Count Sockula Rides Again

10
Mar
4

Cast ye minds back to the Septembré of 2006. What were you doing? Working? Studying? Perhaps enjoying a selection of fine cheeses amongst good friends and great crackers?

Here’s what I was doing:

This is Count Sockula. A puppet I made out of an old sock, some paper, a torn up t-shirt and a couple of buttons. It was hastily put together after recieving some good feedback from this drawing I’d done not too long before:

Little did I realise that four years down the track, Count Sockula would be rubbing shoulders with the elite:

Count Sockula with Premier Brumby (and Randy)

Yep. That’s Count Sockula emblazoned on a t-shirt being worn by a purple puppet named Randy next to Premier John Brumby.

I was pretty stoked when this picture got sent my way (it appeared in this Age article promoting the 2010 Melbourne International Comedy Festival). It’s probably the closest I’ll ever get to ruling the world. Well, at least the closest I’ve gotten so far.

It was a bit of a process getting Count Sockula ready for screen-printing on a t-shirt. I won’t bore you with the details here, suffice to say that this tutorial offered quite a bit of help on the matter.

Here’s what he looks like in his new form on a mock-up t-shirt:

Count Sockula Shirt

It’d be totally rad to have a run of these printed and for sale. I’d buy one. Would you?

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DVD Menu Art – Sammy J in The Forest of Dreams

9
Mar
1

Not too long ago, dear readers, I was given the opportunity to create the art for a DVD of Sammy J and Heath McIvor’s ah-mazing show Sammy J in The Forest of Dreams. I’d previously done the poster art for the show, as well as a bunch of backdrop art that were used in the show itself, meaning a lot of the heavy lifting was already done as the look and feel of it was already there. What was left to do was to consolidate that look and feel into an attractive DVD package, that included animated DVD menus, cover art, credits and disc art. I’d never done anything like it before, but I was up for the challenge.

The menu art proved to be the most work. After a meeting with a honcho over at Control Entertainment (the DVD production house putting together the Forest DVD), the possibility of having an animated menu system on the DVD was thrown on the table. I wouldn’t be doing any of the animating myself (which is good, because I wouldn’t know how), but I would be providing the animators with the finished art, ready to stick in their animating machines. The idea was to have the “silhouette” backdrops from the show as the menu backgrounds, with each layer (sky, stars, background trees, foreground trees) on separate “planes” that would shift in a 3D environment as a virtual camera panned from menu to menu. It sounded too goshdarned awesome to be true, but I got to work putting together the art, pumped by the promise of seeing my art come to life.

We figured it would be easiest for the animators if the menu art was provided in one enormous “scene”, with each element on a separate layer, so that the animators could fly around it as they please, without worrying about any of the seams showing. Once we’d decided on the number of menu screens required, I put together a quick mock-up of the menu system:

forest_dvd_menu_rough

Once this was locked off, I got to work on the final art. Whilst a bunch of the elements already existed from the backdrops I did for the show, quite a bit of it was created from scratch, including the “chapter tree” that had little chapter selection screens hanging from the branches – yeah, I thought it was a nice touch too. Here’s the final art (click for full-size):

forest_dvd_menu_small

I sent off the final art, with a bunch of notes on how I’d like to see it animated, which included leaves blowing in the wind, drifting clouds and buzzing fireflies. I knew most of this stuff probably wouldn’t make it in, but I thought we might as well ask for the moon and stars (quite literally – narf!). The animators did an amazing job to get the work done in the very tight time constraints we were working in. To their credit, they sent through video files of the work-in-progress for approval and feedback. It looked great. Unfortunately I’m unable to post any of the final animated menu here, so you’ll just have to buy the DVD to check it out!

Speaking of which – shameless plug – the DVD is now available at stores like JB Hi-Fi and online at the Laughing Stock website (the fine folks who produced Forest).

Later!

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Four Years & in Defence of Avatar

27
Jan
2

As of yesterday, my gorgeous lady and I have been together for 4 years. I drew this picture for her as a gift:

anniversary_01

anniversary_02

anniversary_03_smallClick the above image for a larger version.

We saw James Cameron’s Avatar at IMAX and both loved it. I’ve noticed some very vocal backlash against the film amidst all the accolades and applause. On some points I tend to agree, but I don’t think the negatives (the story’s lack of originality, cheesy dialogue, etc.) come close to outweighing the positives of the “experience” of Avatar. Avatar is a fine piece of entertainment, and offers a visceral thrill ride that I’ve never before experienced in a movie theatre.

Avatar is a movie made for the mainstream, not the discerning intellectual film goer. Although that doesn’t stop every armchair critic from tearing it apart. I understand where those people are coming from, I really do. I was like them once: haughty, elitist, unable to let myself go and just enjoy the ride. So what if Avatar adheres to tried and true story-telling conventions? Not every film needs to be Pulp Fiction or Run Lola Run. There is a place for classical storytelling in cinema, and that place is in the big-budget high-grossing films of Hollywood. Movies like Spider-Man, Titanic, Lord of the Rings and Avatar all share a naiveté and sentimentality that appeals to the masses, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Storytelling like this works, and has done for thousands of years. I wrote an essay five years ago called “Smart Film vs. Dumb Film” which you can read by clicking here.

In it I wrote:

The real reason some people abhor mainstream cinema is because of their need to rebel and feel part of a select few. So-called “smart” cinema is just the elite group they’re looking for. “Smart” cinema really isn’t all that smart; it just makes the viewer feel smart. To a “smart” movie-goer, becoming lost in the myth, fantasy, drama, romance or action of a film seems dumb because it appears to require less brain-power. “Smart” movie-goers want a film that makes them think, thus making them feel smart. But what “smart” movie-goers don’t realise, is that it takes more intelligence on the film-maker’s behalf to have an audience become “lost” in the movie, than to have them constantly question everything they see on screen. “Smart” film wants to be overtly smart. It wants to show off its intelligence to the world. Mainstream cinema is content doing what it’s always been doing – entertaining.

Story aside, I simply don’t understand people who didn’t enjoy Avatar on a visual, visceral, sensory level. I guess the aesthetics might have turned some people off, but to me they were absolutely stunning. It’s on this level that Avatar rivals and arguably even surpasses it’s predecessors (Star Wars, Lord of the Rings), and I’m inclined to think that people who disagree with that are stuck in a reactionary point-of-view based on the massive success of the film.

I’m siding firmly with the mainstream here, and recommending Avatar to everyone I know. I’d be more than happy to debate my point of view in the comments section.

Oh yeah, and Happy Anniversary Lucy!

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Drawing from Reference

16
Dec
0

For the latest project I’m working on, my client is asking for more realism than I usually deal with (which seems to be a trend of late). While I’d much rather push the grotesque, cutesy or stylised angles than the purely representative, I’m taking the challenge in my stride and forging ahead.

Whenever I’m having trouble getting a drawing right, I always remember an important tip I read in one of my all-time favourite books about drawing, Roland Harvey’s Drawing Book:

When in doubt, observe, observe, observe.

Nothing beats drawing from a reference, at least when it comes to representative drawing. And the more tangible the reference, the better. Drawing from a photo is good. From the actual live subject, better. Fine artists like Stan Prokopenko stress the importance of “being there”:

You might get tired and hungry, but you have to push through and finish that painting. “I’ll take a picture and finish it at home” usually doesn’t work.

In “The Art of Seeing”, writer Aldous Huxley also gives credence to drawing from life, but in a much broader sense of developing one’s appreciation of nature, citing vision as our strongest and most personally affecting sense (although this may be a wistful bias of Huxley, who had severely scratched corneas since the age of 16, and hence, horrible vision.)

With all this in mind, I hired the cheapest model I know: me. I probably would have been able to use myself as a “live” reference with the aid of a mirror, but I opted for an impromptu photo shoot instead:

reference_photos_01

Part of the brief for this project was a character that looked “obsessed”. I guess I really took that note on board, as evident in the amount of reference photos I took before I was happy.

Here’s the rough that came out of the observation:

obsessed

I wish I’d saved the rough I did prior to using a reference, so you could see how much having a reference improves the drawing.

Here’s another round of reference photos, and the subsequent rough:

reference_photos_02

clown

When you get a little confidence in your drawing ability, it can be easy to think that you don’t need a reference. Using one may even feel a little like cheating. But don’t underestimate the power of observation. Drawing from life forces you to really examine something, be it a landscape, still life or human figure.

Pay attention to what your eyes are telling you.

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Ricketts Lane

15
Nov
6

A while ago I got given a job to illustrate a poster for friends/professional humour-edians Sammy J and Heath McIvor. I’ve done design/illustration work for these dudes before, both individually (this and this) and collectively (this), and they’ve always been really fun jobs, mainly because they give me a lot of freedom and trust me to deliver the goods. Plus they’re also amazing collaborators, and true aficionados of the creative process.

Anyway, they’re currently developing a new stage show together called “Ricketts Lane”. The pitch given to me was basically thus: “Sammy J (a tax lawyer) and Randy (a purple puppet) live together in a house. Sitcom-style shenanigans ensue.” It was described to me as a show containing all the familiar sitcom tropes, but with a darker edge. Actually, here’s a direct quote from an e-mail:

It’s kind of a melting pot of 90′s sitcoms with a HBO twist. Darker than your average sitcom… Tony Danza meets Tony Soprano… Jerry Seinfeld doing time in OZ… Basil Fawlty running the Gem Saloon in Deadwood… Blossom smoking crack in the high rises of Baltimore and then getting fisted by officer McNolte…

The reference to The Wire hooked me and I got to work conceptualising. At first, the job was going to be mainly design-based. There would be little illustration, if any. The guys were going to get a photo-shoot done based on my concept, and I’d put the poster together.

Here are a few of the concepts I sketched up:

ricketts_concept_01ricketts_concept_02

ricketts_concept_03

The “couch” concept proved a favourite, so I refined it a little and gave Randy a drinking problem:

ricketts_concept_04

The next step was to wait for the photo-shoot and then play with the results, but an unexpected deadline arose, and a poster needed to be completed within a couple of days. With a photo-shoot out of the question (Randy the purple puppet was in a crate being shipped from the UK to Australia), the guys decided to go for a fully illustrated poster. The couch concept was still a go, but now there was a matter of determining the style of illustration.

After a few spotty chats over Skype, Sammy pointed to the drawing I’d done of Christopher Walken not long ago as the best direction to head. I decided to sketch up a few different versions of Sammy’s face, to see which way to push it.

There was the more serious, “realistic” direction:

ricketts_sammy_01

And the more “cartoony” direction:

ricketts_sammy_02

I was personally pushing for the “cartoony” version, probably because it was the safer, more familiar option to me. Doing a finished illustration in the “realistic” style was a little daunting to me, especially with such a tight deadline.

I decided to rough up the couch concept in the more cartoony style in a hope to win them over to it:

ricketts_rough_01

But the realistic direction won them over and so I got to work putting it together.

Here’s the rough I used to base the final illustration on:

ricketts_rough_02I got Sammy’s likeness down pretty well, but Randy was still a little wonky. I refined him in the linework:

ricketts_lineWent for a some hatched shading before adding colour:

ricketts_hatching

Here’s what it looked like after some colour:

ricketts_colour

After finishing the illustration, it was time to put together the poster proper. There were a few options for the title text:

ricketts_title

And finally, here’s the finished poster. The wallpaper pattern was designed by me and based on some cool vintage patterns I found online. The carpet was made from a photograph I took of the curtains in my room. Click for a larger version:

ear_small

The space down the bottom is for show/venue details. The guys are doing a the first run of Ricketts Lane at the Adelaide Fringe Festival, followed by the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. Tickets aren’t on sale yet, but I’ll be sure to post links when they are. I highly recommend seeing these guys live. They’ve got an amazing chemistry on stage which is backed up by really clever writing. In short, funny.

That’s it! Was a great pleasure to work on this job. It pushed my skills further than they’d been before, which I’m very grateful for. Thanks to Sammy and Heath for trusting me to do my best!

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Pencil Drawings: Zombie, Monkey & Christopher Walken

25
Oct
5

Got me a new set of coloured pencils (Faber Castell 24′s) for my birthday (thanks, girlf), so I don’t need to scab them off my housemate any more. Been keeping up with the drawing, which is great.

Here are my new pencils in a recycled pasta-sauce jar:

pencils

Here’s a zombie I drew and coloured in at the behest of my girlf, who was tired of me using one colour for each drawing:

zombie

Here’s a detail so you can take in all the good pencil-on-paperiness:

zombie_detail

A monkey:munkeh

And here’s Christopher Walken:

walken

Later!

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Michael Jackson is a Cowboy

15
Oct
1

At the behest of my girlfriend, I’ve drawn a picture of Michael Jackson. I was in the middle of drawing pictures of NBA stars Magic Johnson and Scottie Pippin when she suggested I draw something more “controversial”.

Michael Jackson Cowboy Sketch

cowboy_mike

It’s not perfect, but if we’ve learnt anything from Michael Jackson over the past couple of decades, it’s that nobody’s perfect. Not even an alien.

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"Real" Drawings & Mickey Mice

14
Oct
1

For the past couple of months I’ve been working with kids in after school care programs. One of the great things about it has been drawing with the kids. REAL drawing. Like, with pencils and paper and stuff. It’s been a while since I actually touched lead to parchment, and I was surprised to find that my drawing skills since I last tried it had vastly improved. Guess the computer screen just isn’t conducive to those kind of realisations.

Anyway, I’ve been drawing heaps of pictures for the kids, and trying to get them to draw as well. Unfortunately, I keep forgetting to bring any home with me, but tonight I decided to spend an hour or two at home doodling away the old fashioned way.

Here are some results:

VampireThis is probably the best vampire I’ve ever drawn. Pretty proud of his wacky bent features.

Smiley Girl

Kid and Hippie Dude

After reading this article about the history of Mickey Mouse, some sort of Disney bug bit me and I just started drawing page after page of the iconic rodent. He was surprisingly easy to draw and I found that even when I screwed it up, he was still pretty much instantly recognisable. A testament to how well designed this character is. (I also realised that Mickey’s iconic ears always appear as round circles on the top and the back of his head, no matter which angle he’s viewed from. A little trick to garner instant recognition, no doubt.)

Mickeys 01

Mickeys 02Mickeys 03

Mickey Running

I even tried drawing him with my eyes closed and he was still instantly identifiable:

Mickey Eyes Closed

It’s interesting to note that in the early days of Disney, Mickey was a much more mischievous and sometimes downright despicable character. “He was a guy who smoked and drank and shot guns, skewered people with swords, threw Minnie Mouse out of a plane when she wouldn’t kiss him, and abused farm animals,” explains Disneyphile Warren Spector in the previously linked article. Inspired by this, I drew a lecherous Mickey Mouse. A far cry from the sanitised, personality-less mascot he’s become today:

Lecherous Mickey

That’s about it for now. I’m really enjoying drawing again for the first time in a while, so hopefully some more sketchy goodness will be populating this blog in the days to come.

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Wild Thing Sketch

16
Sep
3

I’m sorry, but if you’re not gleefully excited about Spike Jonze’s Where The Wild Things Are movie, you have no heart and you are not human.

Wild Thing sketch

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Ear Infection

15
Sep
0

There is stuff coming out of my ears. Probably should have seen a doctor by now.

ear_small

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