The art of Loïc Zimmermann
Loïc Zimmermann

Loïc graduated with a masters' degree in fine art and has been a teacher, CG artist, lead artist, character modeller and artistic director. He is now freelance, mainly creating 3D characters and workshops.


Loïc has an interesting way of looking at the world. He takes a kind of serious squint at things then runs them through this mental translation routine, picking out the interesting parts and choosing the angles.
Then he double-clicks and starts to pull things together from a very broad palette of techniques and sources. Using acrylic paint and photographic plates, Maya, Photoshop and ZBrush, an image is conjured into being, such as a super-dense superhero or a heat-hazed rooftop fly-through.
All those skills mean Loïc can work across many different genres – from movies to games and from comic books to magazines. But wherever you find him working, the one thing that remains constant is his vision. Dark, gritty, dreamlike and surreal, it never fails to be intriguing.

Hunting and motorbikes
It seems to be a common theme that artists grow up in out of the way settings, where the attraction of drawing has a chance to take hold. Loïc fits this pattern perfectly:
“I grew up in a very small village, kind of disconnected from everything. I started the drawing very young since it was the best thing to do there for a kid who wasn’t very fond of hunting and motorbikes.”
Strangely, while some kids would rather draw an imaginary motorbike, many parents would prefer that they actually get on one and chase down wild game. Fortunately, this being France, Loïc’s parents did the right thing: “They were sensitive to art and pushed me to work with the initial little ‘skill’ I had.”
So he started studying art history in high school, moving on to art school in Reims before topping things off with a degree in fine art and graphical design. What makes this academic rundown interesting is its final clause: ‘and graphical design.’
Once you know this about Loïc you can see it in his work. The way he likes to compose images, paying attention to the ensemble rather than simply ensuring every character in shot has correct perspective and properly proportioned muscle-groups. He wants you to become involved with each scene: “But since they’re not obviously narrative, it’s more down to the audience to fill the gaps I guess.”

Shut your mouth
School was not an entirely stress-free environment for Loïc: “The hardest thing I had to learn was to shut my mouth when the teachers told me I should forget the things I knew, like comic drawing, and focus on concepts.”
These were the “arty things” for which most art schools have a preference, but Loïc wasn’t playing ball: “I kind of escaped from boring classes to squat by those old Macs hidden in a dark room.”
Loïc sought out his own information: “I must confess I was kind of autonomous, learning by myself and with the help of some older cool students.” And perhaps this is the way it should be; this is where a non-standard education comes from. If everyone paid attention in class we’d have no real diversity.
That’s not a licence to skip the classes you’re having trouble with. Even Loïc, once he realised there was no escape, found a use for that concept stuff: “It was fun. I learned the gentle art of blah-blah, which became useful for some clients later on, when there were no other rational options.” This is the kind of disobedience that only the really clever kids can get away with.

Back to drawing
The smartest thing of all is to know your own limitations. That being the case it should come as no surprise when Loïc announces that: “I’m not really satisfied with my drawing skills so far.” Though it probably will, because his skills look first rate. But no: “I still have to practise more.”
There’s some history to this: “I started as a kid, copying cartoons and comics. Drawing nudes a bit.” But technology has its lures and Loïc eventually found himself working with tools such as Maya. “Since I’ve been working more and more in character designs these last years, I’ve made some progress in 3D and anatomy.”
And here’s the problem: those skills don’t naturally transfer back to 2D. “Now, I’m back to drawing but when it comes to more realistic illustration, I feel like going through a little CG shortcut.” Whatever works for you is the best option. “I’m more comfortable with that right now,” says Loïc. “But it may change in the future.”

Paint versus pixel
So how did this come about? Loïc tells us: “Before I sold my soul to computer graphics, I was doing a lot of traditional illustrations.” But the lure of the digital world is hard to resist. It has so many benefits that it’s easy to forget its limitations: “I lost myself in technique and learning.”
These limitations aren’t inherent to the medium but are a common side effect. The computer can become your master if you’re not careful. Too much time spent mastering technical detail and not enough freehand expression leads many artists to a very similar place. “So, five or six years ago I decided to go back to my roots.”
This wasn’t a straight swap though, it was a union: “With this new digital tool in one hand, and my passion for and experience of traditional art in the other,” says Loïc. “The idea was to merge those techniques and try getting something hybrid and new.”

So is there some established pathway through this maze of style and techniques? “Something like that, yeah!” answers Loïc. “It’s getting more efficient and predictable with the years, but in the meantime this workflow is really open to intuition and experimentation, reaction and adaptation. You can’t work as a character designer if you don’t have that experimentation gene.“
However, on a more serious note: in order to find what works yourself, you have to get lost in the first place. Loïc explains: “It means I always have to go through the ‘Hell, what am I doing?’ phase…” He reasons it’s like trying to give preconceptions the slip in the hope you’ll turn up something new and interesting.
“But for sure, I use a lot of techniques,” agrees Loïc. “I’m already mixing CG characters with photo-based backgrounds, drawings, over-paint, texturing, real paint samples…” There’s a lot to juggle with there, enough to give some artists too many choices. Not this guy though: “I learned graphic design, layout, type. So composition is important for me.” It’s a designer’s eye that has enough distance to choose between these elements.

True grit
Once you’ve looked at a few of Loïc’s images the darkness starts to become apparent. This is nothing, Loïc assures us: “When I started to experiment with this technique a few years ago, they were really gritty, sometimes too much.” Even grit needs to be moderated at some point. “It was necessary as a starting point for me but now I try to find a good balance between textures and the rest.”
Traditional media are mostly used as sources to create textures: “Shot pictures of some abstract paintings, splashes, brush strokes, things like that.” And once these have been acquired there’s a special way to deal with them that maintains their nature: “I try to use digital tool as I would regular analogue tools.”
This process is itself in flux: “I’m working towards a better integration of this mess,” adds Loïc. This ‘working towards’ will probably never cease as possibilities open up and new technology becomes available but it’s fun to dream: “And in the meantime I’ll work more on my drawing,” he laughs.

Open call
The fact that he has any spare time is a marvel. Along with his creative researches and adventures, Loïc is a busy man. “I’m back into freelancing. So, right now, I’m a texture artist for a feature film, character modeller for a next-gen video game, and illustrator for magazines. Oh, and I also did a workshop very recently in Germany.”
The last item in that list is something new and exciting: “I’d love to do this again in many countries.” This says Loïc is an ‘open call’. On a more personal note, Loïc is looking to go deeper than he has in the past: “I want to touch a wider audience with more moody things.”
The good news is: “More and more pictures.” And in terms of content: “I’d love to cover a wider range of subjects.” Loïc has embarked on a journey for which there are no maps: “And the cool thing is, since I’ve started getting jobs from magazines, they’ve been giving me subjects I wouldn’t think of myself.” This could lead anywhere…