Thursday, March 5, 2009

Fantasy Art - Christophe Vacher

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.

Christophe Vacher is a French artist who started as a background artist and created concept artwork for movie, television and animation industry from 1989. Since 1993 Christophe Vacher he joined the Walt Disney Company and started to work at the company Paris-based animation unit, where he painted backgrounds for animated films as “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”, “Runaway Brain” and as head of the background for “A Goofy Movie”. He continued his collaboration with Disney after his relocation to California in 1996 and here he provided painting backgrounds and concept artwork for “Dinosaur”, “Hercules”, “Tarzan”, “Fantasia 2000” and “Treasure Planet”. His career includes also the concept artwork and paintings done for the Dreamworks“Shark Tale”. After leaving the Disney studios in 2002 he worked on his personal artwork for galleries and freelancing art for studios, books, CDs and video games covers. One of Christophe Vacher’s present projects is the Art directing of the CG feature film “9”, produced by Tim Burton and directed by Shane Acker.

Interview - Christophe Vacher

Dark Wolf: Christophe, thank you very much for your amiability and the opportunity of this interview.
France has a vast cultural background and is a country that breaths art, but may I ask how did you become interested in art?
Christophe Vacher: I always wanted to be an artist. When I was 4, I started to draw even before learning how to write. At first, I wanted to be a comic book artist, and was driven by it. I was about to start an book series with one of the veterans of French comic books (Phillipe Caza, who created the magazine “Heavy Metal” with people like Moebius and Druillet in the 70s) when I started animation. Eventually, I moved to the US in 1996, where, in parallel to working at Disney Feature Animation, I started to develop my own paintings for Art Galleries on the side.

Dark Wolf: Do you consider that you are influenced more by the classical art or by the modern art? Which artists inspired and influenced your art so far?
Christophe Vacher: Definitely more by Classical Art. Many artists influenced me. My actual style is influenced by old schools like the Great American Illustrators, the Hudson River school, The Romantics and the European Symbolists for their grandiose, theatrical scenery; my style has also been shaped by contemporary artists like Sandorfi, Beksinski, Ugarte and The Visionaries (Les Visionnaires) in France. All of these I credit for their striking visions.
I respect Modern Art and the extra touch it can bring to the evolution of Classical Art, but Modern Art (and I’m talking here more about abstract Art) has done a lot of harm to Art schools at large, all around the world, by ridiculing the classical foundations of Art, pretexting evolution, and taking support from examples such as Picasso, Miro, Chagall, and all the artists from the early 20th century to destroy Classical basics.
The result today is appalling. Students coming out of those schools have no qualifications other than “yeah, I can do whatever I want”. Some of them make it into Art Galleries, but how many? And the worst part is that Modern Art feeds from the financial speculation artificially created by the pseudo-intellectuals and the Art scammers who know the system very well, but intentionally ignore real Art based on Classical training. Why is that? Simply because classical Art usually takes more training and more time to create, as opposed to most Modern Art that pretends that spending a couple of hours mixing Oxidation Painting copper metallic pigment and urine on canvas is Art (i.e. Andy Warhol). Therefore, Modern Art makes money much faster. The trick here only relies on the skills of business scammers who artificially build fame and reputation around an artist’s work to raise his value. It has nothing to do with Art. It is sometimes disturbing to me to see how people are easily convinced that such or such piece of Art is good just because they are told so by the gallery owner who, precisely, is trying to sell it to them! Where have common sense and personal opinion gone?
Curiously, the renewal of Classical foundations is happening through Internet. Many people from the new young generation started to want to learn the Classical basics, and started exchanging information. Many people asked me technical questions over the years. Now, there are many amazing new young artists on the net who mix Classical work with the digital media. It’s pretty astonishing. The only thing is that they were raised only on computers. So, there is hardly anyone practicing with real paint nowadays. But who knows, maybe it will come back.

Dark Wolf: You say that your work is mostly influenced by music, travel and personal experience. How does music influence and inspire your art? On your travels are there images or scenes that you feel that need to be painted right when you see them?
Christophe Vacher: It’s hard to describe. You hear the music, and it triggers images and feelings inside you. Or you see shapes around you, and suddenly, your brain translates these shapes into other potential images, based on what you’ve seen before, what you feel, what you like, etc… It’s rare that I find a perfect scene ready to paint, especially because my images involve imaginary worlds. So, there is always a pictural translation to make first between reality and fiction.

DW: You’ve started to work for Disney at the Paris based animation unit. I am certain that many people are curious about the work behind the wonderful Disney’s cartoons. How is the work on a company like Disney? What involves the work on a specific animated film?
CV: It would be too long to describe in details the work for an animated film, especially because there are many differences between traditional animation and CG animation, but also because I had many different positions over the years. I worked for them for 9 years, and overall, I think it was a great experience.
The corporate world is what it is. It's the same everywhere, whether you go to Disney or any other company. So, you just have to deal with it. But if you can be OK with that aspect of things, and look at the brighter aspect, you'll see that there are a lot of positive and irreplaceable experiences you will get from it. "The Hunchback of Notre-Dame" will probably remain a great memory for me, as we were working so close to the real "Notre-Dame" and were able to see and touch it everyday, putting on film one more time in History this fantastic piece of architecture. An Artist's dream.

DW: Working still for Disney you moved to California in 1996. Did your style change after your move in the United States and did it bring new elements in your art? Is the art perception different in the United States than in Europe?
CV: My style kept evolving, not specifically because of my move to the US, but rather, because of the new things I learned in Art techniques and the other artists I met along my journey. The Art perception you find here is not radically different than the one in Europe. The major difference, though, is that here in the US, Art is more respected if it makes money, or if the artist is dead, or both.
In France, there is a TV guy who hosts a book and literature show. One day, he said that “in Europe, people take money to make Art. In the US, people take Art to make money”. It’s a pretty radical and general statement, but I think I agree with it quite a lot.

DW: In the majority of your works you use traditional methods of work (oil, acrylics, pencil). Do you prefer to work in the traditional way? How do you feel about the digital tools of painting?
CV: I discovered Digital for the first time working on Art concepts for the movie "Dinosaur". I did paintings and photo manipulations on Photoshop and Painter. Then, I dropped it for a few months and went back to traditional. But I started to miss working with Digital. So I went back to it. And I learned how to really appreciate. Since then, I bought my own material, and constantly juggle now between Digital and Traditional. For instance, I do my paintings for galleries with oil or acrylic paint, and most book or videogame covers on Photoshop. It's faster, more effective, and the control of all parameters (values and tones, color saturation, etc…) allows easy changes. And publishers don't need originals, only the image. To paint for a gallery is different. People who buy a painting don't do it only for the image, but also for the tactile and sensual experience, something that Digital will never be able to give -at least not the same way.
In terms of 3D, I did a little bit of traditional sculpture, and I’ve learned Maya 3D intensely for a year and a half. I needed to do it to convert from my traditional animation skills to a more appropriate type of media for today’s animation. Very interesting.
I'm also interested in Digital Matte Painting.

DW: I’ve noticed that many of your pieces have floating stones, in the foreground or in the background. Is this a personal touch of Christophe Vacher on his works? What is the symbol of this floating stones?
CV: Well, if you want the short answer, I’d say when they are not floating cities, they represent some kind of guiding Spirits, like in “The Messengers”.
If you want the longer answer, you have to go into deeper analysis: if you consider Rock as the symbol of earthly dead Matter, and Movement and Light as the symbols of Life and Energy, then a floating rock with light coming from within is something that seems so impossible that the vision of it becomes the ultimate symbol for Life incarnated into Matter. Does that make any sense?
No, I didn’t take any crack this morning, I swear ;))

DW: It seems that the fantasy themes have a central position in your works. Is this your favorite theme? Are you interested in fantasy themes outside the art domain as well?
CV: I like Fantasy because of the more organic, impalpable and spiritual side of it, as opposed to science-fiction (although I love sci-fi too, and it can have fantasy elements in it). However, rather than typical Fantasy (elves, dragons, princesses and kings,…), I much prefer a type of Fantasy that takes you off the beaten paths. A movie like “What dreams may come” could have been really great, because of the exploration of the Life after Death theme and the amazing visuals. Very different type of Fantasy. Unfortunately, the story got convoluted, boringly unclear, and the characters eventually got quite annoying.

DW: Your works give the viewer beside the sense of beauty a sensation of wonder and awe. Does the landscape image play a single role in your work or is a spiritual influence on your pieces as well?
CV: Landscapes can express something really majestic and beyond words when you take time to let yourself absorb the experience. Everything is a matter of how you perceive what is around you. I guess this is a similar feeling I connect with inside when I imagine landscapes, and it is even multiplied when music triggers the vision. So, in that sense, yes, you could say that landscapes influence my pieces in a spiritual way, but these images are more like the direct result of something that happened inside first, a feeling translated into an image.

DW: The main figures of your works are women. Do you consider that women, besides their beauty and grace, are more expressive than the male figures?
CV: Not necessarily. Male figures just express different things, like strength, athletic display, etc…which can also be very interesting to paint. But I really enjoy painting the lines, feminity and grace expressed in a woman’s figure (it can also be in the elegant folds and curves of the model’s clothes or drapery) and the light and texture associated with them.

DW: I know that you are the art director of the CG animated movie "9" and from the trailer I’ve seen the movie looks amazing. How is the work on this project and can you tell me something about "9"?
CV: “9” is getting a very good buzz on internet, since the trailer came out. We worked hard on it and are very happy with the result. The director Shane Acker and the producers want to really take the time to promote it, keeping the mystery as long as possible, and they have eight months to do it. So, I can’t tell you anything before the official release, but I can tell you this: it was one of the best experiences I’ve had in animation, both because of the job I had on it, and also because of the totally unusual type of subject matter.

DW: What are the other projects and plans that you have for the future?
CV: I’ve been working on and off on different early movie projects, but I can’t say anything about them yet, especially because none of them have been completely green lit for full production yet. Some are already getting into financial trouble due to the world financial crisis.
But I’d like to take a break, travel again for a while and work on my more personal projects: painting for art galleries, writing and illustrating stories, maybe a compilation of my images in a book. Many people asked for it, so, I’ll have to put myself to it soon.

Thank you very much for your time and answers. It has been a pleasure.

For complete information about Christophe Vacher and a more comprehensive portfolio please visit his website,

© The artwork presented on this post is used with the permission of its author. All the artwork is copyrighted. Please do not use the images without the permission of the artist or owner.


Simon said...

Wow! Nice of him to give such detailed answers.
And interesting elements in the art as well, like the wing-like shapes on the gate in the first picture, and the tall panels on the black castle in the last one, which looks rather very much like the epic Necromancer's towers in Heroes of Might and Magic V. For comparison, you can see some shots of those here:

Anonymous said...

Very nice interview.

I'm really digging this artist's work. I love the picture with the woman's clothes draping behind her in the large cathedral (?) building.

Mihai A. said...

Simon, Christophe is very nice and this interview was a very nice experience. And he has great talent :)

Harrison, thank you very much. I like that one, although I'll go before it with the one called "Endless Dream" :)

Barbara Martin said...

Excellent work, and I understood completely his explanation about "The Messengers". Brilliant!

Mihai A. said...

Indeed it makes sense. And Christophe's art is brilliant as well :)