Sunday, November 20, 2011

Using Reference

One of the myths that all artists have to dispel is that we all make it up out of our heads. Everything that ends up on the drawing board is a distillation of the mass of influences that permeate our lives. While some artists might claim they don't use reference, they might more honestly explain that they can't remember where they got their inspiration from. As Mark Twain wryly commented, "amateurs are inspired. Professionals plaguerize."

Above is a painting that I finished a week or so ago of a character I have been developing called Gris Gris Girl. So here is a look at the working process from start to finish.

This is the original rough I did for the painting. I had picked out the model in the photo below for what I thought worked for my character. However, as I was going through more scrap, I came across the second photo and realized this model has much more of the attitude and character that I needed for the story.

For the Voodoo elements of the picture I went to my files on this subject and picked out a few items. From these I selected bits and pieces for arcane props that would apply.

I have no shortage of cat reference pictures, and my little friend Repo wound up modeling for the feline in this shot. For the crow, I googled some reference off the net. For the tree and the swamp reference I went to my personal library and found a National Geographic book with the right image.
Even for color I tend to look at a lot of stuff. While I loved the model I chose for the picture, I had to find some different reference for the proper skin tones for a black woman. Playboy is always a good source. I also pulled out some Bob Peak drawings that used very hot colors that work very well on darker skin. 

I started a storyboarding job this week that will keep me fairly busy for the next few weeks, so my blog might be a bit irregular for a couple months. But I will have lots of time to think about what I want to rant about next.
My lovely wife Annie and myself in a recent photo.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Working for the Hell of It

I've been working on some paintings and drawing more in my sketchbook the last couple weeks since work has slowed down. Above are a couple of pages from my current sketchbook. The page at the top was from a photo of one of the Russian women who was a survivor of Chernobel and the ever lovely  Toni Czechorosky, one of the best life models in LA, and always a remarkable conversationalist. Not only are the poses superb, but the drawing sessions are never boring. The life models on the other page are all from sessions at Bill Stout's workshop, and the background images are just me doodling away to create an interesting composition.

This is a painting I just finished of Jon Hamm of "Madmen" fame. I thought I would try a more appropriate Don Draper by surrounding him with iconic ad art images of that era, so the pencil below is my attempt at that. The background images are from illustrations by Al Parker, Coby Whitmore, and Bob Peak. The other pencil study is of Bill Nighy, who is currently in the PBS spy thriller by John LeCarre, "Page Eight."

Living in LA I've really been blessed with an incredible selection of life drawing models over the years and two of my favorites are Sara and Cassandra, who were the inspiration for my Retrowood story, "The Gypsy Twins." I've been working on some new paintings of each of them with different degrees of success. Below is a frame from that story and below that the latest painting of Cassandra.

More than any model I know, Sara brings a sense of drama and story to every pose she creates. In the photo session we did a couple years back she used this incredible cloak as a costume and a prop combined, and the hourglass was also her addition. I threw in the cats, raven and rune stone backdrops. While I love the compostion and story of the dancing cats, I was unhappy with fleshtones on the one painting. I was much happier with them on the hourglass piece. But, with models like these, it's difficult not to come up with something that works.

And here is one I did a while back of Sara which gave me a chance to try a study one of Picasso's paintings. Jezebel, the one time mistress of the household,  managed to wander into this one.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

One Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

One Picture is worth a thousand words.
(This was an interview I did for a promotional blog on Prince Caspian about storyboarding.)

Film is a visual medium where the story is told by using a series of images or pictures, with sound(dialogue)  added for clarification. That might be an oversimplification, but I don't think many would argue with the definition.

The storyboard artist takes the script (or treatment in its initial stages) and starts to translate it into a series of pictures. A simple phrase (...the hero rushes in and saves the girl...) might turn into a sequence of several hundred frames, while a page long description of a characters internal distress might be capsulated in a single drawing if the expression is right. But in successful collaborations, the
storyboard artist enables a viewer to "look" at the story rather than "read" it.

Not all movies use storyboards. Some directors feel more comfortable letting the pictures materialize through the use of the camera. And boarding out a long dialogue sequence for a Robert De Niro would be a waste of time.

But on ]"The Lion,The Witch, and the Wardrobe" we storyboarded the entire film so that it could be viewed on an animatic. Then Andrew Adamson is able to watch a test version of the film. He can suggest we draw new frames...he makes more changes...we draw more frames...he makes more changes...we draw more....well, you get the picture. His goal is to solve whatever problems there are in the story and visualization of it before any of the movie is shot.

And the storyboard artists aren't the only ones involved in this process. Pre-Viz, which creates Computer Generated Images , also  produces sections of the film, sometimes using our boards, sometimes starting from scratch. And all this is orchestrated by Sim Evan-Jones and the editorial department who actually take the sequences and put them together for viewing in an animatic We get our drawing orders from them.

How much time is spent on a sequence depends on a number of factors, the first being the deadline. There is also a difference in the amount of finish on drawings depending on whether they are being used to "show" an idea or "sell" an idea. "Showing" involves doing a quick pass to demonstrate how you think something should be done. For "selling"  more polished drawings are done to convince those
viewing it that this is the best way a scene can be done.

The other big factor is competition. Everyone who has worked on storyboards on this film has been a real talent. If you want your own work to stand out, you really have to push it. As a result, a lot of extra effort goes into the work from all of us because our crew has really had a mutual admiration society.

The actual process of working is fairly simple. Watch any five year old lying on the floor with a box of crayons and a couple action figures and you get the idea of what happens. One of my mentors once told me, learning to draw is a prerequisite for this job, but the drawing should always be secondary to telling the story. I use of lot of reference to make sure things are accurate, but I also simplify everything in the pictures so that not only can they be drawn quickly, but that they read quickly.

And at some point, almost all the departments involved with the film will see the storyboards,  and use them in their preparation. It's an exciting process having so much to do with the initial planning of the film. It's equally rewarding when you can see the finish product and your contribution to it.

For the entire sequence of "Aslan's Death" check out my Flickr site: