Bruce Zick shows the way to sustain oneself in the art scene while growing at it. He points out what separates a good illustrator from a great one and how to bridge the gap.
Bruce Zick is an artist and designer who has worked on feature-length films such as Tarzan, The Lion King, Prince of Egypt, The Iron Giant, and Beauty and the Beast. In his 40 years of experience, he has donned various hats for the best names in the arena of film, comics, etc.
Could you take us through the experience of your journey, from starting out as a fresh artist to now having worked for timeless classics over a span of 40 years?
Bruce Zick: I was lucky to get a job as an animation union apprentice working in Saturday morning cartoons for Ruby-Spears. I was terrible at first and worked constantly for the next four years trying to get better fast. I started freelancing for other studios as a layout artist and also for Sat. Morn. After a few more years, I got a job for Disney on Rescuers Down Under and, from that point on, my career took off. I moved from L.A. to Portland years later and, because of the distance factor, I had less work going on. So I started in the comic book business, first working for Marvel and then Dark Horse. I like the balance between the two fields.
In how many ways has the field changed over this time and how do you perceive these changes?
Bruce Zick: Certainly, the computer changed everything. For twenty years I could work strictly as a pencil illustrator. But it was inevitable that I learn digital painting. I resisted for many more years and gradually built up my confidence and a good level of proficiency. Then, years later, more artists were working in 3D and that is something I need to learn, though I am not excited about the technical learning curve.
Having worked with greats like Disney, Marvel, and Pixar, what do you feel enables them to create epic, globally loved content?
Bruce Zick: They hire the best people they can get and create an environment for them to do what they do best.
Bruce Zick: I think the difference is in the amount of dedication one has. There is always a factor of just innate talent that we have no control over. Otherwise, for the majority of successful artists, it’s about hard, hard work, devotion, learning, and never giving up.
How does one need to adapt one’s approach when working for the screen against illustrating for comics?
Bruce Zick: Size is one important difference. A comic has severe space limitations; it’s very difficult working in small panels on a small page when you can work in an unlimited size for a film. Plus, in comics, you have to be the director, the actor, the designer, the cinematographer, the editor, the set decorator, etc. Also, in films, you can pour your soul into an illustration. In comics you have to work faster because of the limited economics; plus, you don’t want to clutter up your page with too much detail.
What aspects do you look at as a production and concept artist to guide you in how you visualize and execute ideas?
Bruce Zick: It’s all about the story and how you can choose a style that best expresses the feel of the story. Nothing is arbitrary. You should use psychology in your choices to convey the emotions that the specific moment of the script requires. Color choices are similar; it’s all about psychology.
What would you advise artists and designers who are starting out now that would aid them in their journey ahead?
Bruce Zick: Learn as much as you can about everything. Study the history of art; explore a wide range of artists and learn from them. Because there is so much competition, it helps to have a side job that can pay the bills. That way, you can hang in there for years as you improve and make connections, and develop a reputation.
Having worked on such a wide range of projects, what excites you further that you’d like to be part of?
Bruce Zick: Being better as a painter is really stimulating – learning about new artists and expanding my ideas while rebooting my default work mechanisms. I always look forward to each new assignment, whether film or book and the new opportunities it will bring. It never ends – as long as you love what you do it will always be a rewarding experience.
How can clients assist in the process of creating the desired result and how can artists understand client expectations better?
Bruce Zick: Communication can be a challenge. I have to ask a lot of questions and really strive for having a clear connection. The client and the artist can never assume that an understanding has been reached. When I have a client meeting, afterward they often send me notes about the discussion which is very helpful. I do the same. I will write down what I think my understanding is of what we discussed and give them the opportunity to either confirm or make changes.