Thorsten Hasenkamm

My first though on Thorsten’s work was: “What nice character designs.” But, as I got further and further down his tumblr , I began seeing more and more work that made this artist really stand out from the plethora of other great illustrators.

Can you find just one influence in the work below? The seamless merging of old masters Paul Cezanne, Henri Matisse, and Wassily Kandinsky with ‘contemporary’ masters such as Mary Blaire and Lou Romano. This isn’t someone who just wanted to work at Pixar and started tracing animation stills from The Incredibles, but instead someone who wanted to be a great artist. His sense of design is of course in top shape, but its not just a style: he pushes the way he sees a shape, the form and function of it, and pushes that idea to become something greater than the subject he originally intended to represent.

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Valerio Fabbretti

Story time, children.

I met Valerio for the first time years ago when I was still modeling for the AAU. It was always a bit embarrassing to see students in the halls afterwards, as for many it may have been their first nude female experience, and there was always a certain look in a (most often male) student’s eyes when they were thinking of you, now fully clothed and off the clock, naked. Anyways, Valerio was in his first year and in a beginner’s foundation course for figure drawing and it was the first day of class. I remember him being very hungry for learning and a general wide-eyed approach to the whole experience, and the way he handled himself was so passionate that I knew he’d do something great. You can kind of tell, sometimes, when someone has what it takes, especially when you see thousands of students a week while modeling. You can see who listens, who challenges, and who keeps the spark in their eye going. Valerio was right at home at the AAU, and though I never really talked to him again (we spoke briefly that first day, when he complimented my modeling), I always saw him around and noticed how he was still excited to be there, years later.

Now I think he has graduated and has some very interesting projects underway. I noticed his name pop up on a “Must see illustrators from CTN” and I had a tiny ping of pride at seeing this student come all that way from his first day at AAU to being a full, accomplished artist. And, a really, really spectacular one at that.

I won’t go so into the why of how these drawings are so amazing. I think its because I can’t really put my finger on it .- I mean, he isn’t reinventing the wheel with these works, necessarily. Some artists we feature are so unique and special and that is why they are special. Of course these are incredibly strong drawings, with solid weight and character to both the pose and layout. They are definitely superb in their execution, and they are a great blend of traditional and digital tools. But I think for me what is the most captivating is how much he likes drawing these. That same passion I saw in him that first day in school is still felt in these drawings and it brings a very special relationship to the work. No one wants to see a piece of work that someone hated making – especially a children’s book drawing. It was Mr. Rogers who said “Kids can spot a phony a mile away”, so I think it is especially important to have a love of the craft in that field of illustration.

Cheers Valerio, I hope to see that passion last for years to come.

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Neil Ross – Interview

In special one-two-punch, (and as an appeal for clemency for not having posted since August!), we bring you Neil Ross, both in splendid visual format as well as an exclusive interview for your perusal.
(I thought we posted his work previously, seeing as how long I have been using his work as my desktop background I assumed I had talked about him by now, but apparently not!)

I found him through his personal work, but most people may recognize his work from the new Tron: Uprising series, as well as such hits as Hotel Transyvlania, Prince of Persia, Corpse Bride, and more. His work combines hyper abstract shapes with representationalism that I haven’t seen anywhere else – where your mind is given just enough information to imagine what it is meant to see, but when under closer observation there are simply thousands of linear designs that move your eye in an overwhelming pattern. It is beautiful, and I am happy to be able to talk more with him about his process and past.

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1) Would you mind explaining your history, both any possible education and inspiration? Your work is wonderfully unique and it’d be great to learn how you came upon such a cool style.

I grew up on the Northumberland coast. It was a landscape of chimney stacks, ruined castles, pit heads, islands with abandoned hermitages, mudflats with derelict ironworks. The first art I liked were illustrations of birds, beasts, prehistoric reptiles and a comic called Creepy Magazine.

At the age of about ten I found a pocket-sized book on the Surrealists that cast a spell on me. Here were the things seen with the inner eye. I did not know you were allowed to do this. This was my introduction, although unaware of it at the time, to Dali’s ‘paranoid-critical’ position. In fact, I can see now that I have a persistent fascination with grand paranoiac theories, narratives and people.

I did Graphic Design at art school and then spent a year or three doing badly paid illustrations for advertising agencies in Manchester. After a spell at Cosgrove Hall Films I moved to London and got a job at Richard Williams Animation on Soho Square. This was where drawing, painting and film-making came together for me.

Dick Williams was brilliant, eccentric and ran things like an artist’s studio – not like a business whose economic base was making TV commercials. This waywardness was part of Dick’s appeal and I found him to be a very stimulating and charismatic figure although my admiration may not have been apparent to him at the time.

To begin with I was an odd-job man assisting animators and doing background artwork in different styles and different media. It would depend on what the advertising agencies were asking for. I had no ‘style’ of my own. After a while Dick began to give me whole commercials to design. I would work out how things were to look and what media we’d use, then I would team up with an animator and we’d wade through the thing together until it was done. In those days Soho ran on beer, tobacco and hash. We sucked these tarry fuels into ourselves and stayed up all hours drawing and squinting through the gas. It was a good time.

Dick had unusual reasons for firing people. You could be ousted for “… only coming in to use the toilet.” I was booted out for “… bringing my illegitimate children into the studio.” (Actually, I have one child and she isn’t illegitimate, although I did bring her in a couple of times.) I don’t hold it against him. He was a demanding boss, I respect his paranoia and, anyway, I was re-hired when things cooled down and he saw that I was not the cause of whatever had got the shit to hit the fan.

Eventually I did leave of my own accord. It was unwise move. I entered into a dark period. I made background paintings for animated commercials from pastels and hairspray. There was a demand for such things. But it was a demand that I was increasingly unwilling to fulfil so I enrolled at the University of London and studied History with the hope of finding some relief from my misery in the workings of the past.

Out of the blue I got an offer to work on a feature film about Jewish mice in the Wild West. I accepted without hesitation and climbed aboard a long, steep learning curve with plenty of opportunity to see things from the paranoid-critical position.


2) Your work is generally non-figurative, or at least the focal point is of a layout. Many of our students talk about how all they want to draw are humans and never practice backgrounds or layouts, even for works in comics or illustrations where jobs aren’t divided into so many titles such as background and character design. Do you have any advice for how to get interested in this field and where you find your motivation?

I see why you say that. It’s true that the imagery I’ve been concerned with in my personal work in recent times is – I’d first say – ‘topographical’ but then ‘topomaniacal’ or ‘topogigamist’ might be more appropriate. I’m motivated by the city I see around me. When I came to London it seemed to be a place that was solidly unchangeable but now things change every day – demolition and construction goes on all the time. The old East End is now a theme park of   architectural fashions and urban recovery schemes. My pictures depict built space. It may all be what Rem Koolhaas has called ‘Junkspace’ but I’m happy to find myself in it. Sometimes the pictures are based on a particular place, sometimes not. I improvise and always hope to find more than I have originally imagined. After an hour or two of working on a picture it will take on a life of it’s own and I will try to follow that animus. I am under no obligation to do other than accurately represent the images as they occur. Occasionally I put distinct figures into the images but now I feel inclined to avoid that because they imply narratives that lead me astray. This is not an uninhabited place. There is inner life here, making its way through the rat runs. There is also the client and cult of congestion represented by the Domestic, Art & Utility corporation.

Architects, planners, politicians, ideologues attempt to plan the city but it seems to have its own theorem. The city itself may be the dominant life form of the future. We may inhabit it like tiny mammals in the Jurassic. A calamity may have occurred. What remains is unredeemed. The city seems to re-build itself on top of itself. Some structures are familiar: offices, apartments, balconies, stations. Others are hard to identify. What activities do they contain?

This is an on-going project that I’m working on with the writer, Mark Holloway. Eventually it will be a book.

On students…

Students who are primarily interested in drawing humans are onto the right thing. Once they’ve got their life drawing skills down they can move onto something else….. If they want to. If you only wish to draw the human form then animation seems the job for you. If you want to do comics then you probably need a sense of place or a collaborator who has one, but come to think of it, I can’t imagine an artist who isn’t interested in the way the world looks.

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3) What is the goal of each of your pieces? Do you aim for a focal point, a general atmosphere or a contrast of colors, for example? Does this differ for your personal work?

I’ve covered some of this above but, speaking practically, I’m looking for an abstract composition. I often begin with a very simple thumbnail in black and white and one gray tone ONLY. The action and play of light is intrinsic to making a composition. You can learn a lot about composition by looking at pre-war black and white movies. Once the German craftsmen made their way into Hollywood in the late 20’s bringing the ideas of Expressionist Cinema things began to take form. Contemporary camera work is not so instructive because they move around too much. I’m not saying there isn’t great composition in today’s cinematography but it pays to go back to the source.

Colours? Well, I like yellow and red and blue.

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4) It is easy for the eye to get mesmerized by your shapes and how abstract the designs can be. At the same time, a lot of your textures take on a water color look. Both of these are fairly traditional techniques – so how do you combat the idea that digital painting isn’t a ‘real’ form of art?

I sometimes use patches of watercolour or acrylic that I paint and scan to make into ‘brushes’. Working in Photoshop lies somewhere between painting and photography. When I was an art student I spent hours fooling around in the darkroom with exposures and developing times (this was all pre-digital of course). One of the drawbacks with pixel-based artwork is the closer you get in to it, the less it’s interesting. This is not true of artwork made from ‘traditional’ materials, neither is it true of non-digital photography. Go close in on a painting by Vermeer or a photograph by Lartigue and new worlds begin to emerge before your eyes. So I experiment with grain and grunge to break up the surface and allow suggestions to occur.

Most digital art is produced on the way toward something else. I mean that it is a designer’s tool. The end result will be not the digital painting but something else. The digital paint stage is just part of the process. The medium was not meant to make art in some grand sense. But even so, you can use it to make art, why not? Art is not a fine thing, it’s just another thing. However, there are long standing hierarchies in the art game. Oil paint is higher than water colour, portraiture is higher than still life and so on. In this sense, digital painting is considered to be very low ‘genre’. The folks out there are a little suspicious of digital paint. They’re not sure we’re putting the hours in. Perhaps we just type in stuff and go off to the pub.

When it comes to my personal work I have certain rules. I don’t photo-bash and I don’t use software that imitates painterly brush strokes. I’m not a purist and these techniques are quite OK for working on movies and games – whatever works, works. But they won’t get me the graphic clarity that I like. I’m looking for images that are worth more than a glance so, increasingly, I’m aiming to make a very complex image.


5) 5 Greatest Inspirations and Motivators (as we are an artist’s inspiration blog)

Moebius (How can you avoid him.)

Lebbeus Woods (His writings and ideas as well as the exquisite drawings.)

Milton Glaser (The first graphic designer to hold my attention. I’m still delighted by his work.)

Felix Vallotton.

Jacques Majorelle.

I have to cheat and add a joker to my hand: Dali – more for his ideas than his paintings.


Check out more of his work at the links below.

DINER DANGER – by Thomas Hunter

A great, silly animation that appeals to my old childhood cartoon sentimentalities. Reminiscent of old Ren and Stimpy and modern day Adventure Times, Diner Danger is just a great, simple animation to enjoy for a few minutes of your day. Lizard biker gangs, a dog with an penchant for tomatoes, and desert hillbillies, it has something for everyone.

Find more of Thomas Hunter’s work here:

Song of the Sea – by Cartoon Saloon

From the same studio who brought us The Secret of Kells, you know, that enormously beautiful Irish tale filled with breathtaking colors, rhythmic lines and incredible design shapes, we now have the pleasure of seeing a second feature film – Song of the Sea. The story seems ‘similar’ enough, in the sense that it is also derived from an Irish folktale and is primarily surrounding children and mythology – but that is good news for me! So far it appears fan of The Secret of Kells will not be disappointed by Song of the Sea.

They also have an incredible, and I mean superb, blog detailing every process of the film production – from rendering to sound capturing to concept design. A MUST see for anyone who is interested in learning about how these films are actually made – yes, they really DO send someone out with a mic and record sounds of the oceans,  seagulls, trees blowing, etc.


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Want more? Click here for their youtube channel, with an obligatory link to more conceptual teasers.


Robert Kondo

Robert Kondo works as a set / background designer for Disney / Pixar (meaning he was kind of the ‘mood setter’ for some of my favorite animations) , and was one of the forces behind my favorite project “Sketch Travel” as well. So, I’m pretty amazed I haven’t really heard about him except for recently – how silly I am. But, in the wide world filled with incredible artists, its better late than never.

His work is stylistically similar to Dice Tsutsumi, which means its amazing. Everything you see in his images are simplified down to only the necessities – but what is defined as a necessity is what is interesting here.  The ideas are simple, the moments splendid and the characters placed in an environment which surpluses the kookiness of the entire scene. Its brilliantly done. Can’t say  always like the ‘fuzzy brush’ thing he uses often, but that is simply aesthetic differences – I definitely like the child like “coloring book” effect it has, but for me its just a bit too much! I myself am a  huge fan of pen and ink (as we all know), so his almost 101 Dalmations-esque pen and ink background sketches below are just heavenly for me.  I always revel in the energy and instant gratification a pen and ink drawing delivers – and mixed with his vibrant palette it makes the pieces all the more exciting. His use of shadows (light vs. dark) brings an element of fantasy and drama to each piece, and it is wonderful to see such craftsmanship in action.
His work includes the short ‘La Luna’, Ratatouille, and Monsters University (and hopefully many, many more to come!)

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Always been a big fan of Dice Tsutsumi, and so I am super excited to see his collaboration with Robert Kondo on The Dam Keeper. Check out some behind the scenes stuff below.

Box + The Dam Keeper from Spencer Sass on Vimeo.

Man Arenas

Man Arenas is a Belgian artist who works as a environment designer, storyboard artist, concept artist, art director, production designer, and comic book producer – so, pretty much anything that involves art production. He is incredibly talented, where his drawings (even scribbles) are as solid as most artist’s masterpieces. This is an artist who knows how to design, how to be patient, and how to see a project through to the best of his ability. You can tell by the way he draws that he loves what he does, and I would take a guess that he gets as lost in his worlds as we do. You couldn’t create a world as majestic as these are without believing in it yourself.

Each piece is so narrative that you don’t need to read the entire story to understand the depth of each frame. The mood hits you instantly – you know the mood of the characters (often somber, noble, or playful), the mood of the environment (often airy or peaceful), and the idea of what is happening (often a snapshot of the character’s simple, yet stunning, life).

His characters are wonderful, of course, with spot on anatomy and flowing gestures that sweep you into the moment. But, for me, the best point about these images are his wonderful backgrounds. This man knows his color theory! Take a moment, a real moment, and try and understand the amount of detail he puts into his flora. A brief look at his tumblr reveals study after study after study of a variety of tree stumps, branches, leaf patterns, moss growth, and temperature shifts. That is how you get this good! He knows he will have to draw a lot of nature in his work, so he takes the time out to study and research his subject matter. And now just how it looks – but he gives his environments a character of their own that adds so much feeling to his people (or fauns, or unicorns…).

So, I highly recommend getting lost in his tumblr. Take the time to really analyze his method, hell, do a few master copies of his work. But better yet, go take a walk in the woods one day and try to appreciate the world as much as Man Arenas clearly does.


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Dark Noir by Rafael Gramp

This is an absolutly beautiful amalgamation between 3D and 2D and is stunning to look at. Though the story is both unique and a bit overdrawn (I love the idea of stealing ideas and this imaginary world, but, it still feels a bit done before), I still can’t figure out what in the world this has to do with Absolut (or Facebook), two of the ‘producers’ in the film. Maybe if you drink enough shitty Vodka you TOO can begin to see monsters….?


Junk Head 1 – YAMIKEN

Where my stop-motion animators at?!
Kotaku did a super great write-up, and I won’t pretend I can do better.

In summary, this stop-motion short is the first part of a much longer intended film (he is hoping to one day make a whole hour and a half film!). The animator did this all single handedly and from scratch,  coming home from his day job and slaving away at his dream vision. It is a wonderful masterpiece, and I intend to back it fully once he releases more details.

Dave Besnier

I’m not normally one who is into vector / flash work – but this is too charming to pass up. There is so much to click, and they are all incredibly adorable. I spend easily 20 minutes of time that I had much else to do enjoying these animations over and over and over and over again. Put a smile on my face – hope it does for you too. (And, his blog is just as enjoyable. Even with the simplest shapes and animations he is able to portray so much – brilliant!)

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(I do apologize for wordpress’s inability lately to handle embedded documents. Hopefully clicking the link is not too much trouble?)

Brutal Moineau

So, I am well aware of the influx of cute, animated cartoony stuff lately on this blog. I’m not even going to apologize for it – I know you love it.

Moineau is a French illustrator whose current interest in vikings has me hooked. (Not to mention that adorable fish face mask thing going on below.) Great designs for a wonderfully simplistic and confident artist. (And love the Sergio Toppi-esque rendering at times!)

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Annette Marnat

Annette Marnat is a french illustrator who works for the animation industry as well as illustrates children’s books. Her blog is simply a delight, and though at times I find the textures a bit  overwhelming, no on can deny the absolutely strength of these designs.  Her blog does her work much more justice than this small selection of work, and are better viewed as a whole even though each piece is so incredibly well done.

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Tuna Bora

Tuna Bora is a Turkish artist currently living/working in LA. Her designs have brought her some real cred, as she is sought after for anything from feature animation to commercials, children’s books and illustrative story telling.  In a recent personal project, she co-produced an illustration book with Elsa Chang called Tendre Retrouvailles.

There was an interesting interview done of her by Animation Insider, as well as a nice write up on Cartoon Brew. 

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