Interview with Greg Hildebrandt
Back in the 1970s, two brothers from Michigan revolutionized fantasy art with their illustrations based on The Lord of the Rings. They also painted the original Star Wars poster and even created their own universe, Urshurak. Of course, I'm talking about Greg and Tim Hildebrandt.
From here on out, I'll be brief. After all, Gregory Hildebrandt's achievements, and his immense influence on later artists, cannot be summed up in a single paragraph. He's an expert in bringing life to wizards, witches, dragons, superheroes, mutants, giant apes and, of course, beautiful and voluptuous ladies. It's better if we let the artist speak for himself and reveal some of his secrets!
I know your parents teached you and Tim the importance of fantasy and imagination, up to the point that they asked you to look for fairies in the grass. Do you recall any fun stories from that period?
Fun stories are kind of distant. But everything Tim and I did ended up fun for us. We made costumes out of just about anything we could get our hands on. We scared the neighbors and our friends. We made planets and whole cities out of cardboard and blew them up in our Dad’s barn while we filmed the explosions with our Brownie movie camera. Yes we had an amazing childhood. Especially because to us it was all real.
When did you decide that you would become an artist?
I never decided to become an artist. I was born one. I did not choose art, art chose me. The obsession to draw what I see and what is in my imagination was there from my earliest possible memory. My world was filled with paper and pencils at scissors and glue when I was a child. My dad brought us supplies all the time so we could create. After my brother Tim and I saw Unkown Island in Cinecolor we went home and made a T-Rex costume life size, our size, in two pieces out of cloth, paper and masking tape. We walked up and down our street as a T-Rex. The neighbors were used to us. After we saw The Wolfman with Lon Chaney Jr. Tim and I made a wolfman costume by cutting up my mom’s only fur coat. She was not happy! We made claw hands and a fur face. We would walk down the block at night and scratch at windows in the neighbors houses. OMG what if we did that today!
In a world of digital art, you still work with acrylic paint. The difficulties of the process are obvious but, what are, in your opinion, its biggest advantages?
I am not sure what you mean by difficulties so I cannot speak to acrylic paint as an advantage. I enjoy working with paint. Acrylic dries much faster than oil and so I can create many more finished pieces of art using acrylic. Painting for me as opposed to digital is simple. In the end I have a tangible object that I created with my hands. It is a one of a kind that only I can alter. A digital piece of art can be changed and altered but many people and no one ends up credited with the design. My art comes from my head and my heart.
You always put a lot of attention to the composition and the lighting of your paintings. Do you count with a special set of "rules" that helps you to create an image or the magic just happens?
Yes there is a set of rules that I apply. The most important thing for me is composition. The next thing is the drawing. The next Is the lighting, and then color. The golden rectangle is very important in my composition. While I do not always use it, the process is observing and analyze the subject. Then how do I want to execute the art becomes the big question. Nothing just happens. My art is a culmination of 80 years of observation, obsession and compulsion and analysis.
Did you have any favorite movies as a kid? Some classic horror, maybe?
I had many favorite movies as a kid. All the universal monster movies, all the Harryhausen movies, all the original 5 feature animated Disney films, Pinocchio, Snow White, Fantasia, Bambi and Dumbo...
So, you're a Ray Harryhausen fan?
I have always loved stop motion animation. I did some myself when I was young. I actually just watched Clash of the Titans last night for the 6th time. Harryhausen was a genius.
What are your favorite fantasy and sci-fi books, apart from the obvious stuff like "Lord of the Rings"?
Well all of HG Wells, all of Jules Verne, all of Edgar Rice Burroughs plus hundreds of Fairy Tales like Grimm, Anderson and Lang. I have a large collection of old comics and pulps that I love like EC Comics.
How different is it for you to paint science fiction opposed to fantasy worlds?
There is absolutely no difference. They both deal with the imagination.
Your fantasy work has a special fairy-tale quality and is very influenced by Disney movies, but, I wonder, did you ever have any interest in a darker, more grim kind of fantasy?
Most Disney movies in the early days are not light. There is horror and tragedy. The Queen in Snow White is one of the most evil villains in Fantasy History. I have illustrated Poe and Dracula and Phantom of the Opera. Many Fairy Tales I illustrated were very dark. Everyone loves a villain. You can’t have good without Evil and you can’t have Evil without good. They need each other.
What kind of music did you use to hear in the 70s, when you started your Tolkien journey?
In the days of Tolkien’s Ring I was listening to Prog-Rock. Also classical music.
Today I listen to many varieties of music, blues, jazz, popular but mostly Prog-Rock and classical.
I know your misadventures in Hollywood trying to get Urshurak made were kind of tiresome. Do you have any advice for young artists that may be in the same situation as you were back then?
Get a good agent!
The power of imagination has driven all kinds of people, young and old, to create a better present and a more hopeful future. However, we live in a time where all of fantasy and science fiction are "commodities" controlled by large corporations that only care about immediate profit. Maybe you don't share my analysis but, do you think things have gotten better or worse since the 70's? How do you think we can "recover" the fantasy genre?
Mostly everything is controlled by the all mighty dollar. Money drives the world. I think that we never lost the Fantasy Genre. The amount of Fantasy and Science fiction today is overwhelming in comparison to what was available in the 70’s. Thank God for the never ending pursuit of the next Fantasy or Science Fiction story that has yet to be written.
Can we expect a Greg Hildebrandt exhibition anytime soon in Europe?
Sorry no. I have actually only been asked once to appear at a show in Munich. I had a great time at that show.
Here's a little silly question I use to ask artists: If you could travel back to the past, what historical figure would you like to meet?
If I could travel back to the past I would like to meet DaVinci and then Michelangelo. But the list would be endless.
And last, but not least: what do you prefer to draw? Hideous monsters or pin-up girls?
That's easy! Both, a hideous monster with a pinup girl!
Thank you VERY MUCH to Greg for his time! You can visit his website here.