Armand Baltazar is an illustrator, animator, fine artist, and storyteller currently living in California. Starting out in advertising and editorial illustration, Armand eventually made his way to Hollywood working as a concept painter and animator for Dreamworks, Disney, and Pixar. He currently is turning his storytelling skills to making an illustrated book, Collidescape Chronicles.
You have taken a pretty interesting path to get where you are now! Let’s see, you started out in Chicago training as a fine artist, then worked as an advertising and editorial illustrator. After some soul searching, you moved to California to pursue book illustration, then ended up getting tapped by DreamWorks to work on Prince of Egypt, which launched you into a career as a concept artist for all the big animation studios. Did I get that all correctly? What do you point to as key moments (or individuals) that helped you become the artist you are now?
In general that is correct. I’ll clarify a few points. I began my career in animation as a traditional background painter on Prince of Egypt. My skill set expanded with each movie, as color keys, lighting design, and layout design were added to my toolbox, so to speak. This all culminated with visual development for the films. Essentially, visual development and concept art perform the same function in terms of preproduction design for a film.
I had many great teachers, experiences, and fortunate circumstances that helped me on the road to my career. My passion started as a kid with drawing, comic books, and movies. In high school I had an inspiring and encouraging teacher, Paul Gavac, who pushed me. I attended Art Center College of Design because so many of my heroes had come from there, artists like Syd Mead, Ralph McQuarrie, Mark English, etc. There I learned a lot about painting, drawing, design, and narrative illustration from many great teachers, but Steve Huston and Richard Bunkall were very influential to me. My early years at DreamWorks, I was mentored by a group of artists from diverse backgrounds: Ron Lukas, a traditional oil painter trained by Russian Impressionist Sergei Bongart; Paul Lasaine, a master Matte Painter and Production Designer; Marcos Mateu-Mestre, a comic book, animation layout, and concept artist extraordinaire; and Sam Michlap, a veteran Layout, Visual Development, and Production Designer were all instrumental in my formative years in animation.
It sounds like storytelling has always been one of your driving passions. You went to California (Art Center College of Design) initially to become a book illustrator and now have come full circle with this new illustrated book project of yours, the Collidescape Chronicles. What can you tell us about this book and what brought you to this moment?
The book has been a labor of love for the last two years. I’d tried on at least two failed occasions to write and illustrate an adventure story like the kinds I’d loved in my youth: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Treasure Island, Dune, and of course Star Wars. In both of those previous outings, I hadn’t created anything that made me passionate. When I began to write Diego and the Steam Pirates: Book One in the Collidescape Chronicles, something important had changed in my life. I was both a father and I found a story within me that I was impassioned to tell my son. It was essentially a story about a father who strove to make a better world for his son and a son who found the courage and the adventure to fight for it. Newly ignited, the words and the pictures began to flow. My schedule allowing, I hope to complete book one this year!
Working in-studio on animated films seems like such a collaborative experience, with constant close association with many other artists and creatives. What is that like and how do you compare it to personal projects where it is just you working on your idea (i.e., Collidescape Chronicles)? Is there a difference in how you come up with ideas (and problem-solve) when you are working on one vs. the other?
The foundation of working on large-scale endeavors like films and a personal project like my book is the same. That is to say, designing and creating in service to the story. In film, I’m serving the vision and story of the director, but with additional guidance by individuals that he or she has placed their trust in, namely the production designer and the art directors. It is uniquely collaborative. In my own project, I must serve the story and vision I’ve laid out for the book. In one sense, it’s easier, but in another, it is more difficult, because all of the responsibility falls on me. Writing, designing, and illustrating are demanding disciplines to coordinate together and I am my own worst critic! I’ve found working for myself on my own projects to be the most rewarding and, at times, challenging experience.
Your painting, Death of the King, is featured as our cover art this month. What an intriguing piece of visual storytelling it is! The woman in white, the Beast stabbed in the back. Where did the concept for this one begin? (And will we be seeing more of the story at some point?)
It is part of a short story . . . a kind of dark little fairy tale I’ve been kicking around for a few years. It is a story about a princess and her two brothers, who venture into the dark woods where their father the King had disappeared many years before. There is strife with the neighboring kingdom, as people there have gone missing . . . apparently a mysterious creature has made its home there . . . I’d been reading about how certain addictions changed people into monsters, making them unrecognizable to their own families. I used that as the basis for my dark and tragic little tale. I hope to complete new art and finish the story after the first Collidescape book is completed, so stay tuned.
Who are some of the artists that have influenced and inspired you?
There are many and with great diversity, here are some I look at all the time. N.C. Wyeth, Sergio Topi, Moebius, Frank Frazetta, Edward Austin Abbey, John Singer Sargent, Ilya Repin, Joseph Clement Cole, Frank Booth, Phil Hale, J.C. Leyendecker, J.W. Waterhouse, Alphonse Mucha, Gustav Klimt . . . too many to list here!
With your diverse background, what is your advice to young artists embarking on their education and/or careers?
Know that if this path has chosen you, it will be one wrought with challenges and hard work. Though I’ve been fortunate to have found some success, success is not the end goal. Creating the art that makes you happy and fulfilled is! That is what propels you through the challenges and makes the hard work feel more like play in hindsight. The truth is, the cliché is absolutely right: “It’s the journey that counts!”
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a new animated feature for Pixar and I am working diligently to finish my first illustrated adventure that one day I hope to share with you all!
Thank you, Armand! It was a pleasure talking with you.
Spread the word!