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Christophe Vacher - Interview

TH&Stary Van Dam Starry
Justyna Wichrowska

"... It was incredible. When I brought it to my place, the first week, it was hard for me to look at it and think: I won this, I can have it in my place, because it's mine now. It was such a surreal feeling."

VDS; Christophe, can you tell me something about the place you grew up in?

Christophe: I grew up in a remote central area of France called Auvergne. It looks very much like Ireland and is famous for its Celtic/Roman past, its sorcery (still unofficially practiced today), and its dark legends. In fact, one of the most famous French legends—"The Beast of Gevaudan"—comes from that area, and the Hollywood movie "Brotherhood of the Wolf"(2001) was based on this legend. Also, in the movie "Interview with a Vampire", the main character played by Tom Cruise —Lestat—comes from that same area.

VDS; wow! Undoubtedly it's amazing place. (check out the image below)

 VDS;  Do you have any special memories from your childhood and that place?

Christophe:  At the age of 4, I was trying to draw before I learned how to write. The artistic seed was already deeply engrained. Fascinated by Tintin, I was trying to copy vignettes from the books, and eventually got a fascination for all comic books as well as illustration, and later animation and cinema.

 VDS; Do you remember who you wanted to be at that time?

Christophe: I wanted to be a comic book artist. At that time, there was nothing around my home town to help guiding my art career. No internet, no one really knowing about the path to follow, and the Art community there was more interested in modern Art than comic books. Eventually, I found my way through life and was given the right opportunities at the right time.

VDS; What were you doing before you started cooperation with the film industry?

Christophe:  As I mentioned before, I wanted to be a comic book artist. I had become semi-professional, and a veteran of French comic books, Phillipe Caza (one of the founders of Heavy Metal Magazine), offered me a chance to do a book series with him. It was supposed to be a Heroic Fantasy story, pretty sexy and violent, with a female hero. He wrote a synopsis and the first chapter for me. Unfortunately, at that time, I entered animation and a few years later moved to the US. So, I never got to do the series with Caza, but it was eventually made with another artist. It's called "Amiante."

VDS; Can you say something about your relations with this industry?

Christophe:  The corporate world is what it is. It's often the same everywhere, whether you go to Disney or any other big 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.

VDS; I'm wondering  What is it like to work with such big companies...

Christophe: There are many projects and films I liked to work on, and they all have their own reasons to be good experiences. Some were good experiences because of the people I worked with, the mood in the studio, or sometimes it was just the project itself that was really cool to work on.

VDS;  Do you recall any interesting or funny situations from that period?
Christophe: As for anecdotes, I have one I specifically remember.

It was in 1997 or 1998, I think. I was at Disney Feature Animation. Every year, we had Ping Pong tournaments amongst the employees. Some were training a lot and were really good. That year, the Big Prize was to be able to play against Michael Eisner (who was then the whole Disney company CEO) and Peter Schneider (who was then the Head of Disney Feature Animation). Michael Eisner was like a Superstar at that time. Everyone was excited.
So came the day when the winner team had to play against them. Of course, because Michael Eisner and Peter Schneider had no real training in Ping Pong, they lost the game.
But as they were stepping away from the table, they turn around and call two Asian people who were hiding behind a curtain in the background. They called for a new game against the winners, and the two Chinese people completely beat them in a few minutes. They were Ping Pong International Champions!

VDS; It could be worse! They could have been fired ;D

VDS; Let's stay with the topic. The list of films you worked on is very impressive. Is there any particular one you like the most?

Christophe: In 1996, I really loved working on Disney’s “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”. But eventually, I think my favorite is the movie “9” that Tim Burton produced and Shane Acker directed.

VDS;  What was your exact contribution to the  “9”?

Christophe: I was the main art director on "9," along with the production designer my friend Robert St Pierre, and the director of animation Joe Ksander.
VDS;  And how your cooperatin with Tim Burton looked like?

Christophe: We didn't really interract with Tim Burton. He met Shane a couple of times to look at the movie reel and see how things were moving along. He would give notes, and that was it.
It was a real adventure to work on this film. As Shane mentioned, we put this thing together with shoe strings and duck tape. But it was all worth it. Because of how different, how off mainstream the project was.
Today, it's kind of a cult movie in animation. and we are all very proud of it.

VDS; You’re the winner of very prestigious awards, such as Emmy. What is your approach to them? What do they mean to you?

Christophe: I received two Emmy Awards, one in 2011 and one in 2012, for the TV series "Transformers Prime", as Supervising Color Designer and Visual Effects Art Director, in the category "Outstanding achievement in Animation."
It was quite unexpected. We all knew on "Transformers Prime" that our series was strong and that we had done a good job, but I never thought I would win an Emmy for it, let alone two!
In this category, the jury can choose up to 4 people, but doesn't have to. They only pick winners if they feel that the artistic level is really outstanding. Some years, no people are chosen in this category.

The first Emmy I won, it was hard for me to believe. For all these years, I had seen the Emmys on TV so many times, even in France. And for the first time, I was receiving one. It was incredible.
When I brought it to my place, the first week, it was hard for me to look at it and think: I won this, I can have it in my place, because it's mine now. It was such a surreal feeling.
It definitely attracted more attention to my work and career, but it didn't change my life much: my close friends are still the same as before, and I still enjoy working and creating everyday the same as before.

/lets have a look.../

VDS; You’ve said once the following: “My work is mostly inspired by music, travel and personal experiences”. What do you mean by that?                               

Christophe:  I need the music to transport me into my own world. 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…
When I travel, it's just very inspiring, especially going to far, exotic lands.

VDS; so are there any kinds of music that inspire you the most?

Christophe:  I like all kinds of music. For inspiration, I listen to a lot of movie soundtracks, but also more New Agey kind of music, like Enya, Loreena Mc Kennit, Dead can Dance, etc...

VDS; most inspiring places?

Christophe:  I like many different places, for different reasons, like France (of course), England, Ireland, the US, but also Asia a lot. South East Asia, China, Japan, etc... But 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.    

I'm not sure anymore that there is one place where I will ever want to stay. The more you visit places, the more you love different things about them, and the less you want to settle.
But as you grow older, you also think more and more of where you came from. I don't know if I will ever go back, but certainly, my French birth region Auvergne holds a very special place in my heart.

VDS; Let’s talk about your personal paintings. Correct me if I’m wrong, but they seem to have been inspired by the paintings of Zdzislaw Beksinski ;)

Christophe:  You are absolutely correct. Although I drifted away as years passed and introduced many other things in my works, they were always (and still are) a major influence. He was a major influence for many modern painters. Even today, I see online young painters from the new generation being influenced by his work.
Master Zdzisław Beksiński
VDS;  can you say something about your technique? What tools and media do you use?

Christophe: Regarding technique, for my personal work, I usually prefer oil on canvas, or on panel. But I can switch to acrylic or aquarelle when I feel like it sometimes.

VDS; and how long does it usualy take for you to create one painting?

Christophe:  When I work full time on my paintings (which is rare), it takes from 3 to 8 weeks, depending on the size and the complexity.

VDS; Do you currently follow any artists?

Christophe: I have many influences, but I don't follow any specific one currently.

VDS; So maybe you own or collect other artist’s paintings?

Christophe: I don't buy Art for now, because it becomes a liability when you travel a lot. The more stuff you have at home (especially if it's precious), the harder it is to move.
But who knows, maybe some day...

VDS; Oh, for sure I know something about that ;)

VDS; What do you do in your free time?

Christophe:  My “second life” is martial arts. I have been training in pretty much everything you can think of for about 34 years. I am a 4rd degree Black Belt Hapkido instructor, 1st degree in Japanese Karate, and regularly practice Brazilian Ju Jitsu, Thai Boxing, and Filipino Kali. I also go to the gym regularly.
I love to travel and discover new places and…I’m still looking for the woman of my life.
That’s more than a simple hobbie, right? ;)

VDS; hehe, for sure that's something more ;)

/wow!, check out Chris in action :D/

VDS; Two last questions. Simple and hard in the same time :) How would you describe your art to a blind person?

Christophe: Well, I would probably think that this kind of art qualifies as what is now called "Imaginary Realism", or "Magic Realism," rather than simply "Fantasy," which, to me, reffers more to the realms of dungeons and dragons. Not that I don't like dungeons and dragons, but I like what I do to be different.

VDS; What does the Universe mean to you?:)
Christophe: The big thing we will finally commune with when we leave this plane of existence :)

VDS; And that's the interesting answer!

To learn more about Chris and his incredible work

Thank you Christophe once again for your time.

TH&Stary Van Dam Starry
Justyna Wichrowska

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