Poster in process: Voodoo Night Horror film poster

Influences behind the poster

Before I start sketching a new painting or graphic work, I always try to narrow down my influences to a few illustrations or pictures as possible. With Voodoo Night Horror poster, I had two key influences: a real Voodoo fetish market which is located in Lomé, capital of Togo, a country located in West Africa (see the Wikipedia article about the Akodessawa Fetish Market here).

The other key influence were a couple of low budget horror films produced by Hammer Film Productions in the 1960s: Plague of the Zombies (1966), Stranglers of Bombay (1959) and a Hammer House of Horror TV series episode “Charlie Boy” made in 1980. Plague of the Zombies and TV episode “Charlie Boy” have a clear, voodoo influenced plot and Stranglers of Bombay is a film about evil Thuggee cult worshipping goddess Kali and strangling people during the 1830s in colonial India.

Animal skulls and other voodoo fetishes on sale at
Akodessawa Fetish Market
A still from The Plague of the Zombies, starring John Carson
A still from “Charlie Boy” episode (Hammer House of Horror TV Series) featuring murderous, wooden voodoo fetish statue
Poster for The Stranglers of Bombay (1959)

Transferring the finished line sketch to a gessoed board

After I had finished gessoing the hard cardboard illustration board, I divided the surface carefully into equally sized sections. Then I started to draw skulls with graphite pencil from the biggest skulls on the corners proceeding to smaller ones in the center. This line drawing phase took about one week to complete. Then I erased the straight lines before applying first layers of paint.

Before I started to apply first layers of paint, I masked certain areas with two different tapes (KleenEdge and M3 Removable Magic Tape) to avoid paint blocking details in the drawing. I used Quinacridone Gold paint (part of Windsor & Newton Artists’ Acrylic range) to block white areas away. Then I mixed black with Quinacridone Gold to achieve the proper black level I wanted. The skulls and the witch doctor are lit by a bonfire thus making these areas to appear in more light than the surroundings which are meant to be pitch black.

The line sketch with a grid
Tonal plan for the painting
The line sketch transferred to a gessoed 90 x 64,5 cm (36 x 25,8″) sized board
I used two different masking tapes to prevent paint from smearing details in the skulls
Masking tapes have been removed and the painting took already quantum leap forward!

Modeling skulls

The cloud of skulls needed more structure and definition before I started to paint them in more detail and correct lighting. I added more black in the eye sockets and on top of the skulls as well. Then I added more contrast to the flock of birds right underneath the cloud of skulls.

Added more contrast to the skull cloud and tried to give them more three dimensional appearance
I then added even more contrast/cast shadow to the skulls
and darkened eye sockets as well

Painting the three big skulls

I started to paint the biggest skull located in the middle. I used big tone approached to paint the skull: from darkest cast shadows to highlights. Then I added all the details including the cracked lines and “the glowing” in the eye sockets. When I finished the skull it served as an reference (the direction of light, casting of the shadows, details, colour scheme etc…) to other skulls that followed. I had some trouble to understand the plane changes on the baboon skull (located on the left upper corner). I just couldn’t find any good baboon skull pictures on the net for reference.

At this point the skull lacks almost all the fine details
The gorilla skull was painted with big tone approach
The baboon skull had difficult plane changes

Painting smaller skulls

The horse like skulls in the far left and far right belonged to a pair of Red deers. These two skulls differed remarkably from others skulls in the painting. They were more difficult to paint because of the unusual elongated shape and structure. With some of the ape skulls, I wanted variation and added some hair to make them standout even more from the mass. And to be honest, make them appear more freaky and disjointed. I used swift, fast and sharp brush strokes to achieve “loose” hair effect.

Monkey’s hair
Red deer skull

The Flock of Birds

I didn’t want to paint the birds with much detail. They had to be a secondary mass when compared with the skulls above. This decision was based on the hierarchy of details which is essential when trying to make a successful painting or a drawing. Before I started to paint this poster, I did a tonal plan (a sketch with lighting coming from below) to see in advance how to paint the different objects in it. Only the middle section is properly lit and everything else stays in the shadows.

Flock of birds with thin layers of paint
Birds are starting to take more defined shape

The Bonfire and the witch doctor

These two were the last objects I painted for the project. The bonfire’s first version was way too stiff to be a believable fire. I left a couple of “mistakes” to be seen on the left side of the bonfire to add some transparency to the flames. Witch doctor was pretty straightforward object to paint. First I blocked the shape with darkened Naples Yellow. I wanted the witch doctor’s face to remain in shadows and to add more mystery to his character. I didn’t want to add any significant details to the witch doctor character because he only serves as a balancing object on the right side of the bonfire.

Close-up of the bonfire
The witch doctor

The finished painting

The finished painting with a painted frame. You can find the finished, colour corrected painting here.

If you want to know more about the process or share your thoughts, just leave a comment below.

Book review: Wonderful World Zdenek Burian (2018), (Podivuhodny svet Zdenka Buriana)

Wonderful World Zdenek Burian is a book released in Czech Republic in 2018. The book is written in Czech language. This book concentrates on the illustrations that Burian created for various books written by Jules Verne. Some of the featured books are: The Count of Monte Christo, Journey To the Center of the Earth, The Mysterious Island, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, The Archipelago On Fire, The Advetures of Captain Hatteras etc.

Majority of illustrations were painted in the shades of grey because monochrome images were cheaper to print than coloured ones. Zdenek Burian painted with gouache colours, oil colours and did drawings with ink. Burian painted the book cover illustrations in colour. The pictures presented here are painted in portrait format to fit the book format they were meant. Some illustrations are spread across two pages. The reproduction of illustrations really pop out in this book and they show incredible details on them as well: minor brush strokes, subtle changes from light to dark, muscles on animals, many details of submarine Nautilus etc.

Born in Austria-Hungary in 1905, Zdenek Burian is perhaps best remembered for his paleontology illustrations, mainly of dinosaurs, mammoths and cavemen. Burian was extremely prolific and he illustrated Czech editions of many high calibre adventure books by the likes of Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Zdenek Burian’s work is also featured in Paleoart: Visions of the Prehistoric Past (Zoë Lescaze, Taschen 2017).

Artist Overview: Ralph McQuarrie (Part 2)

This is the second part of my “journey” through the magnificent book, Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie, Volume I-II. This post is about the second half of the first book Volume I and it consist of McQuarrie’s illustrations done for The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

There’s couple of things I’d like to point out I found interesting. It seems Boba Fett looking character was to be an Imperial commander, who would have had a significant role in the battle of Hoth. McQuarrie’s designs draws heavily from the ancient samurai/shogun style helmet designs and costumes as well. There’s no clear explanation in the book why this character was cut from the final film.

Second interesting thing that was cut out from the final film was the Darth Vader’s castle. It looks like one of the medieval castles found in Transylvania, Romania. It has real traditional castle feel to it and I think it was better to cut out from the final film. It explains too heavy-handedly the origins of the character and makes him appear too much Nosferatu/Count Dracula character. Concept sketches of Vader’s castle offers really fascinating view on the character development and what Lucas had originally visioned Darth Vader to be.

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Artist Overview: Ralph McQuarrie

“Ralph McQuarrie is the most iconic artist in the history of Star Wars. He worked hand-in-hand with George Lucas to help establish the saga’s visual aesthetic, it’s inimitable look and feel.”

Above text is from the dustjacket of Star Wars Art: Ralph McQuarrie, a massive two volume book set, which illustrates Ralph McQuarrie’s design work on the original Star Wars trilogy. Before Star Wars assignment,  McQuarrie worked as an illustrator in the Boeing Aircraft Company in Seattle.  McQuarrie’s first proper film industry assignment was  to illustrate a film poster for Charles B. Pierce’s The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972). While moving from Seattle to Los Angeles McQuarrie established new contacts to people working in the film industry. Director Hal Barwood contacted McQuarrie late in 1971 about illustrating concepts for a new film he was developing.

McQuarrie: “They wanted to make some illustrations to help it get into a production as a feature film. I completed four illustrations, and they had a lot of people interested. But Star Dancing never got into production.”

Hal Barwood: “George Lucas saw a Star Dancing painting  of this gigantic RV rolling across a grassland with a guy in a space suit and a couple of moons hanging in the background and he just thought it was great.”

McQuarrie: “George saw the paintings, and he came by my house one evening. He talked about his idea for a galactic war picture – intergalactic war. He said it would involve all the aspects of Flash Gordon, but done in a sort of 2001 manner with real high-fidelity effects.”

VOLUME 1

In this post, I will focus only on the first book, Volume 1. I will do another blog post about Volume 2 as well. The first volume covers McQuarrie’s design work for A New Hope (1977) and half the work done for The Empire Strikes Back (1980).

In Star Wars: A New Hope’s pre-production, McQuarrie’s design work was perhaps the most extensive of all three films in the original trilogy. McQuarrie lend his technical eye to the spaceship designs as well and defined the modelmakers’ designs. Even though McQuarrie was primarily a technical/mechanical illustrator with background in aviation industry, he was able to design memorable characters as well: C-3PO, R2-D2, Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Chewbacca, Imperial stormtroopers, Tusken raiders etc. The most iconic of all McQuarrie’s character design for Star Wars is Darth Vader. In McQuarrie’s early drawings Vader’s design draws heavily from old samurai/shogun war helmets creating a robotic, reptilian looking character.

Ralph McQuarrie did also some matte paintings to the original trilogy. In A New Hope he did the Death Star, Luke’s home planet Tatooine, Rebel base planet Yavin matte paintings. McQuarrie approached these matte paintings realistically, in 2001: Space Odyssey way, said Hal Barwood. The book tells the path that McQuarrie took when designing various object into the Star Wars galaxy. It’s easy to follow the steps that he followed and how he ended up with a particular design and look. There’s also very informative text snippets that provide fascinating background into the design process. Sometimes these text snippets are quotations from McQuarrie commenting on George Lucas’ wishes and his preferred design orientation.

 

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Documentary overview: Horror Europa with Mark Gatiss (BBC, 2012)

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Horror Europa is actually a sequel to three-part documentary series A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss released in 2010. Horror Europa begins surprisingly from a Belgian city of Ostend. Mark Gatiss leads viewers to an old, luxury seaside hotel with dark past associated to tyrannical King Leopold II. Gatiss journeys through continental Europe tracking filming locations of classic horror films and interviewing people who made them.

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Daughters of Darkness (1971)

The documentary is also an interesting look at the very gloomy, bloody and  horrific past of Europe. The devastation of World War I through the inter-war years leading to the carnage of World War II. Dark history of Europe is very much present even in the colour choices of some of the films presented in here: in Daughters of Darkness (1971) director Harry Kümel wanted to dress actress Delphine Seyrig in Nazi colours of black, red and white. The fascism is also very present in the violent main character Captain Vidal in Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) directed by Guillermo del Toro.

Mark Gatiss delivers his lines/anecdotes with passion but he also maintains certain intellect approach to films he is so very fond of. This is and interesting look at the history of European horror films. It have some obvious film choices but I think it is very well measured out and offers insight into lesser known films that are very essential to the canon. This documentary is recommend to anyone with interest in history of cinema.

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Nosferatu (1922)

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The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974)

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Dario Argento

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Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Gatiss

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_History_of_Horror

 

Portrait in process: Quint (Jaws)

I really love the monologue delivered by Quint about the mission to deliver the atomic bomb to Hiroshima. It’s a genuinely frightening tale about shipwrecked, desperate men of USS Indianapolis in the midst of shark infested waters in the Philippine Sea. Robert Shaw delivers the speech in really embittered, realistic way: It’s no wonder why his character hates “the doll-eyed sharks” so ferociously. It is truly a character defining speech and written long before Quentin Tarantino became famous of writing similar story driven dialogue to his movies.

The monologue was written by screenwriter/director John Milius (Big Wednesday, Apocalypse Now!, Conan the Barbarian). It was originally 15 pages long but was reduced to about five pages by Shaw.

Above is quite lengthy introduction to my motivation to do the portrait of Quint. This is a self-initiated project so no clients or commission were involved here. The following process is similar to my previous “Portrait in process: Han Solo”blog post. However this time drawing the portrait took about 27 hours and 45 minutes whereas drawing Han Solo took about 12 hours to complete. I want to take you through the whole process and explain various phases and difficulties I met during the process.

 

Quint_1-8
Picture  1: Paper; Canson 160 mg2, 490 Bleu Clair (Light Blue)

 Picture 1: Above is the finished line drawing of Quint. I have added the vertical and horizontal lines to check out if facial features are in balance. At this point I use pretty light color because it is easy to erase and leave no undesired markings. Colored pencil I used at this stage was Primerose (242). The line drawing took Me 4,5 hours to complete.

Quint_2-8
Picture 2: Preliminary light, halftone and shadow.

Picture 2: After the line work was finished, it was time to add preliminary light, halftone and shadow areas. I concentrated mainly on eyes and nose at this point. This phase took Me 2 hours.

Quint_3-8
Picture 3: Coloring all areas

Picture 3: I started to work on the mouth area at this point. I added the eyebrows and started to work on the eyes more intensively adding more color to the eye-sockets. Mustache was added to give more  form to the upper lip area. This phase took about 3,5 hours to complete.

Quint_4-8
Picture 4: Giving more shape to the eyes

Picture 4: At this point, the picture is getting really defined on the half of the eyes and forehead. I also added more color to the chin area on the right side. I used three colors this time: Primerose (424) to the light areas, Burnt Ochre (069) to the halftone areas and Burnt Sienna (069) to the shadow areas. Some Slate Grey (495) was used on sideburns. This phase was completed in 2 hours.

Quint_11-8
Picture 5:”Tightening” the drawing

Picture 5: Now the picture has real “tightened” feel to it. Every major color area is properly worked on at this stage. Eyes and forehead are in the shadow more firmly than in the picture 4. I added some grey color to the eye balls so that they are more rounded and have the proper “form feel” to them. The cast shadow on the right side of the nose is still somewhat hazy and it isn’t understandable e.g. you can’t read the form properly from it. My main concern was to give the eyes the right, angry feeling. The sideburns are developed as well by adding some hair texture to them. The skin is also being colored more at every aspect. This phase took 3,45 hours to complete.

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Picture 6: Adding some wrinkles below the eyes

Picture 6: At first glance there seems to be no progress between pictures six and five. I started to concentrate on the nose and it’s cast shadow on the right side. To do a proper shadow, one must analyze the light and form of the object. At first I did not understand what the shapes were and it shows in the picture 5. I tried to analyze carefully the primary light coming from the left upper corner. The bottom of the nose (where nostrils are) is not in full shadow but instead in half-tone. Upper lip illuminates some light to the nose too. Quint’s cap casts shadow to the upper part of the nose and therefore it’s the most darkest area just under the right eye. Shaping of the nose and the cast shadow took 1,5 hours to finish.

Quint_15-8
Picture 7: The cap

Picture 7: After I had finished with the facial features, it was time to concentrate on the cap. Usually I try to do the clothes as simple as possible but this time I felt that Quint’s cap is really part of his presence and character. The cap looks like it’s been on him since he was born, so it was crucial to do it properly. To color the cap I used green pencils Raw Umber 50% (846) and Olive Brown (039). There’s not much details on the cap apart from few stitches here and there. I had to concentrate on the cap as a  whole because lack of details didn’t allow it otherwise.

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Picture 8: The completed nose

Picture 8: In this picture you can see the cap is completely ready. I added some black color to the visor which is facing the forehead. It gave surprising amount of depth to the whole forehead area and also giving the stare more framed, nuanced intensiveness. The making of the cap took Me surprisingly long time to make approx. 5 hours.

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Picture 9: The jumper in progress

Picture 9: We are now at the final phase of the portrait and I think this required more creative problem solving than any phase prior this. The jumper really has no structure at all to grab on to. It’s only full of random zig-zag pattern which translates very poorly to a drawing. I took deep breath and started from the neck and advanced from there downwards. After the neck part took some shape I was thinking to leave the rest of the jumper as light grey; Silver Grey (002). But it is too large area to leave without precise form or pattern. Also at this stage the neck area looks too much like a renaissance era neckwarmer and it draws too much attention anyway. The Jumper took about 5,5 hours to complete.

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Picture 10: The fully completed portrait of Quint

Picture 10: This is the final, fully completed image with carefully adjusted colors and a little bit of framing. I also added some sharpening to give it more defined look. The portrait took almost 28 hours to complete which is really the maximum time for me to spend on a work like this.

 

Book recommendation: Kinoplakatkunst aus Belgien – Die 50er- und 60er-Jahre

This book offers interesting  overview to film advertising in Belgium during the 1950s and the 1960s. The book covers many film genres including drama, adventure, comedy, western, war and crime. Each poster is accompanied with a little fact sheet containing basic information for the film.The posters on display are very well reproduced and their colors seem very accurate to my eye.

It is a fascinating, unseen, forgotten piece of Belgian/European film advertising. At least for a Finnish reader like myself.

Don’t let the book’s German title fool you. Only the introduction is written in German and the basic information regarding each poster as well. Downside is that all the film titles are in German and you can find the English title only if it’s printed in the poster/artwork. So it makes harder to track any particular film.

Other downside is that the book doesn’t tell the proper names of the artists involved. In fact, there’s only two artists mentioned: WIK and Ray. I did some research online and found that Ray is the pen name of Ray Gilles. Gilles was a Belgian commercial illustrator who was active in the 1960s. Here’s link for more information on Gilles: http://www.ilovebelgium.be/ray-gilles-forgotten-illustrator I could not find any information about the pen name WIK. If you know something about illustrator “WIK” please write to the comment box below. Thanks!

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