Saturday, December 5, 2009

Shoulders, Suits, Old Movies

There is a long tradition in Tinseltown of trying to look better than you actually do. In that spirit I used photoshop to cook up four pages of a 2 week sketchbook to just show the high lights. I tend to ignore my sketchbook, then rediscover it with enthusiasm - bad habit - but I think lots of artists do the same!

I like watching old movies, trying to get an impression of the folds as the figures move. It's amazing how many shots are just guys wearing suits. I tend to be obsessed with the things I can't draw over the years, and shoulders / necks / clothing has always been high on my list. Probably because it ends up so often in your framing if you storyboard live action.

I like the authority and direct drawing of these TV doodles -- I'm still struggling to be this fast and accurate when I storyboard. The figures in my boards don't usually look like this. I probably draw better when I'm not worried about the myriad stresses of an actual job...

Here is a great interview with the mighty Alex Toth, (from the Jan. 2001 Comic Book Artist Magazine ), which helped me to not be so precious with my sketchbooks...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

More recent work

Here are some frames from recent freelancing I was lucky enough to get in this very lean Summer of few storyboard jobs:

Do you want to talk about NIGHTMARE jobs? Do you want to talk about the seventh level of storyboarding HELL??!! This was one of many more like it done at top speed, for a hi-res animatic, using 3D backgrounds I had to paint up, while I had a bayonet pointed at my guts... (okay, I made up part of that - the client was fairly cool)...

Various jobs, at various levels of finish. I continue to try different ways of toning the boards digitally, when I have time.

This kind of drawing teaches you that, YES, you are a commercial artist. So I guess try to enjoy the ride... I was thinking of Toth as I attempted to simplify everything.

Here I was trying to simplify a complex composition with a simple value arrangement. I spent way less time on the actual drawing than the tones. It passes the squint test, but this had the typical curse of a live action storyboard drawing: it needed to show a complex progressive practical effect, which reveals a VFX shot; we pan to show the windows blowing, one after another, to reveal the background, THEN reveal the Heros fleeing through THAT BG as the far windows blow.

I have never shown any storyboards before the film comes out, but this one is out next week, and I didn't get any artwork into the "making-of" book, so here is a page from a xerox. They didn't all look this nice, but it was a great job to work on!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


These are from December 2003. For some reason I got it in my head to fool around with gouache on some old illustration board I had. Unlike my day job, I used reference for all of these images. I found I really liked having reference to copy - not to have to invent everything. But I've really never done it much as I storyboard - the right reference is never there if you do live action boards.
I don't look down on illustrators who use copy, as I did when I was younger. Over the years I have discovered how many of my art heroes almost always had something in front of them when they made all those great pictures; either a model, a landscape, or a photo. And even if someone can copy a photo, where is the design? The idea?
Degas and Mucha used photos a lot. Even Monet used photos at different times. Rockwell talks about secretly using photos rather that models, in his autobiography.

When I started working professionally, I was trying to emulate Jack Kirby, because of his dynamism (and legendary speed), but found that I needed more realism to work as a storyboard artist in live action. I started to study all the realistic strip artists (Alex Raymond, J.C. Murphey, Stan Drake, Paul Gillon, etc.), and the print illustrators of the same era: Austin Briggs, Noel Sickles, Robert Fawcett, etc. Basically, I gravitated toward artists who seemed to be able to draw the stuff that I couldn't.
Once I realized that they used reference for a good part of their work, I understood the difference between work for print, and the job of a sketch artist. I started drawing more from life, and occasionally from photos- just trying to get more information, more realism, into my bag of tricks. Of course discovering Alex Toth was what really bridged the gap between realism and cartooning.
But I digress; here is more fun bad painting!...

I think this is a copy of another illustrator's work - some kid's book about prehistoric life - unfortunately I don't have it now to give credit. Just a doodle, as I try to figure out the jumble of decisions about value, color, planes, etc. This stuff is a treacherous road if you are trying to learn it on your own...

This is a copy from a photo - probably from an old National Geographic magazine. I remember that I was looking at Leif Peng's great collection of U.S. print illustrators from the past, and specifically was fascinated by the gouache painters during the 50's & 60's. No blending - you have to start with a middle tone and work darker and lighter - at least that's my best guess!

This was copied from a newspaper photo - the technique is getting into the neighborhood of black velvet painting! It was fun, but I didn't have the chops to attempt the face or background.

I still really like like this one- I guess because it has the feel at first of photo-realism combined with that delicious tight-but-loose gouache technique I had been trying to copy. I copied it from a newspaper or magazine. On the head especially, the proportions, planes, tones, highlights, etc, are hopelessly botched, but it makes me want to paint more! There is nothing like real paint. What I really wish I could do is paint beautiful dames in gouache, like Robert McGinnis, but I'm not so good at drawing pretty girls yet - gotta work on that...

Friday, June 26, 2009

Recent Freelancing

Here, in no particular order, are random images from several jobs I've done in the past year - these days everything is top secret, so I can't post whole sequences online until the film is released - often a year or two after I work on it.
Bummer, because I now work 100% digitally, but my website samples are still all my old analogue stuff.
So these are some of the recent storyboard frames that I like. They are done at various levels of finish, but they all represent very sticky problems that I solved - story problems, deadline problems, presentation problems, location problems:
(which way does 5th Ave. run? Can we actually get this shot?),
logistical problems:
(which is tank work? Or 2nd unit, green screen, etc. to help the A. D.'s schedule?), ambiguous problems:
(do they really need boards, or a scatter shot of loose concepts presented well?)
- It has been a busy year, and I've been very lucky to have worked with pretty much all cool, talented people. You know who you are ;)

This idea is actually from my friend Doug Lefler - one of his many story ideas. He is an idea machine!

Actually this one is old, but I threw it in for variety...

This was the final shot of a music video I struggled through in one day (how did I do so many of these in years past...?)

This kind of VFX board can only be done digitally in my opinion - I like finding some elegant cartoon line for an effect like this billowing sand, but that won't help the 3d modelers or animators, so I do more images like this these days.

Scanned from my sketchbook on the weekend as I couldn't stop cooking up shots - mostly I end up not using them, but I like this one.

Forcing myself to thumbnail shots using a full range of values. Wish I'd done more of it earlier in my career.

I'm self taught, and TV commercials were my art school, for better or for worse. I did another one recently and it was really hard! How did I do this for so many years? Harder than it looks...

Photoshoping fun- didn't have to draw a thing!

Digital work.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Me, Mike Voz, Loomis, & Pyle

Here is a lesson in value I have been trying to learn for, oh, 20 years.
I first did this thumbnail (in Apple's simple Inkpad application). At this stage my only concerns (since this is a storyboard) should have been story continuity, and composition / readability. But hidden within this simple doodle are the seeds of my undoing!
Look closely, and you can see that I am very cleverly planning to have the upper canopy of trees cast their shadows onto only the upper parts of the trunks, and the guy's shoulders!

Here is the line drawing, done in Painter. I spent extra time on these lovely lines, and so of course I am reluctant to cover them up. I also got carried away, starting to add some of my clever shading with the linework. But I stopped myself, and moved on to the shading...

This was my finished, toned frame. I did the tones on a separate layer in Painter. I even tried to quickly show the dappled sunlight and cast shadows on his shoulders. I did a whole bunch more frames just like this. then I stepped back and looked at them all. None of them passed the squint test. They all looked like a mooshy gray mess!
I asked my friend Mike Vosburg, for his opinion.
He said: "Make the difference between the dark of the forest and the sun of the glade VERY evident. Use lots of blacks for shadows to contrast the stark light on the ground ahead. I would just emphasize your values more. Darks in the fg... If you don't get your values too close, it won't get mushy. All in all, as the great cartoonist Rowland B. Wilson intimated to me, keep your values strong and whatever you do it will work. I think in too many of your compositions you (are trying) to use one medium value in three or four shades.... instead of three separate values."

Ouch. His diagnosis is dead on. I've known it deep down for a long time, so I went back to the thumnail stage (actually Mike did a sharpie / Photoshop job just like this over my e-mailed frame). Now it reads way better.

Here is my corrected frame. It reads better, but I still kinda don't get it. I could have used the black and white on his shoulders to suggest the dappled light, without destroying the relationship of the values. And it would have been much quicker to draw!
Anyway, imagine my surprise that week, as I found this same lesson on page 136 of Loomis' Creative Illustration, as he gives us the great Howard Pyle's formula:
I was trying to put texture in the shadows (the bark of the trees) and trying to put form in the shadows (the form of the trunk's roundness, and the forms of the figure). I didn't need either in this case because it is such a simple composition. Hope I learned it this time...
Students, and those who think they are done being students - read this part where Pyle points out how difficult it is to get accomplished artists to stop exaggerating halftones, and just simplify!! I suppose Toth must've read this too...

Dogs & Kids

Once again, through the magic of scanning, it looks like I'm just cranking this stuff out, page after page!