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  • [director] Part of this is I'm trying to figure out

  • some of the big picture things.

  • How aesthetically to tell your story.

  • And even before that, kind of what your story is, you know?

  • Roll, camera.

  • [Christoph] I've been thinking about

  • how we would kind of create the documentary.

  • And in my general state of anxiety right now, I came to this question:

  • Is this about me, or is this by me?

  • And you don't even see me drawing, right?

  • [director] We don't. We're just seeing the top half of your head.

  • So you can act with your eyes.

  • [director laughs]

  • [Cristoph] When I design the experience for the viewer,

  • of course I want to come across as good as I possibly can.

  • 'Cause we're vain and we have to be.

  • And if it's about me,

  • it's a little bit, just tug of war of how much do you make me reveal

  • and how much do I reveal of stuff that I might not want to reveal.

  • But, ultimately, it's not about me.

  • [director] Be an artist.

  • [Cristoph whispers] Be an artist.

  • [drumming]

  • [woman sings in German]

  • [clock ticks loudly]

  • [door opens and closes distantly]

  • [Christoph] I would say everything that happens between nine and six

  • is about work.

  • I work mostly by myself.

  • So I sit at my desk and I draw and I design.

  • So I'm there,

  • and it's me and my art supplies and my computer and my coffee maker,

  • so it's kind of me, me, me.

  • I'm such a control freak that I would always love to sit down

  • and come up with the perfect formula for creating art.

  • But it doesn't work that way.

  • It's a little bit of a painful realization,

  • because, ultimately, it really is, to a very large degree,

  • staring at paper.

  • And I have to trust for kind of crazy moments to happen.

  • [piano plays]

  • I would say that abstraction probably is, for me, the most important concept of art.

  • Where you say, "Oh, I'm just drawing a simple box,

  • because I love things that are not precious."

  • But it's the idea of, like, I start with a thousand different thoughts

  • and then I, one by one, throw them all out,

  • until, at the end, I have the one or two or three

  • that are essential to the whole question.

  • But the abstraction, for me,

  • is this idea of getting rid of everything that's not essential to making a point.

  • This thing here, it's called The Good Shape or The Good Form.

  • So I take this flatiron shape and I start doing things out of it.

  • Men, women,

  • bathroom, strongman, nuclear power plant,

  • cowboys and Indians,

  • all sorts of sports.

  • [director] So what did your teachers make of you?

  • I had a very, very difficult teacher, Heinz Edelmann,

  • who did Yellow Submarine, The Beatles' movie,

  • and did amazing posters and book work.

  • Fantastic designer, but let's say he did not teach by encouragement.

  • The highest compliment that you could hope for was,

  • "Oh, we don't really have a problem with that."

  • That was like, "Yes!"

  • When I grew up in South Western Germany, I was always drawing.

  • It was all about getting action and proportion right.

  • Drawing things very dynamic.

  • And that was the goal.

  • To kind of get there, to this, like, hyperrealist, amazing painting.

  • And this is kind of the notion that I went to art school with.

  • But the teacher I had at art school, Mr. Edelmann,

  • he made it pretty clear that he really disliked this stuff that I was doing.

  • So I was drawing hundreds of sketches on just letter-sized paper,

  • and each week, he would come in and go through them

  • and basically say, "Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope, nope."

  • "Oh, this one's okay!"

  • 'Cause this is what we did in school.

  • Take a topic, like a red clown's nose,

  • and then just squeeze the hell out of it.

  • Just do every single variation.

  • [director laughs]

  • [Cristoph] Eventually, I realized that it's not about something super simple

  • like a black square or, like, one line.

  • But each idea requires a very specific amount of information.

  • Sometimes it's a lot: a lot of details, a lot of realism.

  • Sometimes it's really just this one line. The one pixel.

  • But each idea has one moment on that scale.

  • So, lets say you want to illustrate the idea of a heart as a symbol for love.

  • When you illustrate it, as just, like, a red square,

  • which is the ultimate abstraction of a heart,

  • nobody knows what you're talking about, so it totally falls flat.

  • When you go all the way realistic

  • and draw an actual heart made out of flesh and blood and pumping,

  • it's just so disgusting

  • that the last thing anybody would ever think about is love.

  • And somewhere between that abstract red square

  • and the real, kind of butchered heart,

  • is the graphic shape that kind of looks like that, and kind of looks like that,

  • and it's just right to transport this idea of a symbol for love.

  • New Yorker covers are the biggest deal for an illustrator, I think.

  • Once you see The New Yorker cover once,

  • you see the history, you see the artist,

  • you see, most importantly, I guess, the cultural impact.

  • This was my... This was the first one.

  • [director] What was the date?

  • July 9, 2001, the day I got married.

  • Which is especially fantastic.

  • What I love is that this is what they put on the magazine.

  • There's no headline.

  • There's not even a story.

  • This was July 4, 2001. It was about the missile shield.

  • The Dr. Strangelovian generals who start World War Three.

  • There's no story about this idea inside the magazine.

  • It's almost like the stage is pulled empty and this is the image for one week.

  • The second cover might actually have been... this one.

  • And, to a strange degree, this might even be the most exciting one,

  • because the first cover of The New Yorker is the Eustace Tilley,

  • this New York dandy with a top hat.

  • And we said, "Let's try to do an icon of an icon."

  • Making the butterfly just a blue square, makes absolutely no sense

  • unless you know the original.

  • I've done 22, I think.

  • The thing is, I never even thought about 22.

  • You think that when you've done two or three,

  • all of a sudden it becomes, like, "Oh, it's just another job."

  • It's not, because it's extremely exciting, but it never becomes easy.

  • [clock ticking]

  • [director] So tell me about this New Yorker cover you're working on.

  • [Christoph] I'm doing this virtual reality cover,

  • which... It's more like augmented reality.

  • So the idea is I have this magazine open, on the front or on the back,

  • now I approach it with my phone or with my tablet

  • and then this whole three-dimensional animation comes out.

  • And you're just like, "No way!"

  • There's a lot of kind of levels of metaphors and drawing to work.

  • And 3-D and 2-D and back and forth, and it's kind of like physical and...

  • And I also knew I couldn't plan.

  • I couldn't have one idea that just solves the entire thing.

  • I had to start somewhere and then say, "Okay, is this strong enough

  • or flexible enough to just go to the next step?"

  • [clock ticking]

  • So the magazine, in theory, opened like that.

  • But I don't look at a magazine like that,

  • I think nobody ever looks at a magazine like that.

  • So I thought, when I have a magazine, I might look at it like that,

  • so, really seeing it as the inside-outside world.

  • And I was thinking,

  • "What's... What's like a very New York inside/outside scene?"

  • I realized that a subway...

  • I have the windows, I have people sitting in there

  • and then the whole subway can be...

  • Yeah, that's the idea of the magazine

  • as the plane that the person walks through.

  • You can see it from the inside or from the outside.

  • It's a New York City cab, off-duty,

  • which you can see...

  • It's off-duty here.

  • This is... Let's make it busy.

  • This one's busy.

  • It looks better, though, all black and yellow.

  • My favorite colors.

  • It's the restriction with Lego,

  • the restriction of...

  • just very low resolution...

  • It's almost like a three-dimensional pixel drawing...

  • that I enjoy so much.

  • [director] Why have you done so much New York work?

  • Well, it started with my connection.

  • It was the first city I went to by myself...

  • and I think there's only one city in your life that you go to by yourself...

  • and you own that.

  • There was no uncle, there were no parents that paved the way.

  • It was like my place.

  • [simple electronic tune playing]

  • I moved to New York in '97.

  • To my surprise, when I went there and showed my book,

  • I realized that people understood 99% of my work.

  • Going to a country that's a few thousand miles away,

  • and everybody gets everything is really amazing.

  • In a very odd way, I felt very much at home

  • just being so immersed in American culture as a kid.

  • From music, to art, Magnum P.I.

  • [electronic music continues playing]

  • [Christoph] Staten Island Ferry.

  • If you've been on the Staten Island Ferry, you know that this is it.

  • This is the essence of this kind of first tourist moment.

  • For me, this style is based on culture, on shared experiences.

  • This is more interesting than coming up with a visionary new way of speaking

  • that people then have to decipher.

  • [electronic music ends]

  • [street hubbub]

  • [Christoph] There's this one Starbucks, and I love sitting in that window,

  • and that's been a place I've been sitting at

  • from my very first time coming to New York.

  • I always felt like, "That's where I want to sit and kind of look out."

  • And I've, a couple of times, tried to work from there,

  • because that's how I see myself, you know,

  • like the artist being in touch with the city...

  • And then we have this kind of emotional exchange,

  • people walking by...

  • [street hubbub]

  • [silence]

  • It doesn't work at all.

  • The impact on the work is zero.

  • It's even actually confusing, and I can't really focus when I sit there.

  • This is the moment where I realized

  • that kind of, like, my real life and my work life, they don't really mix.

  • [director] I see what you're saying.

  • I'm just trying to kind of solve it from a visual storytelling point of view.

  • I mean, I guess, the way I see some of these things,

  • it's almost like these very quick montages of very close shots,

  • you know, done very quickly.

  • Just... [makes sweeping sound]

  • Getting through the day, its ritual, like brushing your teeth.

  • [Christoph] I mean, again we can try...

  • You know, like, the idea of a camera in our bathroom...

  • makes me feel extremely uncomfortable.

  • [director laughing] Okay, well I don't want that.

  • [Christoph] And so we can do it, but it would be more like a painful thing

  • and I could not possibly imagine how I would ever want to see that myself.

  • [ominous music playing]

  • I'd much rather draw it than show it.

  • [ticking clock]

  • When I started working, I worked mostly under deadline.

  • For the first ten years,

  • if I would have to separate my business,

  • it was 30% "We need Christoph to make a nice drawing on this and that"

  • and 70% of, like, "Oh, no, something went terribly wrong.

  • We have another 12 hours, let's call that guy,

  • he will make a somewhat unembarrassing solution

  • that will save our butts for deadline."

  • And I love that. I love this kind of tension,

  • especially in editorial,

  • but a lot of the calls I got were out of desperation.

  • [clock ticking]

  • [strings play to a climax]

  • So I think Chuck Close said, "Inspiration is for amateurs.

  • Us professionals, we just go to work in the morning."

  • The one thing I really love about that quote

  • is it relieves you of a lot of pressure.

  • It's not about waiting for hours for this moment where inspiration strikes.

  • It's just about showing up and getting started,

  • and then something amazing happens or it doesn't happen.

  • All that matters is you enable the chance for something to happen.

  • For that you have to sit at your desk

  • and you have to draw and do and make decisions and hope for the best.

  • [calming music playing]

  • [Christoph] It's so scary when you have half an hour to do something.

  • That of course, creating a process

  • that allows you to do unembarrassing stuff on command

  • is the only way you can survive.