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20,000 Leagues of his own: interviewing Greg Hildebrandt

It’s almost impossible to overstate how greatly our modern conceptions of fantasy art have been shaped by the work of the Brothers Hildebrandt. The dynamic duo of Greg and Tim Hildebrandt brought mythical creatures and otherworldly heroes to vivid, fanciful life in a style not seen since the days of Maxfield Parish. Their work for The Lord of the Rings, Marvel and DC Comics, as well as a poster for a little film called STAR WARS are as iconic as their source material.

I first met Greg Hildebrandt at a book signing in Santa Monica, California, a number of years ago – an encounter I recall as awkward hero worship on my part, and soft-spoken graciousness on his. We originally planned to film an interview for the Amsel documentary in April of 2016, but had to postpone it due to some unforeseen circumstances.

Patience is a virtue, and I’m glad to finally say that interviewing Greg was worth every bit of the wait. My only regret was that Tim wasn’t there to join in on the very lively conversation.

Greg’s home is a virtual museum of science fiction and fantasy art, of comic books and illustration, of classic and pulp literature, of elaborate props and extraordinary costumes, of autographed photos and original paintings, and of all around who-knows-just-what-the-hell-else what. Every inch of every corner holds something crazy and fun. I’d say it’s on par with the Guillermo Del Toro exhibit I saw last year at LACMA, and I paid money to see that.

Hildebrandt’s home and art studio overlook Lake Hopatcong, a gorgeous area in northern New Jersey that I don’t ever recall visiting before. Shame on me, as I spent most of my childhood in the Garden State. But better late than never.

Greg’s interview was amazing. While he never met Richard Amsel, he greatly admired his work, and it was fascinating to hear his take on what was the last “Golden Age” of traditional poster illustration. Topics ranged from Drew Struzan and Bob Peak, to Ray Harryhausen and George Pal. There was a compared love of traditional, hand-drawn/painted art vs. digital art, to practical visual effects vs. modern day CGI. (Guess which ones we prefer.)

Don’t get Greg started on his passion for Disney’s classic 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. As much as I adore the film myself, never could I deliver James Mason’s/Captain Nemo’s soliloquys with the same animated fervor or conviction that Greg displayed. I was a captive, smiling audience, and with all the formidable, pouring rain atop the lake visible outside, I almost felt like a passenger within Nemo’s Nautilus.

And when Greg veered of onto the subject of politics, I was relieved to find myself nodding in agreement with everything he said. I was even brave enough to share with him a brash T-shirt political slogan I once considered printing – an idea quickly abandoned for fear of getting arrested. (I dare not repeat the slogan here, but Greg laughed heartily when I nervously said it aloud.)

After the interview, he gave me a tour of his art studio, and I had the privilege to see one of his works in progress – an oversized period pinup style portrait of an attractive blonde, straight out of a Busby Berkeley musical. I also snatched up some limited edition books that the artist graciously signed for me.

Stuff like this makes me glad to be alive. Greg, I can’t thank you enough.

And when Greg Hildebrandt compliments you on your own artwork, you know it's time to get off your ass and start painting again.

Very special thanks, too, to Jean Scrocco, for her help in arranging this interview.

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