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Spotlight Artist – Bill Perkins

The Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art is happy to announce Bill Perkins as our spring spotlight artist!  Bill has taught at LAAFA for several years in both our Fine Art and Entertainment Art Programs as well as in our extension classes.  Bill has worked as an art director as well as a concept, storyboard, layout and production artist. He is currently employed with Disney Animation.  His film credits include Disney animated projects such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Fantasia 2000, Patches London Adventure, Tarzan II, Fox and the Hound II, Bolt, and Tangled to name a few as well as Concept designs for Walt Disney Imagineering.  Other films include Space Jam for Warner bros., Outlander, Charlotte’s Web, and other pre-production projects such as Shrek for DreamWorks, John Carter , The Princess of Mars, and The Spiderwick Chronicles for Paramount and Ninth Ray.  Bill has also designed for video games and books through Spark Unlimited, Mass Media, and Harper Collins.  Bill is also an accomplished fine artist who brings to life his figurative and plein air paintings.

1. When did you know that you wanted to be an artist?
When I was about 10 years old.

2. Who has inspired you artistically throughout your life?
In the beginning, it was my parents.  My father was an art director in an advertising agency starting in the ’50s, before I was born.  I used to go into his office on the weekends once in a while because he was always working and it was a pretty cool place.  Tons of art supplies and graphic stuff.  He did a lot of print ads for GE Hotpoint, Panasonic, RCA, Earl Scheib, Starkist Tuna,Vic Tanny, and Jenny Craig to name those I can remember.  My mother was an artist as well.  She had her easel and palette set up in the bay window in our kitchen.  I remember waking up on the weekends and going into the kitchen to the smell of pancakes, bacon, and paint thinner.  I was the youngest of three kids and had a knack for breaking bones trying to keep up with my two older brothers and some were broken with their help. We were very competitive in most of all we did, except when I left little league to take art classes.  I caught hell from them, but my mother had been making art supplies available since I could remember, and instead of flash cards she would point at something as we were driving and ask how I would mix that color.  Kind of like flash cards, but picturing a palette and mixing colors in my head.  She later worked at Whites art supplies in Montrose, CA, where a lot of the Disney artists would buy supplies and have shows of their work.  I became familiar with their names and work by the time I was twelve.  I got a large book on the art of Disney by Christopher Finch for my birthday and my father had a few Andrew Loomis books around and they were my first art books.  When my parents split up, I was 14 and my mother gave me five books that have not failed me to this day, and I still have them.  Life Drawing by George Bridgeman, The Art Spirit by Robert Henri, Hawthorne on Painting by Charles Hawthorne, Starting with Watercolor by Rowland Hilder, and Psycho Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz.  I had the opportunity to go to the museum when I was young and see original art which I have to say: to some may have seemed nerdy, but it was truly inspiring to a kid in junior high and high school.  When I got to Art Center College I met Charles and Ray Eames, they were like rock stars of the design world.  I was also very fortunate to study with some truly great artists like Lorser Fietelson, Harry Carmean, Vern Wilson, and John Assaro.  I was mostly influenced by Dan McCaw, whom I studied with at Art Center, then found out that he lived a few blocks away from me in Torrance.  He let me paint with him at his studio and later we shared a studio in Lomita.  We have remained good friends for over 30 years.  As far as being inspired by artists from the past, I have a long eclectic list of artists.

3. Can you tell us about being both an accomplished entertainment and fine artist?

My major in college was Illustration (there was no entertainment track at art center at that time).  I just thought I would go into advertising like my father and be an illustrator.  At my sixth term, I realized I didn’t want to be an illustrator or work in advertising.  I took a year off and began painting and selling watercolors.  A neighbor of mine was a fine watercolorist and very successful.  He introduced me to his process, and I did shows in resort towns from San Diego, California to Scottsdale, Arizona.  It was a great year painting for a living and living to paint while traveling.  At that time, I realized that is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  I graduated in May 1980 and in September took my first painting trip out of the US to paint for my first one-man show.  I continued painting and traveling and my watercolors turned into plein air oil paintings.  I began to get into galleries and organize painting events.  In 1983, I had organized a show with a group of artists to be held at the Monterey Peninsula Museum based on our three-month painting tour through France, Spain, and Italy.  The show was a success, we all got into better galleries and our careers were taking off.  Then we hit a recession and galleries closed and sales fell.  I was teaching a landscape watercolor class and one of my students worked at Disney Animation Studio.  I mentioned that galleries were closing and she mentioned that I should submit a portfolio to Disney.  I did on a Wednesday, and was at work the following Monday in the layout department.  Visual development was not really an official job at that time and I had the option to be a background painter or work in layout.  I knew layout would be where I had the best opportunity to learn about the process of animation from beginning to end.  It was exciting because while I was painting, I was trying to come up with a new concept with every painting; and at Disney, I would spend a year researching and drawing different worlds.  The focus and depth of research of various locations, cultures, and artistic styles as well as putting it all into a cinematic storytelling medium was totally inspiring.  First, it was New York City from about four to fourteen inches off the ground.  Then it was the bottom of the sea, the Australian outback, the woods in France, and Iraq.  We analyzed films and shot our own video research, I used to make prints of frames from live action movies to figure out how I could draw layouts on a 2D paper and make the illusion of the camera behaving like it was a 3D space.  Even though I was learning this new craft I continued for the next few years to paint with the Plein Air Painters of America and had my work accepted into museum shows and competitions.  I had a difficult time then and still do today identifying to just animation or fine artist groups.  I feel like I am between two worlds only separated by perceptions.  I have been lucky enough to have worked in animation with some of the most talented artists alive and yet all of our work goes onscreen under one name and those artists’ names will never be known or even mentioned in any art publication outside of animation.  Yet at the same time I am continuing to work on myself to keep growing, changing and trying to see the world differently through my personal paintings.

4. One of your greatest artistic strengths is your knowledge and understanding of color theory and composition in film. What would you say is the number one obstacle that students struggle with in this subject? Color is one thing and Composition is something very different but both extremely important.  I think students struggle the most with their own insecurities of individualism, the idea of success and fame. They want to be individuals, yet find that they gain recognition from their peers when they are accepted within a school or style of art.  Copying a style and focusing on techniques is far easier than learning the dynamic relationships of our visual language.  Becoming visually literate is far more difficult and much more abstract than learning techniques that might help you draw or paint like someone else.  These days following the lesser road of reducing the making of art to merely techniques is endorsed in print and teaching in many schools or online.  Being involved in entertainment as well as fine art, has given me the chance to compare and contrast differently.  We often hear from artists or others that to be original you have to break the rules.  This comes from that type of shallow technique studying.  An artist as a director would define the point of view for his story and design the framework through which he will express his story clearly.  He doesn’t break rules, he carefully crafts his framework with elastic performance capabilities so it will possess the ability to emote the range of expression necessary for that story.  This takes an understanding of the medium not techniques.  The same goes for drawing and painting.

5. You are a multi-talented artist who can create art in a variety of traditional and digital mediums.  What is your favorite medium and why?
I don’t have a favorite.  I used to go through phases of one style and medium to another, but now I look for the right medium for the task.

6. You teach in both of LAAFA’s full-time and extension programs.  Please tell us why student

s should consider LAAFA as a premier choice in their art education.
LAAFA puts a far greater emphasis on building drawing and painting skills.  The stronger the foundation, the greater potential gain for the student.  Becoming a good visual communicator requires a strong command of these skills.  Other skills don’t hold to this requirement.

7. You have worked for several major animation studios throughout the years, what are a few tips
that you can give students about getting a job in this highly competitive market.  In addition, what is the most important thing a studio is looking for in hiring a new artist.
Different studios are looking for different things.  It depends on the studio and the job they are hiring for.  Most studios keep artists departmentalized because of the nature of the process.  It helps if you really like one thing a lot and go for that.  Superior depth of drawing and painting skills, imagination, and stylistic versatility will allow you to have a long career.  Stay on top of all new technologies even if you are not using them directly for your job.  You may some day.

8. Why does having a strong foundational skill-set benefit students when they want to work in the entertainment art field?
If you have a strong skill-set and imagination and you are adaptable, you might make it in the entertainment field.  If you only have your techniques or style, you should self publish your own work rather than work in the entertainment field.  Being able to create visuals that express and emote clearly just what is required at any moment of the story requires strong foundation skills.

9. What is your favorite activity (not including art) to do in your leisure time?
Anything outside.