A fan of tokusatsu since childhood, Thomas Perkins is an Emmy-award winning artist whose love and passion for heroes shows in his personal and professional work. Working in the animation and film industry since 1997, his professional roster includes Godzilla: the Series, Ben 10, Kaijudo: Rise of the Duel Masters, Avengers: Earth’s Mightest Heroes, and most recently, Beware the Batman.
Where were you born and how did you come to be a professional artist?
I was born many years ago in Boston, Massachusetts. As to becoming a professional artist, I am actually a third generation working artist. My mother is an artist by the name of Abby Willowroot (a jeweler and sculptress) and my grandfather was a man by the name Charles Kerins (a painter and illustrator). I was inspired by both their example and my deep love of comics and animation from all over the world.
Since you come from such an artistic family, how much of your mother’s and/or grandfather’s work influenced your personal style or drive as an artist? Has there been a specific piece you’ve made that’s directly inspired by them?
I have done many mythological themed works that are directly influenced by my mother’s artistic tendencies when I was in my 20’s and 30’s. For years I worked on many series of illustrations that dealt with The Green Man and Celtic Folklore.
Where would you say your personal passion for art stems from?
I cannot give a single concrete source for my passion to create art. All I can say is that it is a drive that I cannot ignore, so I don’t try. I am always filling sketchbooks and hard drives with art. Each time I complete an image, there are always many more ideas of varying merits scrambling to get out. Quite frankly, there are not enough hours in the day to draw all the things I wish to see. That being said, I still try and am constantly drawing to that end.
Who are some of the artists who inspire or have inspired you?
I will say that there are far too many to mention here unfortunately. I find inspiration in artists from all walks of the world of art. I love comics, manga, and animation from all over the world, but I am also a man who has a great love of the classical arts as well. I find inspiration throughout the history of art from around the world. I find inspiration from artists of all stripes.
I love Jack Kirby, Mike Mignola, Bruce Timm, Glenn Murakami, James Tucker, Shane Glines, Moebius, Curt Swain, Carmine Infantino, John Byrne, Norm Breyfogle, Paul Pope, Corey Lewis, Dan Hipp, Walt Simmonson, Fabiene Mense, Hayao Miyazaki, Shotaro Ishinomori, Osamu Tezuka, Andrew MacLean, Paul Grist, Tetsuro Ueyama, Hokusai, Heinrich Kley, Vermeer, Albrecht Dürer, Erté, Alphonse Mucha, Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and man, many more.
There are so many great artists that inspire me.
When and how did you discover tokusatsu, and what was it about the genre that drew you in?
I discovered the genre when I was an elementary school kid in the 1970’s. Back then there was a show that I would watch avidly called Captain Cosmic and his Robot 2T2. This show would showcase such great programs like Ultraman, Spectreman, The Space Giants, Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot, Starblazers, and more. I was hooked! From there, I was to discover my deep love of the tokusatsu heroes from Japan.
I was already primed for the whole super hero concept thanks to the works of Marvel, DC and Gold Key comics. So when I saw these colorful and wildly imaginative heroes from Japan, it was not a huge leap for me. I liked the sense of drama and excitement that they offered as well as the weird dream / nightmare like qualities on display with the legions of villains that were presented. They had a sense of cool yet profound weirdness that appealed greatly to my young imagination.
Can you walk us through the process when creating a piece?
I don’t have a set system. It is sort of generalized chaos theory really. I always carry a few sketchbooks and a pocket or two full of pens on me to have on hand as inspiration hits.
I tend to fill sketchbooks with all manner of seed ideas that I will then further develop as time allows. I work both traditionally with paper and ink, as well as completely digitally with Photoshop and Sketchbook Pro as the mood hits me.
It’s really great to see tokusatsu inspired designs like Waybig from Ben 10. Since you do work on quite a bit of action / superhero shows, how often does your love for tokusatsu inspire the designs you create and help create in the series you’re working on? And do you have a favorite tokusatsu inspired character design from the shows you’ve worked on?
I confess, it is not often that I get to do tokusatsu inspired characters in my professional life so far. I would have to say that Waybig is the most on the nose example of making an homage to the genre.
It is my hope to be able to do more tokusatsu influenced work for animation in the future… With any luck a project of my own. We shall see. 🙂
You also seem to have a lot of Batman inspired work, is he your favorite superhero? If not, any favorites from the non-tokusatsu world?
Batman and Superman were the first superheroes to capture my imagination and so they pop out frequently, as I wish to both blow off steam as build up a wee bit of portfolio fodder. I love Super Heroes; all of them by and large.
I am not a comics partisan like some tend to be. On a broader note, I love comics. There are occasions that Batman does the trick, sometimes I need some Spidey goodness, other times Shazam comics.
I am drawn to the idea of adventure and hope in the face of adversity embodied in the super hero ideal.
Are you looking forward to the new Godzilla live action movie by Legendary Pictures? What would you personally love to see, as a fan and, especially, as someone who’s worked on character design for the Godzilla animated series?
I AM! I am approaching it with an open mind. All I can say I hope for is that there are more than one monster in the flick– and by all accounts that seems to be how it will go. 😀
I have loved Godzilla since I was a kid in the 1970’s!
So, if you could be a tokusatsu hero, who would you be?
I confess, if I could choose– I like the Kamen Riders, but which one is hard to say. They have an air of coolness and danger that is hard to beat.
Do you have any projects you’re currently working on that you’d like to share?
I am currently working on some NDA [Non-disclosure agreement] for Comics and Animation, but to see a list of my works in animation thus far, allow me to direct your readers to my IMDB page.
Lastly, what are some of the challenges you’ve faced and, most of all, some of the rewards you’ve gained, working in an animation studio environment? And what would be your advice to artists who would be interested in working on an animated series?
There are many challenges one faces as a professional artist. The business is a very competitive place. There are many times you don’t know what your next job might be. There is always the need to strive to be adaptable and ready to learn new skills for each new job and design challenge that is put before you. To be honest, I believe they are the challenges that everybody faces in any industry.
I have had many rewards from my career. Primary amongst them is the fact that I love what I do. I was able to take my passion for drawing, comics and animation and turn them into a viable livelihood rather than have it be a hobby that I do in my spare time.
Also I take great pleasure in working in an environment with other artists. The ability to interact with other talented art folk each day is really great.
My advice would be this for those looking to be a professional artist of ANY stripe:
Draw Every day.
Learn about as many kinds of art and artists as you can, even if you think it unnecessary, you never know where inspiration will come from.
Grow a thick skin, taking commentary is a huge part of working as an artist.
Avoid needless politicking.
Learn as much as you can about every part of the industry you wish to partake in… do not work yourself into a being overly specialized.
Be flexible and versatile.
Consult lawyers when contracts arise… don’t just sign things blindly.
Realize that people talk, so do not take actions you cannot defend. The art community is small and people talk… a lot.
Learn to deal with hard knocks, life is full of them at the best of times.
Learn how to conduct yourself not only as an artist, but as a business person.