Here’s a photo of me and Frank Frazetta, taken at Comic-Con in 1995.
This was quite a while after the animated movie project “Fire and Ice” was released in 1983.
Frank Frazetta was a co-producer, along with Ralph Bakshi, who directed. Frazetta worked with Bakshi to come up with the original story, which was scripted by comics writers Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway. He was involved in casting and in supervising the live action shoot that was used as the basis of the rotoscoping.
Frazetta brought a lot of inspiration to the art crew: animators, layout people, and background painters. He would tour the building with his famous friends, like Arnold Schwarzenegger. And he would lug in stacks of his famous canvases and prop them up around the break room every once in a while. He wouldn’t talk specifics about his techniques, but he loved to sit around the background room and talk about his art.
Art was an intuitive thing for him, something you didn’t analyze unless there was something the matter with you. He often bragged about “pulling off” paintings at the last minute, though we all knew how hard he really worked at them. What did come out of our conversations was how much he valued understatement and subtlety, though he might not have put it in those terms.
Frazetta prints were all over the walls, of course, I admired the simplicity of his compositions, and the confidence he brought to creating an image totally out of his head.
But I didn’t come into an awareness of Frazetta’s work until I started on this movie job with him. I knew about Howard Pyle before I was aware of Frazetta, so I saw his work in terms of theirs. (Above left, Pyle's "Attack on a Galleon. Right, Frazetta).
I was looking for ideas about composition and light in other places—Dean Cornwell, N.C. Wyeth, Arthur Rackham, Frederic Church, and the other Hudson River School painters.
That would irritate Frank sometimes. I’d say: “Look, Frank, what do you think of this spot of light in the forest? It’s just like Wyeth would do!”
“Wyeth?” he’d shout, “Forget about Wyeth! This is a Frazetta movie!”
One time Frazetta came in with a stack of his original paintings and set them up near the coffee machine. He saw me standing there with a spray can of clear enamel. “Come over here, Gurney!” he said, “What you got in that can?”
“It’s a finish varnish,” I said. “We use it to give some shine to our acrylic paintings.”
“Acrylic? How can you work with that crap?” he asked.
He handed one of his classic Conan covers to me. “That baby’s got some dull spots. Why don’t you give it a coat of that stuff?”
“I don’t know, Frank. I’m not sure this kind of varnish is made for oils.”
“No problem, don’t worry about it,” he said.
But I refused to do it and handed him the can. I didn’t want to be the guy responsible for wrecking a Frazetta painting.
Working with Frank Frazetta gave me my first real exposure to fantasy as a genre of art and storytelling. As a result of seeing Frazetta’s paperback covers, I started to think about covers as a career option, which had never occurred to me in art school. When the movie work finished, I began illustrating covers for science fiction and fantasy novels.
Other posts in this series:
Part 1: Fire and Ice -- Rekindled
Part 2: Fire and Ice -- Frank Frazetta
Part 3: Fire and Ice -- Tom Kinkade
Part 4: Fire and Ice -- Ralph Bakshi
Part 5: Living Inside Paintings