Marco Bucci Interview

Based in Toronto, today’s interview is with acclaimed and talented artist, Marco Bucci (Not to be mistaken with ‘Marco B. Bucci’ of Studio Dronio.) Working both in-studio and on a freelance basis for clients all over the world, Marco is a dab-hand when it comes to the areas of visual development, art direction and matte painting for film, telelvision and video games. And not only has he been involved in the concept stages of a number of films, but he also paints formal portraits for paying commissioners. We caught up with him to find out more regarding his motivations and key opinions when it comes to such a closed and critical career path.

1. In one paragraph, could you describe yourself to our readers. Talking about the work that you do, and who you are?

My name is Marco Bucci. I’m a painter and I work in the animation/film industry in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I’ve worked on a wide range of projects including films, TV shows, video games, and print advertising. My passion is simply to try to create pictures that are undeniably appealing, regardless of their medium and/or intended use. I’m in love with how light works and how we perceive it, and it’s probably a lifelong goal that I’ll never achieve to learn to capture it as accurately and as simply as possible.

2. What kind of Art Education have you done, if any? And do you think it’s important for an illustrator to pursue some kind of educational qualification, whether that’s in terms of learning, or simply having something to put on your CV? And what is your stance on self-learning vs teaching?

I am of the self-taught variety. I did technically go to art school … but it was film school. They didn’t offer a single drawing or painting class. But, in film school I learned about telling stories through shots and compositions, I learned about screenwriting, character arcs, film editing and many things that are tangentially attached to what I do now as a painter. I was 19 at the time, and couldn’t draw to save my life (I had no natural aptitude for drawing), but in my first year of University I happened to discover a local art studio up the street that hosted nightly life-drawing classes. I barely knew what life drawing was, but I did know that so many artists I looked up to recommended drawing the nude model as a way of learning. So I started going to life drawing classes.. It was at that studio that I met one of my first mentors, a really amazing artist named Nick Kilislian who I ended up drawing with for about 4 years, learning under his guidance. My stance on self-learning vs. going to an art school is this: you will only learn what you want to learn. You can go to the best art school on the planet and come out a total hack. But if you have a spark and a passion to do this stuff, you will learn it regardless of what school you go to.

3. Your work has a very strong and noticeable style. What would you classify your own style as? Can you pinpoint any particular reason why you might work like that, whether it’s an outside influence or not?

That’s a good question. In my early days, I had an idea of what I wished my art would look like, based on whatever artist I happened to be obsessed with at the time. One week I’d want my work to be just like Norman Rockwell, then the next week I’d want to be just like Glen Keane, and the next week, just like John Singer Sargent. That sort of thing is just a stage all artists go through I think – and it’s more a product of insecurity rather than anything else; you want your art to look like somebody else’s, because you want to be as great as they were. The truth is, Rockwell, Keane, and Sargent are all so amazing because they found a unique, personal voice that matched their personality. This is something you need to do for yourself, and it takes a long time (and a lot of failure) to find. But it will happen to you naturally, if you keep at it long enough. My art style is unique to me, simply because it’s now my own personality is coming out. I don’t really have to think about it when I work; it happens naturally. But behind it, there is also the influence of vast amounts of artists whose work has helped me develop the skills I need to pull it off.

4. If we took one image as an example, your – Friends – image.. What is the process you go through when composing your image. How do you start it, what techniques, software and skills do you use? Do you create lots of sketches beforehand? Are you inspired by something? Do you have a specific direction?

I do have a specific direction most of the time, but it’s more based on an emotion, rather than a final picture in my head. When I painted that image, I had a strong feeling that I knew could become a successful painting. All I needed to do was make sure I chose the right composition, lighting, and characters for it that evoked the right mood. I did not start with sketches for this particular one, but sometimes I do, to work out things like composition. In this case, the composition was relatively simple, with not too much clutter to worry about. I started with big shapes, and slowly made my way to the smaller shapes. The software I use is the latest Adobe Photoshop, for all my digital paintings.

5. Something that is apparent in your work is the use of character, whether it’s human, monster or animal. All of which seem to give of a fairy-tale, fictional feel, with the colour, the topic and the stories portrayed through them. Are you a lover of children’s stories? And have you done any work for such?

I’m a lover of good stories. Be it a fairytale intended for children, or an R-Rated film, I like good stories that make me suspend my disbelief for a moment and live in their reality. That’s the effect my favourite painters have on me as well. When I paint, I very much do think of the story behind it. What got those characters there? How are they feeling in this painting? What are they reacting to? Just basic questions like that move me enough to want to paint. To answer the last question, yes I have done work for Children’s books!I am working on my own book projects right now, as a matter of fact.

6. We couldn’t continue without mentioning this character. Who seems to appear in a number of your works, alone or with different companions. Is there some kind of connection with this character? Or is it a design you’ve simply fallen in love with?

Haha – I invented that Green Monster totally by accident one day while doodling on a scrap piece of paper at work. The first drawing of him is probably 1/4″ high and is just a basic shape with eyes. That little sketch inspired this painting. I had so much fun painting him that he just started popping up in more and more of my paintings. Before I knew it, people on my blog and facebook started to become familiar with the character, and I felt like he was developing an actual personality that I really enjoyed, so I still am painting him! I think he subliminally represents the friend we all wish we had as children … or something.

7. Despite the colours and the life within your work, it’s also noticeable that there is roughly three specific themes you seem to play with on a regular basis. Fantasy-inspired Characters. Fictional Landscapes. And more darker subjects, such as your Nosferatu and Vampire works. Is there a particular subject you prefer out of those? Are there things you have never drawn and one day hope to do so? Or perhaps, are there subjects and imagery that you steer clear of out of personal or moral reasons?

Wow, that’s a pretty deep analysis of my artwork. I’m sort of shocked (in a good way)! I think each one of those subjects relates to different moods I happen to be in when I paint. I love light, as I mentioned, and I also love imagination, so that explains the fantasy landscapes. More and more, though, I love to tell stories with my paintings, so most of my recent stuff has been with characters. The darker paintings like Nosferatu would probably fall into the ‘story’ category as well, just with darker subject matter. There’s lots of things that I’d love to paint, but right now I’m just taking it one idea at a time! I don’t think I avoid anything out of personal or moral reasons.

8. You mentioned that you’re a fan of artists from the Victorian Era. Are there any you could name for us? And why? Are there any present day illustrators or designers that you feel influenced by? Is there anything else other than art that inspires your work? Such as music or film?

My favourite artist of all time is John Singer Sargent. He just had such a mastery over controlling drawing, value, colour, and texture with an economy of brushwork that is just undeniable. No tricks in his art. As for present-day artists, there’s too many to list. I’ve taken workshops and classes personally with some of my favourite oil painters, such as Morgan Weistling, Scott Christensen, Richard Schmid, Jeremy Lipking, and Dan Gerhartz, to name a few. They influence me a lot, even though I don’t necessarily do fine art. And there’s tons of artists working in the animation and film industry today that inspire me. Too many to list here. Music and film both inspire me – I’ve already talked about story, but music can tell incredibly emotional stories too. I’ve actually been a musician longer than I’ve been a painter. I keep it as a hobby, and record my own music at home. I don’t know if it inspires my painting, but painting and music are both like loud kids that constantly need my attention.

9. You work for both film and freelance. Could you give us a bit more of an insight into what you do regarding Film Art Production? What stages you’re involved with and how you begin working on such a project? And perhaps explain to us how you go about doing your freelance painting. Do people come to you, can you draw from photographs, and such.

My film/animation work is typically done at various animation studios in Toronto, where I live. I’m on a project right now where I started early in the process as a concept artist. I would look at the script, and find locations that needed fleshing out and start painting them. I’d go through dozens of paintings before arriving at the final design. Then we moved into production, where I am now a background painter for the show. Background painting is simply taking drawings from the layout artist and doing the final paintings that will actually appear on-screen. Freelance is an interesting way to work as an artist, because you can accept work from anywhere. I’ve done freelance for clients all over the world and really enjoy it. Sometimes clients get to know me through my work in the industry, or sometimes it’s through my website/blog. I don’t really do fine art on a freelance basis though. I have to keep at least some types of art to myself!

10. As a finishing question for this interview, do you have any wisdom that you might be able to impart, to inspire and motivate our readers that are also interested in starting/improving their own illustrative career? Any tips you think are key to being successful with your work?

This is a question I get asked a lot, and the answer is kind of boring. Just work hard at it. There’s no short cuts around hard work. What is hard work, when it comes to being a better artist? Lots of mileage – but mileage aimed in the right direction. My advice is to study from life as much as possible. Draw the figure, paint the figure, paint plain air, do quick value sketches with pens and markers, digitally paint a still life, etc.. While you do this, also paint completely from imagination without using any external reference, and try to invent believable light and form out of your mind. You’ll quickly discover where the gaps in your knowledge-base are, and then you can look to life again to patch up those gaps. It’s a long process, but improving is fun, and you’ll gain powerful momentum the more consistently you do it. Before you know it, people will be demanding your art.

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