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"Everybody Loves Kevin" is something we find ourselves saying alot here at Way Art.
Kevin Kobasic grew up around the advertising business. His father, John Kobasic, worked as an account executive at Doyle Dane Bernbach and Cole & Weber, before founding Kobasic Hadley in Seattle, WA. “When I was a kid I didn’t really understand that my dad had a cool job,” he says. “I think I assumed that everyone’s fathers used them as extras in TV commercials.”
Kevin studied painting for a year at a fine arts college, but soon quit school to take a job at Marvel Comics. He spent several years as a penciler drawing action-oriented comics such as Deathlock and The Punisher. He later moved into the animation field, designing and storyboarding for cartoon shows such as Courage The Cowardly Dog, Codename: Kids Next Door and Wordworld. Eventually Kevin set his sights on a career in advertising, and brings his colorful experience to bear on a style that is highly adaptable yet uniquely his own. Constantly developing and refining his technique, Kevin has carved out a high-energy style at once dynamic and whimsical. He lives in New York City with his wife Faith and their daughters Edie and Roxy.
Kevin Kobasic:Energy! Our little corner of the business is all about selling an idea. I’m not just there to help communicate the idea, I’m there to help make a client fall in love with it. So many of the technical aspects of drawing have been overtaken by technology, but drawings can communicate an ineffable sense of energy, of humor, of life. A drawing can charm the eye and fire the imagination like nothing else. That’s the X factor that allows a creative’s idea to come to life in the mind of a client.
Your work is not super tight compared to some styles out there. Why do you think your work is so appealing in comparison?
KK: I figured out early in my career that I was never going to be that guy who does super tight airbrushy stuff. I tried to do what I thought advertising boards were supposed to look like, but it wasn’t working. I had started life as a comic book artist who idolized Frank Miller, so my instinct is to go bold and dynamic. An AD friend of mine encouraged me to play to my strengths, and then it started to click. Oddly, I’m starting to get more photo-realistic lately, but had to take the long way around to it. I find that some people do prefer a looser, more impressionist approach, so that the client pays attention to the core idea and doesn’t get hung up on details. That’s the niche I try to fill. Plus, as I said, that feeling of energy and spontaneity counts for a lot. I have one client who literally hangs over my shoulder and seizes on the initial spontaneous line, and won’t let me alter it.
“Everybody loves Kevin” is something we often find ourselves saying here at Way Art. Why do you think clients fall in love with working with you?
KK: Who said what, now? How do you cut corners when you have a crazy deadline. Please share a real example.
KK:It usually comes down to just sweating a lot, gutting it out and forcing myself to work more intuitively. I love working in a business that demands so much be done on the fly, because you learn to push yourself beyond what you’re comfortable with. I also do the frames in assembly-line fashion, as if I were attaching the same widget to each piece that comes down the conveyor belt. There’s a frame on www.wayart.com of two people walking to Outback Steakhouse. I tend to be a perfectionist and tweak the details a lot, but I targeted that frame as a good one to make up some time. I was somewhat horrified to find it on the website because I drew it so quickly, but looking at it now I have to admit it works.
What motivates you to constantly improve and evolve your style? Technology changes? Other artists influence? KK: At a tender age I asked my father, who owned an agency for 20 years, what qualities the best creatives tended to have in common. He thought for a second and said, “an insatiable curiosity about how the work could be improved”. That made a big impression on me. He may as well have carved that quote onto a stone tablet. Years later I asked him how I could go about breaking into storyboarding, and he said, “Storyboarding? I don’t think anyone does that anymore”. Oh well, they can’t all be jewels! What was your all time best gig?
KK:I did some storyboards for an animated Pepperidge Farm campaign that wound up with me designing a brand mascot and acting as the illustrator for TV and print. It was one of those things where nobody had a clear idea of what the character should be, and they were looking at a lot of more-experienced illustrators. I had to pump out hundreds of character designs in an effort to find something that everyone could hang their hat on.
It was wonderful to be the key artist and feel like the character was “mine”. It
made me extremely invested in the work. It also meant some very long hours
since I was the go-to guy on almost everything. When we were producing the animatics that sold the business I remember pulling a 72 hour shift. It also taught me how the tiniest detail could make or break a concept. We went through
endless rounds of revisions trying to get the arch
of an eyebrow right to properly sell a joke.
Tell us about your animation and character development experience.KK: The quality control in animation was a huge learning curve for me. In comics you can draw Spider-Man a hundred different ways, but in animation you have to know exactly how thick each eyelash on a character is. I fell into the business, so I didn’t have the benefit of a three-year animation school. I had two weeks to learn it on the fly or get out. As a designer you’re an extra hand to a showrunner who’s too busy to draw the whole show himself. So you have to be able to get into his head and design in virtually any style on demand. You work in a pressure cooker with very talented people and can solicit a lot of feedback and criticism. Ideally you’re trying to produce something that makes everybody in the room erupt in laughter. To amuse ourselves in the studio we used to do really brutal caricatures of each other. The game was to try to hit the other guy back harder than he hit you. It sometimes escalated into psychological bullying and hurt feelings, believe it or not. But you develop an ability to grab a funny idea out if the ether and immortalize it in a few seconds.
What are some of the things you do to get "a firm idea" of what the client is after?
KK: Some people have to be coaxed a little. I pay attention to those little pauses that say, “I’m not happy with this one but I don’t want to seem high-maintenance”. I always figure, if the work comes out good it’s better for both of us. My most high-maintenance clients are also the ones who force me to improve.Any time I get to go on-site and work cheek to jowl with an AD good things are going to come out of it. There’s a creative synergy that happens when you’re in the same room. I can get an instantaneous read on their reaction to something I’m drawing. It cuts down communication time.What was your funniest or most embarrassing moment on a job?
KK: They mostly involve getting busted trying to pirate wifi, or getting thrown out of stores and restaurants for taking reference pictures.Not long ago I was asked to storyboard a music video for Wyclef Jean from the Fugees. I was also asked to sit in on the concept meeting and do some preliminary character sketches of the man himself. Wyclef had no idea who I was or why I was there, but he was too polite to say anything as I sat across the table staring holes into him. When he found out what I had been doing he was relieved that I hadn’t been trying to hit on him. He was very gracious and complimentary of my work, even telling me that if he could draw like me he’d be getting tons of girls. I thought that was funny, as if he’d trade the life of a rock star for the life of a dorky cartoonist. Based on your experience getting started what advice would you give someone interested in a career in storyboard art?
KK: Storyboarding? I don’t think anyone does that anymore.