Last year my friend and fellow cartoonist Jeff Knurek reached out to me to see if I could do some character designs for a comic book project he was involved with. Jeff normally writes and draws the Jumble comic strip/puzzle that appears in newspapers and online, and he invents games (anyone ever hear of Slammo/Spikeball?), but he was developing this comic book that was taking on the world of electrical science with an adventure featuring twin teenagers getting involved in something over their heads.
Since it was a tech story, I got to thinking that maybe the villain should take after one of the big tech bosses from the real world. So, I sketched out these three potential villains purely based on (not actual caricatures of) Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Steve Jobs (Apple), and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook). They all seemed like plausible villains, right? Which one do you think Jeff chose to draw in his comic book? If you guessed the one inspired by Jeff Bezos, you would be correct.
Incidentally, back in my early days of working in animation, I was in a meeting with Steve Jobs who was not very villainous in person. But that’s a story for another time.
Today begins my step-by-step tutorial about the making of my poster for The Society of Illustrators of Los Angeles’Illustration West 59 call for entries poster. Illustration West 59 is SILA’s 59th annual art competition for professional illustrators and students, for which I am serving as Show Chair. The deadline to enter is only a few short weeks away on October 31. (CLICK HERE for entry details.)
As Show Chair, along with choosing my jury and other various administrative tasks, I was asked to create the poster image this year. While the contest is open to entrants from around the globe, SILA is based in Los Angeles, the hub for movie making. With my penchant for drawing monsters, what better way to promote an LA contest than with a monster movie poster!
I love old vintage movie posters, and immediately my mind went to the monster movie posters of the 1950s. In looking on the internet at what had come before, it became evident that the ones I most gravitated to were images of huge monsters with people running in abject terror, usually with a couple in the foreground really showing the emotional distress of such citywide intrusions into their lives.
In picking out my favorites, it dawned on me that most of these great posters were illustrated by the legendary Reynold Brown. Not surprising, I later learned that Reynold had been a professor at Pasadena’s Art Center college where he had been an instructor of one of my judges, famed movie poster artist Drew Struzan! Ah yes, I had chosen to be inspired by the best.
So, to begin with, I sketched a number of thumbnail sketches (little super sketchy drawings just to get some ideas down in a visual way), soon settling on a furry, alien-like octopus breaking through the Los Angeles skyline. Unfortunately, I don’t have my rough rejected ideas to show you, but I CAN show you the drawing I settled on.
After showing it around, I had gotten some feedback that maybe it should be modernized a little to steer away from it looking too fifties. The only trouble is, there are a LOT of people currently in LA who dress in vintage clothes from the ’40s and ’50s as it is, so I was reluctant. As a way to modernize, I did this sketch changing the man’s clothes, and putting tattoos on the figures. Ultimately, I didn’t care for this approach, preferring to keep it more vintage.
By the way, I do my planning sketches in Photoshop on the computer. Working on a Cintiq monitor for drawing, I draw in layers which allows for easy changes to the composition while working through it. This is how I start all my traditional paintings – working it out on the computer first.
The next step is to paint a color comprehensive sketch on the computer. This is a great place to work out issues of color, make changes as necessary, and make sure it is all working before going to the trouble of breaking out actual paint and paper. I will print this out, and keep it on my drafting table as a guide while I work on the final traditional art.
So, come back tomorrow as I show you the first steps of creating this illustration on actual bonafide PAPER! Shocking, isn’t it? Ha!
I’m sharing with you today, some actual animation character design work I created a while back. Thought it might be interesting to give you a little taste of the process.
The assignment in this case was to create a little brother character for an already designed big sister. The only stipulation is that he needed to be wearing a hoodie, jeans, and sneakers, and the script called for him to be mischievous. Hoo boy, what a task it turned out to be! You see before you about 20 or so exploratory sketches, but I did about 60 different versions in all.
The client just couldn’t decide which way he wanted to go. Every time I presented a few versions, there would be comments and suggestions on how to change it whether it was the weight of the kid, his hair – whatever! Two other designers eventually got involved, too, and they experienced the same indecision from the client. It was certainly frustrating, because we wanted to please the client.
Eventually a design was chosen (one conceived by one of my colleagues), and then I created the turns (that’s the view of the character from all sides), and continued with some personality sketches, mouth charts, etc. I never would have thought a little boy would have been my toughest character design assignment, but it was.
So there you have it – some of the glitz and glamour of being an artist for hire.
I recently completed a new painting for an art show currently on display at the Creature Features gallery in Burbank, California. The group show is themed around the late Dave Stevens’ wonderful comic book creation The Rocketeer that many people also remember as a fun adventure movie of the same name produced by Disney back in 1991.
I have been enamored with Stevens’ character from his comics that absolutely oozed fun and excitement in the storytelling combined with the most amazing drawings. Dave painstakingly researched every little detail of the late 1930s time period, and then put all those details into his art including Art Deco sensibilities, every line and bolt in weapons, and every crease in the fabric.
Of course, when the movie came out featuring Billy Campbell in the title role, Alan Arkin as his mentor, Jennifer Connelly as his girlfriend, and that cool rocket pack all while resisting Nazis, the adventure was captivating!
When I moved out to California 20 years ago, I became acquainted with Dave, and was able to chat with him about his work. It was just an inspiration to be around him now and then. When the opportunity for this show came up, I had to be a part of it if not for any other reason than to thank Dave posthumously for the inspiration he instilled in me. It is hard to believe, but Dave Stevens passed away nine years ago much too young. Cancer.
When my old pal and fellow artist Andy Heckathorne heard I was working on this piece, he wanted to see a step-by-step progression during the making of it. It has been a while since I’ve explained my process here on the ol’ blog, so perhaps it is time to do so with this piece.
Whether you are a student of the arts wanting to know what it takes to do professional work, or perhaps you are a potential client wondering why a “simple” piece of art costs what it does, the explanation of these steps over the next five days will give you an insight into the complicated process of what it takes to create something from a blank piece of paper, some paint & pencils, and twenty-six years of professional experience.
When creating illustrations for clients, they will approach me with their ideas for what they want in a picture. You sketch out a couple of roughs of the concept for them, and then go through a period of revisions to get the idea worked out, and then multiple passes at the final drawing. When creating for myself, such as this painting, the process is a little more streamlined only because I don’t have to do revisions for someone else’s vision.
It all starts with a concept. To get myself in the right frame of mind, I re-read all of Dave Stevens’ Rocketeer comics, and watched the movie again. I even looked at old World War II propaganda posters to get a feel for the artistic time period. Then I started sketching VERY rough thumbnail ideas of what the piece could be. Clearly the Rocketeer needed to be depicted in in his full outfit, and I decided to draw Dave’s comic book rocket pack – not the revised version from the movie (as cool as it is). This was a show in tribute to Dave, so Dave’s rocket it was going to be!
These thumbnails are incredibly loose with no real attention paid to anatomy or detail. They are just meant to quickly get a rough composition down with the action/scenario in place, then to dash out another one as the ideas were filling my head. A recurring theme was creeping into several of these sketches – the Rocketeer fighting Hitler and Nazis.
As the Nazi thing was mulling through my mind, I remembered that Dave Stevens also created storyboards for Raiders of the Lost Ark. Indiana Jones also fought Nazis! Hmmm, what if the Rocketeer and Indiana Jones teamed up? This next sketch was the result of that musing.
By the way, all of these rough sketches were drawn on my Cintiq. The Cintiq is a computer monitor that you can draw on with a stylus. I use Photoshop as my drawing application because I can work things out on layers, resize bits and pieces, and just get it all figured out before taking the art to the traditional steps for a real bonafide painting.
After that last rough sketch, it is time to work out the details of the final drawing. I won’t bore you with all the stages of that, but just know that it usually takes several passes to get the sketch to the next level you see below.
After getting the drawing worked out, the next thing needed was a color comp (“comp” being short for comprehensive). Again, Photoshop is used for this process. It is convenient to work out any color problems on the computer, then I make a high quality print on my 8-color printer, and keep that at the drafting table where I will mix paint to match it.
You can see in my color comp, I decided to get a little artsy with the interpretation of the Nazis. The viewer’s attention needed to be instantly attracted to the middle where the two heroes are. Having all the soldiers looking and pointing their guns in that direction is an obvious way to draw the eye, but by keeping them the color of the background with just some highlights will end up putting even more emphasis on the middle. Also, by having a mostly red canvas, this piece will really stand out on the walls of a crowded art gallery. I wanted people in the room to be naturally drawn to this painting.
So, that’s it for Step 1 today. Come back tomorrow to see the beginning of the painting process!
Some cat scratches today made with just a pencil and paper. Crazy that those tools still work in our digital age.
As a character designer for animation (which I do from time-to-time), it is important to be able to really explore the needs of the story with your designs for just a single character. Often you will have to play with head shapes, attitudes, expressions, fur, teeth, eye shapes, etc. There is an endless amount of combinations out there. (I once did over 60 designs for one character to try to satisfy a client!) These cats were not specifically for any project, but just a personal exercise in my sketchbook to try different things within the same species.
Also, when designing a character, it isn’t just about what the character looks like, but what the character looks like doing something. In animation, the character obviously has to move, hold things, talk, emote, interact with others, and even just walk. If you design something that looks good in a held staged pose, but really can’t move or bend in a simple walk, then you have a character that is non-functional.
Believe me, I’ve had this problem when working on projects for clients who don’t understand the design properties necessary for movement. I won’t get specific, but one project I worked on had characters that the client had first developed to a certain extent for print, not animation. In their drawings, appendages never were drawn bent, and their characters were always drawn from a front view. When I introduced elbows and knees to the designs, they panicked. When I made the thumbs slightly bigger than their initial nubs so they could hold things, that inspired a slew of discussions. When I drew an accurate side view, the sky caved in.
So, when designing, don’t just draw something static. Draw it doing things. And if you are drawing for other people, don’t fall in love with what you came up with, because they will always want to change it for good or bad.
This kind of turned into a lesson! Sorry about that. Just enjoy the rough sketches of cats!
Today a new animated film is being released in theaters across the United States called Norm of the North. I was one of the character designers.
I worked for several months on Norm back in 2014. At that time, Stephen Silver and I designed most of the main characters and some incidentals, while some other designs came from a studio in Ireland.
Two of my favorite creations for the film are these two caribou brothers seen below. I never did get a script to read, so I’m not sure what their function is in the movie other than what I saw in the trailer, but they sure were fun to draw.
I also came up with the look for a crotchety old seagull character named Socrates (voiced by Bill Nighy) that in early designs was based on Michael Caine from the 1960s, then later became more John Gielgud with Caine’s old glasses. His CG interpretation in the trailer looked pretty close to my 2D drawings.
Other characters from my pen for the movie were some incidental humans, along with finessing designs by others, and breaking down attitudes and movement for Norm (voiced by Rob Schneider), Mr. Green (voiced by Ken Jeong), and the lemmings. It is always fun working on characters, and the ones for this film were especially fun to draw because director Trevor Wall was interested in being really cartoony with them. You don’t have to twist a cartoonist’s arm very hard to get him to draw in a cartoony way.
Every now and then you have a dead moment (so to speak) at work waiting for your next assignment. Such a moment was upon me today, so instead of surfing the net or getting a sixth cup of coffee, I decided to start doodling. While keeping things very sketchy and rough, the doodle kept expanding in size, scope, and hideousness until it arrived at this heaping hulk of a concept monster.
Is he a brute with beastly intentions? Perhaps a misunderstood miscreant with a heart of gold? Or maybe it is someone who just regrets not having taken better care of his teeth in his younger years.
Whoever he may be, he most definitely is a sketch who evolved in a moment of a little workday idleness.
While he is small, this is NOT Tiny Tim. This particular Tim was a piece I created a few years back when I was trying to get a short cartoon off the ground with my friend Brian Joseph Ochab. Narrated by Sir Christopher Lee, it was going to be a magnificent stop-motion tribute parody of Tim Burton’s early short film for Disney called “Vincent”. Through various efforts to get it off the ground, our “Tim” did not happen, but some fun artwork was left behind. This is a piece I never shared here before.
If you would like to see more of my development art for our short and even a video of when the project was talked about on TV, CLICK HERE!
Return tomorrow for our grand finale piece in this year’s MONSTER MONTH!