The Mark of The Beast

Hi Chris, how are you doing? What have you been up to? I'm doing well thank you! I've actually just moved 300 miles from home to Burbank, California (right next to Los Angeles) so I've been in a bit of a frenzy as of late. Between the The Urbanites figures coming out, gallery shows and freelance projects for both big and small companies, I forget that I need to eat something every now and then. Oh yeah, and then there's the whole sleep issue haha. But I'm sure most everyone on VA can attest to that. You recently finished university, how was it? It was definitely a great experience. I came into the graphic design program at my school with a much different background and experience level than my classmates, so instead of riding the high horse, I decided to use what I knew to be a mentor and tutor. I had the same classmates for 2 years, so I became very close to a lot of them which made some of the most boring class work more enjoyable. Chris Lee Chris Lee ...and now you are ready to take on working full time at Wheaty Wheat? Well, part of my reason for moving to Burbank was to work at Wheaty Wheat, however I will be splitting my time there and pursuing my own path with my "Beast" brand identity seeking out larger illustration and design opportunities. What are they planning for you - will you be character designing for toys or will you be applying your design skills to layout and graphics? I won't have my hand in actual toy/prototype design as much as I will layout and graphics. Richard will be taking care of the bulk of the actual three dimensional duties along with the other people we often farm work out to. I'll mainly be in charge of maintaining the Wheaty Wheat brand consistency as well as art direction for packaging and marketing materials for the various artists we will be working with (both current and in the future). Chris Lee Do you see a difference between designing characters and designing identities and graphics, do you approach them differently or do they have similar origins in the way you conceive the idea? They essentially have the same origins. Whenever I begin to design anything, I always ask myself what is the goal of this project and who is my audience? Because everything I feel I do shares one set of qualities with the next (i.e. carrying over design principles into my illustrations or adding illustrative accents to my graphic design projects) the crossover allows me to create hybrid compositions with aim to answer the same question in the finished piece > Am I communicating my message effectively? Chris Lee Chris Lee Ok let's get all designer geeky for a while (if we haven't already done so) - favourite typeface and why? It's been a constant battle between Trade Gothic and Comic Sans... but Trade Gothic always prevails hahah. Actually, I feel I'm biased because I use the font for my identity system, but the typeface truly is a work horse. The forms work well together and its condensed versions have a pleasing effect when kerned properly. What would be your absolute ultimate dream design project? Wow, that's such a huge question....hrmm. Just one? Let me think. I think my ultimate dream design project would be to do character branding for a big corporate client. Kind of like what Superdeux did with the Hugo Boss store. That's enough of that! On researching for this interview, I passed by another interview you did back in July 2005, where you stated "I would love to collaborate with TADO," is this how Horror On Tour came about - who got in touch with who? Hahaha, I guess wishes do really come true. Richard (Wheaty Wheat) had actually approached Mike & Katie with the proposal that we do a gallery show together because he felt our styles and energy complimented each other. It was so unreal when I found out that they were totally enthusiastic about it all! Did the collaboration educate you about designing characters and scenes, or did you end up teaching M&K all that you know? The collaboration with M&K was so much fun. I think we all have an understanding of composition, color and most importantly...wacky themes! That made it pretty easy for us to springboard off each other's concepts and ideas. The way the process worked was we would each do half of a composition and pass it back to each other until it was done. There was a lot of time spent on Messenger chatting about the pieces, critiques, muffins, pasta, or whatever Katie was cooking at the moment :) Chris Lee You seemed to have survived the first leg of "Horror On Tour", we're well aware of how potentially lethal those TADOs can be. How was that whole thing, as an experience? "Survived" is really the only way I can describe the experience haha. Mike & Katie are definitely a potent duo :) But in the best way possible of course. I first came into our project together with plans, structure and deadlines....it wasn't long before I quickly abandoned all that in exchange for pure madness! Hahah. I think the hardest part was the actual production because with M&K being overseas, I was in charge of printing each piece on canvas, treating them, stretching them onto bars, packing and shipping them to Rotofugi. Eeek! Can we ever expect the tour to continue? M&K and I have talked about it, but what I do know is that it would have to involve me coming over to the UK ;) So, that's one wish fulfilled, who's next on your list of dream collaborators? Sichi :) Hahah, but seriously, on an artist level I would love the opportunity to work with Nathan J. On a more corporate level, I'd love to be involved with MTV UK or Asia on a project. What is the "beast" and why is it "back"? Is the beast you or is there a bit of beast in all of us? The "beast" icon is my interpretation of the lure to touch or be in contact with something that MIGHT be potentially dangerous. The idea falls in line with the notion that "It's okay to pet a trained grizzly bear......right?" The stark eyes expressing zero emotion and the rounded shape lead your initial reaction to think it's cute and fuzzy while the sliced heart helps complete the effect. The phrase "The Beast Is Back" is basically my personal announcement to everyone that has been interested in seeing my work over the years, but without a website to view it. I wanted to create an icon and catch phrase that could be a marketable vehicle on its own. I plan to do a lot of fun things with just the "The Beast Is Back" brand in the future :) Is there a little bit of a beast in all of us? Definitely! It describes the maddening thing we become when we express the drive for our greatest passions in life....claws and all. The Urbanites, urbanites, urbanites... where are the vinyl? Good question! And the answer is that, they're on their way :) We just sent Mellow off to the factory so the proofing process will begin shortly. From there, the rest of the figures will follow suit. I'm excited! It's been a long process, but as we all know in this culture, vinyl toy releases are a true test of patience :) Chris Lee Has exploring the world of 3D physical, tangible objects made you think about how you would develop characters in 2D form in the future? Do you think you'll end up wondering how or if they would work in 3D? Initially when the challenge of creating three dimensional forms from my two dimensional designs was brought to my attention, I had to switch gears mentally to try to imagine my characters with actual physical depth. I have to admit it was difficult at first, especially since my ideal vision of the Urbanites lies on a 2D plane, kind of like how the Cartoon Network show "Foster's Home For Imaginary Friends" is presented. As far as it influencing my 2D character development in the future, I don't think wading in the 3D toy world has had any major effect on it other than giving me insight on the importance of an accurate turn-around for modeling purposes (if that were ever to arise in the future). Chris Lee There is quite a back story growing to the Urbanites project, and the line-up of characters seems to continue to grow. You must have bigger plans for them, what else can we expect to see coming out? I plan on doing a lot more mini-prints and print sets (where the sequential prints will narrate a single story or event...silently of course). I want to introduce a supporting cast to the Urbanites that may not necessarily even be involved in their normal world. I want to also explore the option of an animation one day too. It looks like you had a serious amount of fun with the recent Octane 3 print series, how did you end up working with the octomonkey king Mr Octane? Definitely! I had a great time developing the print set for good ol' Simon at Octane. Since the print was an Octane exclusive, I went straight to the message board (aka the Octomonkeys) to find out what they would like to see in a print. Everyone on that board threw out some really original ideas! In the end I decided to do a print that didn't involve my Urbanites characters and instead focused on communicating the whole "Octomonkey" theme to the fullest extent that I could. Chris Lee Simon and I hooked up during the New York Toy Fair, but we spoke a lot before then. He actually contacted me at the initial launch of his online storefront to do an exclusive project back in 2005. Funny story, but Simon actually was in San Francisco and at Kidrobot during my solo exhibition there. He saw me setting up but apparently didn't want to bother me at that moment. Kind of eerie :) So we ran into each other before we even knew about each other. Does having virtual contact to an international community inspire you or drive you nuts? Surely some of the more peculiar national traits of, for example, us Brits can be a bit confusing! It's definitely inspiring! After being directly connected for awhile, the entire community (whether it be national or international) has begun to feel like neighbors to me. The support and positivity has definitely kept my spirits high and the creative juices flowing. It also helps that every now and then I get food gifts from different parts of the UK sent to me ;) Chris Lee OK, we have a routine VA question, a real deep and involving inquisition: If you could have one Inspector Gadget type inner gadget, what would it be? Two mechanical arms that could automatically make perfect sushi rolls! What are you looking forward to for the remainder of the year? Settling down in my new surrounding. Beginning life without the burden of school. And most importantly, challenging myself to push the boundaries of my ability. I've said it before, and I'll say it until the end of my existence...thank you to everyone who has offered their kind words, laughs and moments of inspiration. I still, and will always, create for you... Cheers Chris, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. Hope the move isn't too arduous and that your new environment proves to be inspiring and motivating!