Cover Designer Interview - CURTIS SPONSLER
Updated: Jul 4, 2018
Today on The Witch Haunt is the nutty man behind the Haunted Florida covers, CURTIS SPONSLER! If ever there was a real-life Mad Scientist, Curtis fits the description: prolific, innovative, resourceful, and quite demented. Curtis has been producing video design, 3D animation, and motion graphics for more than a quarter century!
WH: Curtis, please give us a brief introduction of your fabulous self. If you can. :)
I’m a Mad Scientist who always wanted to create monstrous living things. Though I couldn’t make any biological abominations live (other than my kids :)), I could bring other things to life: hence my love for animation and the technology that makes it all possible. I’ve been making animated productions for over 30 years, from national commercials, broadcast TV station graphics packages, military simulations (I got to virtually blow some shit up), and made visual effects to TV shows and independent films. I’m also a really nice guy. Computers adore me, women fear me.
WH: No, you got that right. :) Now tell us about these awesome covers for my Haunted Florida series! I couldn’t have asked for a better interpretation:
A book cover is not as simple as throwing your title over stock photos. People DO judge a book by the cover—it’s their first impression and the writer’s hook. It’s all about evoking temptation. Sometimes the idea comes from careful research. Other times it’s serendipitous. Gaby did great research prior to providing me with the inspiration for her covers. For ISLAND OF BONES, about murder and a stolen home in Key West, a soulless, isolated house needed to convey the environment and turmoil concealed within.
For RIVER OF GHOSTS, initially we were going to continue the thread of haunted house covers. However, when Gaby told me the story would open with the tale of a pirate ship lost in the Everglades, I said, “Shit, let’s make THAT the cover!” So we developed a cover that maintains the feel of the previous book, while making it unique and creating its own creepy motif. To tie the series together, I used a single common unsettling illumination: an orange window in the house, an orange lantern on the ship. I can’t wait to create the third cover for CITY OF SPELLS to see from where the evil glow will emanate.
As for the technical process—I don’t consider myself an artist in the traditional sense. I can illustrate and draw with pens and pencil, but I HATE doing it because my hands can’t keep up with my widdle brain. It’s insanely frustrating. This is where computers have helped me: the tech forces me to slow down, to carefully plan and implement designs and actions to achieve the results I envision. These covers are the result of an amalgam of CGI 3D models, and hand-tweaked Photoshop. The crude designs are manipulated into the layouts, just like a photographer would stage a photo-shoot with props and models. I create staged scenes, render them, then composite the elements with additional graphics, text, and photos to complete the final awesome cover.
WH: In other words, you used digital effects witchcraft. They came out amazing! So, which of your accomplishments are you most proud of?
Professionally: a production my team at AniMill created from scratch for Disneyland’s Innoventions Pavilion. Our client asked, “We need three minutes of CGI character animation that imagines the future of computing, all delivered to us in three weeks…GO!” Riiiiiiiight. So we plunged right into it: designed characters, sets, and the world while we wrote the script and drew up storyboards. We basically made the show in reverse. The sound engineer created “beats” for us to hit in the animation, and where dialogue could exist. i.e. “This character can speak for 30 sec.” Riiiiiiight. Well, it all worked: Disney was thrilled, our client was off his respirator, and our team ate dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse that Christmas.
Personally: marrying the love of my life, the witch interviewing me now. And my little monsters (who ain’t so little no more).
WH: So, for readers just now realizing it, Curtis is my husband. Thank you, love. So, what are you doing when you’re not animating/designing?
Filling out questionnaires about what I’m doing when I’m not animating/designing. I’m a big movie buff—not “film buff.” Two VERY different people: Movies are pure entertainment without social or artistic inner meaning, whereas films are all three: art, entertainment, and meaning. I just want to turn off my brain and take it all in. Funny enough, I don’t play computer games (maybe a handful every few months/years). Since I’m on my workstation 25/8/366, I don’t want to play on said same computers.
I also write short stories and novels to create the worlds I can’t animate or visualize. I find great relaxation and satisfaction in writing. Who knows, perhaps someday I’ll be interviewing you on my Mad Scientist blog.
WH: I would love that! Curtis, how have you changed as a person from your early life until now?
Wow. Dammmmn. I’ve wanted to work in the movies/TV since I saw my first B&W VTR back in 3rd grade. I’ve always been a “sensual” person, with heightened audio-visual sensitivity. I hated school, the 3 R’s were alien to me (ironic that I love writing now), and being dyslexic didn’t help. If anything, my greatest change came with confidence and bravery. In my “yout,” I ran from everything, I doubted anything I tried. Today, I run towardeverything, and never give up—never surrender.
WH: Good thing you have that tattooed on your leg to remind you. So, what’s your favorite libation & dessert?
Milk, Dr. Pepper. Root-Beer Floats, Dr. Pepper, H2O, Dr. Pepper…
Ice-cream, Root-Beer Floats, Dr. Pepper, and magic-infused spell-binding lemon cupcakes (handmade by a certain witch).
WH: If you mean me, I have to plead the 5th. Do you have a favorite Halloween tradition?
I adore the Halloween season and making/wearing costumes. My grandfather used to make my costumes in elementary school, and they kicked ass!! I try to emulate his creativity whenever I make something spooky/fun. But an actual tradition for years has been to try a grow my own pumpkins. When I lived in Maryland, the first half of my life, I only grew 2 small ones. When I moved to Florida—where humidity, heat, and the blazing sun oppress vine growth—I tired time-and-time again. Finally, three years ago, I nurtured a tiny bud into a 2-foot 30-lb beast. Yaaayyy! We carved it and celebrated a great Halloween.
Oh yeah, I make really great haunted Halloween displays (now even more spooky with my witchy wife).
WH: Yep. We had the whole neighborhood stopping and taking photos last year of Curtis’ ghostly animations in the house windows. What is the witchiest thing about you?
I’m not much of a witchy-man, but I can tell you I do have a loooong history of night terrors. Some so horrible that I would tear awake my parents/siblings/family with bloodcurdling screams. I’d see shapes, things, silhouettes, all converging over my frozen sleeping body. Some people think I was seeing ghosts, some attribute it to my Covert OCD. The good news is, now that I take sertraline (an SSRI), the disturbing visions have diminished.
WH: Hmm, sounds like a certain character from ISLAND OF BONES. Who is your favorite Addams Family character?
Another “Whoa…” Morticia, because she knocked my socks off as a pubescent boy (a few months ago), Fester, because he blew shit up and could make a light bulb glow in his mouth, Thing, because Thing…but ultimately it has to be Gomez for his adoration of Morticia (couples goals), and his infatuation with train sets.
WH: I feel a Halloween couples costume coming on this year. You be Fester, I’ll be the light bulb. Curtis, who are your heroes?
Now this is a tough one—just when you base your life on a set of role models, revelations come forth that they were not who you expected them to be. That said: John Lasseter of Pixar had a huge influence on me. His creativity and brilliance helped guide me through my dream of being an animator. Also, Steve Jobs. He taught me how NOT to treat people. And my father (no skeletons nor bad revelations) and mother, because they showed me how to love my family, and to show kindness—always.
And Bowie, Gaby’s gorgeous tomcat who after being shot, walked to her home, asked to come in, limped in then collapsed. He was ready to die, but utterly content with the choice of where to pass. But a part of him knew that Gaby would not let him die—because she didn’t. He’s the epitome of determination and perseverance—just like the woman who saved him.
WH: Just…give me a minute… *cries* Bowie is such a noble, beautiful creature. I can’t believe he used to be a raggedy street urchin. Look at him now! What is the most awesome thing happening in your life right now that you’d like to share with us?
I finished my manuscript for my second novel. I married the love of my life. I built a home theatre with the same JBL main speakers I’ve had for 30 years (they kick ass). And I’ve been helping a particular witch with her books and covers.
Wow! So much amazingness, and I get to call him my husband. Thank you for being on The Witch Haunt, bebe! To check out all of Curtis Sponsler's amazing work, click on those links below:
* Website/blog: www.animill.com
* YouTube Channel: YouTube-AniMill
* Facebook: Facebook-CAS
If there ever were a real-life Mad Scientist, I fit the job description: I'm prolific, innovative, resourceful, and quite demented when making my mad creations. This Mad Scientist has been producing video design, 3D animation, and motion graphics for more than a quarter century. I began my sinister machinations way back in the ’80s in the Washington D.C. vicinity when the Police ruled the airwaves, and the police had to print whole ticket books to keep up with my driving shenanigans. I began in the laboratories experimenting on monstrosities knows as 1” VTR’s editing network series, broadcast commercials, and promotional videos. Upon my relocation to Florida (The Someshine State as I prefer to call it) I worked on national and international television series, more commercials, music videos, and corporate productions. Victims…err… CLIENTS include: Lockheed Martin, The Walt Disney Company, Universal Studios, Siemens, NBC, ABC, CBS, and other assorted acronym-laced entities.
Various awards and distinctions have been bestowed upon me; awards to make any Mad Scientist proud: nominations and a win for The Golden Winged Man Holding an Impression of the Earth’s Latitude’s and Longitudes (Emmy), another gaggle of Golden or Platinum Winged Men Posed to Jump Off a Cliff Wearing a Flying Squirrel Suit (Telly), a few Silhouettes Holding Boxes Over Their Heads (Addy), even a Really Skinny Tall Woman Holding Another Small Globe High (Cleo).
A truescientist must have their finest experiments published for peer-review, as I have. I authored The Focal Guide to After Effects, a book targeted at video editors, and beginner-to-advanced designers. In my spare time (HA!) I volunteer with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), Florida chapter, where I’ve concocted two novels, and am working on my third.
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🔮 GABY TRIANA ☠️