The Little Mermaid, A different take

I recently saw some online images of the Finnish ballet of Hans Christian Andersen's, "The Little Mermaid" and was totally floored. Everything from the costume design to the lighting and dance have a slightly dark and mysterious tone that feel just right for the classic tale, departing completely from the Disney version. It made me wonder what other cultures and takes on the tale might be interesting to see. I was inspired by the architecture of Okinawa and thought perhaps the Little Mermaid might fall in love with a Samurai. I'm not sure I really got it but it was seriously a blast to dream about.

Some initial thumbnails, dreaming about what kind of island The Little Mermaid first encounters the Samurai.

This is an establishing shot of the island I chose from the thumbnails, just before The Little Mermaid meets the Samurai she falls in love with.

I was thinking of some foreshadowing in the architectural motifs. These are a few ideas. The possibilities are endless, really. Below are a few variations on The Little Mermaid. I still feel like I want to do a few more pages of these and then move on to the Samurai, Triton and the Sea Witch.

Many more updates coming in a few weeks! Thanks for visiting.

Disney's "Whisker Haven Tales with the Palace Pets", Season 2!


For the past year or so I've been working on a new web and tv series called, Disney's "Whisker Haven Tales with the Palace Pets", published on the Disney Junior website and network. The latest episode, "Chowing Down" (Season 2), can be seen here:


All of these shows are developed, directed and produced at the awesome Ghostbot animation studio, where I have been working as Art Director with the Director-bots, Alan, Roque and Brad.

I am SO, SO proud of the really hard work that we all have done on this series. The best part has been meeting kids that tell me all about the shows and the characters. There is nothing better than that!



Here are a few production stills from this episode (I think this one is my favorite!), directed by Alan Lau. The color script on this episode was really key in getting the lighting, mood and tone just right, and also making sure transitions worked from the first sequence which was the set up to the indoor Kibble shop and dream sequences. 





Below is some of the design work I did for the spring episode, "Hearts, Hooves, Eggs!", directed by Roque Ballesteros. The biggest thing I learned in this episode was scaling of details in the distance vs. the scale of details in the foreground. I spent a lot of time looking at mountainscapes studying how to make them work atmospherically.




The color script for the "Masquerade Ball", directed by Roque Ballesteros, was one of my favorites. The episode practically designed itself! A dark room with a party atmosphere was pretty interesting to explore in the color script and in the background design. I was surprised at how dark it could go, actually, and still read as long as the main characters had a good amount of light on them. 



"Buddies Day", directed by Brad Rau, was really fun to design since the fall season was a character in the episode. I thought about things like how the color of the grass and the position of the sun in the sky would be different and distinct from episodes that take place in the summer or spring months. The most difficult part was the lighting in the maze from shot to shot, which required a color script - absolutely. In addition to that, getting a hay texture and shape in flash without it becoming too distracting or vector-y looking against the action of the characters was a real challenge. In the end, I think we found a good balance after a lot of trial and error. 




I just wrapped on Season 2, 13 episodes, which will be released throughout the year including a Christmas episode I'm really excited about. I'm really hoping that we get a 3rd season. After 23 3 minute episodes I feel like I've really gotten to know the world pretty well. I enjoy every single part of the storytelling process in animation and film making and especially working with the Bots. I hope to visit the world of Whisker Haven again sometime soon! 

Star Wars Comps for Concept

Earlier this year for a class assignment with Armand Baltazar at the Animation Collaborative, we had an assignment to come up with a scene or concept that currently does not exist in a movie. One of my all time favorite movies is, of course, Star Wars, the original trilogy, but most especially "The Empire Strikes Back", where we meet Darth Sidious, "The Emperor", for the first time. 

Up until that point, we feel that Darth Vader is the most powerful guy in the universe, even though we are conscious that he is definitely working for someone. When we meet The Emperor, he seems to be parallel to Master Yoda in power but belongs to the Sith and rules the Empire. However, I had always thought that since Darth Vader has unusual power, the Emperor, being a completely corrupt man, would perhaps have some other way of gaining force power than just by being himself. In addition to that, he must have been extremely peeved when Vader let Luke get away. 

I imagined that in between "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi", Darth Sidious brings Vader into his private chambers where he keeps a gigantic symbiotic parasite that he uses to not only control Vader, but also torture him and secretly extract force energy from him.

Here are a few concepts. I will bring one of these to full color soon, hopefully in the new year!


Additionally, I sculpted a bust and draped some cloth over him to create a nice working model of the Emperor's face. I've wanted to do a portrait painting of the man, and this will be very helpful for lighting. 


"LOSING TIME", Poster Roughs

This year I have been very busy writing and rewriting, and then rewriting again the story for a graphic novel tentatively titled, "LOSING TIME". 

The story takes place in the same universe as HG Wells' 1895 classic, "The Time Machine", but is an expansion of that world and events. 

Since I am also currently enrolled in Pixar Production Designer Steve Pilcher's Production Design course at the Animation Collaborative, I thought I would focus my class efforts on moving forward with this project to see where it would lead with some really great feedback.

Immediately, Steve assigned "mood boards", story beats and other art that visualizes a general tone of the story, but only in three values. The idea here is to get a strong composition and mood that identifies the feeling of the story. I decided to focus on act 2 of my story, and although these are likely to change dramatically as the script develops, these were an awesome exercise that I will likely take with me on virtually every project I design on.


After the mood boards, we moved on to poster roughs. Creating a poster or cover art go a long way towards representing the overall motifs of the story. Working on this exercise has really helped me to think more deeply about the motivations and core ideas of the story I am developing in a way that I might not have otherwise thought of. 

Here are are my initial roughs. 



I will likely pick one of these from the second page, perhaps incorporating a border as well. I'll post the final after I finish it in a few weeks,  probably a week or two after CTN in Burbank this week! :)

Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

The Unfortunate Toad

This summer I have been working on a short story that I plan to bring to print. It is about a Toad, and is tentatively called, "The Unfortunate Toad". 

There is a cast of characters that you'd expect in a fairy tale, but in this story their roles are a little different, due to some unforeseen circumstances.

I thought I would share some of the work I've created so far. There is a lot more in the works, including many more characters, but I will be keeping those to myself for awhile. In addition to "The Unfortunate Toad" story,  in the next few months I will be posting a few more updates to "The Time Machine" and other art that I have been working on behind the scenes. It's really exciting stuff that I can't wait to share!

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Please stay tuned for more in the next two months! Thanks for visiting.





A Couple of Plein Air Digital Paintings

For awhile now, I've been trying to come up with an easier take-with-me-everywhere method of plein air sketching. I have full plein air kits for pastels, oil and watercolor, but often I find that even though I keep one of these kits in the trunk of my car, I usually don't feel inclined to bring it all in to a restaurant, coffee shop or on an afternoon trip downtown. I wanted something MUCH more lightweight and accessible - and the iPad has been it.

Here is a sketch from a recent day trip to the ferry building in San Francisco, a busy tourist-heavy area of the city. 

My main objective with iPad sketching is to mimic plein air oil paint using the alla prima technique, direct painting, as opposed to more labor intense methods. The idea is to work quickly on site and get it all down in about an hour or so of working. That means everything from gesture, composition, hue, value relationships and light relationships.

About the hardware: I have yet to find a stylus I am completely comfortable with; I am currently using the Wacom Creative Stylus. I am not keen on recommending it, however, because it feels like painting with a giant crayon. I unfortunately purchased the Wacom Creative Stylus 2 and found afterwards that it is not compatible with many painting apps, including Procreate. A few friends have given good reviews of the Jot Adonit Stylus, which is far cheaper and compatible with a lot of apps. 

In the Procreate app, I created a set of swatches in the color picker that are the standard colors of my basic oil painting palette, plus a few white convenience colors so that I don't have to constantly mix the same color over and over. Using these swatches helped me in getting a similar look to traditional paintings, although I think I could still fine tune the set. 

In addition to that, I am still trying to refine my brushes to find a working method that mimics traditional brushes. Procreate provides a set of brushes that you can then customize, but  I have yet to find some that are to my liking.

Composition Breakdowns

In a recent class I took at the Animation Collaborative with the inspiring and seriously talented Armand Baltazar, we had an assignment to break down the compositions of narrative illustrations from visual development artists. We had to

1. write one sentence describing the story of the piece, 

2. describe the point of view (POV) of the piece, and 

3. describe the emotion intended by the piece. 

After that, we drew over the composition breaking down these elements:

 4. the division of the graphic plane (the graphic shapes that make up the composition),

5. Redline the division of depth and mark the foreground, middle ground, and far background,

6. Mark the center of interest,

7. Redline where the eye moves across the piece.

This was an excellent exercise in understanding the architecture of a picture and the thought that goes into guiding the viewers' eye directly to the center of interest. I highly recommend analyzing compositions in this manner for anything from drawings, paintings, and even sculptures to increase your own narrative compositional chops.  

Although the exercise appears simple, I learned a great deal by analyzing each piece. There were some pieces that I haven't posted which failed compositionally; the artist meant the eye to go to one place but unfortunately the eye focused elsewhere. 

"Stubble Trubble", independent short film project

In the late 1990's, I worked on a short independent animated film at Calabash Animation called, "Stubble Trubble", directed by Joe Merideth. At that time, the studio had a steady stream of commercials that kept almost all of us very busy throughout the year, but on occasion there would be a lull in the schedule. During that time, we always had short films to work on. "Stubble Trubble" was one of two indy films that I art directed, and what a learning experience it was!

Below are a few samples from the mountains of visual development pieces I created for "Stubble Trubble". In the end, the film toured the short film festivals all over the world and was even nominated for an Academy Award in the short animated film category in 2001. After all of that hard work, it was amazing and so satisfying to have been recognized for the effort we made in making this film. 

Because Director Joe Merideth specified that he would like "Stubble Trubble" to look like animated cave paintings, I felt that a color script was necessary so that the film didn't become too monotone. The pencil tests that Joe developed at this point were full of energy and action, so I wanted to make sure that each scene was emotionally heighted by texture, lighting, and color in order to make those scenes feel dramatic. I had to balance the cave painting look with something that felt alive and kinetic. I developed a color script for the entire film, experimenting with how one scene's design would flow into the next and whether or not the lighting and color design worked scene to scene.

Once the script was approved by Joe, I was able to move forward with background texture explorations, line work development, lighting and compositing. The color script was the frame work for the entire film all the way to the final edit.

After I developed several visual development look paintings, I began working on the line work clean up look. I used one of Joe's scenes from the pencil test to develop a complete scene using this line work process to test whether it would work frame to frame. It did, so I developed a model packet and process for clean up and then trained the crew in the process. I even filmed a short clean up process video so that the animators could refer to it when needed.

 Above is a still from the final composite. We tested out how this would all come together in one scene to make sure this was a producible film. Joe, my director, was happy with the look so we moved forward with the final fim production. Below are a few more still from the final film.

"Stubble Trubble", directed  and written by Joe Merideth. Produced by Calabash Animation. Art Direction by Julia Lundman. Animation was entirely done by all of our amazing animation staff at Calabash.

 

THE TIME MACHINE: Visual Development with Armand Baltazar/Animation Collaborative

I recently took a visual development course at the Animation Collaborative taught by senior visual development artist Armand Baltazar, who has worked for many years in animated film, with credits on Dreamworks, "Shark Tale", "Spirit", and "A Bee Movie", as well as Disney's "Princess and the Frog", and more recently Pixar's "Cars 2", among many others. Of all the classes I've taken in recent years, I found this course to be perhaps the most exciting. I've always been deeply interested in visual storytelling, although I've not always had ideal opportunities to practice that very fine art to the fullest I've wanted. So when Armand's course came up on the roster and time in my schedule allowed, I jumped. Aside from my own interests,  I feel a good visual development class is an excellent experience for any artist at any level to go through. So many of us have grand ideas around stories, world building and stylization, but how many of us have really gone deep into our visual storytelling skills? If you've not had the opportunity to take such a class, I encourage you to find one or else pick up a few good "art of" books for film, games, and television.

 Regarding this specific class at the Animation Collaborative, I felt it was absolutely worth it. Armand was a fantastic teacher and really put in a lot of extra work and effort in teaching the class, even staying late to give back really valuable individual feedback, paint overs and advice tailored to each student. Each class was chock full of fantastic information about visual development, portfolio development, and tips and techniques for working quickly, as is required on any project in development.

For the class we each picked a classic book to visualize as an animated film. I picked HG Wells', "The Time Machine", a book that I illustrated years ago, but unfortunately didn't do a very good job of it due to the extremely rushed deadline. For years now I've wanted to revisit the story, and have imagined a reboot tailored toward an animated young adult film. I thought I'd share my character design concepts here, and later will share more development. Over the course of the next year I'll be working up ideas around this story and will share more as I solidify ideas.

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My Time Traveler in my reboot of "The Time Machine" is a young woman in present day. When I draw character sketches, I like to keep a very, very simple line with almost no detail. I like to save any modeling or texturing for painting. I really enjoy the challenge of trying to capture a gesture in as few lines as possible.

I envision the Time Machine device to be wearable tech made up of everyday things like hacked ipads, iphones and a laser tag vest. Like in the original book, the time machine does not move the individual through space, but only through time.

Imagine what happens to those digits after thousands and thousands of years of swiping/touch technology… I enjoyed working on my take on the ELOI quite a lot. I envisioned them growing tall and thin with elaborate hairstyles and lots of adornments. 

 The Morlocks live in underground caves where they have evolved eyes that allow them to see in the complete darkness. They live amongst the ruins, pollution and grim of thousands of years of human corruption.

Below are some quick color comps and sketches of what I have been developing around story moment ideas. Most of these are pretty quick, like 2 hours each or even less in the case of sketches. All of these are meant to be exploratory in nature, and will eventually become more finished paintings. I can't wait to work on these!

 I've long been a fan of Douglass Trumbull, well known in the film industry for his innovative special effects on movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I wanted to emulate his effects in some way, and have envisioned the bottom row of images to be my take on time travel effects.

This is my quickie version of a future city, although I have plans to iterate on this a bit more. Given that our class was only 12 weeks and I only had the weekends to work on it, I felt that I didn't have enough time to really dig through this juicy subject. Looking forward to exploring some more concepts!

Hey, who doesn't need a hot Eloi boyfriend in the future? Actually, this is one aspect of the story that I am quite excited about: the friendship between The Time Traveler and Weena, in my version female (time traveler) and male (eloi). I think this can be resonate with the story themes in some unusual ways - I'm so excited to work some more on these ideas.

I actually have a number of additional sketches and comps, but they are still a little too compy to share. Hopefully soon! 

As I continue to develop my ideas I will post. I hope to put a little book together by sometime next summer, if all goes well. 

Thanks for reading!!!