Interview with Bill Otomo

Where did you grow up? At what age did you start thinking about pursuing an artistic career?

I grew up in Nimes, in the south of France. I did love to draw as a kid, but I’m not sure when exactly I really thought about doing it as a job. Probably somewhere in middle school, as I remember writing an essay on ‘‘Where do you see yourself in XX years’’ about me working at ILM on the next Georges Lucas’ projects… ^^

Did you go to an art school or are you self taught? How did you develop your skills?

At the end of middle school, when I was around 14 years old, I decided to go to a special art section in high school, with a LOT of art class hours (I mean, up to 24 in senior year, plus of course the other classes), and tons of homework. It was a really thrilling time for me. We were studying everything from architecture to fashion, graphic designs, comics books. I discovered lots of things there that really opened my mind, and I improved really fast as we were basically drawing all the time. 

Then with my friend Gobi (Baptiste Gaubert), I went to the Superior School of Décorative Arts of Strasbourg (now called Haute École des Arts du Rhin), where we met Fabien Mense, and formed the collective ‘‘Catfish Deluxe’’. There, we had our first taste of animation, but with not much equipment and no real formation (for animation, as the formation was more oriented on Illustration), so we kinda self-taught ourselves how to make our characters come to life. We still managed to do a little short for our graduation called ‘‘Catfish Hotel’’, using vectorized drawing into Flash… (it’s quite old and clunky, but you can check it online ^^’)

Have you always been supported in your artistic path or has it been challenging to let your family and friends understand your choice?

I felt really supported by my parents, though I think my mother was a bit worried that I couldn’t make a living out of it. She trusted me and my skills, but it was such a mysterious world, she had no clue if I could make it or not! I guess she only chilled out a bit when I started to effectively get my work published.

What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up ( artists, movies, cartoons, comics, etc.. )?

Like many French artists of my generation, I grew up watching ‘‘Club Dorothée’’, a show which aired a lot of Japanese animation such as Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya, Ranma 1/2, and many more. Just listening to their OST’s still gives me the chills! I think I kinda aim to provide the same experience I lived following those characters as a child to today’s audience... that’s something I'd like to achieve.

Did you have a favorite subject to draw when you were a child and do you still have one today? If you do, what makes it so special?

I don’t remember what I actually loved to draw as a child, maybe helicopters? But as a teen I drew a lot of muscular guys, inspired by Dragon Ball, Hokuto no Ken, Street Fighter… and I also loved to draw Sonic the Hedgehog!

From the initial client idea to the final work: What goes through your mind and what is the method you use when starting a project? Could you describe it?

I can’t really say to have a method for this, but I know two things: Firstly, I like to have a LOT of time to think about the project, because when you just sit at your table and hope to have a good idea popping up just because you need it… well, that rarely goes well. I need to think about the project during my everyday life, feeding my imagination with everything around me, so when I grab my stylus I ‘‘just’’ have to deliver what came up through the process. Of course, you don’t always have the luxury of time, and in those cases, you simply do what you can. 

Secondly, I‘m now in a position with my career where I simply don’t have the time and energy to engage in an endless proposal exchange with a client until he can figure out what he DOESN’T want (the ‘‘going to the grocery’’ process, as I call it, which would sound like: ‘‘I’ll take this head, with this hair, and this pants, and please make those shoes blue…’’). It ends up being exhausting and time consuming for both parties. I consider the designing process to be my job, so before starting, I now prefer to discuss ideas extensively in advance, to really get the feeling of who the characters should be. 

Only then I make some proposals to the client, and at that stage, there’s no problem if something must be changed with the design, and I’m happy to discuss the details for it again and come back with other proposals… hopefully, not too many times! ^^’

What is your process in creating your art and what are your favourite tools?

Well, I rarely draw on paper these days, just thumbnail sketches, quick things to lay down an idea when I’m in the subway for instance… but digital drawing changed everything to me, now I couldn’t go back. Especially Clip Studio Paint, and the possibility to draw with vector lines that don’t look like vector lines… I LOVE this software… it still lacks a thing or two, like better tools to correct colors, but I think Photoshop, as a drawing software, is completely outdated.

What part of the creation process is the most fun and easy and what part is the hardest?

Surely the most fun is at the beginning, and the less fun is when you come to technical stuff. But in terms of easy/hard, I guess it just depends if you’re struggling or not: when you don’t feel a character or the first things that come to your mind are really basics, then it can be hard to find a fresh angle.


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