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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Illustration Art for the Movies, Part 3

With my involvement in creation of the film artwork of "Carrera Panamericana," I think it's important to acknowledge the continuing evolution of the artist in relation to the available technology, as that is what I have applied here. Technology is moreover a tool set. And it doesn't necessarily think for the artist anymore than a pen thinks for the writer --at least not yet. When placed in the hands of various individuals the uses and results of the application of that technology will follow according to the user's intent and level of acumen. Talent is thrown in somewhere, too.

There are some fallacies of belief about technology applied to artwork. Two main ones that I can think of are that: Across the board, the computer 1) replaces everything before it,  and 2) makes everything happen faster (with the latter being the most parroted falsehood).

Another myth is that drawing using a computer is somehow miles beyond in the deserving of praise compared to something merely drawn "traditionally." I surmise this is due to the still-ingrained or knee-jerk fascination with computers even though they have been with us for decades now. That is, if you can wield a certain technology that is esoteric, seemingly, to a larger group that does not use this technology, then somehow the praises must be layered on and that computer artist is elevated or deified.

As for me I tend to hide the medium I use but not intentionally for that end alone. I will use and wield whatever tools best help me to arrive at the conclusion I am seeking. Although it's been a long time since I've employed large swaths of paint, I am not partial to oil versus acrylics, not really. Each has its own requisite paradigm and character that will determine if it is useful or practical. Likewise if I need to alter a major component of an image, such as a picture of something that I have no practical access to as a live subject, then I will alter, lift, purloin, otherwise take what I need to achieve that end. And again the process is hidden. How the image was created isn't obvious to the casual observer of the artwork. A trained eye may know of course. But the intent is to entertain the wayward viewer, not to draw attention to the medium very much. The mystery is even better as it can, at times, elicit discussion.

As such I merge traditionally hand-drawn marker and pencil drawings with using digital layers. Yes they are markers and pencils --very unsophisticated instruments. The drawings are made as cut-outs, separate elements on bond paper that will have their own layer. In the computer the hand-drawn elements can be manipulated infinitely to attain the balanced compositions that are the desired outcomes. In that way, yes, absolutely, it is a time saver. With this process I can avoid entirely having to draw dozens of quick layout sketches or labor over covering up, repainting, redoing entire areas if such things are discovered necessary. Instead, now, if the car is drawn too big... who cares. Just resize it. If the flag is too dark when scanned, who cares.... color correct it. If the toreros' legs are too short, so what... digitally extend them. Were I to have painted them that way then I would have had to have corrected them anyway. But at much cost of labor and time --very draining.

Therefore in this beautiful process that quickly enables the end to arrive sooner, it incurs the added step of "post production." I can "fix it in post." But this is robbing Peter to pay Paul in some cases as the post process becomes its own universe and devotion of time. Pictured above this article are some of the key layer components to the "Carrera Panamericana" poster artwork that I had to create a context for. You can see that they are separate, floating as unarranged bits in a white void. Parts is parts.

It is therefore not merely the areas or rendered sections of the composite illustration that make the picture, but it is the arrangement of them. Arrangement of the shapes in a harmony is what separates a strong composition and image from a lukewarm or bad one. Therefore, one can render something expertly but fail at arranging the composition. This applies to myriad areas of the applied arts, particularly to music. What the computer primarily helps me to do is be a better musician, as it were. I'm able to think of the basic direction, rough it in, then spend more of the creative thinking time refining the last stages. In that way it is also like the darkroom. The negatives come alive and are finessed to artistry in the darkroom process (some famous photographers such as Helmut Newton had their own personal darkroom guy who would print the negatives under strict direction).

The biggest thing lacking is that of an "original." Were someone to ask (and they have) "May I see the original?" then I am only able to produce bits and pieces. In that way it is like animation cells. You cannot present someone who is a fan of the film "Fantasia" with "the whole original" as it exists only in pieces and only ever will. But what work to attain the finished movie. I can say that the longest phase of the poster creation for "Carrera Panamericana," aside from the Ferrari (which was a long process of creation as it had to really come together convincingly), was the layout of the final composition including all of the typography. The individual elements such as the flag and background were mere tiny roadblocks to that end!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Automotive Historian and Archivist Ron Kellogg with Chad Glass

pictured above: Ron Kellogg and Chad Glass with hood of 1965 Buick Riviera in foreground

Today I drove over to Ron Kellogg's house in Whittier to talk about some things and be among his archives. Since my completion of the poster for Stephen Mitchell's "Carrera Panamericana (1950-54)" this was our first meeting one-to-one. And as I was en route to his home, I went with the anticipation of a kid going to a toy store. Alas, my artist self had to be fed, and the guilty pleasure beckoned: I'd be talking about cars all day with a bona fide and involved car (and army) veteran --someone who was there to experience major automotive historical events. He's owned multiple Ferraris, a Talbot Lagot, Bugatti, Scarab, some one-offs (among them a one-of-a-kind blue Aerodyne, hand-built and designed like a late 30's French streamliner, that was in his garage); many others unknown to me.

I initially met Ron through Stephen Mitchell, whose Elysee' Wednesday meetings (in Westwood at the Elysee' Bakery, and then on Sunset Strip at Cafe Primo) would bring in a perpetual rotation of like-minded people. One particular night sometime last summer I arrived a bit late at the cafe to discover this guy sitting there talking in vivid detail about vintage Ferraris. Spoken in tonally well-articulated stories I instantly knew he was not only an owner and a driver of sports cars but an automotive historian. He introduced himself as Ron Kellogg and I immediately remembered his name.

Upon arrival at his place, he and his wife, Sonya, warmly greeted and treated me to lunch. Over lunch he confided he had owned over 300 cars. He spoke of cars I was aware of and some I'd never heard of. To my delight, Sonya revealed her penchant for a lead foot while driving Ferraris and Porches. I thought she was kidding initially but as we kept talking I realized she wasn't. After that Ron and I repaired back to his office, which revealed to be more of a giant "area." I only expected to have fun but when I began walking deeper into the surroundings I was bombarded with automotive visual stimuli. Vintage art and posters adorned the walls among shelves and files brimming with inconceivably voluminous amounts of printed material and scale models. Several car engines were standing among his archival premises. Banners and thousands of things in every corner invited me further in.

Easing into the center of the space, we chatted a while among his collections and then he flipped on a light switch. Something lit up on a wall behind a partially pulled-back dark yellow curtain, a glass wall. I didn't quite understand the spatial relationship as the area was strange to me. But what lit up was apparently a garage alcove with a perfect, sea-foam-green-metallic, 1965 Buick Riviera sitting in there. Was the Buick in his house? In a garage? We made our way into the Buick's stall and he said it was an unrestored original. The paint (which I touched with the non-oily back of my finger) felt as new as a baby's ass. He said the Riviera was "a keeper" in light of his having owned hundreds of other makes (and later on he had another "wall" rise up to reveal open space to the outside, overlooking the land below as seen in the picture accompanying this article).

We spent the next 6 hours chatting and going through some of his files. In that time I was perpetually occupied with investigating and discovering and discussing and brainstorming with Ron. I made scans of some photographs, some of which nobody has seen published before, and we called it a day. Among many things that he is, Ron is a curator and historian and one of the nicest guys I've met. The archival footage for the "Carrera Panamericana" poster were his and I thanked him for it. As the day slipped into evening my head was reeling. We parted knowing I had to return as I felt I had barely begun even though we had explored through hours of material.

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)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Illustration Art for the Movies, Part 1

Poster art and such ancillary materials can (potentially) hugely catapult a project to legendary status versus a no images or package appearing. Although not a movie (but related and subsequent to the title of this article) look at the stuff Storm Thorgerson has done over the decades for Pink Floyd album covers (see: ), ie, the "The Dark Side of the Moon" iconic light beam being split by a prism with the rainbow component bands of visible light on a black field --very simple but powerful as it is an instant icon of recognition. It hugely branded that band and continues to in perpetuity. Same for Gerald Scarfe's artwork of "The Wall" fame. His surrealistic cartoon images and animations made "The Wall" so much better than just the lyrics and the music alone. It created a total identification experience that was able to be carried forth into a live show and movie that became legendary and historical.

Merchandising and mascot-creation is vital to something successfully penetrating into the public's consciousness and sense of belonging to the work (another example with powerful imagery is the "Clockwork Orange" illustration for the Stanley Kubrick film --an instantly identifiable image that is practically a logo). Artwork and design are what fans identify with and want to display as their own tastes and sensibilities. In branding our projects we entice the consumer to brand themselves with it and thus advertise the project. They become walking billboards and perpetuate a subculture.

To read the director's commentary about my involvement in the creation of the poster for "Carrera Panamericana (1950-54) please cross reference: