Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Ben 10: Omniverse - Storyboard to Shot Comparison

It's cool to compare my storyboards to the final cut, as I do here in this episode of "Ben 10: Omniverse" titled "Of Predators and Prey." It seems common in TV boards that the drawings must be as close to model sheets as possible. In addition, staging, camera moves and acting must be clearly delineated so the animators can crack open the boards and use them as more than a blueprint. When I worked at Disney Feature Animation, the storyboards would get handed over to the "Workbook" department who would redraw them to indicate the camera direction, final staging, screen direction, etc. On this show and probably many others, there is no workbook. The boards perform double duty.

It's rewarding for me to compare the final shots to the boards I drew, and find that the animators used the same poses, staging, acting, cameras, screen direction and more. This episode aired in November of 2012, a whole year after I drew it. Dan Riba, whose experience in TV animation is legendary, was the director. 
Occasionally, I'll mention to parents I meet that I worked on a few episodes of Ben 10. The ones with boys break into a big smile and say "How cool, my son loves that show" while others, mostly parents with girls, just kind of politely nod. My kids (daughters) don't seem too interested anymore when seeing my name in the credits of anything (I can't compare with Katie Perry or Victorious, justifiably). But there is one reaction I experienced recently that meant a lot. As I was putting this file together my 7 year old nephew walked into my studio, looked at my monitor and shouted "Hey, that's Ben 10!! You DID that??" Now THAT was cool! 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Dicken's "A Christmas Carol" Returns: The Ghost of Christmas Past

I must have listened to "A Christmas Carol" on audio book a dozen times over the course of the year, all the while soaking up the details of Charles Dickens classic narrative. I took some liberties with this illustration, mainly omitting the spirit's hair "which hung about its neck and down its back..." in addition to the "great extinguisher for a cap" that the spirit carries under its arm. 
"It was a strange figure - like a child, yet not so like a child as an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view and being diminished to a child's proportions." 
Despite the masculine reference I felt safe making the spirit more feminine in stature, perhaps a bit androgynous in order to foreshadow Scrooge's upcoming transformation from darkness to light. As Scrooge receives each spirit, he question what is real and what isn't, as well as how he might influence his destiny and that of those around him. 
We can all use a reminder of the Spirit of Christmas in our own lives. It is wise to reaffirm that while we are the driving force of our own destiny, we are also incredibly well-positioned to make a difference with those we love and interact with every day. 
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

AD Marker Demo: John Carter of Mars visits Dick Blick

I recently was asked to do a demo of Chartpak's AD Markers at Manhattan's Dick Blick Art Supply on Bond Street. Blick has a great store, staffed by friendly, knowledgeable people and visited by a colorful range of customers. I saw a few well known celebs shopping alongside NYU students and professional artists and hobbyists.

My demo began on a Saturday before Hurricane Sandy had a chance to reach us. I was provided with a spread of markers in all colors, grey tones, and blenders. I decided to eschew the traditional marker paper and use 16 field animation paper that I had purchased from Cartoon Color a few years ago. One of the reasons I love this paper is because it not only fits on my studio animation disk but it is sturdy, travels well, and fits on my mobile Plexiglas peg board.

Over the summer I had been rereading the John Carter novels, and had produced a pen sketch in my small sketchpad. I figured this was the chance to develop it in color. I redrew it big scale (the anim paper is around 17"x11") with a Sakura Micron waterproof pen. This served as a "holding line" for me to block in my color. By no means an expert water colorist, I know enough to share the watercolor approach here. I worked from light to dark, starting with light greys, and then layering the colors over for richness. One thing I like about the AD markers is the way the colors may be layered to create warm and cool tones in the composition. I finished the piece in a little under two and a half hours, including the time it took to show the markers to any interested customers.

AD Markers are non-toxic, but a bit smelly. I recommend using them with plenty of ventilation. Even though I sat near the entrance of Blick, halfway through I needed to get some air because the smell was bothering me. With the range of 130 colors and a stash of warm and cool greys, Chartpak offers plenty of possibilities. I would caution buying too many markers, it may be overwhelming at first.  I recommend a small selection of 10 greys to start out with, followed by no more than 6 of each color. A few blenders come in handy to bleed some of the edges together. You will find it useful to do some tests on you favorite paper as well as the special marker paper, which I find too flimsy to embrace on a regular basis. I've been working professionally for years and am confident experimenting, but beginners may feel safer with it. I don't like the tabletop cube holders or spin trays, because I prefer to grab my markers from a pile in a pencil box or spread out on the table.

I am by no means master of traditional "marker comps" as utilized in the 60's and 70's. I never embraced the craft of marker technique perfected by many of the great unsung artists and art directors who came before me. However, I found it refreshing and playful to step away from my digital work and design on paper with these markers. I can see practicing and using the marker studies to prepare for final paintings in any media, as well as another means for visual development.

My main advice to curious artists and those daunted by these markers and methods is to grab a small selection and experiment. You will be glad you did.

"Ben 10: Omniverse" Storyboards

Last year I was fortunate enough to score a few episodes of work on the new "Ben 10: Omniverse" for Cartoon Network. I had the opportunity to work with legendary television animation director Dan Riba. Dan directed many of the classic "Batman: Then Animated Series" episodes from back in the 90's and has been carving it up ever since. 

I owe a huge thanks to my long-time Disney buddy Tom DeRosier who recommended me for the gig. This is the first time my name has appeared in the credits with Tom since Disney's "Brother Bear."

The first of my episodes called "So Long and Thanks" aired recently. Here is a shot of the credit screen taken with my iphone, along with some of the boards designed in Storyboard Pro.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The First Bond Film

"Looks like your out to get me... ."
Connery's legendary debut as 007.

It was 50 years ago this month that the first James Bond film, DR. NO, was released. Sean Connery debuted his famous dialogue of “Bond…James Bond” and the Production team of Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli started what has become the longest running film franchise ever. 

Illustrator Mitchell Hooks designed the first Bond movie poster.

I wasn’t even born when Connery made his Bond debut. Somewhere around 1971, 9 years after Dr. No and 7 years after the Bond craze hit orbit with the box-office shattering “Goldfinger,” I had my first exposure to 007. My father loved to tell stories (did I inherit this trait, or what?) and proceeded to weave such a tale of British Agent James Bond 007 fighting the baddie Odd Job, leveling karate chops and punches against Odd Job’s deadly steel rimmed bowler hat.  Like any wondrous kid full of imagination, I demanded the real thing.

"The Criminal Mind is always superior. It has to be."
Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman, and Sean Connery in the third act of DR.NO. 

Bond was playing on weekend matinees at the time, and since Dad couldn’t change his work schedule, he requested that Mom take me. Starting with a double feature of You Only Live Twice followed by Thunderball, my expectations for action movies were set that day! Equally great was my disappointment. Disgusted by too many “mushy” kissing sequences (and God knows how many sexual suggestions for a first grader to fathom) my Mom dragged me out of Thunderball kicking and screaming before the grand action climax.  But I would always have the memory of Bond’s “Little Nellie” Gyrocopter and his assault on Blofeld’s volcano lair to keep me warm.

"Stay where you are!"
Don't mess with Ursula Andress as Honey Rider.

Much has changed with the many iterations of Bond throughout the years. For me the true Bond experience will always be a grand scale, plot-driven spectacle, without the character arcs of recent films.

My unfinished illustration for the Crab Key battle. 

While developing my now defunct Bond video game pitch a few years ago, I experimented with some illustration and vis dev paintings in Photoshop.  In addition, I studied lots of stills from my favorite Bonds. What was started 50 years ago is clearly timeless today.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hax Attack Comic Page

Above is a comic book page I designed for Cyber Griffin's "Hax Attack" game for the iPad and iPhone. I did the entire piece digitally, incorporating elements and textures from the game in order to introduce the user to things like Data Banks, Phishing Keys, Blue Balls, Red Balls, Highways, and of course, Hax himself.
If you missed producer Chad Rogers' appearance on Anderson Cooper, you can learn more about this cool game and how it reinforces good internet security practices by visiting the following link to Cyber Griffin's site:
One thing I find refreshing with most mobile device games is the ease with which one can jump in and play.  I got a kick watching my 6 year old play the game, as she tried to show me how it's done. Kids these days.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tuesday Afternoon at Wave Hill

My set-up at Wave Hill with towering trees in the background.

After a long stint in the studio working on a  demanding deadline, I felt it was time to get out and paint some landscapes at Wave Hill, minutes from my residence in the Riverdale area of the Bronx. I was eager to study the effects of color and light in nature. In the interests of self-study, I know that this will pay off in the fast-paced storyboard work I do, when I am often called upon to quickly create color frames at the speed of light. 

Wave Hill is a gem for lovers of horticulture, nature, landscapes and the Hudson River. Originally built as a fieldstone house by lawyer William Lewis Morris in 1843, and expanded by publisher William Henry Appleton between 1866 and 1903, in subsequent years Wave Hill was rented as a summer home by Teddy Roosevelt's family as well as Mark Twain. With  breathtaking view of the NJ Palisades and Hudson River, along with its meticulous garden vistas, it is easy to see why Wave Hill has been a haven for lovers of quiet, tranquility and beauty. Tuesday offers free admission, which I took advantage of.

I love this book of landscapes, inspiring to look at on my short breaks. 

I packed my painting gear which included my new Julian half-box easel and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an apple (I get hungry when I work outdoors). Although there is a lunch truck on the premises, I need to have nourishment close to where I am set up. 

New visitors to Wave Hill may not realize that if you park down the hill in a small open lot near the Riverdale Country School, you can get Wave Hill's free van shuttle to pick you up and save you a parking fee and a hike. I took advantage of this, lessening the burden of carrying easel, paints and books. Be sure to drive past the front gate and let the attendant know you will need a ride, otherwise you will be waiting there forever as the shuttles don't run automatically. Be grateful to your driver, as they are most likely a volunteer.

I set out to find a shady spot. I learned from past experiences that when I paint in direct sunlight, it becomes impossible to see the difference between shade, light, temperature and intensity of color. I have returned to the studio surprised to see the results did not match what I thought I painted.

My new Julian Half Box easel. Lighter to carry than
my full-box, I transport my oil tubes in a canvas carry bag.
I did this study in about an hour. 

By no means an expert on identifying trees, I found a majestic gum tree, towering over the skyline. When working in oils on landscapes it is important to paint quickly and capture the sunlight before it changes. In that spirit and inspired by one of my favorite landscape books, I worked on 9x12 Scholastic Art Canvas boards I had collected from when I taught the Grumbacher Painting Workshops. These are perfect for small studies.

I did a total of three studies and spent more time than I wanted on each of them. A friendly chat with an avid Wave Hill visitor rekindled my confidence, as he seemed drawn to my painting and commented on the colors he liked in my second painting. Interestingly enough, as we were marveling at the light cast on the Palisades, he recounted how geological studies suggest that the New Jersey Palisades were once a part of the Moroccan coast a billion years ago, and therefore share an identical structure!

Although the Palisades are barey visible in this shot, believe me, you can
see them with little effort from other positions.
Here you can see the GW Bridge in the distance.

It is easy to paint in the peaceful surrounding of Wave Hill. The groundskeepers are clearly dedicated to the property and can be seen hard at work on the grounds throughout the day.  I was sure to bring a small trash bag to carry my lunch remains off with me, and was fortunate that I could reposition my easel to another shady spot nearby for each painting without having to fold it up.

Carrying three wet paintings and my gear  back to my car
was tricky and proved my gym membership is paying off.

I got myself into a small dilemma by having three wet oil paintings to carry. Fortunately, my easel comes with a canvas case that has back straps attached, so I was able to carry it like a big backpack. I left my paintings near the guard shack and this time hoofed it down the hill to get my car, not bothering the volunteer van driver. I often hike up this hill on morning constitutionals around hilly Riverdale. The stone walls on one side of the road, the dense trees, and the sound of running water trickling downstream belies the Bronx location. 

Follow the iron fence down the winding hill to get back to the free parking lot.

All in all productive Tuesday Afternoon to sharpen the skills, breathe the fresh air and refresh the soul before my next deadline.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

 My jpg of multiple storyboard roughs seen as combined layers

While working on a recent commercial spot in Photoshop, I generated roughs on multiple layers and used a script command to output all layers to individual jpgs. I often work this way when doing roughs for approval.

When I turned on all the layers at once, I was surprised at the exciting results. The frame reminded me of a Jackson Pollock or Kandinsky painting. It is refreshing to know that embedded within my commercial skills set there lies the fruit of such a dynamic and perhaps more interesting visual result.

I see this as an important reminder that when deadlines are over I must persevere to constantly expand and refine my skills and intellect, for when combined in the service of one another, skill and intellect create interesting art.

Willem de Kooning, Light in August, 1947

In addition to staying sharp by painting, drawing and practicing - an artist remains vital by creating new projects, developing new opinions, and bringing them to life, no matter the media, shape or form.

Rico Lebrun, Crucifixion, 1958
Meeting deadlines is great. It is the essential for professionals to thrive in their chosed industry - whether as storyboard artist, illustrator, designer, whatever. But scheduling time for self-study is equally necessary.  

Marc Davis, Queequeg Pursuing Moby Dick, 1956

I could not help but be inspired after this little happy accident. It has reinvigorated my sense of study and prodded me to revisit the works of my favorite masters - artists who when I look at their work give me the feeling that I am being treated to an insight into the greatest creative minds on Earth. They are able to reach me by the way they splash paint, arrange colors, formulate designs and manipulate graphics... and most of all, the way they evoke my emotional response.

Kandinsky, Black Spot, 1912 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Love to the Rescue

There are many ways of telling a story.

When unrelated images are joined together in a linear timeline and partnered with voiceover and music, the viewer's mind fills in the blanks, completing the story. 

Viewers may share the same resolution, yet achieve it through different personal details.

The emotional catharsis that results will be resonant, deeply personal, and powerful in its message.

In these spots for Shriner's Hospitals for Children produced by Leo Burnett,  visionary director Warren Fischer takes us there in 30 seconds. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Sci-Fi/Fantasy Landscape

Some studies for a personal project. Done with draughting pencil on animation paper.

Lunch Truck Commercial


This is one of those storyboard assignments where concept was so clear that some frames from the finished shoot resemble the boards almost to a match.

The pharma client was comfortable with pencil on paper, and I  used a General's Draughting pencil because I find the smooth graphite allows me to work in broad fluid strokes and not worry about too much detail.  For tighter refined boards I might clean up with an automatic lead clicker to get crisp clean edges where desired. 

We called the spot "Lunch Truck" as a working title, and it made me hungry as the writer, art director and myself discussed the different type of lunch trucks we should represent. Mexican seemed like the way to go. Anyone for burritos?

50 Years of Bond and More

In October of 1962, the first James Bond Film Dr. No, was released in the UK. That was almost 50 years ago. My tribute to the first Bond film was done very quickly, probably in half an hour. I tried to make it feel like Sean Connery, capturing his likeness from memory. For Honey Rider as played by Ursula Andress, I was happy to make her an exotic looking blond. In this way I am attempting to give the illustration a life of it's own, not too dependent on the literal representations of the actors in the film.

And here I am still staring at this painting from Goldfinger that I started 2 years ago. It just sits there until I feel like working on it. Here it is, close to finished. Probably the most memorable sequence from any Bond film, in my humble opinion. Goldfinger is considered by many, including me, to be the benchmark of the series.

The first full-fledged digital painting I ever attempted was this sequence from Thunderball. I took my time and created this in my Florida studio at night while working as Art Director at EA Sports. I was pretty happy with it then, but not so much now. It is overworked and a bit stiff, the design mediocre. My inspiration were the Bond posters of Frank McCarthy and Robert McGuiness. Both artists were able to take a commercially recognizable head shot of Bond and use it in any setting. Regardless of how many explosions, scantily clad women, and action were around Bond, there was Connery, handsome, detached, and indestructible.

Great posters like the ones they painted in the 1960's were larger than life. This was back when posters made you WANT to see a movie. As a kid a thrill would run through me whenever I saw a Bond poster. After Bob Peak's design for The Spy Who Loved Me, a few painted entries like Moonraker, Octopussy, and the classic "through the legs shot" of For Your Eyes Only, the subsequent posters employed photos and head shots to sell Bond, and failed to intrigue me.

I got the idea to illustrate the Bond films after playing the EA video game "Everything or Nothing." I thought it would be cool to design my own Bond game, create concept art for it, screen mock-ups, and animatic reels to "sell" the idea to EA.

My take, probably too expensive to fund, was to give the player the choice of playing as one of the (then) 5 actors from the Bond series. After choosing your Bond, you would activate him in the next mission level. Instead of Sean Connery in Goldfinger, you could play as Roger Moore/Bond in Goldfinger. Or instead of George Lazenby in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, you could be Sean Connery falling in love with Diana Rigg, and so forth.

The licensing fees alone would probably kill the idea during the pitch, but a man can dream. It would have been the most played game in my collection.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Writing Music Videos with Words and Storyboards

I recently collaborated on a music video for an up-and-coming talent.

The director gave me a setting and a theme as my only parameters.  I wrote a treatment, which consisted of story beats that I later fleshed out with loose line art storyboards. Dropping in the music track, I rendered the frames as a QuickTime movie and presented to the director. During this process the director was able to prepare his production team for the shoot, get budgets approved, and schedule any post. My narrative called for two interior locations that the director secured up front, and one long exterior shot.

When designing music videos, I try to expand upon the story that the lyrics may be suggesting while enhancing the mood set by the music. I remember the rise of music videos in the 1980’s and how a video would tell a great story, using powerful imagery to lock the song into my consciousness. I would tell me friends about the video, anticipate seeing it again, and think about the video whenever I heard the tune on the radio. As a result, I fattened up my vinyl collection with artists that I might not have noticed had I not been privy to the complete audio/visual experience.  

I relish any opportunity to contribute on this level for any project. The energy and momentum I gain spills over into other assignments as well as my personal work. I will be sure to share the finished video and reveal more details about this talented artist and music video when it is released.