[We’re pleased to bring you Tristan Eaton’s interview with illustrator Stephen Bliss. You may not know it, but you’ve almost certainly seen his art. He’s created the awesome promo imagery for several Grand Theft Auto titles(billboards, covers, and more) as Senior Artist at Rockstar Games. Long before Rockstar, he started his career as an in-house artist with Japanese fashion brand Hysteric Glamour. Awesome you say, but what does this have to do with art toys? He created one of the original Thundermutt 14 figures which quickly sold out. Fast forward to today. Thunderdog Studios just dropped four new black and silver Thundermutt 14.5 figures including Stephen’s smiling Hawaiian skull design. ]
Tristan: You my friend, currently have more billboard space than all the graffiti artists in the world combined. This of course is due to your prolific work at Rockstar Games… Can you tell everyone what you do there, what it’s like and if you get to play with real guns?
Stephen: I work with a guy called Anthony Macbain, who’s an excellent artist. We brainstorm ideas, imagine what the game characters would be doing and illustrate these situations. With each new GTA game we have to develop an art style that’s similar to the other GTA game art styles, but also different; an art style that’s instantly recognizable as a GTA game but is a progression on the previous style. For example on the Vice City Stories cover I added rounded edges on the box frames, which hopefully suggests the 80s and distinguishes the cover from the previous GTA games, the colors were more pastel than GTA3, the characters are more detailed less caricatured. With the other GTA games – San Andreas takes the flat color of the previous styles but there’s lighting on one side and reflective lighting on the other to make it more dimensional, there’s also a kind of blended paint style on the lighted side (the lighted skin blends into the darker color in the middle of the character). The cover styles get more painterly as the series evolves – GTA4 is completely painterly with no outline, but is still recognizable as a GTA game even without the logo.
With each GTA brief we’re given the name of game, the year and what city/area it’s set. We then research the styles of clothing for a certain era i.e. with Vice City – it’s set in Miami in 1984, so I bought loads of illustration books from that era, only listened to 80s early music, searched online for 80s clothing, hairstyles etc etc. I then emulate a cross section of prevalent 80s illustration but with my own twist.
We also work with the design team, devising ideas for Rockstar ‘lifestyle’ i.e. images separate to the games to be used for stickers, posters, t-shirts etc. It can be a lot of fun and it’s also very challenging; I’ve learnt a huge amount about painting and design whilst working there.
Do we play with real guns? Are you suggesting we have Russian Roulette evenings on a Tuesday night with cup cakes, tea and loaded Magnums? Seriously though, It’s a fun job; I paint criminals, guns, gangs, cars and whores every day.
Tristan: So, before Rockstar you had a pretty interesting career. Give us the Bliss life story in a nutshell….who, when, what ,where etc.
Stephen: ’86 – I worked as a freelance illustrator after leaving Brighton University with a degree in Graphic design/illustration. I moved to Japan and worked with Hysteric Glamour (fashion company) in Tokyo, Japan, as In-house designer/illustrator. My job responsibilities included painting posters, illustrations for catalogues/books, sticker/label designs, t-shirt, clothing and fabric prints etc.
1989 – I went back to London, as my life in Tokyo was out of control, and worked as a freelance illustrator/designer for people like GQ, Arena, Sunday Times, Time Out magazines, Pepsi, MTV, Aardman Animation, Mambo (Australian surf/fashion company), Cartoon network, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, Wall of Sound Records, Sony, BMG, FCUK and Burton Snowboards and Massive Attack album cover (Massive Attack v Mad Professor).
At one point I was painting 3 comic strips a week – Pink Panther for the Sunday Telegraph, a weekly pirate television story for a Sega comic and painting my own stories for Deadline Comic. Later on I was painting and Biker Mice From Mars and Gerry Anderson’s Space Precinct comic strips. This period was hardcore – everything was painted by hand in acrylics, ink or marker pen as it was pre-computer.
1999 – With my brother Robert – started a t-shirt Company called Steroid. We did the t-shirt catalogue, sticker designs, the promotion (phoning British and USA magazines to get them to write articles), the production and distribution. We sold in various British and Japanese streetwear shops. Then I came to work for Rockstar in 2001.
Tristan: What was it like working for Hysteric Glamour? I know Nobu is quite a character…
Stephen: Working with Nobu was amazing – he’s a genius and had a profound influence on my work.I could regale you with many stories about my days in Japan, it was mental. We worked and partied extremely hard. With regards to the work, there was no specific brief, the art just had to be relevant to Hysterics, and branded. I had a lot of artistic freedom and much fun, although I lost a few brain cells there. It was an extremely creative period – we were obsessed with the work we were doing, we’d lock ourselves away for days and nights and paint, collage, sew, shoot targets etc.
Tristan: You are known as a ladies man, some say the James Bond of the art world…and I know you just got married (congratulations), but if you were given permission to sleep with any celebrity in the world (alive or dead) who would it be? And could I watch?
Stephen: I would sleep with that Lollypop girl from GTAIV. Or the whole of Sister Sledge along with Sheena Easton, a harvest of seedless grapes, 0% fat Greek yogurt and the Abba girls. You could watch the S Sledge session, or maybe the Abba girls session, if you don’t act weird afterwards, or try and high 5 me.
Tristan: From your perspective, what do you make of the whole Designer Toy genre?
Stephen: It always interesting to see how an artist has adapted his/her painting into a 3D object. Some of them are excellent like Camille Rose Garcia’s, others are underwhelming. I keep hearing that the designer toy thing is coming to an end but that’s bollocks, a lot of the toys are accessible works of art, with numbered editions – people will always want something exclusive. Especially if it puts a smile on you face.
Tristan: So why don’t you tell us about the THUNDERMUTT you have coming out. What was your inspiration for the design?
Stephen: The new black and silver Thundermutt is an edition of 100 I believe. The original edition of 100 was white on pink and sold out pretty fast. Inside the head of the pink Mutt I placed a bottle top that I’d printed, every top is a different print image. 95 of them are blue prints and the remaining 5 are red prints. The red printed bottle top Pink Thundermutts sell for way too much money.
In the head of the new black and silver Thundermutt there’s a bag containing a real US dollar, screen printed with an image from the artist. Most are black prints but there’s a few red ones in there also. My Thundermutt is a cheerful, demented and useless superhero, his costume is a skull and Hawaiian flower repeat print, like a wallpaper. He fights crime in a very special and simple way.
Originally I was just going to do the Thundermutt with the skull flower repeat print but it demanded a face from me. It made me do bad things, it was always talking at me. The inspiration was to make it look decorative but it ended up as some evil voodoo freak. Now there’s talk of a soft version with a bag of long pins for voodoo home fun.
Tristan: Sweet. Thanks for your time buddy…and good luck with that Lolipop girl!
Stephen Bliss’s THUNDERMUTT and more can be purchased at www.thunderdogstudios.com/store