The Professor: Floyd Hughes
Distinguished Teacher, 2008–2009
The Course: Sequential Art and the Graphic Novel
Associate Professor Floyd Hughes of the Department of Communications Design recently provided storyboards for director Spike Lee's latest feature film Red Hook Summer, which premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on August 10. Filmed in Brooklyn, it is the second Spike Lee feature Hughes has worked on and the latest in Lee’s ongoing Chronicles of Brooklyn. The film tells the story of a sullen young boy from middle-class Atlanta who comes to spend the summer with his deeply religious grandfather in the housing projects of Red Hook, where Hughes was a volunteer teacher before coming to Pratt.
Hughes has collaborated with Lee several times over the last few years on various other projects including a Burger King commercial featuring P. Diddy, a series of commercials for MSNBC's “Lean Forward” campaign, and two T-Mobile/NBA commercials featuring Dwayne Wade, Charles Barkley, and Steve Nash.
You are British-born and educated. What brought you to the U.S. and kept you here?
I was taking a break after storyboarding Hellraiser 2, looking forward to working again with Clive Barker and with the late Ralph McQuarrie on Nightbreed and thought I'd once again visit New York. I met my wife Mayleen at one of the many parties that are held in Brooklyn the weekend of the West Indian Labor Day parade and fell in love. I didn't go back to work on Nightbreed and instead took a job packing boxes in a warehouse in Bush Terminal. Twenty-four years and three children later, I still believe it to be the best decision I ever made.
What course are you best known for teaching at Pratt?
Definitely Sequential Art and the Graphic Novel. I'm basically teaching effective storytelling in the field of comic book illustration and storyboards for advertising, animation, and motion pictures. Comics prepare you to draw/design just about everything, from characters to vehicles, props, environments, and structures.
You've taught at Pratt since 1997. How have your students fared?
Many have done very well in several fields including animation, children's books, pop-up books, illustration, fine art, movies, and, of course, graphic novels. I'm very proud when I see what they have accomplished.
What do you find the most challenging about teaching at Pratt?
Most challenging is turning around students who may be having difficulty achieving their artistic goals. Often it's not what they are lacking in technical skills that is the problem but rather other issues such as self-confidence. I am happy to say my success rate with such students has been pretty good as I can relate to quite a few of their issues.
How does teaching combine with your successful freelance career?
I actually enjoy teaching immensely, plus the income from teaching allows me the luxury of not having to do work that socially or politically I'm averse to.
It seems you often work with famed director Spike Lee.
Yes, it's very enjoyable, and always a learning experience, as he is a very smart and talented man. We have had many meetings that tend to not last too long due to how busy he is, but they are always a pleasure. He is currently working on a remake of the classic Korean thriller Oldboy, which I’m storyboarding, and it's going to be great.
What do you see as the key factor in collaborating effectively with other people?
Above all you must respect the people you are working with, and try to listen to what they are saying instead of simply waiting for your turn to speak. If given the opportunity, one often finds that the contribution of another perspective will strengthen an idea, even if it is not exactly what one originally had in mind.
Tell us about your off-hours pursuits.
Honestly, other than family stuff, I don't have the time or energy to do much. I write, try to work on the dozens of unfinished projects I've started, listen to NPR, and watch more television than I should. I spend most of the time away from home at Pratt, which I suppose has become my second home.
Interview: Adrienne Gyongy
Photos: Sojourner Hughes, © Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks