Hot Rods, Counter Culture, and Dream Designs

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Dan Quarnstrom is a visual development/designer/concept artist and the author of  Joyride Flatout, a book about hot rods, counter culture, experimentation, and innovation. Dan spent over 15 years as a creative director, art director, and designer at the award-winning Rhythm & Hues (R&H) Studios where he  worked on several animated projects, games, and VFX for feature films. He designed the iconic Coca-Cola polar bears for the commercials during the ’90s. Dan teaches at Art Center College of Design, The Laguna Academy, and the Art Institute.  He talked to JHI about his work, his muse, and his creations.

His recent book, Joyride Flatout, is available for purchase at Amazon:

In the book Joyride Flatout, you talk about how you are basically a fabricator trapped in a production designer’s body? Do you think that your creations such as the Blue Velvet or the Neighborhood Threat might one day be driving the streets of LA?

Blue Velvet and Neighborhood Threat ARE driving the streets today. Not necessarily my versions but hot rods and custom cars with similar pedigrees.

©2015. Dan Quarnstrom

America, Japan, parts of Europe and Australia are full of guys currently sculpting metal car bodies with torches and hammers creating original and outlandish automobiles. In terms of styling, look no further than the drag racing classification of Pro Modifieds  to find race cars that are dramatically out of proportion and only a few steps away from being cartoon characters.

The upcoming generation of hot rod builders and lowriders has no shortage of imagination.

You also talk about MAD magazine as being a source of inspiration for the artwork and the humour? Are there any artists that you were particularly drawn to?

Just recently, Jack Davis, the MAD magazine cartoonist and draftsman extraordinaire, passed away. It is hard to imagine anyone who can match his ability to delight with the drawn line. Jack’s horror stories for E.C. comics were frightening, his war stories gut wrenching and his sense of humor ridiculously delightful. His caricatures were right on. There was nothing he couldn’t draw. The spontaneity of his inked line is remarkable. Pure joy!

Jack was the guy whose drawings you saw as a kid and couldn’t fathom the mystery of how it was done. I have my favorites, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin, Moebius and Frazetta but Jack Davis was a world apart.

Every five years or so, we see an innovation in the digital tools, like the Apple pencil or the Cintiq? Do you find the digital tools to be as visceral as the traditional pencil, pen, or brush?

The digital tools are wonderful, the extraordinary advances in image making are impossible to calculate from Z-Brush, 3D printing and the endless evolution of Photoshop.

Photoshop serves a purpose for me but there’s nothing as visceral as the zen of pencil and pen on paper. I just like to get my hands dirty.

©2015. Dan Quarnstrom

 What did Big Daddy Roth actually do to inspire such a following of hot rodders and artists like you?

Ed “Big Daddy” Roth made everything look like it was fun. He was always smiling or mugging for the camera. At that time in your life (9 to 13 years old) when you needed encouragement and direction, he seemed to be saying, “come on, anyone can do it!” “Be an original!”

Then he demonstrated what was possible by building incredible dream machines and silly hand drawn monsters. His impact on American creative culture in the 1960s is profound.

You have been a creative director for films, themed entertainment, television commercials, and games and you have supervised team across the globe? How did you manage to work with geographically-dispersed teams so effectively?

The new graphic world is now so completely interlaced by technology that we can do anything anywhere. The language of graphics is becoming universal but technology is one thing and communication is another. To be effective, you have to establish common goals and encourage personal investment in accomplishing them. These projects cannot be completed by a single individual. There is a kind of alchemy, a combination of art and technology, vision and experience that must happen for these projects to be satisfying and successful, for the people investing in them and the people doing the work.

©2015. Dan Quarnstrom

As an educator and artist, what advice would you give to a student who picks up your book and is inspired to pursue a career in concept and production design?

You must follow your enthusiasm and be endlessly curious. You have to have a personal reason to continue. There will be times when you question why you have chosen a creative profession. The only thing that will sustain you is your enthusiasm. Why do you draw? Why do you want to create? What is it that excites your imagination? Find something you’re crazy about and dive in! Horses, monsters, cartoons, robots, fashion, dogs and cats, space vehicles, Pokeman, Mad Max, Frozen, comics, games, films, animation. Nothing is out of the question.

It is your job to sustain your interest. You have to do this when no one asks you to.


©2015. Dan Quarnstrom

- Interview by Shish Aikat


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