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Saturday, June 30, 2012

Paleo Interview #7: William Stout

Whew, we pulled off an interview for the month in just the nick of time! And with none other than William Stout. Stout is a great guy; he's an artist, designer, film producer, conservationist, and a researcher as well. His book The Dinosaurs is one of his most famous works, and Michael Crichton said he wrote Jurassic Park because of it. He's worked on films as well as murals for the San Diego Museum of Natural History and Disney. He's been in Prehistoric Times and he will also be at Comic-Con this year. Please give a warm round of virtual applause for William Stout!

Stout's zombie self-portrait.

1. Our mandatory question; when did you first get interested in dinosaurs (or other prehistoric life)?
When I was three years old my parents took me to see my very first movie at the Reseda Drive-in. It was a re-release of the original 1933 King Kong. Shortly after that I saw the Rites of Spring sequence from Fantasia on the Walt Disney television show. I think those events caused damage to me at a genetic level. I have been nuts about dinosaurs (and prehistoric life) ever since.

2. As noted in one of your books, you've done quite a bit of murals for the San Diego Museum of Natural History. For anyone who hasn't read this book, could you describe what the process is like?
Go to the Journal section of my website (www.williamstout.com) if you’d like to see a step-by-step (with commentary) examination of the painting of my two new murals for the San Diego Zoo (one depicts Pleistocene San Diego), from thumbnails to full size finish.

Briefly and simply, though, here’s my process: After the negotiations are over and the contracts are signed, I begin my designs with a series of thumbnail sketches. After I’ve got one I like, I draw up the design in scale (1” = 1’) to the final mural. I submit my pencil design to the museum (or zoo) for criticism and commentary. I keep doing this until we’re both satisfied. Then I do a same scale (or, as in the case of the twelve San Diego Natural History Museum murals, a quarter scale) painting to establish the color scheme. Once that is approved I begin work on the full size mural.

I block out the design in browns and umbers on my full size canvas, doing what is called a “value painting” --- a simple painting to establish the picture’s dark and light systems. When I’m happy with that, I lay in the “local color” (the average color of each object). Then, it becomes a simple matter of rendering each plant and animal in the picture until the mural is finished. After it's completed I have it professionally photographed. In the case of the SDNHM murals, the original paintings were installed directly on the museum walls using a clay adhesive. This special adhesive allows for the mural’s relatively easy removal in case a pipe inside the wall bursts (this happened not long after my murals were installed) or if the architecture changes.

3. How does it feel to have your artwork on public display in a museum?
It’s an incredible feeling; these paintings are a huge part of my artistic legacy, to be examined, savored and enjoyed by the public forever --- hopefully, just the way I examine, savor and enjoy Charles R. Knight’s work.

4. How long does it generally take to finish a piece?
That varies depending upon a number of factors like size, complexity, deadline and style. My Pliocene Bay mural for the SDNHM is my largest (14’ x 34’), most complex mural. It took about five months to paint once the design was approved by the museum.

5. You also do quite a bit of artwork that doesn't feature prehistoric life, such as your fantasy artwork. Do you prefer one over the other?
I love doing a variety of work, although, of everything I do, I like painting murals the best. I would be a pretty happy guy if I had nothing to do but paint murals the rest of my life.

6. Did you teach yourself or did someone teach you?
Both. I learned how to paint from studying the paintings and methods of Norman Rockwell and Frank Frazetta. I also attended the California Institute of the Arts (and got my Bachelor’s Degree there), majoring in Illustration. I studied privately with Harold Kramer, my best teacher at CalArts, for over twenty years. I also took a wildlife painting workshop with Bob Kuhn (his last). I am still constantly on the lookout for ways to make my paintings better.

7. Has anyone influenced your work?
I feel influenced by all the good stuff I’ve ever seen. My earliest influences were Carmine Infantino, Gil Kane and Murphy Anderson. Then Frank Frazetta, Wally Wood, Roy Krenkel and Al Williamson. Also Harold Foster, Moebius, Russ Manning, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Alex Toth, Robert Crumb and Will Eisner. That list is just the main comics guys who have influenced me.

In the traditional painting and illustration world my main influences are Charles R. Knight, Thomas Moran, William R. Leigh, the Symbolist painters, Alphonse Mucha, Bob Kuhn, John William Waterhouse, Harry Rountree, Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, the Detmold brothers, N. C. Wyeth, J. C. Leyendecker, Norman Rockwell and Howard Pyle. I really could easily add another hundred names to this list.

8. Who would be your favorite paleoartist if you could pick one, or even a few?
Charles R. Knight, hands down. Zdenek Burian was pretty amazing, too. I’m always inspired by the ideas, designs and creativity of Doug Henderson, Mark Schultz and John Gurche, just to name a few of my talented contemporaries.

9. Are you looking forward to Comic-Con this year?
Always! I’ve been to every one since the very first one. Drop by my booth and say “Hi!”

10. According to your site, you worked on the Disney film Dinosaur. What was that like?
It was a great job --- it just took me forever to get it! I was first approached by Disney to design it way back in 1988! When the gig finally came through about eight years later I worked at home, bringing in my designs to the Disney studio every Friday.

The first challenge Disney gave me was this:

“We have a film that’s centered upon a family of iguanodons. To us, all iguanodons look alike. Can you design our iguanodon characters so that they are all distinctive and instantly recognizable from each other --- yet are still accurate depictions and reconstructions of iguanodons?”

I love tough problems like that and jumped right in and solved it. They were so pleased that they let me do my own takes on all the main and secondary dinosaur and pterosaur characters. Fun job (although I had to fight quite hard for my meager credit).

11. Anything you would like to say to anyone interested in prehistoric life and/or becoming a paleoartist like yourself? 
I completely covered all the various aspects of that topic in “The 10 Rules of Being a Paleoartist”, an article I wrote for the Summer 2006 (#86) issue of Prehistoric Times (copies should soon be available on my website store: www.williamstout.com). In essence: keep your day job.

Thanks once again to Stout for the interview; it is a wonderful honour. As mentioned above for anyone in the San Diego area, William Stout will be at Comic-Con July 12-15 at the San Diego Convention Center. If you plan on visiting, make sure to stop by and see him, be like "Hey, you were on the blog I read!" Stout has quite a few books out and I highly recommend reading them. 

All images belong to William Stout and all (except Pliocene Bay) are from his website, http://www.williamstout.com/. None are mine.

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