Series Interview: CJ Burton

When did you take your first photograph, film, video, art, character, animation, etc.

I started creating illustrations the minute I walked out of Star Wars as a young child. I redrew the entire movie scene by scene in a spiral notebook. Still have that notebook.

My first professional job was to illustrate the cover of the Los Angeles Times Magazine in 2001.

 

What professional goals do you still have for yourself?

To excel in the world of advertising as I have done in the world of editorial. To be recognized by my work.

What is your greatest professional achievement?

Being recognized by my work, ha! When somebody knows it’s your photo before they see your name associated with it. I remember the first time a client said: “We are huge fans of your work, we hope you can work on this for us.” That felt like a big achievement.

What is your creative philosophy?

I really do live by the philosophy that less can be more. There really is power in simplicity. Keeping the concept simple, keeping the ideas simple so they can convey the most direct message. I also live by the motto that if it can be done in camera than it should. It could also be considered the 80/20 rule. Get most of the image (80%) practical, shot in camera. Then let the computer take you the rest of the 20%. I truly believe this makes for the strongest images in the end.

 

Can you tell us about your state of mind when you are shooting/creating?

My work is very much based in the narrative and is very illustrative. So much so that you could actually consider me an illustrator that uses photography as my medium more than just a photographer. I always start with a sketch. A sketch is the root of any of my final images. All of that creativity, all of the problem solving, it can be found right there in the original sketch. After that, it’s just mechanics, prop building, casting, art direction etc. in order to bring the final image to life.

Could you describe how you create your imagery/art? What do you look for?

As mentioned, everything starts with a sketch. I carry a sketchbook with me at all times and I use it for inspiration. Depending on the project I will have varying degrees input on the concept phase. I will then create a sketch that will need to be signed off by the client. This way they know what to expect once they receive the final image.

After getting approval from the client on the sketches. I begin the process of laying out the best path to getting to the final image. What camera should be used, lenses, lighting etc. Also, there is considerable consideration given to what sets need to be built. I sometimes build miniature sets so I will then begin working on the construction of those sets. I also begin the process of casting models, picking out wardrobe. And then deciding how much of the image will require computer-generated components if any are needed.

Once shooting begins I use assistants, stylists, and the art department as a team so we can capture what we need in order to get onto the screen what we had envisioned from the connecting concept stage. Once the production is completed I move into post-production. As much as possible, I like to keep control of the post-production process. This way I am able to get the final image as close as possible to how I envisioned it.

How would you describe your brand?

As a brand, I try and create a very distinct style that is noticed and stands out from the crowd. I want to be recognized by my work and let it speak for itself. To be recognized by the quality and uniqueness of your work is quite an honor.

Also, I have always said the best promotion is to be working. I keep it as a goal to get my foot in the door with clients and then keep my foot in the door.

Hopefully, the experience of working with me is so pleasant and meets the needs of the clients that they come back to me to repeat that experience, again and again.

What inspires you?

I am always inspired by optimistic work. In whatever format it is presented in. Still photography, film, illustration, literature, fine art. No matter the format, a positive and optimistic piece of work always makes me inspired to do more and do better.

Preparation always inspires my personal work as well. When I do the most work that I can in order to be prepared to create, I find that I am free to let inspiration bloom.

What are some of your influences?

I grew up reading comics and watching sci-fi movies. I’m afraid to say that my inspirations have never strayed far from those sources. I love good films made my great filmmakers. I love beautiful illustrations bound in narrative form. I love clean and simple and striking works of art.

Who are some of your influences?

Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, George Lucas, Wes Anderson, Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King, Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, Dr. Seuss, Roald Dahl, Mark Rothko, Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Norman Rockwell, Frank Miller…..

What is your life’s purpose or mission? How do you stay faithful to that?

Up and up. I try and try.

How do you approach your downtime?

Stressing about having too much downtime.