Tuesday, April 18, 2017

"The New Day" WWE Concept and Wardrobe Designs

I've gained permission to show some of the "The New Day" WWE designs from the recent Wrestlemania 33.

It's interesting to see the direction evolve from costumes true to the art direction of the new "Final Fantasy: Storm Front" video game, to the upbeat and festive demeanor that is so crucial to "The New Day's" identity. You can see the progressions in the costume designs, the entrances, and the ice cream cart that the WWE Superstars ride down the ramp and into the ring.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Color Sketches - Down and Dirty

I was in the mood to do some quick Tarzan studies tonight. Once again I lost track of time, so I can't say exactly how long each took. It's safe to say I did them in about 90 minutes total. What a realization that occurs each time....either I am pleased with the quick results, or horrified. I would say a mix of both tonight. The monkey in the last frame (Nkima) is particularly bad. From one of my favorites - "Tarzan and the Lost Empire."


Thursday, April 6, 2017

It's a "New Day" at Wrestlemania 33


WrestleMania 33 exploded in Orlando Florida this past April 2nd. As expected, the performances were bigger and better than ever, viewed by 1.95 million to become the most watched event in WWE Network history.


With A-List Superstar matches, captivating story-lines and a few surprises, the City of Orlando, Florida exploded in spectacular entertainment.

I had the privilege to work with the talented WWE Creative team to design the wardrobes and entrances for the WWE Superstar Hosts of Wrestlemania 33, "The New Day." In a viral-style cross promotion with Square Enix's "Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood," Superstars Xavier Woods, Kofi Kingston, and Big E made their debut in Final Fantasy inspired costumes while riding a Final Fantasy-themed Ice Cream Tricycle. Assignments like this are a blast for an Artist like me!

Every detail of the wardrobe was meticulously planned. In an iterative process of design, ideas evolved from conventional to more daring and dazzling. The results were successful, and full of paintings, model sheets, concept art and storyboards.  Final Fantasy fans will notice the decor of Chocobos and Moogles on the Ice Cream cart and the cartoon caricatures branded on the Jumbotron. As WWE Superstars, "The New Day" can showcase anything with their outrageous presentation and lively charisma.

I helped design Triple H's entrance, one where H drove his custom bike down the show ramp with wife Stephanie MacMahon on board. Orlando Motorcycle Police provided them a regal escort into the ring.

I'd like to express my thanks to WWE for giving me the opportunity to work with such talented colleagues - artists, writers, and creative directors - on the spectacular pre-production of this titanic extravaganza.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Practice, Practice, Practice with "Tarzan and the Lost Empire"


Last year I nearly finished reading the entire series of Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan novels. Burroughs wrote 24 novels about his greatest character creation, starting with "Tarzan of the Apes" and ending with "Tarzan and the Castaways." Along the way aside from my freelance schedule I began designing rough illustrations from one of my favorites - "Tarzan and the Lost Empire."    


As with most Tarzan novels, Burroughs quickly establishes empathy for his characters. There are plenty of newcomers to enrich the plot, as Tarzan is captured by an ancient Roman civilization hidden deep in Africa. Every gladiator movie or Biblical epic film I can think of must have come to life here first.  As Tarzan is forced to fight alongside other prisoners in the Colosseum arena, we are introduced to violent battles, a scheming emperor, secret romances and a colorful finale.                             



These rough sketches were created in pen and ink, dry brush, charcoal and a variety of pencils. I was inspired by the pen and ink methods detailed in Henry Pitz's classic instructional book "Ink Drawing Techniques." My efforts do not reach the depth or fidelity of Pitz's examples, but I gained a passion for experimenting with ink and other media while attempting to visualize details of Tarzan's story from "Lost Empire." 


An artist needs to persevere in his personal work, and I find that illustrating books is an easy way to thumbnail, conceptualize and create story moments, while constantly providing an opportunity to try new mediums. I am not sure if I will ever complete my Tarzan illustrations, but I'm excited enough to continue trying. 

Thursday, February 9, 2017

My "Take-Away" From Watercolor

I've been practicing the art of Watercolor since last summer. The warm weather is perfect for outdoor painting, especially when I can find a shady alcove to set up shop. 

I'm not working in any sort of conventional manner with Watercolor. For starters, I don't actually soak my paper, I tend to just streak it with a big flat wet brush. When the paper is close to drying, I have planned a loose workflow in my head. Every painting has its own workflow, as determined by what I want to accomplish in that particular setting.  I work direct most of the time, no pencil, just straight brush with color on the wet surface. 

Trees have always astonished me, provoking a sense of wonder for the miracle that is nature. If trees could talk, the stories they would tell. An old, twisting tree whose winding branches reach up to the heavens and expand far from their base like some protective canopy invites me to come near. New York's Westchester County is replete with beautiful trees and landscapes, and provides me with many possibilities. Each painting is an exercise for me. What can I do different from last time? How much tree do I actually need to describe? Would it be useful to design selectively and simplify or draw every branch?

After spending some time struggling with the medium and evaluating my results, I finally understand why years ago friends like Ray Lago (great water illustrator, voice of reason and all-around nice guy) surmised that watercolor may not be best suited for my temperament. Back when I had a partial share in a studio space with him a few other guys, I lacked the patience for Watercolor. Today, I am eager to expand my traditional skills and explore more mediums. Digital deadlines as a storyboard artist have inspired me to step away from the screen and reconnect with myself. I have the luxury to improve, question and experiment - something I can't do when on a client deadline.

My sketchbook is full of pencil drawings I made every day for a month or two, usually after school drop off and a morning run. It's the little efforts that accumulate to a big result. I was able to satisfy the draughtsman in me by doing tree studies in pencil, purely as an observation and note-taking process. With this confidence gained from routine exploration, I was ready for bumping it up a notch with Watercolor.

Being spontaneous is what I love so much about drawing and painting, and my direct approach brings me the most satisfaction. The results are uncertain but captivating. Either way, I am having fun and conditioning myself to associate good feelings to Watercolor. With that reinforced, I'm sure to be productive well into my future journey as an Artist. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

"SIX" on History Channel Pays Tribute to WW1 Soldiers

I recently illustrated a series of watercolor/brush and ink drawings for a History Channel promo.

The network's new "SIX" is based off real Navy SEAL missions, and authentically captures the inside world of America’s Elite Special Operations unit, Navy SEAL Team Six.
In this promo spot, cast member Barry Sloane reads a letter from a WW1 soldier to his younger brother, written from the front lines of the trench war conflict that dominated Europe a century ago.   


Many assignments I accept are created on a digital format. I use Photoshop and/or Storyboard Pro on a Mac platform and draw on a Yayanova 19" tablet. Most clients don't have a preference how I work, but they understand that if working digitally it can be easier for me to react to changes, notes, and iterations. For this project, the director and I quickly agreed a traditional approach would be best. I created some samples by applying brush, ink, and watercolor on different paper stocks, and found a smooth press 140 lb. gave me great results.             
I'm no expert with watercolor or brush and ink, but my recent practice of painting trees around Westchester came in handy. Watercolor can be a fascinating medium, one that evokes mood and allows room for the viewers imagination. Painting these images of WW1 was a thrill for me, and I am grateful that I had the opportunity to interpret this soldier's historic letter and share my results with History Channel audiences.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Branding: When is Enough Enough?

Belle returns as Emma Watson in a live action "Beauty and Beast"
retelling, while Mogli gets realistic in the" Jungle Book."

When I was a clean-up animator on Mulan, I experienced the magic and innovation that Disney Animation was so good at bringing to their latest feature slate.

Still rolling in "Lion King" money by 1997, Disney had little box office competition and existed in their own bubble.  The halls of Feature Animation Florida were lined with stunning masterpieces of visual development and model sheets that made crossing the building a sensory zenith. Everyone inside was drinking the Kool-Aid, even when competitors like DreamWorks, Blue Sky, WB and Sony were trying to jump on the hand-drawn animation bandwagon. It was a bright spot that everyone expected to last forever.

The Disney Legacy of Hand-Drawn Fortunes
Where Walt's “Snow White” and subsequent films took decades to break even, Disney was leading the industry with handsome profits from their revitalized hand-drawn division, propelled by "Beauty and the Beast and it's Oscar nomination for best Picture.

Disney brings the Renaissance in a "Quasi-something" success.

The reigning champion of 2D animated films, Disney could afford to take risks outside the fairy tale box while exploring new technology with 3D partner Pixar. Groundbreaking 3D features like “Toy Story” fuelled Disney’s appetite for more, making the climate receptive to non-fairy tales like “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “Hercules.”

Mulan and Tarzan were epic 2D masterpieces. Subsequent releases like the 3D “Bug’s Life” and “Toy Story 2” were successful distractions from the poor performance of 2D features like “Fantasia 2000” (2D and 3D) and “Dinosaur” (half CG, half live-action).

All Hail the CG Cash Cow
The next four years contained twice as many releases, including staggering receipts from “Monsters Inc.” and “Finding Nemo.” Mixed results from 2D releases like “The Emperors New Groove,” “Atlantis” and “Treasure Planet” couldn’t justify the modest success that 2D “Lilo and Stitch” would bring. In early 2004, Disney halted all 2D operations and would focus on the “sure-fire” prospect of 3D animation. Executives claimed that “2D was dead”, as they planned to take back the market share that DreamWorks and Blue Sky had earned from 3D.  For a business answerable to profit and stockholders, some may argue it was the only way to go.

Quirky, off-beat "Lilo and Stitch" charmed audiences and critics.

It took Disney a long time to remember how to get it right. 

Before masterpieces like “Tangled, “Wreck in Ralph,” and hits like “Frozen,” Disney (and audiences) plodded painfully through CG features like “Meet The Robinsons,” and “Chicken Little.” Pixar’s “Cars,” was unwatchable. “Wall-E” and “Ratatouille” were hit-or-miss, and foreshadowed the pretentiousness of “Brave.”

My 3-and-a-half year old liked "Meet the Robinsons"
while I could barely sit through it.

To gain future permanence, Disney has resorted to branding itself to death.  There are more Toy Story sequels on the way. “Cars,” “Cars 2,” “Planes,” “Boats,” and “Skateboards” are close behind.  Disney Princesses are starring in TV series, sharing all ethnicities and all sizes to speak to every demographic on earth. Animated classics like Snow White and Cinderella and Jungle Book are remade as live action, fractured fairy tales, appealing to a new generation.

No stone has been left unturned to reach out and expand Disney's audience. Playing it safe and predictable can only go so far, though.

A Long, Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away,
the only thing the script could imagine was another Death Star. 

Lucasfilm and the Marvel Money Machine
Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm and Marvel brought a new meaning to marketing.
We are assured a new SW movie every year. "The Force Awakes" is the first SW entry to have a female protagonist, and it won’t be the last. “Rogue One” has another female lead in a prequel to the original SW (but taking place after the second trilogy). Ugh! Amidst these films, the Death Star plays a prominent role. Disney, Lucasfilm – whoever is listening: ENOUGH of the DEATH STAR ALREADY!  You would think with a billion characters in the Star Wars universe the studio would tread new ground come up with a new idea. Sheesh!

We've also seen several animated CG kids television series: “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” “Star Wars Rebels,” and a plethora of Lego Star Wars toys, replete with animated webisodes. Toys R Us has an isle dedicated to Star Wars merchandise, and Disney Hollywood Studios has remodeled its theme park to emphasize the SW experience.

 Lego Star Wars are the popular kid on the block. 

Is branding to death a good thing? Or is it a surefire way of diluting the integrity of a product?

Look at Marvel, who started trivializing their comic book characters years before Disney bought them. How many “Spider-Man” titles is Marvel publishing now? There are several Spider-men wearing the mask, both male and female, present and future tense. Can anyone keep track of The Avengers books? New Avengers, Uncanny Avengers, Young Avengers, Great Lakes Avengers, Secret Avengers, and Avengers Go To College (I made-up that last one!).

Will the real Spider-Man please stand up (before I barf)?

They’ve penetrated the Marvel kids market with “Super Hero Squad” and Marvel Max for adult content. The Marvel movies are a mega-monolith of licensing expansion and profit. Marvel has furthered their reach expanding into Netflix with binge-worthy series like “Daredevil” and “Jessica Jones.” ABC’s “Marvel Agents of Shield” airs in the prime time family slot. The live-action productions that have been inspired by the classic comic titles are now so successful, that they are, in turn - driving the comic book content.

Brand New…Again
Forging new territory is part of what makes things exciting. We love better products. But let's not overdue it. Stop reincarnating the “DC Comics” Universe, as done in the recent “DC 52” super hero titles. Superman is still Superman, with or without red tights. Aquaman is blond with no beard, folks, let’s keep him that way. Batman is getting more miserable and grim every day, no matter where you meet him, with costumes running the gamut from black armor to grey rubber and back again. And DC has released a cartoon and toy line up called “Super Hero Girls” aimed at capturing the school girl market.

 DC Comics "Super Hero Girls" take no prisoners as they
infiltrate the school girl market.

Stop, Apple. Please.
Only the future will tell how much brand saturation consumers and audiences can stand. Although I love my Mac, I am tired of Mac this, Mac that, Mac the other thing. How many more OSX system updates do I need to stay compatible with Facebook or LinkedIn? Soon I will have no alternative but to update my entire hardware and software packages to stay in step with the industry. My iPhone 4S still works fine, thanks.

The iPhone 4S is as sophisticated a phone as I need. 

Adobe, take note. Do I really need the latest Photoshop iteration? The one I have has served me well in painting digital storyboards and illustrations. To get the latest Storyboard Pro, Adobe Illustrator, Maya, Final Cut, Cinema 4d, Final Draft, Microsoft Word and Office, how much do I need to earn? A lot, I think. Which makes it more frustrating to make a living doing what I love.

Back to Basics
I’m a ravenous geek and fan-boy at heart. In a radical detour, I've lately developed a habit after morning school drop-off. I bust out my watercolor sets to practice the “master's medium” amidst the nature preserves in Westchester. I can study and paint the most beautiful trees in New York while learning this evasive medium. Despite all the frenetically-paced myriad branding in Show Business, Advertising, Publishing and Social Media, the simplicity of a brush, water, a rag and a block of watercolors is helping restore my sanity temporarily, and revitalizing my soul to withstand the next Apple update, Disney trend, or female Spider-person.