First Im­pres­sions

The film, comics and mu­rals artist talks di­nosaurs and a doubt­ing wife

ImagineFX - - Fantasy First Impressions - Wil­liam Stout

When did you re­alise you had some tal­ent for paint­ing?

I hit and missed with oils, un­til I en­coun­tered Nor­man Rock­well’s process and stud­ied Frank Frazetta’s paint­ing tech­niques. I built upon those foun­da­tions. My wife of­ten told me, “Give up on oils – you’re so much bet­ter with other media.” Un­til 1989, when I be­gan paint­ing my first mu­seum one-man show. My chops im­proved dra­mat­i­cally (and fi­nally made my wife a be­liever). Did your dis­tinc­tive comic book art style de­velop nat­u­rally? As a teen I copied Carmine In­fantino, Gil Kane and Mur­phy An­der­son comics, then dis­cov­ered Frazetta, Jean Giraud, Will Eis­ner and Robert Crumb. I was for­tu­nate in as­sist­ing Russ Man­ning on the Tarzan of the Apes news­pa­per strips, and Har­vey Kurtz­man and Will El­der on Lit­tle An­nie Fanny. Their men­tor­ing greatly in­creased my skills and taught me what it took to be a pro­fes­sional.

Of the film projects you’ve worked on, do you have a favourite?

Re­turn of the Liv­ing Dead. It was bru­tal to make, but now it’s a cult clas­sic. Mas­ters of the Uni­verse was fun. Pan’s Labyrinth may be my best film. De­sign­ing Jon Favreau’s Magic King­dom was great un­til Dis­ney’s at­tor­neys got in­volved, killing that dream. I en­joyed cre­at­ing Dis­ney’s Di­nosaur char­ac­ters – though I wish they’d never talked!

How did your nat­u­ral history work come about?

I’ve loved di­nosaurs ever since watch­ing King Kong aged three. My pal Don Glut was re­vis­ing The Di­nosaur Dic­tionary be­cause of all the new di­nosaur dis­cov­er­ies. The four pic­tures Don asked me to draw be­came 44. I rea­soned these might be the only de­pic­tions ever of these crea­tures, so ac­cu­racy was vi­tal. I joined the So­ci­ety of Ver­te­brate Pa­le­on­tol­ogy, us­ing each di­nosaur’s dis­cov­erer as my ad­viser. The en­vi­ron­ments de­manded ac­cu­racy, so I stud­ied palaeob­otany. Dur­ing a visit my pub­lisher asked, “If you could do your own book, what would you do?” Fig­ur­ing he was just be­ing con­ver­sa­tional, my bril­liant re­ply was, “I dunno”. He saw Di­nosaur Dic­tionary il­lus­tra­tions scat­tered about my stu­dio. “How about do­ing one on di­nosaurs?” “Sure.” I for­got this con­ver­sa­tion. Two months later he called. “Bill, we’ve got our book deal. Ban­tam wants to do your di­nosaur book!” A gi­gan­tic pro­ject had dropped in my lap. The Di­nosaurs: A Fan­tas­tic New View of a Lost Era be­came the first book to il­lus­trate ev­ery re­cent di­nosaur dis­cov­ery. I’ve been known as ‘ The Di­nosaur Man’ ever since.

What’s been the high­light of your ca­reer so far? And, any low points?

Work­ing on Theodore Rex was a def­i­nite low. Star­ring Whoopi Gold­berg in a part writ­ten for Val Kilmer, the mas­sive chest pains I was suf­fer­ing dis­ap­peared the mo­ment I quit this most ex­pen­sive di­rect-to-video movie ever made. A ca­reer high­light promptly fol­lowed: be­ing awarded the Na­tional Science Foun­da­tion’s 1992/1993 Antarc­tic Artists and Writ­ers Pro­gram grant. While spend­ing three months paint­ing 130 field stud­ies in Antarc­tica, I scuba dived be­neath the ice, camped in the Dry Val­leys and scaled an ac­tive vol­cano. I then drove 1,000 miles through south­ern Chile, doc­u­ment­ing the forests that have re­mained rel­a­tively un­changed over the past 40,000,000 years.

What’s been your most chal­leng­ing com­mis­sion to date?

The 12 pre­his­toric mu­rals I painted for the San Diego Nat­u­ral History Mu­seum in­cludes my largest can­vas: 14x34ft. While paint­ing the mu­rals I was di­ag­nosed with prostate can­cer. So I of­fered the mu­seum the op­tion to re­place me. To my amaze­ment and re­lief, they stuck with me, even though it meant the mu­rals would be be­hind sched­ule. I owe a huge debt of grat­i­tude to Mick Hager, the mu­seum’s vi­sion­ary di­rec­tor. Of ev­ery­thing I do, I en­joy paint­ing mu­rals (and my Le­gends of the Blues books) the most. They’re big, public and per­ma­nent. A real legacy.

What ad­vice would you give to your younger self?

“Keep your big mouth shut,” and, “More life draw­ing”. I prac­tise three hours of fig­ure draw­ing ev­ery Sun­day: it’s the quick­est way to im­prove as an artist. You can see plenty more of Wil­liam’s work, buy mer­chan­dise and read his blog, at his web­site,

I’ve loved di­nosaurs ever since watch­ing King Kong at the age of three

Up­per Cre­ta­ceous Antarc­tica “This work de­picts spec­u­la­tion that crea­tures that dwelled on Africa, South Amer­ica and Aus­trala­sia dur­ing the Me­so­zoic also ex­isted on the land mass be­tween them: Antarc­tica.”

Dirty Spliff Blues “Lately my ca­reer has come full cir­cle and I’ve been cre­at­ing lots of CD/LP cov­ers. This 2015 cover for the blues rock band Left Lane Cruiser is in­tended to help es­tab­lish this dis­tinc­tive zom­bie as a form of brand­ing for the band.”

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