google ad

Monday, December 3, 2012

Jude Buffum Interview Is That A Pixel In Your Pocket Or Are You Happy To See Me

Jude Buffum has been an artist whose work I've admired for some time now. You might have seen it on the posts of this site over the years or in coverage of multiple art openings or just in general admiration of video game art. His works have been featured in Gallery 1988, Giant Robot, IAM8BIT and more. Pixels produced by this artist can create a astonishing work mocking pop culture to recreating what nature looks like in 8-bit or 16-bit graphics. You might have played with some of his work in the PS Vita's Frobishers Says of which his art was used for three mini-games.

"It’s like almost playing with Legos", Jude tells me over the phone. He's describing how he does pixel art and to my surprise without a wacom board. He uses a mouse to draw out his video game master pieces of memorable content. It might be a HUD display in Office Space or Mario getting nasty with Princess Peach. It might be nature bottled in pixel form or Presidents riding dinosaurs with laser attached to them.


Jonathan: Now Jude, how I remember you last was as an enthusiastic artist at the utterly fun and entertaining Superiam8bit show out here in LA. I believe I was trying to get the best audio with a speaker near and a huge beat trying to overcome your voice for a video interview. You were sweaty, because of all the people showing up, it wasn't due to you having a new piece. You didn't seem nervous, but so enthusiastic  as you saw others checking out your piece based on Zelda animal evolution. I heard people compliment it or stare in awe of it or get lost in it. Amongst all of that what were your thoughts then and there?

Jude Buffum: You know, there was so much crazy stuff going on at that show I didn't get to spend as much time as I would have liked to talking to people looking at my piece. I did get a chance to meet the buyer of the framed one and that was really cool. But between the Koopa Rhoombas scurrying all over the place, the giant video game set up and all the amazing art work there I was kinda just taking it all in, enjoying the spectacle of it all. The iam8bit guys never disappoint with their events; they really are the masters of throwing huge geeky awesome parties.

Jude met Jon Gibson, creator of IAM8BIT, through MySpace and eventually grew to be friends and helped lead Jude into the art galleries around town. They've worked on multiple projects together including Ich Bin 8bit and a sticky note

What are you trying to show off with you art? Are you trying to tell others games are art too or are you finding humor in capturing certain moments from pop culture and transforming them into 16-bit style?

I think video games, as an art form, have introduced a lot of conceptual elements to culture that have in turn influenced other art forms, with graphic novels like Scott Pilgrim or films like Run Lola Run and Groundhog Day. As an artist I try to draw on these elements in my own work, especially with the idea of the HUD (heads up display). I also really enjoy working with pixels because of the graphic limitation; even my other illustration styles trend toward the graphically simplified because of the universal access that allows.

You took the plunge on your own that many artist fear.  You left the company Headcase Design that you worked at a few years back. You became a master of your own fate as a freelance artist. This can be a painful new step, it's so dangerous to go alone. What was your plan? What prepared you for you new role? Was part of it being a teacher?

Well the main thing was to build up a decent body of work and get it up on a nice looking website. Once I had that in place, I subscribed to Adbase (an online database of contact info for art directors in North America) and sent out a few thousand postcards. From there, I started getting editorial (magazine) illustration projects and once I had a little money saved up, decided it was time to go full-time freelance. I was teaching part-time, so it did add an extra layer of security to the endeavor.

You've been a freelancer for some time now what difference has it made to your life?

Oh it's so great, I feel so fortunate that I get to wake up everyday (at whatever hour I want too!) and do what I love and actually get paid pretty good money to do it. It's nice to have the freedom to work from anywhere too, it gives me the freedom to travel whenever the mood strikes me. However, on more than one occasion I've ended up spending half of a vacation glued to my laptop, so it's taken some time to learn how to say "No" to projects. But I'm pretty good now at judging either the creative or financial merits of a project and not overbooking myself (too much). But I do turn down a lot, there are unfortunately a lot of people out there that don't value artists or what we do, and just want you to do all this work for them for almost no money. "It'll be great exposure!" is probably the most toxic bullshit phrase you could ever say to an artist.

Doctor Octoroc is your real life brother, a chiptune musician and much of you work is bit based. Did one brother lure the other into the video game inspired art direction? You've done cover art for your brother, but have you thought of working on a more connected project together

I'm three years older, so I've been doing this a little bit longer. I think seeing what I was doing probably had some influence over it, but he's definitely doing his own thing and I love that he sends me all the little bits and pieces of his College Humor shorts while he's working on them for feedback (he'll often get assigned a show that I've watched and ask for feedback on the character sprites). As someone with almost no animation skills, it's fascinating for me to watch. In many ways we're trying to achieve the same ends, using different mediums, but inspired by the same medium (video games).
I think it would be great if we could collaborate on something else at some point, but we're both pretty solitary artists. I think ideally what I'd like to do at some point is write a pilot for an 8-bit style show (like Code Monkeys, but maybe something more serious) and see where that takes us.

Jude's childhood of course was filled with video games, but not until he begged his Mom for a console. She was adamant not to get one, but after Jude kept asking she eventually broke down and got one. One of his best memories was catching her playing it late at nite.

 Who has inspired you as an artist and a gamer?

My favorite artist of all time is Charley Harper. My non-pixel style that I employed for the Magna Arbor Vitae Deku piece at SUPERiam8bit is strongly influenced by his work. I think my love of all things simplified stems from his ability to take wildlife and reduce it to it's simplest forms that captures more of it's life-force than any photograph could. He once said "I never count the feathers in the wings; I just count the wings."

 Have you seen young artists inspired by you?

The pixel style seems to be getting pretty popular, I don't honestly know who inspired who, I think it might be more of a zeitgeist than anything else. I do hope that the students I've taught over the years have been inspired by me, not to imitate my style but to discover their own voices as artists. But in the end all I can do is steer them in the right direction and ignite their passion for illustration and all things creative.

Are you an active artist? You don't seem like a person who likes to sit around. You've told me of your love of hiking and bird watching. This reminded me of how Shigeru Miyamoto use to go into the forest as a young boy and it inspired the Zelda and Mario series. You also have pieces based on nature. Does nature come naturally to you and your work?

I do go running a few days a week to keep my stress levels low, and when I can get out of the city (Philadelphia), I try and go hiking in the woods. I do have a passion for nature, especially birds, and enjoy learning as much as I can. A lot of my more recent work, such as the terrariums and the Zelda biology piece were a natural expression of this interest. One of the things I collect is old nature guides, I just love the densely illustrated nature of them, the combination of infographic elements with lavishly painted artwork that I could never do.

Has social media played any part in your work and if so does it continue to?

It's definitely been a huge boon to me as an artist, in getting my work out there. I mentioned when I started out that I was sending postcards out to people I wanted to work for. Now I think a lot of my jobs come from people who have just found my work on the Internet, and I'm sure I owe a lot of that to the people on Twitter that follow and repost my work. It can be hard to get noticed since there are so many other artists showing their work online, but I think if you create work that resonates with people, they will respond by generously sharing your work with others, and that in turn leads to great things!

What video game would you like to create given total freedom, I mean a studio behind you and unlimited budget?

The Jurassic President series I created I think would make a really fun game, and I've been working on an extensive background story for it, so I think if there's any developers out there that want to partner up on it, they should definitely hit me up!