Artist Spotlight: Renée Kurilla talks about Zebrafish


ReneeTimmyAndZebrafish
ReneeTimmyAndZebrafish

In lieu of our usual Wednesday post, The Weekly Click, we've got an extra special feature for you this week (tune in next week for a double-dose of Weekly Click links)! We are launching a brand new monthly series here on the FableVision Studios Blog: a spotlight on our talented artists. To kick us off, we sat down with FableVision's Renée Kurilla, an accomplished artist and illustrator, who shares with us a behind-the-scenes look at theZebrafish project and her creative process!

Renée, can you tell us a little bit about the Zebrafish project?

Zebrafish started about three years ago as a series of 10 animated episodes that exist online at www.zebrafish.com. The project, for Children's Hospital Boston, is an effort to teach kids without being too preachy, about how they can make a difference in small ways. Also, the story-line includes a character that works as a scientist in a lab that studies zebrafish at the hospital.

WhatisZfish
WhatisZfish

I made this little "cheat sheet" to display on my table at the Maine Comics Art Festival (MeCAF) last year: In the story-line of Zebrafish (the book), we follow the lives of 6 high school kids: Vita, Pablo, Walt, Tanya, Plinko, and Jay. Vita's brother, Pablo, works at a Zebrafish lab, and Vita thinks it's so cool, she names her non-existent but soon-to-be band, "Zebrafish."

How is the Zebrafish graphic novel different than the animated stories?

The first book is not very different from the animated series, only a few (but BIG!) things change between the two.

The second book (which we are currently working on to be released in 2012!) delves deeper into the lives of the 6 kids on their summer vacation between high school and college. It's totally a throwback to classic summer movies like "The Sandlot" and TV shows like "Salute Your Shorts" (At least, in my head it is!). There is, of course, a lesson to be learned in all of the above. :)

Shh! A sneak peak of some concept art from Zebrafish Book 2:

CampStickleback
CampStickleback

What is your process like for illustrating a graphic novel? Where do you start?

I do a lot of thinking and staring at first. I read and flip through a lot of my favorite comics like Smile(Raina Telgemeier), Blankets (Craig Thompson), Scott Pilgrim (Bryan Lee O'Malley), Skim (Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki), etc. After I'm done zoning, I usually grab a sheet of printer paper and start sketching, however lately I've been working in an actual sketchbook which is great. I know these characters really well, so I draw them doing different things.

WarmUps
WarmUps

I draw different expressions, not related to the script at all...just free form.

vita_expressionsheet1
vita_expressionsheet1

Once I get warmed up, I start drawing blocks and filling them with pictures. (Sometimes I think I like the sketches better than the final!). Here is an example of a page that has actually changed quite a bit from this stage to the color version, see if you can find it in the book:

blocksofsketches
blocksofsketches

Sharon Emerson, scriptwriter extraordinaire, has a really clear vision of each scene as she's writing. While illustrators usually work independently of the author, we have a different process for Zebrafish. Sharon, Kate Cotter (FableVision Producer), and Gary Goldberger (FableVision President) meet regularly to go over the script. I also have a small team of people helping me thumbnail the new book: Ellen Crenshaw Boehm, staff artists Hannah O'Neal and Tami Wicinas, and one of our talented art interns Jeff Beckman have been a tremendous help. It's really becoming more of a FableVision team effort this time and it's really fun! (Speaking of fun...)

linkfun
linkfun

A post on my own blog about my thumbnail process:http://kurillastration.blogspot.com/2010/07/thumbnails-are-tooooo-fun.html

And a little bit more about the project and team here:http://kurillastration.blogspot.com/2010/05/zebrafish-what-its-really-all-about.html

As a side note: FableVision is very lucky to join the ranks of Raina Telgemeier and Lane Smith in the Children's Choice Awards. You can vote for Zebrafish here: http://www.bookweekonline.com/voting/5-6

The story of Zebrafish deals with some serious issues like cancer, but also has a lot of humor. What are some things you did visually to highlight the different moods in the story?

Watching a very close friend have to deal with cancer at a young age and family members as well, I know what it feels like to have someone tell you they're sick. (Tanya to Vita) I also know what it's like to have a friend keep this information inside to the point where people start to get mad for no reason. (Vita to Tanya)

tanyavita
tanyavita

It hurts, but not everyone can relate to that feeling unless you experience it, so showing Vita's reaction to Tanya's confession of why she misses several band meetings was really important to me.

Vita1
Vita1
Vita2
Vita2

*Little known fact: Tanya's character has pink hair because my friend wore a pink wig when she was going through chemo- and that's awesome. :)

zfish_moment3
zfish_moment3

To summarize: color helps (or lack of color), spotlights on characters, shadows, close ups, angles. Here is one of my favorite moments in Zebrafish, I would probably hang over the edge of a chair the way Tanya is:

You've also illustrated picture books in your career. Besides the number of pages, how is illustrating a picture book different than a graphic novel?

I have illustrated 5 picture books in my freelance career, and I can tell you the biggest difference is that graphic novels require SO much more drawing! A TON! There are about 100 pictures books in one graphic novel.

Drawing for a book of such caliber has definitely heightened my appreciation for comic writers and artists alike...and I also think it's made me a better artist.

Here's a little snippet of the books I've worked on the past three years:

booktimelinehorizontal
booktimelinehorizontal

The Christmas Hamster (2008), written by Bryan Gately

2011-03-16 at 12.29.33 PM
2011-03-16 at 12.29.33 PM

I See I Learn Series: Percy Plays it Safe (July 2010), Freda Plans a Picnic (July 2010), Percy Gets Upset (February 2011), Freda is Found (July 2011) written by Stuart J. Murphy for Charlesbridge Publishing, with Tim Jones Illustration

I designed the characters for this book series which will continue to multiply over the years!

isil_characterlineup1
isil_characterlineup1
2011-03-16 at 12.11.40 PM
2011-03-16 at 12.11.40 PM
2011-03-16 at 12.13.18 PM
2011-03-16 at 12.13.18 PM

What are your favorite things to draw?

I used to doodle palm trees all the time when I was younger. Now I draw cats and other animals because it's easier to make animals look less realistic.

cow
cow
whale
whale

I have made my cat, Timmy relatively famous through these drawings. People all over the world know about him because of my blog (kurillastration.blogspot.com) ...and he has no clue (haha).

timmy
timmy

That's the best kind of celebrity.

Thank you, Renée! Check out Renée's other work on her website at www.kurillastration.com and her Facebook Fan Page!

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