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Exclusive Interview with Philip Struab, Creator of the famous Utherworlds (Graphic Novel) PDF Print E-mail

Philip Straub is the Owner, Studio Art Director at the “Unity New Media Entertainment”. Arguably, the greatest & one of the best in the world, in the field of illustration & concept art, as an Art Director, Philip has worked with some of the biggest names in the gaming industry, including : Vivendi Universal, Electronic Arts, NCSoft and Big Fish Games. Philip’s work has appeared in over 30 childrens’ books, and he has co-authored three digital art tutorial books, including d’artiste Digital Painting.
In the entertainment industry, he has worked with many clients, including : Mattel, Fisher Price, Disney, Universal Studios, Warner Bros, DC Comics, Nickelodeon, Ballistic Media, Toyota, Scholastic, McGraw-Hill, Harper Collins, 3D Total, Zoo Publishing, American Traditional, RJ Reynolds, and Knowledge Adventure. He also teaches an annual online Concept Art class to students around the globe. Philip is a founding member of “The CGSociety” and regularly contributes to the illustration and digital art communities, by judging illustration competitions, including : The Society of Illustrators, Painter, Expose'and CG Challenges hosted by The CGSociety.

Philip has been a featured artist numerous times in several publications, including : The Society of Illustrators New York and Los Angeles Annuals, Spectrum Fantasy Annuals, Expose' digital fine art books, ImagineFX Magazine, Advanced Photoshop Magazine, Corel Painter Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, 2DArtist Magazine, It's Art Magazine and on dozens of digital art websites and forums.
Philip’s licensed designs appear on a variety of products, including : books, games, wall murals, scrap-booking, gifts, stationery, apparel and textiles. As a freelance illustrator, his work has appeared on : broadcast media, book jackets, CD, magazine covers, trading cards, feature films and advertising campaigns.
Philip Straub & Ballistic Publishing take the fantasy graphic novel to the next level, with their latest release, "Utherworlds". "Utherworlds" combines a fantasy novel with written and spoken languages, maps and stunning paintings in a large format, that showcases Philip Straub's artwork like never before!

Honors

  • Expose' 6 and 7 Advisory Board member, 2008-2009.
  • Bronze Medal in the "Society of Illustrators Los Angeles" 47th annual competion, 2009.
  • Silver Medal in the "Society of Illustrators Los Angeles" 44th annual competion, 2006.
  • Corel Painter 10 Advisory Board member, 2006.
  • Illustrations included in "The New Masters of Fantasy" Volume II and III.
  • CG Society Advisory Board Founding Member, 2005-2009
  • Judge CG Networks CG Challenge "Steampunk."
  • Judge CG Networks CG Challenge "Grand Space Opera."
  • Judge for "Painter," the first annual juried competition for the best arwork produced using Corel's Painter Software, 2007.
  • Judge CG Networks CG Challenge "Masters and Servants."
  • Painting purchased for inclusion into Electronic Arts permanent collection
  • Illustrations accepted into Expose' 1,3, 4, 5, and 7.
  • Illustrations accepted into Los Angeles Society of Illustrators 39th, 42nd, 43rd, 44th, and 47th annual competitions.
  • Illustrations accepted into Spectrum's, the best in contemporary fantastic art 4, 5, 8,11,12,13,14,15,16
  • Illustrations accepted into RSVP's "Dreams" competition.
  • Illustrations accepted into RSVP's "Self Portrait" competition.
  • Illustrations accepted into "The Society of Illustrators 38th annual competition.
  • Finalist in Artist Magazine's annual landscape competition.
  • Illustrations awarded 12 CGtalk Choice Awards.
  • Illustrations awarded 2 3D Total Image Awards.
  • Illustrations awarded 8 Kota Press Awards.
  • Scholarship winner in "The Society of Illustrators" 37th annual student competition.
  • Judge"The Society of Illustrators" 40th annual student competition.
  • Judge"The Society of Illustrators 43rd annual student competition.
  • Included in "Illustrators 2000" a traveling illustration show featuring top illustrators.
    Philip Straub is the Guest Judge, for the September 2009 edition of the “CGTantra Digital Matte Painting Challenges” - “Land of Unohla”

We caught up with Philip, to share his experiences with us...

Q: Glad to have you here for the interview Philip! To begin with, tell us something about yourself?

Philip: Thanks for having me. So, lets see - I was born in Syracuse, New York and then moved to southern Connecticut, USA when I was 8. I spent most of my youth there and even found my first 2 jobs there. I've been drawing, painting, and writing for as long as I can remember. It was always just something I did. The thing with me that's a bit different than most kids is I was really interested in landscape and wildlife fine artists instead of comic books at a young age. Instead of drawing super hero's I was painting landscape paintings either from an on- site location, a photograph, or out of my head. Back then digital painting didn't exist so my choice of medium was acrylic, watercolors, and oils paints.

The same is true for my writing- I wasn't reading your typical children's literature. I read the whole "Chronicles of Narnia", a few times over before I was even 8 years old. I read all of Tolkiens work and a bunch of other fantasy and Sci-Fi novels. So, my writing started to take on this sort of esoteric feel to it that is still part of my style now.

When I graduated from High School I was granted a small scholarship and decided to study at a small school in the New Haven area of CT called "Paier College of Art". It's a school know for its sharp focus realistic painting and it's produced some pretty well known illustrators including, Tim O'brien, and Don Maitz. So, off I went to study how to become an illustrator not really understanding what it took or how much work it would eventually entail.

Q: You were one of the founder members of 'The Computer Graphics Society' (CGSociety.org), which is the leading online community portal for CG Artists across the globe. Can you tell me what sparked the idea of creating the community and what are your views & perspectives towards the large number of online communities that have come-up since CGSociety came into existence?

Philip: I really can't take too much credit with the whole "founding" thing. The principles of Ballistic, Mark Snoswell, Garth Hammet, and others really get all the credit. I'm simply on the advisory board of the "CGSociety" and

was involved in the early discussions of the idea. Looking at other art organizations like the "Society of Illustrators", in the US was an inspiration for the formation of the CGSociety.

I think the wealth of online communities around the arts is a wonderful thing. The world is so much more connected now because of the internet in a way previous generations couldn't have ever imagined. It means there is an incredible amount of information at everyone's fingertips- especially educational material. The upside is that opportunities to study from some of the best around the world can be found at a rather reasonable price point through tutorials, competition, DVD's, and on forums.

Q: It has been observed that your illustrations are mostly influenced from the world of fantasy. Usage of vibrant colors & dramatic lighting are common features in your artworks, Can you tell us more about that?

Philip: Yeh sure. I've always been a big fan of the fantastic and surreal. I love how fantasy in any form of media, music, film, art, whatever takes you to another place. Fantasy opens up the imagination of all that experience it, I think. Of course, the natural world is unbelievable in its beauty as well but, its so much fun to think about what else might exist in the universe.

When I begin creating an illustration there are some basic fundamentals I apply to my work. I first ask myself what do I want the viewer to feel and how am I going to convey that feeling. So, the dramatic lighting I use is a way of leading the eye through the image in a very graphic way. I place the highest points of contrast in the areas where I want the viewer to be drawn to. I actually use the placement of the light and how it affects the objects around it as compositional tool. To take it even one step further, I use color as a composition tool as well; placing vibrant colors , once again, in the areas I want to put emphasis on. Also, color is proven to effect humans on an emotional level so, I try and apply that to an image to help enhance "the feeling" I'm trying to convey.

Q: You are known to make use of traditional media, along with digital 2D & 3D softwares, to create your illustrations; can you briefly explain, the procedure that you follow, while creating your illustrations, in this unique way?

Philip: I've shifted almost exclusively to digital tools now simply because they allow me to work faster. When the traditional approach was part of my workflow I would either do a sketch on paper and scan it in or would sometimes scan in an oil painting and work on top of that. It was a fun time of experimentation.

Now I primarily work in Photoshop, Painter and Maya depending on the needs of the image or client. First and foremost I study the subject matter I'm going to create. It used to be I would go to the library and research away but, now I can find almost anything I need online. So, I'll grab tons of reference imagery that relates to what I'm painting and study its anatomy and "how it works." From there, I usually start with a grayscale sketch and either jump right into color or build a basic block model in Maya. From there its just about refinement, refinement, and more refinement.

Q: Which image-editing software do you prefer more, Adobe Photoshop or Corel Painter & why? What are the tools of your choice?

Philip: I like them both for different reason. Painter is really wonderful for sketching and the reproduction of the feeling of traditional media. I've been a Beta Tester and on the Advisory board for Painter over the last couple of years so its been cool to actually work with designers on adding new features to it.

The Corel people have also been really kind to me over the years - heck the put my image on the special edition paint can for version 10.

On the other side of the spectrum, Photoshop is a production workhorse. It's a super versatile program that I tend to use in the second half of my digital artistic process. Since I use a - lot of Adobe products it feels very intuitive to me. The layer system is awesome and the painting tools are getting better too......

Q: You've recently authored the much-awaited fantasy Graphic Novel, titled "Utherworlds", published by Ballistic Publishing! What inspired you to create the Graphic Novel and can you share some of the experiences you had, while authoring the Novel?

Philip: Certainly, though I don't think I can get to all the crazy stuff that went on during the production of Utherworlds in this short interview so, I'll just try and hit on some of the more interesting events.

My inspiration came on slow at first. In early 2003 I began applying a "stream of consciousness" technique when producing my work. Using this approach basically means you just allow the image almost paint itself. You don't have any plan or any real goal- you just let the imagery tell you what it wants to be. From there, the first Utherworlds images were born, though I didn't know they were for something bigger at the time. I started having strange dreams and began seeing foreign locations and creatures that I couldn't explain in my sleep. The more vivid they became the more I felt compelled to put them onto canvas. I later realized the images were basically coming from my subconscious.

Then I met Lucas, the real man behind Utherworlds. He had this journal of unbelievable experiences but didn't have any images to go with them. When he saw some of the paintings I was doing he couldn't believe his eyes, he said they were visual realizations of what was written in his journal. Lucas was desperate to get the message out to the world so even though I thought he might be a little mad I agreed to help him. From there I painted the Utherworlds images in between freelance assignments and my full time Art Direction duties. I continued this process until the end of 2007 when I lost my AD job. From there I decided the project was important enough to me to basically form a company around it to get the website and book done.

All of 2008 was spent writing and illustrating the novel as well as transferring Lucas's material onto the website and book.

2008 was not an easy year for anyone and it became stranger when many of Lucas's predictions came true. Everyone was loosing money and the fires in California (were I lived at the time) were getting just horrible. Most days I spent locked up in my apartment painting away. I think I created over 50 of the 1000 images in the book during 2008 and into the first few months of 2009! It was actually inspiring and lonely all the same time- I really started to ask myself what my "purpose" was and if I was doing the right thing with my life. I'd sacrificed so much to try and complete the project, money was flying out the window and I didn't really have anything to show for it. Then the developer I'd originally hired to help do the site breached contract taking thousands of dollars with them and leaving me with almost nothing usable.

Amidst this a-lot of people claiming to be my friends began swarming around me trying to cash in on the IP. Keep in mind, nothing had even been completed yet! It was very surreal time for me- one were I was tested on a number of levels. It probably sounds a bit ridiculous but, it was as if the negative forces Lucas spoke of in his journal were actually trying to stop the thing from being completed.

Then something I didn't see coming happened. My dad had a heart attack and had to have quadruple bypass surgery. It was very scary and we weren't sure if he was going to make it for a couple of months. At that point I didn't know if the project would ever see the light of day. We had to push the ship date of the book and website twice because of all the craziness above. But, still I stayed strong and the folks that really believed in the project rallied around me and now its almost about to ship. What a crazy journey!

Q: Can you kindly take us through the journey of the fantasy world of "Utherworlds"?

Philip: This is another one that's really hard to reduce down to a few paragraphs.:) Essentially it's one man's journey to find the lost memories of his past and to understand his purpose in the world. Probably not the most original idea but its where the story takes place and how he got there that makes it unique, I think.

The story is based on the diary of Lucas Sellers a man from the future who accidentally gets pulled into a place called "The Realms."

Here is Lucas's mission statement in his own words:

"All thought is alive - each hope, fear, and memory is a part of the whole we call the universe. Every living creature contributes in their own unique way to the balance of positive and negative energy in the world. Even as you read this now, you are part of larger destiny towards unity, preservation, and truth. Positive thought is your gift - is the essence of life.

Just beyond human consciousness there is a place where all dreams and desires exist, a world where the unconscious thought dwell and flourish. Virtually invisible to human perception and beyond our physical reality resides the splendor and malevolence of every thought ever imagined. This relatively unknown world is an expanding emotional manifestation that survives through its symbiotic relationship with the creatures that support it. As long as there has been life, these visualizations and manifestations have existed in delicate balance with the universe, continually evolving with the passing of time.

As long as there has been life, these visualizations and manifestations have existed in delicate balance with the universe, continually evolving with the passing of time.

But, the balance has shifted and the natural order has been disrupted. Sentient beings have lost their way and have given into the temptation of negative thought. Hope, empathy, and truth are being challenged by the growing forces of greed, hatred, and lust. War, global climate change, and industrialization grow with each passing day unchecked. It is true - the universe has reached a tipping point. A time of no return is nearly upon us all. Those who are open - those with true presence and a belief in hope are called upon to reclaim and restore the balance.

This is my mission, my purpose, and my reason for being. It is a personal journey, a voyage of spirit filled with great loss and incredible triumph. What you see before you is a visual diary of my travels through the uncharted territories of The Realms. I have taken great care to document my experiences so that you too may see what I have seen. Once you've gazed upon the paintings and words within these pages, will you ever see the world the same?"

Q: For all the aspiring Illustrators and Concept Artists out there, what suggestions do you have for them?

Philip:. Practice, practice and more practice. I know it might seem like that's too easy of an answer but, that's what it really comes down to. There are always more talented folks out there but, its those that work hard at their craft and understand how to market it that will find success. Yes, the talent absolutely has to be there but, you have to cultivate it and constantly exercise it.

Q: What is your opinion about "CGTantra" & it's community?

Philip: I'm still fairly new to the community but, I'm very impressed with all the content on the site and its community members. It looks like a great place for learning, exploring, and sharing.

Q: You are one of the Jury members of the ongoing "CGTantra Digital Matte Painting Challenges"; what is your opinion on this initiative taken by "CGTantra", and according to you how helpful will it be for the contestants?

Philip: I think the challenges are awesome! It's great to see all the experienced judges interact with professionals and aspiring artists. The work produced is always impressive and I think the interaction of all the participants creates a wonderful learning environment for all - including the judges.

Thank you very much Philip for the interview, The whole community of "CGTantra" wishes you best of luck for all your future projects! I hope & pray that, your 6 years of extreme hard-work & dedication in creating the fantasy graphic novel, "Utherworlds" becomes a huge success and that you keep-on creating lots of such fantastic illustrations in the near future too; we love them very much!

Kaustav Sinha
CGTantra Forum Leader
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