HOMETOWN: MECHANICSVILLE, VA
It would be a complete disservice to simply label Joseph Ryan as a graphic artist. Yes, that's his official title at Metro Productions, where he's worked for the past three years, and yes, he constantly excels at creating high-quality animation and graphics, but his talents go much deeper. Although he's modest about it, in addition to creating graphics, he's written novels and short stories, developed a video game concept, composed and recorded his own music, and to top it off, he was a cartoonist for a local newspaper when he was just 10 years old. Plus, he can rock the heck out of a man bun. I recently sat down with Joe and found out more about his process, what inspires him, and his unrealized dream of being a marine biologist.
What is the best part of working at Metro? Since we're a small company, I feel like each employee has more of a chance to voice his or her opinions, unlike at larger places. Also, the people here are amazing.
Why is art important to you? I think it's one of the biggest contributions a person can make. You're creating something from nothing, and your art is what you leave behind—it allows you to contribute something to the rest of the world, which is really important. Art gives people a way to show different perspectives. The dreams you have at night are going to be very different from the dreams I have, and in a way, art is a way to say, "This is what I've been dreaming about," and get it out there.
Your art comes in a variety of styles. You're obviously very versatile. How do you decide what style you want to use? Before beginning a project, I have an atmosphere in mind that very much dictates what style I go with. It's kind of weird for me, as an artist, because I keep up with a lot of different artists, and a lot of them have a distinct style. For their entire life, they're known for that one particular style. Personally, I've always jumped from style to style because I like so many different things, and I always wonder if that hurts me. You could put two things that I made up next to each other, and if you didn't know me, you might think that they were created by two different artists, but I can't help it. It's a thing where if I'm doing a story that's a horror story, it's not going to be in the style of Dora the Explorer, but if I'm doing a kid's book or something, I don't want it to be in the horror [vein]. I like different styles, I like the variety. That way it never gets stale. I have a tendency to get bored easily, so I've always explored different approaches, different styles, different looks for things, and just focusing on nailing down the atmosphere that's appropriate for whatever message or story I'm trying to tell.
What tools do you use to create your work? I try to mix all the tools, but we can start with the digital stuff. I mainly use Photoshop, Cinema4D, and After Effects. But on the other side of it too, I like to combine hand-drawn stuff and photography. I don't like to just exist in the digital realm. I think the idea there is I don't want people to think about what was used to make the art when they're looking at it. I'm almost trying to blur the lines between, "Is this a drawing?" "Is this a photograph?" So it's always great if I make something and people ask, "Oh, where did you get that photograph from?" Well, I made it in 3D and combined photographs to do so. Overall, I just always try to mix it up.
What inspires you? Movies, definitely. I love watching movies. Stories in any format: books, graphic novels, music. Traveling, in a way. I think it's important for me sometimes to not do anything, because I can be very obsessive with, "Okay, it's a week night. I have to go home and work until 11 or 12 at night, gotta keep working, gotta keep working." But I hit a wall where I'm out of creative flow, so to walk away and not do anything, even when I wanna do something, can be good. By the end of that getting away, I want to get back to it so badly that I slam into it, and that's always good even though the waiting in between sucks.
How do you determine what your next project is going to be? Like I said, I can get bored and distracted easily. But usually what does it for me is I'll see something cool or hear a story that inspires me. Honestly, I would say the biggest thing for me is music. Any time I write something or I work on something, it's usually triggered by a new song that puts me in a certain mindset, like, "Oh wow, I could picture this or that happening perfectly to this mood," or I'm almost seeing a music video in my head a little bit, especially with the story writing stuff. It's like, "Oh wow, I can see X, Y, and Z happening to this song." Then I get excessive with it and listen to that song over and over again as I'm working on the project until I get bored or burn it out.
Favorite movies and music? I'm the type of person that wants it all. There are those people who are just into comic books movies, for example. They really love that stuff...it's just explosions and good times and action/adventure. And then you've got people who are like, "Ooh yes, the Criterion Collection of this or this is soooo deep." They're in one camp or the other. I'm both. Yeah, I wanna watch things go crazy and explode, and I want a thought-provoking thing, too. One of the biggest movies for me, especially when I was a kid, is Beetlejuice. I watched that two or three nights ago again, and I still laughed at all the funny parts. Huge movie for me. Also Labyrinth, which is along that same vein. I like comedy movies a lot. I like to laugh...well, I doubt you'll have an interview where people are like, "I don't like to laugh," so broad statement there. I like all genres of movies and music. Like, last month, I was totally into Queens of the Stone Age, absolutely loved it, and then I'll turn around and the week after it's like, "Bollywood, yeah!" Indian Bollywood music, love that. My wife says that the music I gravitate toward is dirty. Not as far as content, but it can't sound too clean or overproduced. I like stuff that feels like it's been touched by human hands where it's got a little bit of a flaw to it. Oh, and I'm notorious for watching bad movies in fast forward just to see the monster at the end if it's a horror movie or something like that. 'Cause I don't wanna waste my time, but I don't wanna not finish it, so I'll just watch it in fast forward.
Do you have a specific creative process that you follow? It's a little different every time, but it's generally the same as far as me sitting down and listening to music. I'll do some sketches and then just kind of jump right into the production of it and kind of bull-in-a-china-shop my way around and figure out what works and what doesn't work. I'm never careful. I like to hit all the buttons and approach it like, "What's going to happen if I do this, this, and this?" You can't be too careful. No time to procrastinate. Just gotta start making!
Dream job? Just working on my own stuff. Making my own worlds, my own storytelling, and having that stuff come to fruition. I'd also like working with animals. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a marine biologist.
It's not too late! Half the time you can do your art, and the other half you can be a marine biologist. Perfect. Or do my own stuff while being a marine biologist at the exact same time. Wash a whale with this hand, do artwork with my other hand. Paint murals on the sides of beached whales. A whale is a big canvas. I feel like I'd be fired from being a marine biologist...we'll see how it goes.
Who is your creative role model/idol? This week, Anthony Bordain. That dude is awesome. He's very matter-of-fact and just a genuinely cool dude even though he has nothing to do with the art world. Well, he does culinary art. Dave McKean was a big inspiration to me. He was one of the first artists I saw whose atmosphere was so powerful, so cool, and he incorporated different methods. Jim Henson is another one. When I was growing up, he hosted a TV program called the Jim Henson Hour. There was this cool animatronic white lion that used to be with him, and the show very much promoted the importance of being imaginative and how there's something wonderful about a plain white sheet of paper and all its potential. Whatever you wanna see, you can make it. That show was always a big inspiration for me. Also, an artist that just does what he or she is passionate about. Like people that make movies even if they don't have a huge budget or a studio backing them. They just do it anyway because they are passionate about it and they want to see it be made. Any artist that does that inspires me.
What are some of your favorite pieces that you've made? I guess I'm never really completely happy with my work, but I am really pleased with The Ghost Walks stuff, which is the black and white collection. I was also really happy with The Outpost artwork and the story behind that. It was pleasant to work on because it was out of the norm of the usual kind of stuff that I do. And the Creedence McCreary artwork I was really happy with, which took some time.