About Gary Montalbano + Professional Projects list link + Interview
Born in Chicago, Illinois, Gary Montalbano’s interest in art started with him drawing crude pictures on his desk in high school which inevitably got him noticed by his teacher. Instead of being reprimanded for defacing the furniture, the teacher suggested he draw on paper, that way the artwork would not go to waste. Soon after at age 15, Gary began immersing himself in art, sometimes drawing and painting in long non-stop spurts lasting over 24 hours. This quick self-education brought Gary early success in high school where he was recognized for his talents.
Gary was a repeat Chicago Illinois Scholastic State Blue Ribbon finalist and Gold Key Scholastic Award winner. He also received the Northern Illinois University Design Award in Architecture along with having numerous exhibitions in Cook County and northern Illinois. By the time Gary was a senior in high school, he was given the Prospect High School Senior Award in Art for his graduating class (awarded to one student annually).
After winning a Rotary Club scholarship, Gary pursued an undergraduate academic education at Harper College in Schaumburg, Illinois in hopes of eventually finding the right art school. At age 19, he was beginning an illustration career when he was accepted in the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. By age 20, after four months (one term) at Art Center, Gary was offered and he accepted a conceptual design position with Marvel Productions to work on a feature animation project. Since then, Gary has worked with many of the major animation and live-action studios in the entertainment industry as a visual development artist, conceptual designer, and art director.
For over two decades, Gary’s work has been influential in projects for Marvel Productions, Universal Studios, Warner Bros., ILM (Industrial Light and Magic, Lucas Film Ltd.), Film Roman / Starz, Sony, Rhythm & Hues, DIC Entertainment, Rough Draft, Nickelodeon, DreamWorks and well over 100 other clients and projects. Gary has also taught classes in project visual development to other industry professionals and has been a repeat lecturer at the Animation Academy in Burbank CA, the CTN Expo and other venues.
Gary is a publisher of his own line of fine-art poster prints which have been sold to the general public across the United States and abroad since 1990. This successful endeavor began with Gary selling his art prints as an exhibitor at the annual San Diego Comic-Con International (the largest show of its type) along with other shows in the United States. At the 1994 Comic-Con Art Show, Gary’s work received the “Best of Show” award. In addition, he has also been solicited by a number of retail stores and galleries to do exhibitions and signings.
Gary’s first book, Memories Within Dreams: The Art and Concepts of Gary Montalbano, was premiered by his publishing company, Sarka-Navon Design Publishing in 2010 at the San Diego Comic Convention to much success and Praise. The 160 page book shows over 450 pieces of his innovative and inspiring work that spans his 25 year on going career. He is presently working on his 2nd book.
Throughout his career, Gary’s work has been seen in various publications, such as the Spectrum II science fiction / fantasy annual and the Batman Animated book. He was invited to present his original artwork in two solo exhibits at Film Roman’s Phyllis Craig Gallery in 1996 and 1998 to public acclaim. From 2010 through 2013 he has been a regular exhibitor at the Petra Gallery in Beverly Hills CA, in multiple group art shows. For the premiere of his 1st book in 2010, the Petra Gallery invited him to exhibit his original art and have a book and fine-art print signing. Through out his career, Gary has also been a part of over 50 group art shows and exhibitions promoting his art.
Recently, Gary has been designing for projects at Warner Bros. Animation and a number of other studios. Along with this he has been illustrating for an ever-growing list of commission artwork, and developing and writing a number of projects for his own publishing effort. He has also been working as a business consultant and repeat exhibitor for a number of Los Angeles galleries.
Professional Projects list link -
For a partial list of television and film projects that Gary has worked on, please go to: IMDb.com
Linkedin Resume -
For Gary’s resume and a list of his professional work and projects, please go to: Linkedin
Read an Interview about Gary Montalbano -
To read a recent interview that Gary did for Uncle Jam Magazine’s 101st issue by publisher, Phil Yeh please go to: www.wingedtiger.com
Or you can read it here below:
Gary Montalbano Interview: Uncle Jam Magazine – Issue 101
Questions from Phillip Yeh
Uncle Jam: You were born in Chicago which is where I happened to be born as well. I have always believed that there is something very grounded about the general attitudes in the Midwest and really anywhere else compared to Los Angeles, which is where I grew up since moving to L.A. at six from New Jersey. Do you find this to be true?
Gary Montalbano: Yes I do Phil. The community I grew up in was very focused on people and their well being and not on things, money and fame. I was particularly lucky to grow up where I did and have a good family. My dad is a good example to follow. He started off as an engineer and is now 84 and still teaches full-time. He and my mom are very inspirational to me. They made a point to avoid letting their personal problems affect me and my siblings. This has become more evident to me as time passes.
Los Angeles is strangely unique in that it is the epicenter of the entertainment industry of the world. Because of this, LA is sort of like a giant metaphorical “bus stop” on the highway of life for a lot of people from all over the world who want to have careers as movie actors, writers and film makers. These people are looking for some sort of notoriety through the entertainment industry. In the last 10-15 years, I find a lot more artists coming to LA since the popularity of animation has become more prominent.
I’ve met a lot of great people from Southern California. The reality is Hollywood is similar to Las Vegas in that many aspiring entertainment people want to hit the fame and fortune jackpot. Over the years I have met many people that have come to LA with unrealistic goals and they do not put in the work and time necessary to develop their craft. In my personal view, if someone wants to be an artist then they should do the art because of their love for that art. When I see someone who has a fairly thought out plan of action and are passionate about what they are doing, the odds are that they find what they’re looking for.
UJ: You started your career very young in college in Illinois and then was accepted at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. Many of the artists from my generation and those older than me, didn’t always value what we learned in college and many never went at all in “the old days”. Artists really valued their own ability to draw from life more than any other skill. There was much more appreciation for the act of picking up a pencil and making something come to life. Life drawing was a skill that previous generations really placed an emphasis on and now, with the invention of personal computers, everything seems to have changed. What are your thoughts about today’s art education and today’s artists?
GM: I’ll start with my brief art school experience. I had worked a number of part-time jobs in Chicago to save up for at least one term at Art Center and then took a risk and traveled across the country to go to that school. I was hoping to get a scholarship during my brief time there but that did not happen. I went to Art Center for one term, (4 months) and then the money ran out. However, relocating to LA put me in a place where there was a greater chance for good things to happen. In turn, I was fortunate enough to get to my initial goal of being a designer by landing my first job at Marvel working on a feature animation project.
For me, working professionally was a much better “paid education” than any school since I had to make the designs I created be what the client needed and wanted. Otherwise I would not get paid. Also, I was surrounded by working professionals of varying disciplines in art and design along with writers and business people. All had valid things for me to observe and learn from. They do not teach you the business side of art in art school.
To answer your question about using a computer to generate art, there are more than a few student and professional artists taking short cuts and the computer makes it easy to do so. One of the things I’ve noticed with some of these people is a lack of drawing fundamentals and original ideas. The computer makes it much easier for anyone to put together a rendered image.
It takes time and work to be good at art or anything. Yes, talent helps getting one’s career started but talent to me is also persistent work, passion, and faith. Having a clear goal and feeling a sense of purpose doesn’t hurt either.
Let me say that I do think the computer is a great tool for doing all types of art and design work. There are a number of talented artists whose work I find quite exceptional and they happen to use the computer extensively in their work. However, over the past decade and a half, a sort of “artistic” visual shorthand has developed. At first glance, some of that computer generated art looks okay but then you realize you’ve seen it before and it all looks kind of the same.
This sort of thing has happened before. I remember when the air-brush was a big deal back in the 1970’s and 80’s. A lot of the art of that era was starting to look redundant. What seems to be the pattern throughout history is that a few individuals break with tradition and do something new with the tools at hand. Then thousands follow their lead. The computer is the new glorified air-brush except I don’t think it is going away anytime soon. As with any tool, it is the skills you have and what you do creatively with the computer that makes the art and concepts unique.
UJ: What do you tell the students of today? Especially if they want to work in the movies, video games and TV?
GM: Enjoy the fun of drawing and painting and remember the passion that got you interested in doing art in the first place. To build one’s skills and to accomplish big goals takes time. I find it best to focus on one task, one drawing, at a time and to make sure it is done right. At first it may take some effort but the more you do that one thing correctly, the quicker and easier it becomes. Then you can apply that learned discipline to other aspects of your life.
I would suggest to any aspiring artist to regularly study the fundamentals of drawing and painting. Make sure to do the types of work you really love to do, because isn’t that the point? That means pick up a pencil and draw traditionally the subject matter that interests you the most. You can always scan it into the computer later. Also, study drawing from life, such as the human figure and animals. Learn at least the basics of perspective drawing and use of color. Some might say you really don’t need to draw in perspective since there are computer programs that can do it for you. I disagree. If you let yourself be overly dependent on a tool, then there is a lack in your skills, and with that, a lack in your ability to create. Properly using a tool, such as the computer, to help you get a job done quicker and with more refinement, is fine. However, don’t become so dependent on a computer that you can’t create artwork without it.
To find one’s creative place in the world is a daily exercise in self-honesty, planning and determination. I tell students I meet that no work-for-hire job lasts forever and to remember that. My suggestion to any aspiring artist is to ask themselves, what do you truly want in your art and in your life? What is it that you love to do and think of a plan on how to get there. The answer can be as simple as a state of mind.
People that want to work as a designer or illustrator in the entertainment industry have to take risks and put their work out there. Build your skills and network by meeting people in the field you want to get into. When you get some work, be reliable. If you agree to do a job, do it to the best of your ability in the time given.
Finding that balance between doing the job right and feeling a sense of artistic fulfillment is ideal in a work-for-hire situation. If you’re an artist working as a designer, illustrator or animator, then being told to paint, draw or design a certain thing a certain way is a given. It is part of the job.
UJ: Would you say patience is a virtue for art and creativity in general?
GM: Without a doubt. Sometimes it is hard to find where you belong artistically and in general. It can be distressing when you know you are capable of doing so much more and not be considered or recognized in one’s chosen field. Being patient and letting the pieces of one’s career come together in its due time takes a bit of faith. But if you do the work necessary, be good to the people around you and follow a well thought out plan, it usually works out fine.
UJ: You have worked on many television shows in your career including; Men In Black to superhero shows like Green Lantern, Wolverine and the X-Men, Batman etc. These were all based on comic books. How important were comics in your life?
GM: Ironically, I didn’t buy my first comic until I was working at my first job at Marvel in 1986. It was Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. It was a great introduction to the world of comics. The super hero studio projects are a lot of fun to work on and tend to have a great deal of science-fiction and fantasy elements that I find enjoyable. However, any project with good people can be enjoyable.
When I was growing up there were no comic shops that I was aware of in my neighborhood until I was in high school. My artistic interests gravitated towards the art and illustration books that focused on Romanticism, Victorian fantasy, Surrealism and science-fiction / fantasy. Of course the science-fiction movies and TV series were a big influence.
One of my first memories was trying to stay awake at a drive in showing of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey. I was 3 years old. The old Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, and Star Trek reruns were like water to me in a creative desert back in the 70’s when I was a kid. I love those shows for their great writing and concepts that at times were down right poignant and profound. Of course it was great the first time I saw the original Star Wars back in 1977. That movie changed and inspired a whole generation of young artists back then including myself.
UJ: So it sounds like science-fiction and fantastic art were very influential in your youth?
GM: It certainly was and still is. The thing that I love about the old sci-fi is the optimism and the hope for a better future. That mentality is sort of laughed at nowadays as naive since a lot of modern sci-fi is grimmer, more dystopian or apocalyptic, basically reflecting the world’s present fears. The science-fiction stories that are also cautionary tales in the extreme sense appealed to me too because they showed such a different reality but tried to make the audience think and appreciate the good that we have.
When I was young, sci-fi art and stories made me feel that the world of tomorrow would not only be a better place but humanity would have learned to not tolerate the very few corrupt, yet powerful, greedy people that are making a mess of everything.
When you look at any invention or advance in our world, it all started with a thought, an idea. A lot of creative writers and artists of the past have sparked the collective human imagination to push the boundaries of innovation further than previous generations.
I remember seeing Neal Armstrong, the first man to step foot on the moon and realizing that he was on another world! I couldn’t help but be inspired and optimistic about the future. Great things were ahead for all of us. I was truly looking forward to solar cars, moon bases, interplanetary travel, and hopefully within my life time, interstellar travel. Obviously, things turned out a little differently.
The reality is that we have to be vigilant for our futures and make wise decisions about who we give our power to. This has always been true throughout history. Science-fiction / fantasy movies, writing and art gives me hope because they open the mind to new possibilities, new ways of thinking and problem solving. Personally, I believe at its core, there is a spiritual aspect to creative thinking. When you remove self-made limitations in the creative mind, anything is possible.
I’m getting off the subject of art. I guess my enthusiasm of sci-fi / fantasy art and movies gave my imagination a lot of positive fuel when I was a teenager. This influence was crucial for my growth as an artist.
UJ: What artists and movies influenced your own growth?
GM: George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977), with its “used future” designs and look by Ralph McQuarrie, gave a powerful view of what could be if you let the imagination free. The same goes for Ridley Scott’s Alien and Blade Runner where brilliant artist / designers like Syd Mead, Jean Giraud (Moebius), Ron Cobb and H.R. Giger demonstrated their own unique visions. Roger Dean with his other worldly album cover art and books was a great inspiration in showing me that anything is possible in art and design. I also found the George Pal movie, The Time Machine (1960), Forbidden Planet (1956), Planet of the Apes (1968), Fantastic Planet (1973) and The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) very appealing. Hayao Miyazki’s animated movies are always wonderful.
As for a short list of additional artists’ and architects’ work (in no particular order) that also inspired me in my youth are: Alphonse Mucha, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Gustav Klimt, Maxfield Parrish, Franklin Booth, Bob Kuhn, Maynard Dixon, John Schoenherr, Frank Lloyd Wright, Lebbeus Woods, Robert McCall, Eyvind Earle, Patrick Woodroffe, Frank Frazetta, Michael Whelan, De Es Schwertberger, John Harris, Jim Burns, John Berkey, Thomas Blackshear, and Richard Powers.
UJ: You have worked with many of the major live action and animation studios over two decades. What has been some of the highlights and do you prefer to work at the studio itself or can you do your work at home?
GM: I always enjoy working with others on studio projects, even if it is different than the typical work I’ve done in the past. Being asked to try a new style or subject matter on a project is always an opportunity for me to expand my skills and to meet new people. Working with old friends is always great because of the camaraderie and trust that the job will be done right. In general, it is always interesting for me to see how others do their creative process and problem solving.
At times, depending on the project, I am working out of my studio and sending in my design and illustration work via e-mail. That’s fine too. It gives me a chance to spend more time with my kids and wife and not deal with a commute.
UJ: Can you please tell our readers what are the differences between a background artist, a character designer, conceptual designer and a visual development artist?
GM: The background artist focuses on visualizing the exterior and interior environments for an animation project. The character designer focuses on the main and incidental characters also in an animation project. The visual development artist usually encompasses all the animation design disciplines such as backgrounds, characters, vehicles, props and painting. The goal is to create illustrations that visualize narrative scenes for an animation project to its fullest before giant amounts of money is spent. It is a way of seeing and mapping out a possible design direction a developing project could go in. The conceptual designer is very similar to a visual development artist but that title is usually more for live action projects. However, since the predominance of computer animation is now in both live action and animated projects, the term is now interchangeable.
UJ: What do you prefer to do on a TV production or movie? Or do your prefer to just paint?
GM: Visual development and conceptual design are very enjoyable for me because, at times, the sky is the limit in the design thinking process. It is about trying new ideas. It can sometimes be a collaborative effort where multiple designers are bouncing ideas off each other along with a producer and director. This is the paid education part for me where instead of reinventing the wheel, I can get a glimpse of someone else’s design solutions and thinking and they in turn benefit from my conceptual thinking and problem solving.
When I am working for my own publishing endeavor, I apply that same mindset of trying new ideas in my personal artwork and writing. I find that extremely satisfying and enjoyable because that is the time when I pull out all that I’ve learned in art and writing and see what I can create with no external barriers.
UJ: It sounds like you have writing as another creative pursuit?
GM: Writing is something I do just as much as I draw and paint. That whole thing started in my teenage years in the form of journals but evolved into story writing. For quite some time, I’ve been quietly working on my story projects for my next published book.
UJ: That segues into my next question. Your book, Memories within Dreams: The Art and Concepts of Gary Montalbano, covers the highlights of your whole career to 2010. You have a significant number of pieces of artwork in it. There is also an introduction to your upcoming writing projects. What can we look forward to seeing in your new book and what is the title and publication date?
GM: Well I am taking my creative interest of writing and combining it with my art. The book is a full on novel with a manuscript word count of over 50,000 words. The book’s title is Into the Unknown, and is the first of at least three fully illustrated novels in a series with each having about 100 illustrations. It is by far the most ambitious personal project I have ever done. The desired publishing date is in the next few years.
UJ: Do you have any plans to direct your own visions in a TV show, a film or video game?
GM: One of my goals is to finish the series of books as I mentioned and then have those, ideally, to become feature animation projects, television series and possibly a video game. With publishing my own art and writing, I am able to complete my ideas exactly the way I want with no compromise.
UJ: How important is your wife Meeyun in your life? And your kids?
GM: My wife Meeyun is my partner in life. She is pretty much my best friend and the mother of my two wonderful kids. She is a lovely person inside and out and I am thankful to have her as my wife. Meeyun is a high school math teacher and is a great balance for me and my artistic side. We hit it off, in many ways, the moment we met and have been together ever since.
UJ: California now has one of the worst records for literacy in the United States and sadly, almost no funds for the arts in our schools? I would love to hear your thoughts and your wife’s on this subject.
GM: We find the whole California educational system an unfortunate situation. I would hope that the politicians, our “public servants,” would choose to put taxpayer money towards the education of our youth.
I have been living in California for over 25 years and Meeyun for over 15 years, so we have seen more and more taxpayers’ money being spent than ever. Yet, less and less is going to the quality of living for the general public, including the education of our children. Where is all that money going?
Having the arts in public education ensures that the innovative thinking of our children will continue to develop. New ideas and breakthroughs occur as these young people become adults. It is not a coincidence that the last half of the 20th century was also a time where the biggest breakthroughs in technology of humanity have occurred. This was also a time where a middle class existed for the first time in human history and had the freedom to fully express themselves. The middle class was the majority. A free education was available for most everyone and the arts were an important part of that.
Let me take this thought of why art is important a step further. In the book, Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time and Light, by Leonard Shlain, the author has pointed out a compelling pattern of artistic breakthroughs proceeding scientific breakthroughs throughout human history. Is this a coincidence? Personally, I think not. When artistic vision is repressed in a society, a “dark age” predominates due to no freedom of thought and expression.
Art is, by its nature, a form of communication. Actually, it is the first form of written language which started off as cave paintings and pictograms thousands of years ago. Art is also a personal form of self communication. By having art in the public schools you encourage the youth to positively express themselves and learn about who they are as individuals. My point is, if you want to stifle innovative thinking for the next generation and plunge America into a severe decline, get rid of quality education and eliminate the arts from public schools.
UJ: As someone who has a dad from China and a mother (her grandparents came from the U.K.) from the Midwest, I have long dreamed about telling stories with non-stereotypical characters. Sadly, I don’t see much evidence that things have changed much since I was a film student at California State University Long Beach in the 1970s. What are your thoughts for the future of storytelling in film and TV regarding more universal characters?
GM: It starts with the artists and writers putting non-stereotypical characters in their work. Southern California may still be the center of the entertainment industry for the world but the internet is challenging that. Billions of people now have access to the internet and can post their work on it. I can’t help but think that more diverse stories and characters from all over the world will and are being created. If the quality of those stories is good, it will be just a matter of time before they are widely accepted here in the United States and everywhere.
Ask yourself where is it that you put your money when you buy anything? When you buy a movie ticket, music, book, art, or anything, it is like a vote. In other words, give your monetary vote to products and projects you believe in, whatever that may be.
The future of storytelling can be a very good one but it is up to each of us to make conscious choices to create stories and art that has the elements that we hold important. Create the change that you would hope for even if you are only able to make a small change.
UJ: Would you encourage your kids to go into art as a career if they had an interest?
GM: Yes, but I would also encourage them to learn about business and other subjects. That way they have a well-rounded education. What I would want for my kids is to enjoy the process of learning in general and apply that knowledge to whatever they may have an interest in. Ultimately, my hope would be that they find a career that they are passionate about, whatever that may be, and that they respect themselves and others.