I started to draw characters from comic books and cartoons from the age of three or four. I was imitating my big brother Chris, who I looked up to – especially because we had lost our father from an early death. As I got older it was apparent to me that I was an artist and that art was something that was going to permanently be in my future. I knew that I would always be engaged in art in one capacity or another. During my senior year in high school I became aware of ArtCenter.
I applied and was accepted. I had dreamed about going, but never thought it would be possible as an Illustration major. At the time, the College’s Illustration curriculum was fairly traditional. The classes were geared toward work in magazines and other publications. That is not what I wanted to do! I had dreamed of creating art that looked like the art of books from Star Wars!
I was handing in assignments that looked like something out of a Ralph McQuarrie Star Wars design book. At least, that was my ambition. It wasn’t long before my teachers caught wind of what I was doing.
To their credit, they realized what I needed was guidance. I ended up connecting with a few of the department chairs and faculty, including the incredible Gary Meyer. My philosophy was that, as long as I was so close in location to where films were made, I wanted to create concept art for some of those films. I was never interested in doing traditional illustration work for magazines. I had a fairly one-track mind. I wanted to design spaceships and characters that would end up in movies!
I ended up embarking on a brand new, entirely unprecedented curriculum of my own. It encompassed figure painting, figure drawing, transportation design, environmental design, product design, and more. The school had recognized my passion and allowed me to take classes outside of my major that would prepare me for the concept design work that I wanted to do. Things were going well and then, all of a sudden, a big problem became obvious.
By my second term, I could no longer afford the tuition. I had secured two grants on the strength of my portfolio; my mom and I had to come up with the rest. I wanted to keep going to ArtCenter, but I had to ask myself: was it worth it to see my own mother go into debt all because of me?
My mom was supporting us on what my father had saved so she could be at home to raise her children in a responsible and spiritual home environment. When I was in high school she asked me what I eventually wanted to do to provide for myself. I was shocked. I had assumed that she knew that art was the only thing I had ever considered in terms of work. While my mom was proud of my talent, she had no idea how I could use my skills to make a legitimate living.
For me, though, it was always “art or bust.” So, during my second term, I went into brainstorm mode. How could I land my first scholarship and keep this going? In a rather brazen gesture, I ended up submitting a stop-motion film project for my portfolio review. I had just started to learn a little about actual filmmaking. My mom helped me secure the equipment I needed, traveling to our local thrift store to procure a Super 8 camera.
In the back of my head, I knew that if this project didn’t work, my time at ArtCenter would be over. Against all odds, I landed the scholarship! None of it was easy, but I had come too far to throw in the towel. I managed to secure two more scholarships and that allowed me to continue my education and ultimately graduate from ArtCenter.
I was hired at Walt Disney Imagineering right out of school. I've worked there for 14 years, and my lifelong obsession with steampunk paid off once I was asked to create fine art for the Disney galleries. I infused my favorite Disney characters into steampunk images of my creation. In 2006, I got a table at San Diego Comic-Con based on the public interest in a comic book I wrote and illustrated. I was nominated as one of four “Best Newcomers,” which got me some attention from Sony Animation.
I don’t like to brag. I’ve always believed the work should speak for itself. Still, when I consider where I’m at now, it does kind of blow my mind. I sometimes wish I had the same tenacious swagger I had when I was young. As you age in the industry, you learn to deal with politics and egos, and that other stuff fades away. You also start to learn what’s truly important in life.
My wife helps keep me centered. I run almost all my ideas by her. My advice? Stay humble. Maintain innate knowledge of self. Never belittle anyone who's trying to develop their skill. Stay fluid. Stay open to new influences. And remember: it’s always art or bust.
BFA 97 Illustration
Former Walt Disney Imagineer
Principal, Mark Page Design Inc.