John Picha was born
on St. Patrick's Day 1968 in Joliet, Illinois. He was raised in
Frankfort, a suburb of Chicago, but his mind always seemed to be
elsewhere. The little midwesterner was captivated by comics books,
cartoons and animation, mythology and all things imagined. He made
the world around him more interesting by seeing it through fantasy-colored
glasses. A bicycle was a space craft, a bush became a triceratops,
and, of course, there was always a bath towel hidden away for a
quick change into a super hero.
He was an artist before he knew it. Anything could became a drawing
implement in his hand. At an early age his ability was recognized
and encouraged by his family, and others noticed.
In grade school he was enrolled in the gifted program, which was
a lot more interesting than math. Though he excelled in all creative
areas, the elementary teachers didn't know how to help expand on
his abilities. Years later on a Jr High field trip, he went to the
Art Institute of Chicago. It made a lasting impression.
He was exposed to the fine arts for the first time. The images
where giant and vibrant. They told stories with energy and purpose.
It opened his eyes to a world of possibilities, color and unlimited
High School, John's enthusiasm for the illustration intensified.
He was vice-president and then president of the art club. He won
awards in several local art contests. It would have been rare to
see him walking without a sketch pad in tote. He discovered other
artists like Andrew Loomis, Heinrich Kley, and began to appreciate
their technique. He consumed images with the ravenous appetite of
a teenager and, of course, there was always an ample helping comic
At 16 he entered the fast food work force at a local
hot dog stand. The job was fun but not always busy. Between customers
he would doodle on to-go bags. Some customers received comic strips,
super heroes or crazy cartoon characters in addition to their tasty
day while snooping in his grandparents' attic, John made a discovery.
There, in the rumpled dust, lay an 8mm camera with stop motion capability.
After some negotiating with his grandfather, the camera was liberated.
With the help of friends he churned out several clay-mation
clips, each one surpassing the last in scope.
John finished high school in 1986 and was ready for the next challenge,
college. His portfolio was accepted by every art school he applied
to. Unfortunately, some of them were too pricey for a guy making
$3.35 an hour. He originally chose the American Academy of Art,
but decided there was a place better suited for him. He packed up
the car and headed East.
was accepted to the Joe Kubert School in Dover, New Jersey.
The school focused on cartooning and illustration, but covered a
wide range of subjects. He had classes on figure drawing, design,
narrative art, painting technique, animation and others. The deadlines
were tight. Students had ten projects due each week. The environment
was like on-the-job training as he sat side-by-side with seasoned
professionals currently working in their respective fields. Living
in New Jersey wasn't cheap and John had to work full time, to make
ends meet. The challenge of a 40 hour work week and 35 hour school
week was intense, but rewarding. The school sponsored many guest
speakers and occasional trips to places he didn't know existed.
Three of them made a lasting impact on John.
The first was to the Brandywine, the second to the Frazetta Museum
and the third was to a publishing company called Silver Burdette.
The first two focused on illustration. The third housed an unexpected
discovery. They were making art on these user-friendly computers
called Macintoshes, and a program called Adobe Illustrator. It was
love at first sight and John traded in his mechanical pencil for
a mechanical mouse.
graduation, he moved back to Illinois and bought a used
Mac SE. Though it had less RAM than a microwave oven, John had plenty
to spare. Combining his schooling and hands-on experience with computers,
he began to flesh out his portfolio. He picked up small jobs from
local print shops. Thanks to his round the clock work ethic and
a chance meeting at a Kinkos in the middle of the night, John found
his way into the land of advertising illustration. He also made
a connection with Tony Caputo at Now Comics. The young company had
merged with a text book publisher and began dabbling with Macs.
They wanted to do more, but weren't sure how. Together with the
staff, John began to invent processes that are now taken for granted.
He created the first entirely computer- generated comic book. All
the artwork was produced on a computer and then it was delivered
to press digitally. Ironically, the comic was an issue of The Twilight
With the proceeds from the experiment, he bought a Mac IIci and
a new program called Swivel 3D. He began moving in Z space. It was
a new world.
replied to an ad for a 3D artist in the newspaper. It was the first
he'd ever seen. On April Fool's day 1994 he began working for Reactor,
a Chicago based company developing CD ROM games. At the time, it
was a dream job. John consumed a seemingly endless supply of software.
He now had access to high-end applications of the time like Electric
Image, Alias and Director. The real challenge of the job was to
try to beat software limitations by combining different packages.
The company was owned by Mike Saenz, a comic book illustrator whose
work had inspired John back in high school. He also learned to refine
his 3D approach from a mentor, Norm Dwyer. He honed his artistic
edge and broadened his range of experience, both professional and
The jump from CD-ROM to the web was abrupt and John was ready.
He made the leap into the pre-flash era of the internet and made
a mark. He helped build Apartments.com, then the first new media
department at Encyclopedia Britannica. Even with the restrictions
of the young internet they were still able to squeeze in some 3D
to extend the web-surfers' experience. It was a time of innovation.
They devised processes, workflow, and techniques. The efforts garnered
awards and international press. The early web days were an extraordinary
time of discovery.
media was in demand in the 1990s and it seemed like everyone
had a pocket full of cash and an idea for a web site. Lured by money,
John and his team began working with marketing companies struggling
to come to terms with the web. John, now a creative director, and
his team, made the most out of the emerging market. They used 3D
modeling animation skills to help clients deliver their messages
in ways that weren't possible only a year before. The environment
was expanding and they moved at a breakneck pace, first for the
Townsend Agency, then a start-up web boutique called Think Tank.
There were massive budgets and hours of client education. They
organized campaigns, invented new tools, made over 1000
web sites and interactive projects, and even managed
to squeeze in a few cartoons.
wrote, directed, and with his team animated web commercials. Then
they made a couple crude cartoon shorts for the state of Illinois.
One focused on energy conservation, and the other covered recycling.
With the momentum of the cartoons, John and crew eagerly embraced
a new project. A series of interactive movies designed to help immigrant
children learn English. They would recount myths or folklore from
other countries and include language lessons. The first was to be
called Xieng Mieng,
The Little Monk. The project was very rewarding and it looked like
they were about to move into another new direction, but by the end
of 2001 the dot-coms were drying up and the economy took a steep
downturn and Think Tank closed its doors. The job market became
scarce and the team had to break apart to survive.
John began consulting at ABN AMRO, an international trade bank
where he operated as a one-man art department creating animated
presentations for their sales force. He also developed self-service,
help-movies for their global trade platform, MaxTrad. Though the
work was interesting, the environment was erratic and unstable.
Currently John is operating an independent studio which concentrates
on interactive design for the internet, 3D modeling for animation
or 3D Printing, and bringing products to the iPad. John is a patented
inventor, a published author and the creator of Thumbtraps,