Josh Lange is one of those guys that you meet on the street and wonder what kind of talent he has. Then one day, you see what he’s got going on, and you say, “Oh wow, you did this?” He always comes correct. So after his move up to LA, we got together to work on an art project honoring a few legends of the 8-bit era. Be sure read the full interview and see all the prints Josh has created.
Mr Benja: Hey, Josh. How’s everything going?
Josh Lange: Excellent — and busy. Right now I’ve begun a new chapter of my life with a new job in a new city, and I’m working on several side projects, but everything is very exciting and challenging for me.
Well busy is usually better than not busy, so I’m all for that. We’ve known each other for a while now, but could you give us a little bit of your background story?
Sure. The somewhat short version is that I was raised in a suburb of Seattle, Washington and had a talent for drawing at an early age, which my parents encouraged. I loved art and animation growing up. In high school, I became obsessed with movies and visual effects and took a film appreciation course at the local community college. That started my interest into film theory. I got a scholarship to attend The Evergreen State College in Olympia, and I worked part time on their newspaper as an ad designer. I liked the school, but when I saw Pixar’s Toy Story 2, I knew computer animated movies was where I wanted to end up. Unfortunately, Evergreen had only one film class, and it was full when I tried enrolling for it as a freshman. So I decided to make the drastic but necessary move of dropping out and applying for the 3D animation program at the Vancouver Film School. I had no 3D animation in my application portfolio, but when they met me they realized how serious I was, and I was accepted into their fall program.
I spent 12 months of immersive training in Softimage and Maya developing a breakdancer demo reel. At the end of it, I sent out my reel to all the film companies I loved as well as some video game developers. I took an offer with startup video game developer Studio Gigante in Chicago. It was formed by Mortal Kombat co-creator John Tobias and several of his fellow ex-Midway co-workers. Although it wasn’t film, I greatly enjoyed animating for the fighting games they made. After the studio unfortunately shut down in 2005, I interviewed with Rockstar San Diego. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas was on everyone’s mind, and it felt like the right place to be at the right time. I ended up first animating on Table Tennis, led the cutscene animation team on their street racing title Midnight Club: Los Angeles, and worked on in-game and cutscene animations for the award-winning Red Dead Redemption.
After Red Dead Redemption, I had shipped five games in eight-plus years in the video game industry. I had also met and married my wife Tina, whom I met in San Diego. I accepted an offer from my former Vancouver Film School classmate Nick, co-founder of the Los Angeles previsualization company, The Third Floor. My wife and moved up I-5 to Los Angeles and as of now I am working on Bryan Singer’s upcoming fantasy movie Jack the Giant Killer.
Sounds like a fun ride. How do you like previsualization?
I love doing previs, because each week it requires I learn and use things in Maya that I never touched in all of my years keyframing and editing mocap for video games. I’ll never forget my first day: it was incredibly hot–something crazy, like 105 degrees. It set a record. But despite the insane temperature, I was sitting at my desk on the 10th floor, looking at the Hollywood sign across Los Angeles in front of me, with a big smile on my face. I was finally working on my first movie.
When I came to you with the idea for the 8-Bit Legends, I thought it would be interesting to make a series about famous designers to highlight some of the personality behind these games. It would also fit your character-based style. Tell us a bit about the development process.
After initially mocking up designs for several developers, we decided on three:
1) Shigeru Miyamoto, who is famous for creating the Mario Bros. and Zelda franchises
2) Nolan Bushnell, who co-created Atari and Pong
3) Alexey Pajitnov, who created Tetris in the Soviet Union.
Each of these people has a fascinating history and their creations are appreciated worldwide. My idea for each print was to show each designer within his video game. I like to think that the print series is a way to show appreciation for their work by putting their faces out there. Just prior to the series, I had been working on developing a caricature style with famous comedians, so I was able to use what I was learning about stretching and exaggerating faces for the 8-bit Legends.
So why caricatures? Every time I see one, I think of famous comedy clubs.
Yeah, comedy is a big passion of mine — I tried stand-up in Chicago, and it was one of the biggest thrills of my life. I’m always on the lookout for new comics, and I’ve caught a bunch of shows here in L.A. When I was young, I tried honing my realism skills by drawing lots of faces. Drawing realistically is only one part of becoming an artist, however, so now my focus is developing a unique personal style. Caricaturing faces is great practice for this, and by making them I became more familiar with drawing on a tablet. Most are quick exercises, but the Patton Oswalt and Doug Stanhope ones I did came out pretty well, and I have been able to get some great feedback from the comedians themselves, which is really cool.
Were there any difficulties getting the concepts to a place you were happy with?
Two things stick out in my mind. Design-wise, it was important for each print to stand on its own but also tie in with the others. I knew early on that the Miyamoto and Pajitnov pieces would be busy and have a lot of bright color. However, I wasn’t sold on my early sketches for Bushnell’s layout, which seemed too colorless and simple. I remedied that by putting his image inside a brightly-colored arcade cabinet modeled after the ones they made for Pong.
The second challenge was making sure I didn’t skimp on the rendering of each face. Drawing on a tablet still feels clunky to me, and I had never used one to make anything from scratch with this level of detail, but with enough time and the right music I powered through to a result I was happy with. Hopefully I’ll get a Cintiq one of these days and eliminate the hand-to-image gap once and for all.
This art series will debut at PAX East this year. Aside from the detail that you get from seeing these in person, is there anything that you would like a PAX attendee to take with them when they see your work?
Yes, I would like them to know that video games have a massive influence on the artists of today. There are plenty of people out there who are using this inspiration to create works that help us look at these games and characters in a new way, and it is encouraging when they get to share their creations with an appreciating public. Mike Krahulik’s video game-themed artwork is a huge draw for the Penny Arcade site, and it would be great to have an art gallery component to PAX East (and West) in the near future. I’ve attended a few shows here in Los Angeles hosted by Gallery 1988 that have great video game-themed art. The talent pool is growing and I hope that fans show their appreciation by putting it on their walls. Maybe once they do that they’ll take a closer look at the other fine art that’s out there.
I totally agree with that. One thing that brings up is a discussion we had earlier about the possibility of video game art being a passing fad. Is that a worry for you?
Somewhat. Video games themselves are created for enjoyment and serve a commercial purpose. Artwork made from video game inspirations can hopefully give people other elements to enjoy. In other words, it will be more than just “Character X illustrated in Style Y,” which I see a lot of now. I like art that tells a story, conveys a mood, and is rendered with skill. I always keep these attributes in mind when I encounter video game-themed artwork someone has made.
Right. I would like to see more video game inspired art out there that’s very creative and has strong expressions. What direction would you personally like to see video game art move in?
There’s a lot of unexplored territory out there. I would enjoy seeing artists editorialize on the industry itself, the positive ways games can influence society and culture, and of course always be pushing for fresh looks and styles. Video games thrive on wild imagination and presenting things no one has ever seen before. Big budget titles and large developers have to present familiar content more than small ones do, so I hope independent developers take advantage of this by offering fresh ideas and inspiring ideas.
So what do you have in store for the future?
Now that I’m finally working on movies, it’s allowed me to spend my spare time working on another passion of mine: comics. I’m taking a “make your own mini-comic” course at Meltdown Comics in LA, and it’s given me the chance to develop one of the story ideas I have. It’s about a troubled kid who lost his grandfather, and he starts getting these cryptic nightmares that start revealing a dark secret he had before he died. Once its done I’ll release it in print and digitally for people to check out. After that I have a much bigger story that I plan to tell as a graphic novel, but that’s coming later on. I also post news and works in progress to my blogspot page, like my “300″ sketchbook which is of 300 portraits (each done in 15 minutes or less). As far as fine art goes, I certainly enjoyed making this mini-series, and I have ideas for future ones along the same lines as “8-Bit Legends” too. I guess we’ll have to see how much people appreciate the first three and go from there.
That sounds great. You weren’t kidding when you said you stay busy. Any final words?
I have to give a shout-out to Andrew Wilson, who was a good sounding board for ideas, and Matt and Leah at Static Medium here in Los Angeles, who did a great job with the giclée printing.
On a note of encouragement, I want to tell anyone reading this to get in touch with their dreams if they haven’t already, and to not ever give up on them once they know what they are. Even if you’re like me and it takes you years longer than you hoped it would to get where you wanted to go, don’t get frustrated, because you’ll be sure to encounter people and experiences along the way that will help prepare you once you finally get there. As my friend Brent once told me: “A decade to find where you’re going is a bargain if you ask me.”
That doesn’t sound like bad advice. Thanks for your time, Josh.
*A short run of limited edition, 18 x24 high-quality giclée prints of the 8-Bit Legends series will be signed, numbered, and made available at PAX East 2011. Each design will only have 5 prints created. Please contact mrbenja-at-8bitcubist.com if you are interested in owning one.
To find more on Josh Lange, you can catch him creeping on the Internet sites:
Web – http://www.joshlange.com
Blog – http://joshlange.blogspot.com
Deviant Art - http://joshmlange.deviantart.com
Twitter – http://twitter.com/THEjoshlange