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Monday, June 13, 2011

Illustration Art for the Movies, Part 2

The process of creating the poster art for "Carrera Panamericana" began with a request from director and friend Stephen Mitchell whose "Elysee Wednesday" meetings I had been attending for about 2 years to date (having been introduced to the meetings through a mutual friend). He called me up one afternoon after I had watched the film and described he wanted the style to be a take-off of a traditional bullfighting poster. Eerily coincidentally I had wanted to create my own version of a bullfighting poster for the past 18 months or so, so this seemed to be the perfect arrival of that project --except this was better because the bull in this case was to be a vintage Ferrari.

A week or so earlier I had done a quickie design sample for the film's dvd graphic, the circular kind that sticks onto the disc itself. He needed it for preliminary copies of the movie to be handed out at Cannes. He liked the graphic but said it was a bit too abstract and conceptual, but could be used later as part of an ancillary suite of illustrations for the dvd book. He remarked that the signature illustration for the movie, the poster, needed to be more literal. Ron Kellogg and Stephen discussed it and agreed that we needed a bullfighting image. So I began it in earnest right away.

Stephen sent over some jpg samples of Spanish posters depicting the matador and bull with the red cape, the "Capa de brega." From the prior design, which included the checkered victory flag as the Mexican flag, I suggested to both Ron and Stephen that the red Capa be, instead, the Mexican flag. They liked the idea and allowed it, and once they saw it as drawn I think they really liked it.

As an illustrator and storyboard artist I am often called to draw things that I do not particularly understand. So I must implement a period of research before I draw anything. The research can be anywhere from five minutes to five days. In many cases with storyboarding the "research" must be about five seconds using Google images. With this project I wanted to create a brisk pace for myself as it was largely a self-imposed deadline, with the provision that Stephen needed the image yesterday. As I am accustomed to such requests I had to learn bullfighting as much as possible without obsessing over it for too long.

I perused Google images and some videos for a couple of days hoping (thinly) that the angle and body language of the matador, the capa, the angle of the bull --would all just leap out at me and I'd lift the image right off and illustrate it to suit the composition. But of course no such thing happened. For the red capa, it dawned on me to stop looking at literal capas in various presentations and start looking at flags furling in the wind. The body language of the bullfighter, and his traje de luces (costume), had to be just right or it wouldn't work visually with the flag or the car. I could feel that synergy very clearly.

And having no models of the specific Ferrari 340 Mexico sitting around to look at or take pictures of, I had to search and find what I could online. A process of "rip-o-matic" was the order of the day. Hence, with the time constraints and circumstances being as they were, there was no other practical way of working (which is often the way it turns out on other projects under pressure). The days of the model sitting in front of the artist while he/she paints the subject from life, the going out to meet the owner of the car, the meeting and screening of potential actors who will be the matador in costume --none of that is doable or in the sphere of reality in a world of "speed-of-implementation."

While searching for images, virtually none of the pre-existing angles of the 340 Mexico that I was seeing on various car blogs and forums were usable for the poster design. The images were either too bad in quality to make out, or the angles were weak, wrong, cut off, otherwise not interesting. So I began looking at angles of similar looking cars, vintage Ferraris of the 1950s era, and determined that I would have to adapt (as I often must) the correct body style (and proper decals) onto the incorrect one by filling in the non-existent visual material with my imagination and skill as a draftsman.

In preparation I looked at hundreds of photographs of vintage Ferraris, matadors with capes, bulls being stabbed (and some matadors being impaled, too), and Mexican and Italian flags. I made desktop files of each category and amassed a collection for later viewing and reviewing. Out of the disparate elements and bits and pieces eventually began unfolding the answers I was searching for. So it began, out of pieces --from out of pieces the poster derived, and from pieces the poster took shape. As such the poster is a composite piece of pieces, the regions of the illustration not originally drawn on the same page but assembled from hand-drawn scans of elements on separate pages.... (to be continued)


  1. What impressed me--beyond the speed with which you produced the elements and finally the poster--was your ability to compartmentalize the component parts of the illustration. Seeing only the red body abstract is like listening only to the cellos in a symphony.

  2. Many thanks for that wonderful acknowledgment.

  3. TAG Heuer sponsored: 18x24 poster and DVD of "Carrera Panamericana (1950-54)" available here: