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

 

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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Book recommendation: The Art of Hammer

This book displays plenty of Hammer’s film posters around the world. It is written by Marcus Hearn, co-writer of The Hammer Story in 1997.  This is mainly a picture book and it contains short written introduction about Hammer and it’s advertising activities. The posters are in chronological order and sorted by year they were released.

Featured posters are from various countries and represent naturally wildly different styles for same films. For example Polish posters are radically different from their British counterparts. Whereas British posters are traditional the Polish posters are surprisingly modern and features often distorted photographs instead of hand drawn illustrations.

The book has 191 pages and the last featured year is 1979 when Hammer’s fame was already starting to wane. This book is in no means the definite collection of Hammer film poster but offers great overlook to the company’s film advertising. I certainly think this collection is enough for many people interested in all things Hammer. A highly recommended!

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About the film poster project

I am currently doing series of vintage looking film posters and I’d like to share some insight to the creative process behind them. This also marks my very first blog post on the subject.

Inspiration for “Iron Man” poster came from a Black Sabbath song. Lyrics of the song were basis for the elements you see in the painting. After all, the song is a true Hammer Horror tale of an vengeful astronaut trapped inside space suit.

Here you can see development stages of “Iron Man” character. I did not want to have that traditional hi-tech NASA or Transformers look but rather very clumsy, barrel chested, kind of a like deep sea diver from the 1940s. Lack of any facial features on the mask was intentional to achieve inhuman, sort of a ghost like presence.

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This collage shows main influences for the poster. From left: Astronaut suit with painted hockey gloves from “Alien” (1979), promotional picture from “The Reptile” (1966) and “Nosferatu” (1922).

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The defining look for the Iron Man’s helmet is shown in the middle sketch. Sketch on the far left is a bit too much reptilian and not enough bulky.

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On the left is the final sketch for the poster. It has just the right mood for a horror picture. The woman was clumsily left out of the sketch and I was just concerned to get Iron Man right.