The Gnomon Workshop

Interview with Josh Nizzi

Josh Nizzi

by Travis Bourbeau

GW: Josh, you're a freelance artist working on the east coast. What was your family's view on your career choice? Did you receive a lot of support?

JN: I've been drawing since I was a kid. My parents were really good about encouraging me in areas where I had interest. My grandfather was the Art Director and Editor of "Better Homes and Gardens" for many years, so having a career in commercial art didn't seem like such a strange thing to them. In general I've always been drawn to creative entertainment whether it was video games, comics, toys or movies. Plus I love machines, cars, guns and aircraft, whatever. I think there is a real beauty in forms that have function.

GW: You recently switched from working on games to working on films for Transformers 2. How was the transition?

JN: I had worked in video games for about nine years and decided to go freelance. I've been a fan of Transformers since I was kid and loved how they were brought to the big screen in the first movie. I thought it would be great to be able to work on the sequel but couldn't find any info on how to contact the right people. I thought maybe if I designed a Transformer that would most likely be in the sequel and put it up on the web perhaps somebody working on the film would see it and contact me. I figured that Devastator would be a logical character to make it into the sequel so I did a concept of Long Haul, a giant dump truck that forms part of Devastator. The design got a lot of really nice comments from people online. After a few weeks I got an email from Aaron Archer, the boys brand design director at Hasbro, asking me if I would like to work on TF2. I started working on the film through Hasbro, and soon the studio brought me on and I got into the Illustrators Union.

I got to work with a lot of really great illustrators on TF2. Ben Procter, Ryan Meinerding, Paul Ozzimo, Steve Jung and Ryan Church are very talented guys. It was great to swap techniques and ideas with them. Nigel Phelphs, the production designer did a great job of keeping everybody on track too.

Josh Nizzi

GW: The designs of the Transformers really pushed character concepts outside the box, so to speak. How much freedom or direction was given to the concept artists?

JN: In general, I'd say the illustrators had a good amount of freedom with the designs on TF2. Of course there was more freedom with some characters than others; it really just depended on how specific of an idea Michael or Nigel had. Sometimes the first concept would work, other times there was a lot of back and forth if it wasn't clear how the character would be used in the film. It's an organic process. As long as you don?t get too attached to any of your designs it's easy to go with the flow.

GW: How Important was functionality to the character design? How much cheating actually happened and was it a major issue?

JN: I think my video game production background and knowledge of the Transformers toys pushed me to think about how the robots could actually transform. There is a lot of trickery that ILM can do to get things to work in the film, but for me, thinking about the functionality was a good source of inspiration. Ultimately what mattered most was that the designs of the robots had a cool and unique profile that reflected their character, and that they had recognizable parts of their vehicle when in robot mode.

GW: Any unused concepts appearing in the "Art of Transformers Movies" book?

JN: The last I heard was that the "Art of Transformers Movies" book was not going to happen, but I hope that's wrong. There was a ton of great stuff made for the movie. My two favorite designs for the film didn't make it in to the movie: a red constructacon by Ben Procter and a sports car by Ryan Meinerding. I had a design based on a submarine that didn't make it, and I thought that was pretty sweet as well. Maybe for Transformers 3.

Josh Nizzi

GW: Transformers 3?

JN: I've actually already been working a bit with Hasbro on some stuff for Transformers 3. It's super early stuff, but I'm happy to be a part of it.

GW: What else are you working on?

JN: I'm currently working on Epic Games' new IP. There's a ton of talented guys there at Epic. I think people are going to be surprised by what they are doing next - in a good way. I also have some other side stuff I'm working on, including my own small video game project.

GW: Do you have a preference to working at a studio or as a freelancer?

JN: I've considered getting back into a studio at some point, but I think it would have to be just the right situation. I really enjoy the freedom of freelance and getting to work with so many different clients on all kinds of projects. I might start a studio of some kind someday - I have a handful of projects I've been kicking around in my head for years.

GW: What about comics?

JN: I enjoyed working on the comic covers for IDW but it's not a regular thing. I could see doing a few more now and then.

GW: With games, films and comics, how do you find time, if any, to work on personal projects? How do you avoid burnout?

JN: These days I don't really do personal work that isn't a part of a project I have in mind. With what little time I have free I want it to be focused on achieving the goals I have. Plus I really try to have a balanced life with spending time with my wife and kids, exercise, friends, etc. When I have other things going on in my life it really helps me with creativity.

GW: Where do you find inspiration to your designs?

JN: I find inspiration all over the place. I follow a lot of what's happening with vehicle design and technology as well as other product design trends. I also look at what other artists are doing. I'm constantly amazed at how good some artists are. George Hull is working on the project I'm on right now; man his environments are so good.

Josh Nizzi

GW: Any future artist in the family? What is support like at home for you when spending long hours at work while there?

JN: My wife is an awesome support to what I do. She understands that I need balance in my life in order to do my best work – somehow I continue to forget that. I feel bad for her having to put up with how I get all moody when a design isn't coming together. Being married to an artist isn't easy I think. My kids are also a great support; Piper, JD, and Kate like to see what I'm working on and often have really great insight on designs. My oldest, Piper, amazes me with how she can critique a design. Maybe we'll start a Nizzi art studio.

GW: Thanks Josh we look forward to seeing more work for you and hopefully a few more DVDs.

JN: It was really fun doing the robot design DVD. I look forward to doing a few more. I think up next will be weapon design and then maybe character or vehicle.

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