Wednesday, January 9, 2019

History's Vikings Still Exploring New Episodes

As season 5 of History Channel's Vikings comes to a close (the last episode is slated for January 16th broadcast), I consider myself fortunate to have worked on Vikings' since Season 2. It started with this memorable concept:

The most recent campaigns have been marked with high action and the culmination of long developing story arcs. I've illustrated many a concept for Vikings, some full of symbolism, others full of mystery. I recognize many of my storyboards in trailers like these:

I'm sure we haven't seen the last of this talented cast. Katheryn Winnick is one of the most beautiful women on screen and Clive Standen, with his smoldering smirk would be my choice for the next James Bond.

Who are your favorite Vikings' characters?

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Happy Holidays from Tony Santo Creative

Each year I create an illustration based on Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol." In this sequence, the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge the joyous attitudes people embrace for the holiday.

"The sight of these poor revelers appeared to interest the Spirit very much, for he stood with Scrooge beside him, in a baker's doorway, and, taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on their dinners from his torch. And it was a very uncommon kind of torch, for once or twice when there were angry words between some dinner carriers who had jostled each other, he shed a few drops of water on them from it, and their good humor was restored directly."

I struggled with finding the area of focus in the image, showcasing the crowd first and Scrooge second. Still, I enjoy drawing so much that it's hard to resist detailing every nook and cranny at the expense of a central point of conversion.

What scenes would you like to see illustrated for next year?

Monday, September 17, 2018

Hell in a Cell with Samoa Joe, AJ and Santo!

I recently designed storybook illustrations for WWE's "Hell in a Cell" on SmackDown LIVE, Sept 11, 2018.

Samoa Joe brings ill will on his opponent AJ Styles, reading a disturbing children's book while AJ's wife and daughter are in the wings. The pages contain illustrated vignettes painted by me. 

Rarely do my actual illustrations appear on a televised broadcast. Here is one of those moments....and I emphasize the "moment" in momentary. See for yourself as the illustrations quickly cross dissolve into video footage.

It's a pleasure to work with such a great organization as WWE.  The assignments are a change of pace from storyboards, and they give me an opportunity to play around a little more than usual with the finished frames.  

Monday, June 25, 2018

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom: Dinos Devour Box Office While Chewing Scenery


It's a perfect time to test the effectiveness of the Jurassic World franchise. After blockbuster Super hero movies like "Black Panther" and "Avengers: Infinity War," one thing is clear - people still love prehistoric thrills.

"Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" deliveries a full set of teeth to make your bones chill.  In fact, it may be the most thrilling and suspenseful of all the Jurassic sequels.

The screenwriting doesn't break any new ground. Although audiences have proven they enjoy thoughtful scripts, subtext, complex interweaving of character arcs and clever dialogue, the Jurassic writers give us only enough to get us from one scene to the next.

My T-Rex - Pen, ink and charcoal on 138lb Canson
The film uses the ticking clock device to ramp up the urgency. The remaining dinosaurs from the former Jurassic World chapter are running unchecked on the abandoned and decimated resort island, which suddenly has an active volcano as one of it’s prime inhabitants. Why an entertainment corporation would build a resort on an island with deadly volcanic activity is beyond me. Apparently it’s beyond the filmmakers too, as evidenced by their absence of an explanation, their limited vision, or their lack of integrity for story. (since this writing a friend has explained that many Pacific islands are built on or from volcanic history, and it's not unusual for one to suddenly split ground and go boom).

But wait – the red head played by Bryce Dallas Howard with the perpetual bangs somehow avoided culpability from the previous Jurassic massacre and now runs a “Save the Dinosaurs” club. Instead of making reparations to all the tourists who were killed or maimed by escaped dinos, she raises money to save the priceless dino creatures before the volcanic lava can make fossils of them. I’m sure her assistant who was dragged through the air by multiple pteranodons before being swallowed by a giant Jurassic Shark in the last film feels rejoiced by Red Head Bangs’ efforts.

Red Head gets her funding for the rescue mission from John Hammond's first and never before mentioned partner in research – who wakes up from his hospital bed nap in time to help Bangs preserve the sincerity of Hammond’s original vision.

Bangs enlists the help of her ex-boyfriend Chris Pratt “Starlord” from Guardians of the Galaxy and Avengers: Infinity War, because he is the key to tracking the most important dino – the velociraptor named Blue, who is the only dino trained since birth to show obedience to man.

When their island expedition of militant sidekicks double crosses Bangs and Starlord (henceforth called “StarBangs”) they are left to die amidst encroaching lava so the dinos can be auctioned for millions each on the black market.
J.A. Bayona is pretty good directing action, and the peril proves threatening and entertaining simultaneously.
With the introduction of a new hybrid Frankenstein dinosaur that is trained to kill on command things quickly get out of hand.

One great feature the animators and modelers have given the new dinosaur is a touch of borrowed behavioral traits. The Indoraptor gallops through hallways like a horse in a steeplechase. It writhes its way through elevators and staircases like a modern day xenomorph from James Cameron’s “Aliens.” Not only does the Indoraptor tap his big toe in homage to Spielberg’s original velociraptor – it also smiles and plays dead before it kills ya.

Jeff Goldblum makes his reappearance as Dr. Ian Malcom, testifying that the dinos had their chance - they went extinct centuries earlier, and we need to correct the error of mad scientists who restored them to life. Unfortunately, the dinos flee en-masse to the city outskirts, where according the Dr. Malcom they will soon accelerate the extinction of mankind.

I’m not expecting the Jurassic franchise to become “Planet of the Dinosaurs”, but one can only hope for a sequel where thrills and suspense are accompanied by a metaphor, perhaps one which comments on the arrogance of mankind and his insistence upon continually trying to profit at the expense of a less developed or primitive species.

If you are aware of the inhumane treatment of animals in the meat and poultry industry, it stands to reason that the exploitation of any species - dinosaur or dog is wrong. It makes good sense – and good cinema - for future filmmakers to weave science, ambition, action and peril with a good dose of ethical subtext. The results will allow the audience to think as well as scream.   

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

After Effects can be User-Friendly with the Right Co-Pilot

I've been putting storyboard reels and cinematic together since I had my first taste of iMovie years ago on the Mac. It was easy scanning art and dropping each frame into the timeline, adjust the duration of each frame, adding animation like zoom in or out, and previewing clips. 

It wasn't long when I jury rigged an analog video camera to behave like an overhead shooter similar to the one we used to shoot rough tests at Disney. My set-up was far less sophisticated and used an analog converter to digitize the files. The quality was far from high def, the lighting was OK, not perfect - even though I used discarded Disney studio light fixtures. Once the audio track and and sound FX were added, making storyboard reels at home became a labor of love. 

Fast forward a few years into Electronic Arts, where as Art Director I had access to only one editing program  - After Effects.  I started experimenting as much as possible, making cinematic reels and sizzle videos for whatever game I was Art Directing. Cinematic reels were something unprecedented at the Tiburon studio and they were well received for the most part. Cool camera angles and dramatic lighting told a story, captured the flavor of the game, and offered excitement to a previously non-cinematic sports franchises. Used primarily as a cinematic editing tool, the basic features of AE were all I needed to create a "Wow" factor. Working with great animators, modelers and game capture footage gave me a film-making experience I will never forget. 

Years later I would teach a film editing class at the College of Westchester, NY - not with After Effects but with another editing software I had used in my freelance assignments. Final Cut Pro is much easier when compositing frames and clips, while After Effects gets more bandwidth with effects. I've often used a two step pipeline when designing videos. First, I finalize the edits and timing in Final Cut, then applying SPFX in After Effects. 

I was able to add different animations to my Tony Santo Creative Logo, which I used to bookend each of my ten second reels which I call "Tony's Ten." 

Starting out simple, I learned more sophisticated techniques later. My logo animations include a laser blasting away at a concrete surface to reveal my logo etched in stone, displacement maps of smoke and lens ripples, digital glitches, back-lit spotlights, glows and other enhancements.

I owe a big thanks to Andrew Kramer at Video for his outstanding tutorials in After Effects. His concise explanations are peppered with a small dose of humor which makes him a rare breed in the tutorial landscape.

Andrew, you know what I am thinking. You are "funny AND good-looking!"

It's been a blast breathing new life into my logo design, bringing enthusiasm to each new ten second reel. Integrating them in my promo reels, mailers, and social media posts has brought a renewed zeal to my promo efforts. 

If you haven't seen the animations, you can find them all at or page turn back to my October Media Hygiene 2017 post to start from the beginning.

Meanwhile, if you want to brighten up your day with some After Effects tutorials, visit Andrew Kramer on video

Friday, April 6, 2018

Tony's Ten #10: China Broadway Concept Set Designs

All it takes is Ten Seconds to see my latest storyboards in a series of reels I call "Tony's Ten."

This week, I'm sharing set designs I did for several theater performances to appear on stage in China. These interactive sets would immerse the audience by allowing them to inhabit each set as the story unfolds, essentially making them part of the story. The beautiful landscapes of the Chinese mountains were part of my inspiration, as was traditional Chinese architecture.

I designed the logo animation in After Effects, using displacements maps, glows, and other effects. 

Music is the B-52's "Song for a Future Generation" off the "Whammy" album.

Ten Reels, Ten Weeks, Ten Seconds.

Friday, March 2, 2018

X-Files Season 11: The Truth is Under Our Noses

May I take your order? 
For a series whose moniker has been “The Truth is Out There” the X-files has never delivered clear answers to the alien and government conspiracies that silently undermine our freedom. Viewers are ultimately inspired to question what truths are real, what are an illusion and what consequence those mysteries portend.

This week’s Season 11 episode 7 titled “Rm9sbG93ZXJz”, queries the role we play in the automated digital landscape. The result is one of the most entertaining stand-alone X-Files episodes to emerge in the last two seasons. It is as stylish as it is ironic, and queries our complicity in the pervasive world of pop-culture/socio-economic techno-conformity.

Mulder and Scully are a long way from the Automat

"Nyaah, see, that's right, it's coitans for you Rocky, see?"

As Mulder and Scully sit alone at the counter of an automated sushi restaurant, they play on their cell phones - no dialogue spoken - and order sushi meals off the counter’s touch pad. Conveyer belts deliver their meals while the agents receive notifications on their cell phones. They are as irritating to Scully as they are in real life to me. She repeatedly dismisses each notice with a finger swipe. Mulder decides his meal of blob fish, which looks like Bugs Bunny’s Edward G. Robinson design, is unpalatable and unsuccessfully tries to send it back to the kitchen. Unimpressed by the robo-dining experience, he declines a credit card tip.  That’s when things get really fishy.

My meal is good, Mulder.  How is your's?
Mulder’s snub propels a hive-minded network of digital intelligence to threaten he and Scully at every turn.

The result is one of the most entertaining stand-alone X-Files episodes to emerge in the last two seasons. It is as stylish as it is ironic, and queries our complicity in the pervasive world of pop-culture/socio-economic techno-conformity.

In case you change your mind you have 3.5 hours to leave a tip.
Uber-ish robot cars, automated personal voice assistants, security systems, surveillance drones, data collecting Roomba vacuums, GPS trackers and web commerce aggregators all threaten Mulder and Scully’s sense of control. To add insult to injury, the agents can’t even listen to their music selections or access a financial representative on the phone.

“The Truth is Out There,” all right. In fact, it’s right under our noses.  

Whipz is reminiscent of the johny-cab in "Total Recall"
In our myopia we don’t see that we unwittingly give up part of our humanity, the way we relate to one another, in favor of automation, convenience, amusement, narcissism, and an all-enveloping compulsion to be part of the established digital “collective.” We all “need” Facebook accounts for personal or business reasons, Twitter, Instagram, Linked In, et al.

We willingly give our information to these sites, and the users that frequent them. But in doing so we don’t clearly realize we are giving away what we control.

Dana Scully's security password? Don't call her Ishmael.
We are traceable everywhere we drive, everywhere we use our credit cards, every web site we visit. We are told how much tax we owe, how much we must pay for health care, and what medicines are allowed.  We respond to the latest software updates, without which our GPS can’t compute directions or measure how far we have jogged this morning.

The X-files has reminded us that the truth is indeed out there. It’s under our noses and all around us.  We have bought into a smorgasbord of technology and allowed the entrees to enslave us, all the while perpetuating the illusion that we are in control of the menu.