Grabbing Dan Time with Hollywood’s most elusive illustrator

Dan Hamilton’s astounding range of talent is ours for the taking—if we can get him to stay still for a moment.

Who does the U.S. Army call when they need a concept artist for their latest top secret project?  Who do marketing agencies, filmmakers and game designers rely on when they are in a creative jam?  Well I’ll tell you…they call a seasoned illustrator named Dan Hamilton, that’s who.  And once you’ve flipped through his sketches, you’ll realize they’re all windows into his exciting life.

The sketch at the top of this article is of the famous bus from the movie Into The Wild.  He didn’t get the reference of the bus from a magazine, the internet or by someone telling him about it.  Dan actually took a trip from LA to Alaska via airplane, cruise ship and helicopter so that he could see the bus in person.  He wanted to be able to feel the textures and smell the aroma of the bus before putting pen to paper. That’s just the kind of guy he is.  He’ll go the extra mile, or thousands of miles in this case, if it means making his work just a little bit better.

The way Dan goes about creating his art is as important as the art itself. To make it happen, he’ll stay up for days on end, often neglecting meals, bathroom breaks and personal hygiene but to him, it’s a small price to pay for the output.

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Do you remember when the ship Costa Concordia capsized and sank after striking a water obstruction off the coast of Tuscany, Italy?  I do.I remember because Dan took a trip there just so he could sketch the wreckage and the recovery.   It’s the kind of dedication you just don’t often see and it really shows in his work. At all times, he is either double booked doing freelance illustration or he’s traveling the world so that he can illustrate some more.  Just last week he was in Moscow sketching the Kremlin and this week he’ll be in Venice, Italy visually capturing the canals.

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Dan is a drawing machine and he’s never without his sketchbook.  It’s definitely a part of him and I love reliving his life through it. I’ve known and worked with him for more than a decade and during that time, he’s been designing a pet project he calls “The Interviews“.   He says that it’ll become a book one day and I can’t wait for it to be published.

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For the project, Dan approaches strangers and simply draws their portraits while asking them questions. Sometimes it’s a bartender or police officer and other times it’s just a dude at a bus stop.  It doesn’t really matter though, because in the end, when he leaves, he’s got their name, some great quotes and a new friend.  He was born to socialize and his sketchbooks are immediate ice breakers.  And it doesn’t hurt that he seems to speak everyone’s language and his drawings are pretty much spot on.

One of the most amazing things about him is that when he draws, he doesn’t use tools that are erasable.   He doesn’t need the safety net because he’s so accurate as he captures, designs and embellishes.  His sketchbooks are drawn strictly with cheap-o BIC Cristal Ballpoint Pens and it’s enough to cause illustrator wannabes to quit and try something else.  I should know because I am one of those guys.

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Here’s another thing about Dan…because he’s either drawing someone or something or on a plane traveling to do the same, it’s really tough to get time with him.  And when you do, it’s usually limited and rushed.   That’s how he got the name “Dan Time” in the first place…and why he’s the most elusive man in Hollywood. He plays by his own set of rules. He’s a creative stallion that’s impossible to tame and when he finally shows up, you take the time you get and you like it.

And when you’re with him, you’ll often find you’re on a mini-adventure that just may land you in another country, jail…or worse.  Together we’ve snuck into The Neon Museum in Las Vegas for an illegal photo shoot, we’ve broken into a building to “return” a drunk stranger into what she claimed was her home and we once outsmarted a madman who was trying to beat us to death with a giant palm tree (true story).  You never know what you’re going to get when you are with Dan Hamilton.

His ability to quickly capture an object or moment in time is incredible to witness. As he does his thing, he’ll talk to you, he’ll make you laugh and he’ll inspire you.  He has a gift that most people can only dream of possessing and it’s such a natural thing for him that he shrugs it off like it’s nothing.

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These lumberjack studies are for a game we designed together.  Before going into a meeting, I asked Dan to think about what he would produce if he had a moment.  I told Dan the overall story around the character, we talked about the basic mechanic of the game and when I came back 30 minutes later he already had these show me…and this was on his lunch break!  It’s just not right.Though you may not be familiar with these lumberjacks, you have no doubt seen his work on movie posters, television shows, cartoons, video games and marketing campaigns.

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Dan is a creative powerhouse and if you want to check out more of his work, visit his website adhamilton.com. With more than 1000 sketches and finished drawings to sift through, it’ll still be impossible to capture the true experience of Dan himself who is and will always be one of my most dear, talented and inspirational friends.

It’s just too bad he’s never around for me to tell him.

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Just look at him go!

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