« Tequila Part 3: Early Sculpts | Main | Wheaty Wheat at SDCC »

Jul 09, 2005

Chris Lee Interview

1. Tell us about Chris Lee.

I’m a 23 year-old designer and illustrator from Sacramento California (born and raised). I currently attend Sacramento State University where I’m impatiently trying to finish my BS in graphic design but luckily I’ll be graduating next Spring. After four and a half years working as the lead designer for a design firm in Sacramento (doing mostly print work), I decided to leave and start my own freelancing business and it is call The Beast Is Back.

2.    Chris Lee’s design style can be best described as:…

A clean, colorful cotton candy stall

3.    Which other artists and bits of pop culture have influenced your design style?

I think my influence has come from a gradual synthesis between my design and illustration backgrounds. I’m a big typography, color-theory, and white-space junkie (yes, I’m a design nerd). Graphic design has played a crucial role in helping me understand and implement Gestalt principles in my illustration work. For graphic design, my influences have basically been contemporary design culture (i.e. experimental type, sneakers, furniture, product design, edgy magazines, etc). I’ve always found magazines to be my window to the newest design trends. I usually look at the layouts before I look at the content. For illustration, I’d have to say any artist that uses composition effectively. Those pieces grab my attention more than anything. 

4.    Do you collect toys? If so, what are you collecting right now? Best toy ever?

Definitely. Before I started buying vinyl, I collected a ton of Star Wars figures (circa 1995 +) and all of McFarlene’s figures. I’m also a huge Godzilla fan and love the stuff Bandai Japan has done with the license. But I’ve always been an action-figure nut since I was kid. Thanks to a mom who supported the habit back then.

The Best toy ever? Well, that’s a tough one since that category is so subjective. For me the best toy(s) ever were the massive Inhumanoids figures from the 80’s. Meltar and Decompose were kings! Okay, maybe there’s someone out there that remembers them as well as I do.

5.    My first encounter of your art was at the Mad*l show where I saw your 20 inch “The Boy Next Door”.  I loved the clean lines design, which was enhanced by a simple wonderful color scheme. What went into designing that piece? How long did it take you? What kind of medium did you use and where is now?

The concept for the MAD*L piece came from a lot of basic graphic design principles, specifically the backbone of all design… communication. The strongest messages are conveyed with the least amount of detail. That’s why I’m such a fan of Swiss design. But I love the power of color because it can say so much using so little. I think that’s what has helped my Urbanites series become so accessible to such a broad audience… their color schemes help evoke emotion. I borrowed a lot of the color palette for the MAD*L directly from the Urbanites (as well as using direct character references on the piece itself. The whole thing took about 4 weeks to complete. Mostly due to trying to figure out how to get the cleanest lines possible. I used Montana brand spray paint for the pale green face and hair and standard acrylic for the rest of the figure. The figure is still unsold and presently is with Wheaty Wheat .

6.    On your website, www.thebeastisback.com are a series of photographs. Tell us more about them. How did you make that transition from producing 2D photographs to 3D toy art?

Photography is just a hobby of mine. Recently, I’ve begun to collect vintage cameras and experimenting with alternative camera types (like the SMENA Symbol and the Polaroid SX-70). Other than that, I have very willing (and luckily photogenic) friends to help with my sometimes on-the-fly photo shoots. The line between my photography experiments and developing toys is very defined. They really don’t have anything to do with each other. If anything, the photos I take are just another way for me to exercise composition, light, and color.

7.    Who and what are the Urbanites? What was the creative process behind them? Are they going to be transformed into toys? Or are they mostly 2D characters 

The Urbanites are just your average neighbors. Populated together in that close-knit community you’ve come to love and hate... filled with best friends, mortal enemies, love, summer popsicles, fresh cut lawn, and daily insanity.
They are just like you and I...almost. The majority of the characters have individual stories and conflict. In the beginning, I wanted the characters to exhibit a lot of substance with minimal detail. To accomplish this, I decided to use basic shapes (circles, triangles, rectangles, etc) to give each of them their personality. The Urbanites are another example of how I like to blend the line between design and illustration. Each character was sketched out and then taken into Illustrator. The vinyl figure line is being produced by Wheaty Wheat Studios and will be available sometime early next year. The painted prototypes of some of the characters will be at the San Diego Comic Con this year.

8.    You have a unique relationship with Wheaty Wheat Studios. How did that come about?

I first met Richard VanOver while participating in a group show at Blue Space in Hollywood. The show was called ‘Art Throb’ and was sponsored by Cannibal Flower. I was invited by Joe Ledbetter to show some of my giclee Urbanites prints and so I jumped at the opportunity to show in L.A. (albeit a small show). But as far as how our relationship got started, it was more of I was just in the right place at the right time. He loved my work and offered to license my character designs to turn into a vinyl figure line.

9.     Who would you most like to collaborate with on a toy project?  Also on that note, what toy "canvas" would you most like to produce a design for?

I would love to collaborate with TADO, but I would probably have a Wayne’s World flashback and cry out “I’m not worthy!” I love their style and the promiscuity they present through their cute and dangerous monsters. The toy canvas I’d like to produce a design for would have to be a Be@rbrick. I have a lot of them and just love the quality and the following they have (not to mention their shape).

10.    What's the biggest challenge of making and working on "designer toys" ?

The biggest challenge I’ve face is having to see my characters in a three-dimensional space. Before, my characters were merely graphic symbols, almost logo like due to their simplicity and then, all of a sudden I had to create 3 and 4 point turnarounds for modeling reference. There were new things I had to consider like consistency, size relation, and balance; things I never thought about before. So in the end, the challenge actually lent itself to be not only a learning experience about the process of starting a figure prototype, but it also allowed myself to evolve my characters into something more dynamic.

11.    What's next?  Care to shed some light on any new upcoming projects?

Currently, I’m doing the illustrations for a to-be-published children’s book entitled “Theo” and I’m trying to work out an animation deal with the Disney Channel (which is still a big work in progress).

Posted by Francine @ 06:39 PM in Interviews | Permalink  | Comments (2) |


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Chris Lee Interview:


Cool stuff I'm a fan already! :D
Really looking forward to that huge hairy figure especially, don't make him too expensive, you guys at Wheaty Wheat have taken all my money already! :D
Love that flying pirate ship, hope you are going to do a print of it!

And thanks to VP for another marvellous interview :)

wow, really nice and crisp art stytle....quite abstract characters too...i like a lot...

excellent news site too :)


Post a comment