It isn’t everyday you meet an artist passionate about backgrounds – which makes chatting with unquenchably honest Houston-native Julian de Perio all the more refreshing. He got his first professional gig as a background designer on Costume Quest (Amazon, 2018) drawing some very spooky-cool settings, and has since brought his talents to Bee and Puppycat as well. Julian draws trees on the daily, and one might say that his own career sprouted in Frederator Forest; we’re glad to have had him. I caught up with Julian just a few weeks before his bittersweet wrap-up on Costume Quest.
Where did you go to school?
I majored in comics – the fancy name is Sequential Art – at Savannah College of Art and Design. I started out wanting to do storyboarding, but realized that I had a lot of fun doing backgrounds. And it was something that a lot of my classmates didn’t like doing. I started doing backgrounds for a bunch of my classmate’s student films, and people liked my work. So I stuck with it!
When did you go from wanting to storyboard to wanting to do BG art?
Junior year, I think. Because sophomore year was when my professor told me that I wasn’t putting enough attention into the backgrounds in my comics. So I started putting in more.
Hol’ up – you were actually less confident with backgrounds at first?
Yeah, it always seemed so hard! I was afraid that I wouldn’t be good at it. And when you’re a young artist, you avoid the things that you think you’re not going to be good at. That’s a generalization. But that is something in life, avoiding your weaknesses. Wanting to be good at things from the get-go.
Huh… and then it turned out your weakness was a strength?
With practice! I mean, no one’s great at something when they’re just starting out. It’s just that I enjoyed doing it. I can get totally lost in a background.
In high school, did you know that you wanted to work in animation?
I had NO idea what I was doing in high school. No idea. I went to community college because I didn’t have a plan. I figured out there that I wanted to do something creative, and with drawing. I drew a lot as a kid and then stopped in middle and high school, because video games. But I took art classes after high school, and that’s how I decided I wanted to do storyboards.
Applying to SCAD, how’d you choose Sequential Art over Animation?
I was torn between them for a while. I based it on curriculums – I picked the one with more classes that I wanted to take. For Sequential Art, the classes listed online were things like Perspective for Environmentalists; Anatomy for Character Design; straight up, Storyboarding and Character Design for Animation. And then with the Animation major, there were a lot of classes listed where… basically, I didn’t understand what they meant. So I opted for the major with ‘storyboarding’ in the class titles. I did minor in Storyboarding, though, which allowed me to take animation courses.
What’d ya do after graduating?
I went home and did freelance work until I’d saved up enough to move out to LA. I got a little bit more freelance work out here before getting my first test – which was for Costume Quest.
What did the test consist of? Multiple choice? Short response?
They gave me 2 storyboard panels. One was the kids standing in front of a store, and the other was an establishing shot of the inside of a mine. And I basically drew a complete (but colorless) background into those shots. It was a good fit for me, because the show took a lot of visual cues from Zac Gorman’s Costume Quest comic. And I majored in comics! So it felt like I was using a lot of the knowledge I got from my major. Especially with regards to inking, because the comic has so many spot blacks. And shadows, shading. I sketched it all in pencil, then when I was sure everything was lined up, and nothing was in a character’s way, I went over it in ink. I had 2 weeks to do it, then didn’t hear back for a month. I had figured that I didn’t get the job – then they called me!
What’s a typical day like for you?
Get in, sit down. I try to finish 1 to 2 backgrounds a day. Although the really intricate, detailed ones can go up to 2 days. Every now and then I’ll get notes back, a bunch all at once, in which case I’ll spend the day doctoring those backgrounds. Usually it’s things with continuity, covering bases – oh gosh, clocks. I’m always having to change the time that I put in.
Who are your favorite characters in the show?
I love the villain. Christopher McDonald gives such an amazing performance as Bob Dickerson. He’s so funny in his delivery. Bob might be my favorite character – him, or Everett. I’m totally a Reynold though. Reynold, I identify with painfully. I am definitely Reynold and Wren is DEFINITELY my sister. Oh, but don’t put that in! She’ll get mad!
How has it been working on Costume Quest?
It’s been pretty great. It’s been one of the most fulfilling half years of my life. Wait, no – that’s too corny! I just, didn’t know what to expect when I first came here. I still don’t really know what to expect from being part of a TV show crew, because I’ve only been part of the one. But Costume Quest is a really tight knit group. We go out to lunch together almost every day. My coworker gave me a haircut yesterday.
D’aww! What are your favorite cartoons?
Is this where I’m s’posed to name Frederator cartoons?
No lmao you don’t have to!
(A long thoughtful pause) This is… so personal. Let’s see. Growing up, I didn’t have cable. So I could only watch like The Simpsons, the shows everyone had access to. I watched Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon at my friend’s houses until we got cable, and even then I basically watched whatever my sister or my best friend wanted to watch. That was a lot of Ed, Edd n Eddy, Fairly Oddparents – OH, Frederator, there you go. My sister had a VHS where she recorded every episode she could find of The Wild Thornberrys and Invader Zim, so I ended up seeing those shows a lot. Those are good ones. I watched a lot of anime – as you do, growing up in the 90s.
Do you think your next job will be in background design too?
I hope so. I like it a lot. I actually had two professors be like, “Why?” (laughing) I think it seems so unglamorous to people who don’t care about it! But I enjoy it. So, you know, I want to keep doing it.
Do you have a dream show to work on?
Well this actually ties into what I like about Costume Quest – I’m so thankful that my first show is action-adventure. Cause those are my favorite shows, despite all that stuff I just said about Ed, Edd n Eddy and Fairly Oddparents. I really like that with adventure shows, you get to go to really interesting places and draw interesting locations. So any story with fantastic environments would be great. But, yeah. I’m sure no matter where I go or what I work on, I’ll find something to love about it.
Thanks for the interview Julian! I hope you survive the inevitable sister-whooping, because I’m excited to hear about your next gig 😀