Sunday, July 06, 2014

PLANET KINDERGARTEN (part_04)

PLANET KINDERGARTEN was chosen to help promote the San Francisco Public Library’s Summer Reading Program 2014! As the illustrator of the book, I was asked to create original San Francisco themed artwork that can now be seen all around the city and is being used at every library branch in SF.
From bus shelter posters, to game boards, door hangers, stickers, pencils, and even a tote bag that readers can take home with them, it’s pretty cool to be associated with a campaign that helps encourage exploration and reading throughout the summer.
Read more about the San Francisco Public Library campaign on CHRONICLE BOOKS BLOG, and stay posted for more on PLANET KINDERGARTEN.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

PLANET KINDERGARTEN_ (part 03)

First, some fun news, PLANET KINDERGARTEN was just chosen as one of Amazon's "Editors' picks for Summer reading". Just one of the fun things happening with PK. Now lets nerd out. Just as the characters were inspired by the world of NASA space exploration and SCi-Fi pop culture, so were PLANET KINDERGARTEN'S settings. Some of the inspiration is obvious, some more subtle, but all in the goal of having the viewer feel something specific to this story, and hopefully have fun discovering fun visual elements along the way. Here are just a few examples:
Lets start with the Kindergarten school building itself (above). The text reads: “We arrive at base camp, then orbit while we look for a place to dock.” So, inspired by the text, I immediately had the idea of using the black asphalt of a parking lot as the black vastness of “SPACE” which all of the other elements would play against.
I definitely wanted to have the building feel like a space station in some way, and in researching photos of actual stations I was immediately inspired by the large rectangular panels and foils that extend out from those station’s bases.
In my illustration I decided to treat the white lined parking spaces around the building as the panels/foils jutting off of a station. The family car/craft, while not being a literal space ship, is colored with the same black and white pallet that a NASA space shuttle displays.

When mom and dad drop off their brave explorer (above), mom incorporates a heart felt Vulcan gesture into her goodbye wave.

I wanted to create some sense of a Martian, or alien landscape when we entered the classroom with our main character. Stacks of red, classroom blocks did the trick.

When I was a young student, I remember several of my classrooms being decorated with various paper stars. Sometimes student’s names would be written on them, often hanging from the ceiling, sometimes stapled to the walls, but all were the inspiration for the star motif you see throughout PLANET KINDERGARTEN.

I introduced you to the character of ROB in my last post, but he was not the only thing inspired by the world of robotics. These lunch room receptacles were inspired by the Star Wars Gonk Droids, as well as the robot from the little known 1980s children’s television series “Whitney and the Robot”.

Riffing off the “black asphalt as space” concept once again, I thought that when incorporating bits of recess symbolism we might get a kind of subliminal solar system visual. Complete with Milky Way.

The “Nap Time” section of the book was one of the first areas I had a clear “space” concept for. I remember my elementary school nap time fondly. I had a black mat that I would lie down on as we listened to the class record player project Burl Ives “Little Black Duck” into the darkness. When delving into the imagery for the book, I chose a down shot on our character lying on a black mat with a couple classroom objects scattered about him to help create the effect that our little “astronaut” is floating in space.
These are just a few more of the concepts and elements I had the pleasure of playing with while creating the visual language of PLANET KINDERGARTEN. Lots more happening with Planet Kindergarten, so stay posted.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

PLANET KINDERGARTEN_(part 02)

“We’re aliens from many galaxies on Planet Kindergarten.” This was author Sue Ganz Schmitt's inspiring, but only description of a large portion of the characters in her book, PLANET KINDERGARTEN (Available now!). As explained in my first PK post, the book equates a child’s first day of Kindergarten to an astronaut visiting an alien planet. The idea was not to be overtly literal with the space visuals, but to make things in our world feel symbolic, or representative of space. Chronicle Books decided that I would be the person to explore the possibilities, and as the illustrator of the book the first thing I did was play with the characters. No visual description of any character was given in the book, so they left that to me.
Lets start with the main character of our story (above)…. a nervous but determined little boy who approaches life with the focus of a NASA Astronaut. In order to hone in on what he might look like, I started to research everything NASA. In doing so I was obviously inspired by the astronaut’s uniforms, suits and gear, but I also pulled inspiration from NASA spacecraft and symbols as well. For example, the overall body shape of the main character was inspired by a specific NASA space capsule. I even designed his eyebrows to reflect the red, jet stream swish in NASA’s emblem.
I also gave the characters broad graphic shadows inspired by images of planets (and our own moon)lit on one side by the sun. These are not things that I expect the viewer to see blatantly. These are just elements that inspired me to design a character that was hopefully more specific, unique and relevant to THIS particular story. A viewer might “feel” these elements subliminally. Creating a visual “feel” inspired by things relevant to the subject matter and tone of the story is important to me. I don’t just design something to “look cool”, I want to design something that is relevant to, and inspired by the story….and hopefully that is what’s cool.
Next I started exploring the classmates that our “astronaut” would encounter in our story. Inspired by the text, I thought about how I might portray these kids as “aliens”. Here are a few of my solutions, along with their inspiration. I gave them names for my own benefit (and for fun).
EEDIE: A wide-eyed, awkward, nose picker, Eedie was inspired by one of the most loveable and unusual aliens of all time. I imagined that Eedie picks her nose as a way of coping with events such as this first day of kindergarten. In the book I had her keep the booger throughout the day, as a kind of comfort… a small, reassuring companion of sorts (like Wilson is to Tom Hanks in Castaway).
GREYG: I definitely wanted a classmate to represent a classic Grey Alien. Another kid trying to cope with his first day of Kindergarten, Greyg hides under the tightly drawn hood of his grey sweater hoping that, if he can’t see you, maybe you can’t see him. I geared his overall silhouette to feel like the large headed, thin-bodied aliens we have all seen represented and described for years.
BUCKEY: A highly imaginative but shy kid, his first day of Kindergarten begins with finding the class crayon bucket and creating a new persona. Buckey was loosely inspired by several of my favorite classic green “monster” alien types from science fiction lore.
ANNE and DORIAN: These petite, white haired twin sisters were inspired loosely by the Andorian aliens from Star Trek. They are lucky to have each other on their first day of Kindergarten, but potty breaks and recess activities pull them apart from time to time.
ROB: Not able to wait until lunchtime, Rob messily eats his mustard, catsup and pickle sandwich. The ingredients now dot the front of his shirt (and face) like the small buttons and lights of a classic sci fi robot.

Those are some of the kids you’ll encounter on PLANET KINDERGARTEN. I’ll share a bit about the thinking, and inspiration for the environments and world of the story in my next PK post. I look forward to sharing.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

the LEGO MOVIE_part 02 (Vitruvius)


Continuing the LEGO movie posts…. After joining the design mix for the character of “Wildstyle” (Lucy Lego), I was asked to contribute to the design exploration of Vitruvius. the ancient and heroic, blind wizard (A small sample shown above). There was already quite a bit of really great design work done on him, but I was asked to shake him up a bit. They wanted me to explore more specifics and humor within his design. To do so, I asked lots of questions about the characters history and role in the story. I learned that Vitruvius was going to be living in an old west Lego set (part timing as a saloon pianist)in order to hide out while he lead the rebellion. This inspired me to play with some old west influence in his overall design.


Another major aspect of Vitruvius was the fact that he was blind, and I was inspired to search for a more specific visual solution to communicate this. I remembered that when I was a kid, after having played with my LEGO figures for a while, some of the figure’s facial detailing would rub, or scratch off. Hey, maybe that's how or why a LEGO figure would become blind.

I also played with the idea that Vitruvius' head might just be turned backwards, so we would see no eyes or face whatsoever. Just a couple solutions I presented to keep things more “LEGO centric”. The rubbed off face concept was realized (by people who are much smarter than I) in the infamous Nail Polish remover sequence that exists in the final film.

I played with various real world found objects such as rubber bands, twist ties, and toothpicks, that Vitruvius might use as a staff, or head band…etc. The lollipop stick was established before I came on board, but I thought it was brilliant. I played with making Vitruvius feel a little more tribal, and mystic at times. Maybe a little more of a crazy aspect to him, playing with strange mixes of Lego parts. Maybe a Chewbacca torso with Native American legs and classic yellow hands…etc.
In the end, a couple aspects of my explorations squeezed their way into the final design. There were several hands and hundreds of versions in the development of this guy, and he was a lot of fun to have been involved with.
In my next LEGO Movie post, I’ll share a bit about my involvement with the look of Lord Business.

Monday, May 05, 2014

PLANET KINDERGARTEN (part 01)


Not to long ago, I received a call out of the blue from Chronicle Books. They told me about a new picture book project by author Sue Ganz Schmitt that they were interested in having me illustrate. The book was titled PLANET KINDERGARTEN ,and it equated a child’s first day of kindergarten to an astronaut preparing for, and visiting, an alien world. I loved the concept as soon as I heard it, and when I read the manuscript I knew I wanted to be involved. I related directly to a character being anxious about his first day of anything, and I instantly had a slew of visual ideas inspired by the story as well. I quickly pitched my concepts to Chronicle and they liked my thinking on it all, so my mission to PLANET KINDERGARTEN was launched.


Inspired by Sue's story, and working with my incredible team at Chronicle, I started researching, exploring, and planning my visual concepts VERY quickly. As I did, I made it clear to everyone involved that I do not design or create anything without first considering the story. I never have a set “style” for illustrating or designing a thing. Instead, I believe very strongly that the story should inspire, define, and drive the look of whatever I am designing. As every story should have its own identity, so should that story’s visuals.


What is the tone of the story you are designing? Where does it take place? When does it take place? Is it a frenetic/abstract concept, or is it a more naturalistic, grounded thing? Comedy? Drama? Horror? Dramedy?….etc. All of these questions, and much more, should be taken into consideration when creating the look of anything. (I'll share more on this soon).


From development to final illustrations, the entire visual process for PLANET KINDERGARTEN was quick, but a lot of fun. How do you tell a visual story about an astronaut visiting an alien planet, without literally showing an astronaut visiting an alien planet? That was both the challenge and the fun of PLANET KINDERGARTEN. To elude or make reference to themes of space travel and science fiction while still being grounded in the world we all know.


Over the next several weeks I'll share a bit about my process and experience on PLANET KINDERGARTEN while also sharing images and accounts from the many exciting events surrounding the book…such as PLANET KINDERGARTEN being chosen as the featured book (and myself the featured illustrator) of the 2014 San Francisco Public Library's Summer Read event. Lots going on, and lots more to share.


PLANET KINDERGARTEN is now available for pre-order, and will be released May 20th 2014.

Monday, April 21, 2014

the LEGO Movie_part 01 (WIldstyle)

A couple of years ago the directors of “the LEGO Movie” (Phil Lord, Chris Miller, and Chris McKay) asked if I might join them in the design and development process. After they gave me a brilliant pitch of the film’s story, I knew I had to be part of it. My assignment: Help to “find” the main characters…design wise, personality wise…etc. They already had quite a bit of amazing development work done by that point, but they wanted me to look at it all, and see where I might take it? What did I like, what did I think t could be funnier or clearer...etc. Shake it up.
Everyone was pretty happy with where the design of Emmet Brickowski (the star of the film) was, and I could not have agreed more, So my priorities were: Lucy Lego (Wildstyle), Vitruvius (the blind wizard), and President Business . I started with Lucy.
Lucy (Wildstyle) was conceived as a rebel with a tendency to try a little to hard (in life and in looks). There was a lot of discussion on what that could mean visually, and above are just a few of my early explorations. From Military to Punk to Rockabilly, we played with lots of symbols and details that might give more insight into her and her world. In some images I tried incorporating elements like crayon marks to act as tattoos, war paint, or graffiti. For others I tried incorporating real world objects like stickers and toothpicks…etc. We knew that the real world was going to come into play in the film ( IE: the Kragle), and that a human little sister might even have an affect on the LEGO world (though the audience would not discover this until late in the film), so these real world elements were experimented with on all of the character’s. But Lucy was a lot of fun to explore. I’ll share a bit about Vitruvius and President Business in upcoming posts.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Mr. PEABODY and SHERMAN (part 03)

The Peabody and Sherman panel at Gallery Nucleus was really fun. A lot of people turned out. Thanks for coming everyone, and thank you Gallery Nucleus for the invitation.
Now, to continue the Peabody discussion (read parts 01 and 02 to catch up)…. Back in 2006, as we started exploring the possibilities of Time Travel, and how to approach the function and look of the WABAC machine, we actually met with an expert on the theory of time travel. It was incredibly fun nerding out about the possibilities. There was MUCH discussed, but one of the most interesting concepts was the “Moving Sidewalk” theory. The idea being that time is like a “moving sidewalk” which we are all attached to and moving along with. Now, if we could lift off of this “moving sidewalk” we would no longer be bound to time as it continued to move below us. And in fact, since we are no longer bound to it, we could theoretically move around above it in either direction. Now in order to be able to lift off of this “moving sidewalk” we would need to lose all friction, or resistance. How to do this? One theory would be to “flatten” yourself, minimizing your physical mass like a piece of paper, or blade, cutting through the atmosphere (or whatever you would cut through concerning time). How might this be done? Well, by entering another dimension of course.
Again, this was just one of the amazing theories presented to us, but this “Moving Sidewalk” idea inspired me to think of a rough visual concept that might suggest how the WABAC could function (Just one of several).


Note: Rob Minkoff asked us to explore the WABAC as a vehicle, or craft that could physically take our heroes through time (Think the Delorean in Back to the Future, or HG Wells Time machine…etc). This was just one of my very early designs. This one was an attempt to retain the iconic door and technological symbols from the original show. Basically, it’s a door with a cockpit. Now moving on…
Phase 01: The WABAC lifts off of the Earth’s surface in preparation…


Phase 02: The bottom half of the craft pivots up and behind the cockpit and begins to spin faster and faster, like a generator building up energy…


Phase 03: What would it look like if a craft was attempting to create enough energy to enter another dimension? I created these thumbnail images to explore some visual possibilities…



Phase 04: How do you enter another dimension? I don’t know…lets just explode into it! And hey, maybe it would hurt when you did so. Lets make time travel feel unpredictable and dangerous...



Phase 05: After the WABAC explodes into multiple, thin plates, the pieces re-assemble into an aerodynamic grouping. From the front you would see that all of the pieces of the WABAC are thin sheets ready to cut through the dimensional atmosphere like a blade…



Phase 06: Maybe those thin WABAC pieces could move around and manipulate the cockpit; protecting it, or pushing it out of harms way. Reacting to unexpected elements…Like say a T-REX in prehistoric times...



Phase 07: What would it look like when the WABAC re-assembled, and re-entered? These were a few thumbnail images I created to explore some visual thoughts for re-entry…


So after I presented this rough series of WABAC images, we actually realized it as a fully animated sequence to eventually present to the studio (More on that in a moment).
Over the next several years of development, naturally the design of the WABAC changed, But the idea of the WABAC being made up of modular “plates” stuck, and though it is never explained in the final film, the rough concepts I presented so many years ago were the sparking point.
Now around the time we were creating that WABAC test (Early 2007 now), several more artists joined our “Look Lab” team in preparation for the big presentation to the studio. Emil Mitev created some amazing environmental designs. Scott Santoro boarded a great sequence and also created some beautiful presentation pieces. JJ Villard came up with some great concepts for the WABAC, and some very entertaining time travel vignettes as well. A couple very talented modelers and model builders helped us realize our 2D exploration in three dimensions (and animation). Then, in early 2007 it was time to present our thinking to Jeffrey Katsenberg and the Dreamworks development team.
In a nutshell, our presentation was a success. With Jeffery Katsenberg exclaiming:
“This stuff is Great! Now why isn’t any of this in the script?”

The script went back into re-writes, But because Jeffery saw the potential in our visual exploration, he decided to move forward with the further development of a Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie. So while the script was being re-worked Shannon Tindle and myself were asked to apply our efforts to other films in early development at the time. The first being a prehistoric comedy titled “Crood Awakening” (which became“the Croods”), as well as a concept that William Joyce brought to Dreamworks about the mythical figures of Childhood ("Rise of the Guardians")….and several more. Over the next 5 years I ended up touching nearly every film that Dreamworks had in production, as a development artist, Story Board artist, Character designer, and more. It was a lot of fun to explore so many varied projects while performing multiple roles. During the next 5 years, Peabody and Sherman was still being explored in script form, and eventually received the green-light for production. By that time both myself and Shannon were very busy on other projects. The film went through many more talented hands over the years, but much of the “Look Lab” team’s early work influenced the continued development and eventual production of the film.
Below is the very first image I ever created for the Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie. On the first day of work, we were asked to create a symbolic logo to represent the first ever “Look Lab”, and its first subject, Mr. Peabody and Sherman. It was the start of a long adventure.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Mr. PEABODY and SHERMAN (part 02)

A quick reminder that the Peabody and Sherman panel at GALLERY NUCLEUS takes place on March 22nd. Now,In my previous post I started to share some of the first storytelling images created in the early days of the Mr. Peabody and Sherman movie (back in 2006). Those particular images presented a potential scenario where Mr. Peabody might travel back in time to meet Sherman BEFORE he adopted him…in order to save their father son relationship in the future. Now, here are just a few more examples of the concepts created and presented during that early development time.


We’ve got to go to Ancient Egypt, so how might they affect that time? I played with the idea of them inspiring the creation of the Sphinx. The Sphinx did make an appearance in the final film, but in a much different manor. What if they traveled to ancient China to get advice from Confucius, but ended up damaging the Great Wall?





They’ve got to visit Ben Franklin during his Kite/electricity experiment.



It could be pretty exciting if they got caught up in the most famous shoot out of the Old West.


How might they leave un-wanted time-travel “footprints” and affect history in ways that they would need to correct?


From King John and the signing of the Magna Carta, to the Dawn of man, and much, much more, we had a blast exploring the possibilities.



At the same time, we were researching everything we could about the theory of time travel.We even had one of the world’s for-most authorities on the subject come in and sit with our little group to discuss the latest thinking on the subject. It was very, very cool, and it influenced us heavily when approaching the design of the WABAC machine. More on that in my next post.