Interview with Randy Pollak, Illustrator and Senior Art Director at Mammoth Advertising

Interview with Randy Pollak, Illustrator and Senior Art Director at Mammoth Advertising
Article by DesignRush DesignRush
Last Updated: November 01, 2017

"Create work that YOU think is good."

From social media to movie posters, the world of illustration has seen it all -- and Randy Pollak has had a front-row seat. As both an artist and an art director, he's created gifs for Scandal, feature film posters for Tom Cruise movies, and just about everything else you could imagine. 

So how did Pollak get there and where exactly does he find his inspiration? He sat down with DesignRush to share just how he finds his motivation. 

DesignRush: What inspired you to become an illustrator?

Randy Pollak: My biggest influence growing up was my older brother, Alec. When we were kids, there was no iPads or on-demand entertainment so we drew. We used to collect comic books — he would introduce me to various comic book artists whose style I would try and imitate. When I was older, I went to the High School of Art and Design where I was introduced to the great masters and life drawing. At Parsons School of Design, I finally learned what it means to be an illustrator. I had never heard the term before then. Create one image that tells the story of an article - sign me up! I loved that it was a job where you could create endless images for various articles and it would never be the same thing twice.

DR: What are some projects of your own that you are particularly proud of?

RP: My career has taken me from illustration to movie posters to social media entertainment and pharmaceutical advertising. That being said, some of the jobs that I am particularly proud of touch on some of these areas: 

1. “ANXIETY”

Shortly after September 11 of 2001, I was asked by BusinessWeek magazine to create an image reflecting the anxiety that was felt in and around New York as we all tried to resume “Life-as-usual”. One of the things that stuck out to me about that time was the fact that for days following the terrorist attacks, there were no planes flying overhead. The skies were eerily silent. Once the planes returned to their normal flights above us, we all had a moment or two when we looked up and felt a small twitch of fear at seeing them. This piece was also the first thing I created upon returning from a vacation in Italy. I was so moved and inspired by the work I saw there, I was studying Michelangelo's “Doni Tondo” as I was working on this Businessweek piece. This era of illustration for me was when I felt like I was really starting to find my feet as a professional illustrator as well. 

2. “RISE UP”

In recent years, I have gotten back to a more traditional form of image making, I’ve taken up digital portrait painting. It’s different from almost everything else I’ve done professionally up to this point and has really brought me into a new, and challenging space, creatively. This portrait of Lin Manuel Miranda as Alexander Hamilton is a good representation of the sort of art I’ve been creating in this context. Painting like this allows me to explore textures and artist like John Singer Sargent, Lucien Freud, and Rembrandt in new ways.

3. THE LAST SAMURAI

I spent several years of my career designing movie posters. The Last Samurai was one of the largest films we worked on while I was in the design studio, Indika. This teaser poster was simple, iconic, and represents the many years I spent learning the industry with some great teachers. At the same time, it feels like it seamlessly belongs with the rest of my work. It was a privilege to be involved with a project of this scale and the design team I was fortunate enough to work with.

DR: Tell us about your approach to illustration?

RP: When it comes to traditional illustration, as with most of my projects, research is key. I will do a tremendous amount of visual research to inspire me conceptually as well as visually. From there, it’s on to the thumbnail stage. A very rough layout of ideas, anywhere from 4-10 depending on the size of the project. These thumbnail sketches are then sent to the Art Director for the publication and then we discuss and choose one that will go to final.

A lot of my illustration work features photography that I will shoot myself as a base over which to paint or manipulate. Over the years, I’ve used myself or my very patient and reluctant wife as a model. Other times, I’ve relied heavily on stock photography for my photography. From there, it’s into Photoshop to pick pieces I like from each photo — a head from here, a hand from there, etc. Painting on top of the photos I’ve taken and creating something new is the finishing touch.

DR: Do you have any favorite illustration or design tools?

RP: Photoshop has been a staple of my work since day one. These days, I work as much in After Effects as I do with Photoshop, but Photoshop will always hold a very special place in my heart.

DR: What illustrators or brands speak to you?

RP: Like most artists, I have favorites in multiple fields. As far as illustrators go, the list of my favorites hasn’t changed for years. The top of the heap is Brad Holland, Matt Maturin, Wieslaw Walkuski and Anita Kunz. 

Anita Kunz is so wonderful — her work is so elegant, fun, serious, surreal, unusual and all-around great. This image was one of the very first I ever saw from her and contains some classic Kunz elements, her hands have such personality, the concept is great and the palette is classical and refined. This piece caused me to look deeper into who this artist was and opened me up to her work. 

Matt Mahurin is renowned as a director of music videos as well as a world-class illustrator. Probably most infamous for his “Dark OJ” TIME cover, he has an amazing body of work. When I was in college, I went to a gallery show of his work and was struck by his TIME cover featuring a caveman. This was in the early days of Photoshop and this cover was a revelation for me. Matt had found a way to transition his unique painterly vision from oil and acrylics to a whole new digital medium and still have the work feel uniquely his own. 

Brad Holland is the godfather of modern illustration, in my book. A man whose work has been shamelessly copied and imitated by a generation of artists. He has created work in several distinct styles and his work continues to evolve. This portrait of Michael Jordan shows off Brad’s technical prowess, brushwork and color choices. What’s not on display with this image is his pitch-perfect metaphorical thinking. His approach to illustration- the thinking behind his images is one of the many things that make him so great. In addition, he was the first illustrator to really bring some of the great things about Polish art into mainstream American illustration. Which brings me to... 

Wieslaw Walkuski. This last spot was a toss-up between Walkuski and Wiktor Sadowski, two of the giants of Polish poster illustration. Their conceptual and textural work is second to none. Walkuski’s thinking and moody work have been mined by American movie poster artists for years. His influence is all over, whether you know his name or not, you’ve seen work influenced by him. This image is typical of his style and clearly shows where American artist like Holland and Mahurin got some of their chops.

DR: You have the day off. What can we find you doing? 

RP: My days off are usually filled with my family. My wife, my kids, and my dog are my life outside of work.

DR: What mantra motivates you in your work?

RP: I think it’s important to create work that YOU think is good. While the no. 1 thing is to satisfy the client’s needs and solve their design problems, if you are not creating something that you believe is good, something you want to look at, the work will reflect it.

DR: Any final thoughts, comments, or words of wisdom you’d like to share with someone in the industry?

RP: The illustration industry is not what it once was. Magazines are dead and the world has gone digital. My advice, which I try and follow, is to never stop learning. Technology has brought us so many tools for modern image makers that we owe it to ourselves to understand evolving technologies and harness them to keep creating new work.

In addition, I think it’s important to never stop finding new artists, new ways to be inspired. There are many places online to find collections of great work from around the world, there’s never an excuse to not be inspired!

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