Spotlight on Milenko Tunjic

Milenko Tunjic draws a mean girl.  He also bakes a mean cake.  He loves his games, his TV and his comics.  He's a real man's man!  Recent art credits include concepts for games : 'Legend of the Guardians : The Owls Of Ga'Hoole', 'Destroy All Humans' (1 and 2) and 'Rocket Power Beach Bandits', as well as many cancelled projects.  In the late 90's and early 2000's he did conceptual designs for Saturday morning cartoons on behalf of Columbia Tri-Star-Adelaide Pictures (via Brisbane based Zoonimedia) including 'Godzilla', 'Roughnecks : Starship Troopers Chronicles', 'Max Steel' and 'Heavy Gear.'   He's also done a couple of Hallmark specials and Adam Sandler's forgotten animation 'Eight Crazy Nights', not to mention illustration and comic works for various magazines including Australian Mad Magazine. He lives with his family in Brisbane, but is originally from Bosnia, affectionately referred to on his blog as "The Old Country."

Babe Lab : Let's get this rookie question out of the way.  Where did the pseudonym Ferdinand Kreozot come from?  Is this just your comic alter ego, or is there more to it?

Milenko Tunjic : Well, that story is old, and itching to be told. It all started many years ago.... I was an immigrant refugee, fresh off the boat, with a young family and desperate to take care of them. After a mild posttraumatic stress episode during which I lost my government supplied job of bar assistant in a hospitality industry (which in itself is a meat for another story) I lost my social support payments and was left with no money to live.

At that point I resorted to wandering various bus stops and train stations hunting for the loose coins people with too much money unwittingly drop around. During my coin hunting exploits, I met a shady individual who was on the same quest as me. After a brief fight we had over a half eaten Big Mac which was discarded by some fool who did not see its nutritional value and had abandoned it on a bus bench, we decided there was no point to fight and we shared a hearty meal. The guy was overweight and quite unshaven, but he moved and spoke in a dignified manner. He introduced himself as Louis Oswald Dimsdale, a descendant of long line of Dimsdales, a game designer and an entrepreneur. I was a bit ashamed of my petty East European name and also did not want him to find where I lived, so I introduced myself as a Ferdinand Kreozot, a descendant of long line of Kreozots, an artist and a free spirit.

We had a long talk, both bitched about how the coin collecting industry was going down the drain, being killed by the plastic credit card boom. We agreed we were in a dead end and decided to start a business and get ourselves some of that plastic card stuff. Since Louis had some experience in board games and I had some art skills, we decided to join our strengths and start a company which would supply new and unique board games to the world. We called the company 'Dimsdale And Kreozot United Games Manufacture' and spent several months developing our first board game. It was called 'Face Paint Dart Board' and consisted of an instruction booklet (proudly illustrated by me), a two tone jar of face paint and a packet of cheap darts. We hit the flea markets of the neighboring towns and managed to sell tens of our products.  But then the disaster hit. Reviews of our game were not stellar, and due to some unforeseen injuries that occurred during the game play, we had to put our second game ('Family Anarchy') on hold indefinitely, disappear from the board game market (as well as the flea markets) and go back to living our lives under our real names.

Years passed.  I got to make a living from my drawing and Louis disappeared off the radar. I forgot all about it, until one day I got an e-mail from him suggesting we revive Dimsdale And Kreozot United Games Manufacture as he has heard about these new, so-called electric games people play on their computers and he said he had an idea about one of those. He also finished some community course and learned to do so called "code" and we got together once again, much like the Beatles, and started ploughing on our new product.

And so 'Tito The Bouncing Alien' was born. Sure, we invested a year of our life in making it, but payout was great - we had hundreds of satisfied customers and made hundreds of dollars from it each! Success was too much though so we decided to take another break. 'Dimsdale and Kreozot' is in hibernation now, but after all the things I've been through as F.K., I decided to continue to call myself Ferdinand Kreozot on the Internet.

Boy, what a long and boring story, hey? Funny thing is that more than half of what I just said above is truth :) I also promise that, as of now, I will stop trying to be silly, and try to answer your questions in a professional and dignified manner.

BL : Hahaha!  Please, don't edit yourself on our account!  // Your motion-packed gestural sketches prove you're an avid observer. The pic above shows a girl with her head tilted, peering down the sight of a gun, a subtle but brilliant touch. As it pertains to drawing girls, what sorts of gestures do you find most pleasing and communicative?

MT : Well, it depends on what I am trying to convey, I guess. I like drawing two kinds of girls.

First are drawings of girl "heroes." They are strong characters and there is a plot as well, so I am trying to put as much of a story behind the sketch as I can. In that case, I am trying to think what would be the most natural pose for a particular action, what would a real person do in that situation (I am not sure I am successful at that yet, and that is the main reason I do not dare to start producing a graphic novel or any sort of sequential story yet. I do not feel I got what it takes).

And then there's sexy stuff. In that case, I am thinking what pose would present the girl in a way attractive to the viewer (what pose would the real girl take to get guys interested). Also, with such sketches, I go through a lot of reference and usually pick poses, gestures and expressions that work for me.  See, most of the "sexy girl" art I have on my blog I've done for myself and all of them are still practice pieces in preparation for (hopefully better) work I want to do in the future. But I am always glad when other people like them, too. However, if we go back to your question, the most honest answer after all this blabber would be: I have no sense or deep knowledge of what works. It is instinct more than anything else, and it just happens as I sketch. I am definitely no master of action and pose, nor do I think about them much before I put brush to the paper. I also try not to show my failures, of which there are many. I hide them away, never to be seen.

BL : Ah, but sometimes you'll feature preliminary drawings for more involved pictures on your blog.  Do you have any secrets for keeping the freshness and energy level high on something you've already drawn?  This is a sensitive subject for most self-deprecating artists, but you're obviously doing something right here.

MT : Ah, that goes many years back. I was doing designs for the animation industry and the first leg of the process was always rough sketches. We would draw and then send them through to LA offices and the director there would pick ones that he liked. We had to clean them up and do standard turn-arounds in a neutral pose which could be used by the animators (in Korea) to bring them to their animated life. I was always kind of proud of my rough sketches and I found that particular part of the process to be the most fun. Cleaning them up and doing turn-arounds was a tedious chore I had to go through and I hated it. Problem with outsourcing the animation is that if you look at your designs as 100% of style and detail required, once they pass through the outsourcing machine you are lucky to get 60-70% of quality back. So you really had to make sure that every line you put in made sense and was easy to understand.

I struggled for a couple of years, and then, one day, it just hit me: If you approach your clean-up as a creation of an entirely new design, and dare to tweak and change it at that stage as well (instead of trying to preserve what worked in your previous sketch), it becomes fun and you find yourself constantly thinking about building on your initial sketch and making the final design better. And then I started keeping my initial sketches really rough, focusing on more basic elements, as I was adding all the detail in the clean up stage. And it worked. Sometimes I would go through a few clean-up stages to get what I want, too. Unfortunately I only figured that out as I was moving across to the games industry, so the animation place never saw any of my nice work :) The downside is, (at least for me) it does not work every time, and when it doesn't I just give up and start from scratch.

BL : The artist is often told, usually by academic types, not to study from photographs -- that they flatten form, that they're someone else's static vision, etc.  You have a different and refreshing approach to learning from photos, playing with proportion and field of view.  Can you tell us a bit about what you're going for, why you do it, and what affect it has on your imagined work?   As someone who got a later start at drawing (which is incredible, by the way), what's your take on academia?

MT : Hehe. I never knew many academic types, and being a self-taught guy, I guess I do not know any better than what I do. Most of my friends are blue collar workers and simple types who do not think much of me doing silly pictures and they do not know much about form or static vision. I often lie to them that I clean offices for living as that seems to be more manly and more acceptable way of earning money (within that crowd) than being a concept artist. At work, things are also simple: directors tell me what they need designed, I design what I think is right, considering the theme, style, atmosphere, hardware limitations and poly and texture budgets, tweak and revise as per their request, and everyone's happy. Nobody has the time to hang around and discuss merits of this way or the other. I get to design a monster or a robot, or whatever, and if it looks cool and fits the budget and style, that's it. People are too busy hitting the milestones to take it deep into any academic discussion.

Personally, I think that people in the art world talk too much and try to make all this art stuff seem much more serious than it is. I also hate a piece of poor quality art wrapped in the layers of verbal bullshit. In my opinion, if you have to use words to describe your painting or sketch, you failed. But then again, what do I know? :)

As for using photo-ref in my work, no one ever told me what you just said about their use, flattening form and the vision belonging to others. In my personal "proper" work, I never used them and do not intend to use them ever, so if I ever do a graphic novel or any other serious work, it will have to come out of my head.  Professionally, when I looked at the trends, and even though I despised photo "tracers", I realized that it is a very simple and effective way to impress the average audience. Also, I hated having the art directors who did not know any better calling me over and showing me art they found on the 'Net and telling me how great it looked without ever realizing it was ripped straight from the photo ref. So I started doing it myself. It is a great tool to get the lighting and volume right, and to the average Joe it looks impressive. But I felt guilty for doing it and I decided to only use it so I can get some of the volume and light info hard wired into my brain and then I can apply it to my own work, so all these are just a practice to get me more experience. I felt guilty about just emulating what I see in the photo so I started changing bits and bobs I did not like and redesigning them to something more appealing to me as I go.

Also, I found it difficult to get enough will to go through and invest time in doing it if the topic did not grab me. I was always a huge fan of the naked ladies and they became the only topic which inspired me to see at least most of the process through before I get bored with it. There is more to it all but it is not really important :)

BL : You seem to have a love affair with lips.  Is this your favorite female facial feature?

MT : Haha. My wife once told me I had beautiful eyebrows. It got me thinking. I thought it is only women who can separate one bit of a guy's anatomy and admire it. And I think it is because the guys are clumsy, poorly constructed creatures and hard to find attractive, so women have to break us into the segments and find at least something on us they can admire. For me, the female form is a bundle of features and they all have to work together to make a woman attractive. Also, with years, I realized that attractive women come in all shapes and sizes and it is the whole package that makes the sum of the parts appeal and arouse. Pushing features and seeing how far from real can I push and retain attractiveness (at least to myself) is what makes it fun. All this, and the final answer is yes, lips are my favorite feature, but in particular relation to other facial features, too.

BL : You often talk of bettering your "skill", a common theme among frustrated (i.e. all) artists. Do you mean this in a purely technical sense, or as a way of thinking? Do you think any artist ever attains the skill level they desire?

MT : I mean it as the combination of everything you mentioned in your question. It is about having better rendering skills, more confident lines, but also higher ways of thinking, "crazier" ideas and so on. I never drew something I enjoyed looking at two weeks later. I think that my art needs so much more work to get "there" and being at my age I am well aware I will never reach my goal. But as the years went by, I learned to enjoy the journey. But, because I am so harsh about my own work and skill, I see weaknesses in other people's work too. And that is comforting somewhat :) I am also both jealous of and grateful for existence of many cool artists out there who have figured it all out and pump these beautiful pieces that inspire me and show me the way. I have met many artists in my years, and most seem to be humble creatures with similar problems as me, regardless of the level of their skill with a very few exceptions. Guys who are exceptions are much better enjoyed through their art than through their personality. In the end I think it doesn't matter what attitude you have towards your work and your skill, as long as you produce art for others to judge and enjoy. There's beautiful work out there produced by weak, insecure artists. The only thing I believe is that, once you get entirely satisfied with artistic level you reached, you stop to grow. And even that is OK as long as the point you reached by then is high enough to produce awesome works. Amongst many others who influenced me and helped me grow (to wherever it is I am now), there's one guy who was so talented and incredibly nice and humble whom I admire above the rest. He died many years before I was born and his name is Andrew Loomis. I read and purchased his books any way I could and his words and his attitude impressed me so much. If he was still alive, I would do whatever it takes to become his friend.

BL : Your chosen art weapons would appear to be a combination of Staedler brush pens and a Wacom Cintiq. Which gives you the most pleasure, or is it an unfair comparison? What else do you like to draw with?

MT : I draw with anything and on anything. Cintiq is an awesome tool, much more than a pen and paper, but it is not the pen and paper. For rough sketching I still prefer the old sketchbook and whatever pen or pencil I get with it. It is funny how your style changes depending on what kind of pen you use. (At least in my case) even the topics I choose to draw depend on the pen I am using.

BL : You've spent some time in games, doing 3D models and textures in addition to your concept work. How, if any, has this shaped your aesthetic? How does comic work compare to working in games?

MT : I have not done much comic work in ages. It has been all concept art for games, for many years. 3D was something I was desperate to learn back in the day, and it is an amazingly useful tool for a concept artist and even a comic artist. Doing concepts for video games has to deal with hardware limitations, different styles, working with a whole bunch of other people to achieve the end result, so it teaches you to be flexible and also, even subconsciously, you start to implement bits of different styles and techniques into who you are, and it definitely affects and shapes your personal work. Having it as a job also makes you draw at least 6-8 hours a day which in return provides practice and experience. It is all extremely useful and only makes you better. However, being a pen for hire drains your creative juices, and you burn your energy on visualizing other people's ideas. Finding the balance is very important but hard to do. I hope to find my way back into comics some time soon, and I think that all this work I did in games gave me a huge arsenal of weapons and tools to use in my future endeavors.

BL : Loaded question : Your stuff crackles with machismo and dark, sexualized humor, making it all the more compelling and gritty. Is this cathartic for you? How do you deal with the puritans who can't handle it?

MT : Machismo and dark, sexualized humor? :) That is where I came from. And that is what is funny to me. I spent first 25 years of my life in a country that was nothing but macho culture driven, with last two and a half years in the middle of war in which in which everyone was trying to kill everyone else. It affects you whether you want it or not. Getting that stuff out of the system is what makes me happy. And I think it is appropriate. It is like adding the sauce to the plain spaghetti. Sterile art is not fun. As for puritans, I do not know, I think it is their problem more than mine. I can and did handle a lot, so should they. As with anything else, if whoever does not like my art, they should not check it out, but find something that makes them happy. It is easy to achieve. If it is not to your liking, change the channel.

BL : Are there any artistic trends that bother you?

MT : No:) It is all good, at least anything I've seen so far. I am not a big fan of crappy modern art that has to come with a 100 page booklet explaining what it is, but hey as long as it makes someone happy, it has a purpose to serve.

BL: You're no stranger to heroic fantasy, listing "Legend" author David Gemmell as a big inspiration. You've also made mention of Alfonso Font, Frank Frazetta, Moebius, Milo Manara, Dubravko Matakovic, Tanino Liberatore, Horacio Altuna, Uderzo Herz, Juan Gimenez, Roberto Raviola, Hermann Mejia, Bazaldua, Frank Cho, Mike Weiringo and miscellaneous anime (sometimes referring to your sketches by the Japanese term "rakugaki"). Who else out there fuels your creative fire? Which models, if any, would be on that list?

MT : I am horrible with names :) Other artists, whoever they are, are constant inspiration regardless of their skill level. As for models, there are many. They sit in my folders, and I occasionally flick through those looking for awesome poses or contrast or whatever. When I find it I draw. I do not know any names as I get my images randomly, by turning the safe search off on Google and then typing random words, often silly, and trying to see how long it takes for first hardcore image to make its appearance.  I am too lazy to search for particular site or a particular name.  I would have a few but they do not cross my mind at the moment. When it comes to the porn stars, I like the vintage girls. Sarah Young always displayed amazing enthusiasm in her work as well as did Tori Welles and Nikki Dial and many more I can not remember now. Ah yes, and Melissa Hill! They are all good.

BL : What's your take on lifedrawing?

MT : Back in the days of Pandemic, we had the life drawing classes at the company's expense (the only ones I ever went to). Models were mostly girls and quite nice looking. We would get in conference room.  A bunch of weirdey programmers would join with their sketchpads as well.  The girl would get naked and we would proceed to do the drawings. (Once I peeked into one of the programming guy's sketchbooks and there was a single line that he was constantly thickening while keeping an eye on the naked model all the time :))

For me, for some reason, there was nothing sexual about it. Naked female and pad and pen, very clinical, almost like a surgery or a gynecological exam. But one time, the conference room was taken and we had to do the session in the common area. So the girl could not get naked; she posed in a summer dress that she came to the studio in. I could not draw jack shit because every pose she took was disturbingly arousing and I could not focus. Funny thing, that.


Favorite quote : "I am grateful for every good artist out there, because their art brings so much joy to my life. Sometimes I am jealous of their skill, but the pleasure of seeing those beautiful lines makes jealousy melt away quick :)"
You said it, Milenko!

You can follow Mr. Tunjic's ongoing (and sometimes NSFW) exploits at Tales From The Old Country. A cross-section of his work can also be browsed at CG Hub. As of this interview (05.09.10), he's currently available for full-time and freelance illustration work.