French freelance illustrator Bruno Mangyoku creates cinematic, bright and character-driven illustrations aided by his animation background. His clients include a number of editorial and publishing brands such as Wired, Faber & Faber and Monocle. He’s just signed with UK illustration agency Handsome Frank – after a successful shift to illustration from animation directing in his home city, Paris. We explore how Bruno beautifully brings together the two worlds of animation and illustration.
After graduating from Gobelins Paris-based animation school, Bruno co-directed stylised animated films such as the Annecy-winning Jean-François with his partner Tom Haugomat, before making the shift to illustration in 2014. Things started to take off significantly after his signing with Paris-based agency Talkie-Walkie.
Because of Bruno’s extensive background in animation, cinematic illustration is his strength. He fell in love with the storyboarding and framing process of animation – a style he carries over to illustration, coupled with a limited colour palette.
"One aspect of my work is the prominence of characters, as opposed to backgrounds. While not entirely withdrawing the context or backgrounds from the image, I think that it should always be serving the characters instead of crushing them with too many details," he says.
Conveying characters through their expressions, silhouette and placement in context are skills Bruno formed from animating, although illustration brought him the simplicity he lacked in graphic design and colour choices, he says.
'When I do animation today, I always think of the fact that it should be as efficient in motion, as well as on a still frame; things that didn't always come to my mind when I was only an animator, where motion and dynamism where my principal interests," he says.
While storyboarding short films, Bruno realised the frame in which he drew his storyboard panel were "a beautiful playground for my cravings", so he started experimenting with fake still frames of non-existing movies, using the ratio of a movie panel (16:9).
"This is where the pleasure of drawing a still image, as opposed to what I did since my graduation (fast succession of sketches), came to surface," he says.
Bruno finds inspiration in feature films and graphic novels – specifically ones on human psychology such as Dostoevsky’s bibliography (from Crime and Punishment to The Idiot), George Orwell’s 1984 and Morgan Sportes novels.
"Film directors such as Yòrgos Lànthimos, Andrei Tarkovski, or Takeshi Kitano, gave me some of the most impactful artistic realisations, because they have such a distinctive skill in making a beautiful atmospheric image, all while staging characters that are deeply rooted in their emotional and psychological complexities," says Bruno.
"Graphic novelist Daniel Clowes, is a master at those too; in addition of having a real craftsmanship in character design."
We asked Bruno to explain the creative process behind three of his latest editorial illustrations, all of which were created using Adobe Photoshop from sketch to final illustration.
"I did a feature for a French magazine-book called America. I had to illustrate an article written by Stephen King on the history of gun-culture in the US, paralleled with the controversial publishing of one of King's first novels called Rage," he says.
"I didn't have a brief per se, but I had to stick with the facts and events that the author put in the article. I had some key spots to do, echoing from what the article talked about, as well as full pages in which I had free reigns on. The key spots are self explanatory, but I was super excited to do the full pages, as I could take reference from what I wanted, as long as it was relevant to the text."
"The Columbine massacre was mentioned by King, so I chose to do a full page of yearbook-like portraits for one of the illustrations; an all-over of timid teenager faces, with one kid in the centre being 'off' and 'menacing'.I thought the yearbook style was quite appropriate as it is an American institution, and putting an uneasy twist on it reinforced the message of the illustration," says Bruno.
"Another editorial illustration I created was for De Volkskrant, a Dutch daily. I had to do an opener for an article called 'Help, my record collection is full of rapists!' , in which the author tackled the subject of how to keep our clean consciences while listening to famous singers and musicians who are allegedly known for having assaulted (or even murdered) women (in the wake of the #metoo #timesup movements).
"Again, no real brief was given to me apart from the contents of the article, so I decided to go all-in and make an impactful image. I made a portrait of a young woman wearing headphones, an ominous silhouette of a man seen right behind her tying the headphone cables around her neck, as if to strangle her. I was careful not to be obscenely violent in the image: there's no sign of suffering or crude violence there, but I wanted to add something 'off'.
"The woman seems aloof, beautiful under her sunglasses, as if she was listening to music on the subway; but the menacing presence added the right dosage of unease I was looking for, as if we were witnessing the moment preceding the actual assault (which is, in my opinion, way more disturbing than seeing the actual violence)."
"One last editorial I did was on a piece for New Scientist, in which the article talks about how future Artificial Intelligence might have to be accountable for their actions, following the pattern of choices/decisions they'll make on any given life-threatening situations. The first thing that came to my mind was Stanley Kubrick's Space Odyssey's HAL 9000 – a perfect example of an AI going amok after having a power-trip.
"So I chose to feature a HAL-like computer (the shape and design is the same as HAL, but I didn't have the rights to display the infamous red colour, so I chose blue) being questioned by a committee of journalists, like a politician would do following a controversy. I was careful to keep the computer menacing, like the reference from which I took it, in order to be clear on the situation (we had to know that the interrogated computer made a mistake). The crowd of reporters was a fun thing to draw, as I wanted to convey a sense of chaos and urgency that can occur in these kind of press conference rooms."
Bruno is also working on a medium length animated film with Tom based on a John Steinbeck novella. Another is a video game project involving meteorites, kinds and a lost dog.
"As for my solo projects, there's an ongoing gouache painting series of imaginary portraits I'm doing right now. I try to stay as homogeneous as possible (using the same colours, the formats and composition). I don't know where that'll lead – all I know is that I'm having a lot fun painting these mugshots,” he says. “I'm also working on a series of animated gifs, using my style in illustration."