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Interview with Michael Heald

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Micheal Heald from the UK is a mixed disciplined creative professional who runs his award winning design studio Fully Illustrated, which offers creative services, from design and branding to illustration and 3D motion graphics.

Michael says, his heart truly lies with cartoon illustration as there is nothing like the process of bringing something to life on paper and as rewarding than seeing someone's face light up with a smile upon meeting one of his characters. His passion and enthusiasm for creativity is truly reflected by the stunning visual imagery he creates and could be seen throughout his portfolio.

1. Hello Michael, tell us a little about yourself, where you're from? What is a typical day for you?

Hey Vectortuts+, my name is Michael Heald, the owner of Fully Illustrated, and I'm a mixed discipline creative that works out of the UK. I've been in the trade for around 10 years now and have loved almost every moment of it. I've spent time being a designer, 3D artist and illustrator, all of which I have loved! Illustration has always been my core passion as nothing else quite brings the same level of fulfillment, watching a character come to life on your sketch pad has few equals in my opinion, it's just so much fun!

My average day starts out with good espresso, as without this my creative juices seem to be a little, well, static, and good injection of strong caffeine gets the motor running. From here I make the most of this fresh feeling and have a good browse around the web for at least one hour, looking at design sites, 3D sites, movie trailers, games trailers, you name it, anything that can get my eyes excited and filled with ideas for the day ahead. From here I then get my days work set out in front of me and start working through it.

2. How did you get started in the digital art field? Did you have any formal education in this field or are you self taught? What tools and applications do you use to create your illustrations?

Yeah I started out with a big passion for art at school, as this was always my strongest subject, but I was always a bit of an artistic rebel and HATED still life, studying the classics and learning how to use oils, inks and pastels, and just wanted to draw characters like Sonic the Hedgehog or Mario, something that NEVER went down well with my art tutors.

From here I moved onto art college and had a similar clash of views throughout that course too (he chuckles to himself remembering heated discussions with his tutors over the validity of fantasy art against impressionism).

After this course was complete I continued onto University, where I studied a general design degree, specializing in Illustration and Photography. This, in my opinion, was where I flourished, as all of a sudden, I had tutors telling me to watch Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and generally study characters! I was lucky enough to be taught by one of Cosgrove Hall's ex team members, a man called Pete Beard, a phenomenal cartoon illustrator, mentor and all round awesome guy. I thank Pete very much for where I am today as it was his guidance that kept me on my desired path.

3. Do you start your process analytically, with sketches on paper or wireframes? Walk us through your creative process from start to finish.

I'm still pretty classical in that way, as I cannot sketch (even with my Wacom Cintiq) digitally so I always have a layout pad, pencils and an eraser by my side at all times.

Once the character is complete, I get straight to scanning it in, and from here, everything is usually done in Adobe Illustrator as I have never in 10 years found a better product to create beautifully crisp lines. I always start by re-creating all the main shapes of my character and then once all the lines and shapes are re-created digitally I start filling them in with solid colour.

Once the solids are complete I then work on the varied stroke weights of each element, ensuring that I use no more than 3 differing weights across the entire illustration, to make sure it all feels succinct. Once the main lines and colours are in, I start to adapt the solids into gradients to add some depth, and then finally I add all my shadows and highlights, finishing off with one main outline around the whole character in a thick strong stroke.

4. How long have you been designing and illustrating? Do you freelance fulltime? Tell us about your first design job and about the inception of your design studio, Fully Illustrated.

I've been in the trade for 10 years give or take a few months, and worked full time for a number of different agencies over the years. During this time Fully Illustrated came to life as my personal portfolio site, showcasing my work for the world to see.

It started out as a really small little flash site and then gradually grew into a bigger personal gallery over time. As the years went on I got more and more interest for freelance projects, and once this had got to a level which I thought could become self sufficient, I decided that it was high time that I took control of my own dreams and started up on my own.

Fully Illustrated now works as a creative resource, targeted primarily at the games industry, providing websites, character art and branding for many small game companies across the globe. This is without doubt THE most enjoyable part of my career to date, as working with the games industry was my dream from being a boy, so it's awesome to finally be doing it!!

5. You draw amazing colorful and fun characters. Where do you get the ideas for your characters? What are your sources of inspiration? And what are your artistic influences and/or any online blog or website that you visit often?

Thanks for the complements :)

My ideas, man, these come from anywhere and everywhere in truth, but I'd say that I draw most of my inspiration from mainstream cartoon channels like Cartoon Network, Jetix, and Nickelodeon.

My other main source of inspiration is the games industry, as I love pouring over concept art as I find the use of tones and colour in this industry to be very beautiful (it's a generalization I know, but I always find that if you look at good concept art, the range of tones and hues used are just beautiful), and it's those very same tones that I like to bring to my character art. So when you look at one of my characters, you'll notice a very limited palette, so there will rarely be more than two colours in my scenes and everything else is made up of tones of those two colours, which creates for a strong atmosphere. It's something you see a lot in films these days too.

As far as references are concerned, if ever I want some tonal inspiration I just spend about 15 minutes on conceptart.org/. But some of my specific faves would be Daryl Mandryk, Dusso and the classic Frank Frazetta!

Oh, another good source of inspiration of mine is the vinyl toy industry, so companies like Kid Robot and artists like Pete Fowler are great sources of inspiration when you are looking to simplify your characters and streamline them into more iconic shapes.

6. I notice you have varied and well-rounded skills, from design and branding, to illustration and 3D motion graphics, you seem to do all. Do you prefer one over the other? What attracts you most about illustrations?

I love them all for their own reasons, but illustration is the winner all the way, like I mentioned before, the process of bringing something to life on paper is just unrivaled and then the awesome feeling when someone says 'oh wow he's sooo cool' is just great!! Ha, it's almost as if someone is complimenting your children, you created them and now people appreciate them, awesome! :) Whenever I post a new character on Fully Illustrated, people often mail me to say how much they like them, and man, this brings me so much joy, it really does!

7. What project has given you the most satisfaction? What was the most interesting thing about that project?

I think that would have to be the recent Fishing Cactus project! It was my 'perfect job' from top to bottom. It included a bonkers character design for the brand, character and flash animation on the site and full site design...the works. It's just SO much fun to have that level of creative freedom, to create a new 'image' for a brand and make it work across so many levels. Awesome fun!

8. What project are you working on now and what excites you most about that project? Is there any dream project you would like to work on? What would it be?

The big exciting project right now is my new games company!! Fully Illustrated has joined forces with Abitofcode to create a new independent games company, The Joystick Generals. The Joystick Generals will focus on 2D cartoon based iPhone games, with the sole goal of making VERY high quality games packed with loads of humor and VERY well polished games. Keep your eyes peeled over the coming couple of months for the new site and the release of our first game, Super Turbo Action Pig!!!

9. I see you enjoy Photography as well, is it a hobby? Does it directly or indirectly influence or inspire your illustrations and design projects? Do you ever get stuck with creativity block? What do you do to get out of it?

Yeah Photography is a hobby 100%. I love photography and it's the only skill set that I keep for myself. I find it important to have something that is untouched by the commercial world, as it allows you as a creative, to keep something back, to have something that doesn't have a brief, doesn't have feedback and doesn't ever become something that you 'have' to do.  It's my personal creative outlet.

Creative block stinks, I, as every other creative hates it! I'd say the block comes every couple of months and stays for about 4-6 hours, during which time I am not a nice person to be around ha haa. In these instances I just keep myself to myself, stop work and then spend time looking for inspiration.  In the worst case I just put down tools and go to the cinema, as nothing else quite gets your head out of its current state than sitting yourself in a darkened cinema and being swept away into another world for two hours. When you come out of the cinema into the light, it's almost like starting the day all over again...hopefully without the block!

10. If you could be one of the characters in your illustrations which one would you be? And why?

Ha, good question, well, I'd say I am 'The Hard Boiled Baddies' as there is something there that suits my every mood. Happy as can be, excited, stupid, playful, angry and just a tad silly ;)

11. Michael, thanks for chatting with us on Vectortuts+. Any advice or tip you would like to give to upcoming illustrators and designers?

Thank you, it's been fun, I just hope all that babble is of interest :) And as tips go, just follow your heart, if you want to do it, then just keep at it and never lose faith!

Micheal Heald on Web

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