it taught me studio technique and real-world business application.

How do you keep "fresh" within your industry?

Fresh?? I feel I'm always playing catch-up! I see people doing such innovative things and am always duplicating them, always one step behind them. One day I'll strike out on my own.

What are some of your current projects?

I just completed writing a matte painting tutorial for Advanced Photoshop Magazine and am doing a series of concept illustrations for a few theme parks/resort projects with Michael Lee Design. I recently finished storyboarding a feature film, The American Pastime, which is due out I think in the next month or so as well as another (TBA) . Let see, I am creating the cover for a how-to book , and teaching a Photoshop class. This, of course, in addition to the day job.

Which of your projects are you the most proud of? And why?

I co-authored a Photoshop CS2 textbook (my first) which is available on Amazon. It was pretty cool for me to see my name in print on an actual book! I'm thrilled at the magazine gig -- never been in a mag in Walmart before! There are others, but could I be so bold as to refer you all to my portfolio?

Are there any areas, techniques, mediums, projects in your field that you have yet to try?

Once a year I have a ritual where I break out the oils, paint a sorry excuse for a landscape, get frustrated and put everything away for the year -- how I do enjoy traditions with the family! Drawing makes so much more sense to me. Also, I'm realizing that if I don't get serious with 3D packages the world will pass me by. I'm dangerous with Sketchup, but I'd like to be lethal in Maya or Cinema 4D or something like that.

Any advice to the novice designer/ illustrator?

I really take this question to heart, because I remember back in the leaner days staring my wife and kids in the eye, wondering how I was going to put food on the table and pay for the car. I think the ONLY reason I was ever hired was because I knew how to do a lot of things -- I could draw, paint, engineer, draft, model-make, and communicate. So, with that in mind,

First, become a generalist, attaining competence in a wide variety of media . You want people to think, "Man! Is there anything this kid can't do?!"

Second, say yes to every job that comes along -- don't get picky. Every job has a connection to the next and will benefit you in the end. Do them all.

Third, say goodbye to sleep. Work very hard and never miss a deadline. Missed deadlines will mean death to your career. Then and only then, specialize if you need to .

Finally, do not hang your career's hat on a design trend. The place is thick with Japanese transformer robot illustrators! Do something else (and no, I've never drawn one).

What makes a designed piece or illustration successful?

Practically speaking, there are two kinds of success: Economic and personal.

Economic success is achieved when you do a piece and the client calls you back for more -- the price doesn't matter.

Personal success is reached when your kids run up to your car when you drive into the driveway and your wife holds your hand in public and in private.

I get more personal satisfaction with the latter, and I think it's important to make a concerted effort not to confuse the two.

What do you do to keep yourself motivated and avoid burn-out?

I work late and hard for a couple of weeks at a time, and then I crash for the weekend and put it all away. I jump from project to project and from medium to medium. I play bass when I want to think. I joined a band last summer and played the state fair (!). I read historic biographies for inspiration, and I write screenplays for mental expression and personal challenge -- and they will likely never ever see the light of a dark theater.

And finally, what is the best thing on prime-time TV right now?
Oh! Can't help you there -- we choose to have no TV at our house; there is a lot of good on, but the truly disgusting is beginning to outweigh the benefit, particularly with young kids in the house. I figure our kids will see that stuff soon enough. I found a streaming website for ABC and my wife and I have watched an episode or two of LOST. Please someone explain that thing to me.

There I go, playing catch-up again!

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Claire said...

Wow! Fascinating interview and inspiring work!

Stuart said...

I've known John for quite a while...he is truly a renaissance man. His creative talents are as diverse and as "le stelle del cielo". And he is one of the few whose ego isn't as large (or larger) than his gifts. Besides, he makes me laugh with his self-deprecating humor!

Unknown said...

John is the complete package. Extremely creative and non-ego driven. The most talented designer and creative person I have ever worked with.

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