Thursday, August 7, 2014

NINJA TURTLES _ Color Supervisor

The Bay-ification of The Ninja Turtles has hit movie theaters, noses and all. These characters have been realized in so many iterations across every medium but I still enjoy that such an oddball concept can continue to have such cultural currency. The impending release resulted in a little reminiscing with color artist Emilio Lopez and director Roy Burdine about our time working on the 4Kids' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series in the early 00s. 

The series ran closer to the action roots of the comic book than the popular pizza eating version of the 80s. Aesthetically, the characters had an angular athleticism and the backgrounds were built around large swaths of black.

I wrote about the cinematic approach we had to color HERE but here are two more of my paintings, the first featuring one of my favorite places on the planet (the blue whale room of the Museum of Natural History in NYC).

By the end of the series, the Turtles visited dark alternate futures and went on an epic adventure tracing the origins of the original Shredder. There was the episode, Insane in the Membrane, that didn't originally air in America. Although it's notable for delving into Baxter Stockman's back story, his decomposing clone body gets his jaw kicked off by April O' Neil (!). And, another show had its plug pulled before we completed production because it featured the back alley surgery of conjoined infants who become two of the Turtles greatest enemies. Yeesh.

Going after a lighter tone, the network sent the team to the future and rebooted the show as Fast Forward in 2003.

A flatter, brighter palette accentuated the change and I had the opportunity to develop the color for the core cast and vehicles:

I mean, really bright. I originally colored the "Dark Turtles" skin tones in off shades of green before they landed on something closer to their corresponding bandanna colors.

And, with their future swank penthouse headquarters and training dojo, here are a few of the Fast Forward Turtle backgrounds I painted:


Saturday, November 2, 2013

DETONATOR _ Movie Poster Design

DETONATOR is a killer first feature film by bud Damon Maulucci and his co-creator Keir Politz. Even though I'm biased, this tale resonated with me in its conflict of art, big dreams, big business, and the responsibilities of adult domesticity. Here's the rub:
Sully fights to hold on to his family when a toxic friend resurfaces. In this gritty thriller, Sully, former frontman of a once prominent punk band, anxiously trudges toward a new world in order to remain in his young son’s daily life when ex-bandmate, Mick, catches him mid-stride with a promise to make good on an old debt. In one hellish night that stretches till dawn, Sully chases Mick through the recesses of Philadelphia.
I had the chance to help the filmmakers work up a poster for their showing at the Indie Memphis Film Festival this weekend. The subject matter begged for a lo-fi photocopied concert flier treatment. After a few iterations, we arrived at the following image based on a flier they did for a local screening and with my hand lettering for the credits.

And, here's a look at some earlier roughs (with dummy copy as credits).

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

CRUMBY PICTURES _ Art Direction for Sesame Street

Long time, no blog.

I'm finally able to open the oven on CRUMBY PICTURES, the Cookie Monster movie trailer parody series that premiered on Season 44 ( ! ) of Sesame Street this week. Rather than a classroom curriculum of math or literacy, these shorts teach executive functions (self-control, patience, delayed gratification) by having the impetuous monster face personal challenges as the star of famous flicks (including Lord of the Rings, Life of Pi, and Hunger Games).

MAGNETIC DREAMS has worked with Sesame Workshop for years now (Elmo the Musical, shorts like Birdwalk Empire, Super Grover 2.0) creating computer-generated characters and backgrounds to accompany Muppet performances shot on green screen.

For Crumby Pictures, the goal was to make the production feel as much like the original movies as possible from little Easter Egg details to overall polish.

In classic Muppet fashion, the opening starts with a bang. A send-up of the Universal logo animation, one bite into a chocolate chip planet results in an exploding crumby debris field (rigged by Benjamin Rodriguez). Below is an alternate snazzier version of the logo I had proposed.

THE BISCOTTI KID (parody of The Karate Kid) was the first to air as a sneak preview on the internet. After the video are my logo and some still frames (Creative Director, Rickey Boyd and Comp Director, Rhea Borzak). A lot of great in-jokes in the script and I threw in some recognizable objects like the handheld drum from Karate Kid 2.

THE SPY WHO LOVED COOKIES (parody of both the old and new Bond movies, including the song "Cookie Fall") was essentially our pilot episode of the series. Most episodes contain a single full CG set (here, Ladyfinger's lair as concept art by me, final model by Brad Applebaum) and photocomp plates that I create and are thoroughly embellished by our compositing team.

Below are my backplate for the vista outside Ladyfinger's Lair and unused backgrounds for scenes in M's office and Q's lab that were cut for time.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

"NOBODY CARES" _ An Update

At the end of last year, I helped a group of local Nashville students create an artwork that expressed the violence in their neighborhood. It's called "Nobody Cares." For more detailed information, go HERE.

They depicted themselves as piñatas, burst open and spilling traits on paper that would be their eulogies, those qualities the world would lose in their passing. But the piece wouldn't be finished until the public was able to interact with it at the Frist Center gallery in the entrance hall this April. Now, only a few months later, the artwork is literally overwhelmed with the red and pink accounts of violence the viewers have experienced and of the lives they mourn. 

And, here's feedback from the Associate Educator at the museum:

"NOBODY CARES has really filled out and is a vibrant shock to the viewing public as a whole. Many responses have been shared to the point we are having to regulate the weight of the paper messages so other can continue to add to the piece."

Today's a day to remember the deceased, celebrate the living, and denounce those who choose to bring more violence into the world by their own hand.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

ELMO THE MUSICAL _ Detective and Prince Elmo (Easter Eggs)

After a brief break, Sesame Street is airing the remaining Elmo the Musical episodes for Season 43. As with any production, I feel like the team at MAGNETIC DREAMS STUDIO continued to learn and improve upon our computer-generated environments and animation over the course of the season, including a fully CG-animated character in the form of a stinky-breathed Dragon in PRINCE ELMO THE MUSICAL.

This week's DETECTIVE THE MUSICAL (Thursday 2/14) was actually one of the first scripts that I did development art for. You can see in the following collection how I experimented with a more graphic, abstract, rendition for the show (the bottom row, along with the SEA CAPTAIN pilot) that was ultimately surpassed by the fully-realized sets of the top row.

Below is a closer look at the Muppet Noir concept art for the episode's motel room (design by Astrid Riemer and additionally lighting by me, final models by Tim Crowson, lighting effects by Josh Stafford). Correct me if this isn't the seediest set in Sesame history...

An arty inside joke for the older kids (and adults), we needed to add some motel art so I digitally painted a Cubist still life to accompany the episode's math curriculum about cubes.

DETECTIVE was one of the few episodes where I did concept art for scenes that were eventually cut for time. Although we do feature a felty femme fatale and a cube criminal with a signature trait, the show almost also originally featured the streetlight lit encounters in dark alleys and on foggy docks that also populate classic Film Noir.

PRINCE ELMO THE MUSICAL (full episode online along with web games HERE) is our epic journey of an episode with our largest sets and a number of complicated effects and models (like an undulating, burping, Hill of Beans - models by Brad Applebaum and Lyn Lopez, effects by Abdel Pizarro). I added a pretty prominent Easter Egg homage for old school Sesame Street fans. See if you recognize it and then check the video at the end of the post.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"NOBODY CARES" - A Community Art Installation

I recently had the great privilege to work as a teaching artist for a group of 7th and 8th graders as a part of the Frist Center for the Arts "Stop! Take Notice" community art installations in Nashville. To launch the program, we introduced 4 groups of teens and pre-teens from centers throughout the city to the socially-motivated art of the Carrie Mae Weems retrospective on exhibit at the museum.

Weems has created decades of art in the form of photography, on its own and in juxtaposition with text, that challenges the viewer on issues of race, gender, and our social fabric. In 2011, after the gang crossfire death of a 2 year-old in her neighborhood, she created Operation: Activiate, exhortations on violence (eg. "Killing a man doesn't make you a man.") that directly engaged with her community as posters, lawn signs, billboards, newspaper ads, and even matchbook covers at the local bodega. She helped establish "Safe Zones" where children who felt threatened could find haven. Art left the gallery and met reality head on.

For "Stop! Take Notice" we asked that the student artists discuss an issue that they felt had the greatest impact on their community and to create a public interactive artwork that fostered a dialogue about that issue. My group, from The Oasis Center, was the youngest of the bunch and yet we faced issues of mortality together as they wanted to delve into the impact that violence had on them. They introduced me to this aspect of their lives; what streets they can't walk down, parents moving their family due to repeated break-ins, and losing family members to gang violence. Their after-school teacher entered her line of work in part after discovering that a goofy high school associate of hers had grown up to become a now-imprisoned gang leader with a body count he would boast about.

And yet, they are still kids. They were quick and funny and absurd and caring and catty and loved their snacks. When it came time to give their experience a form they were utterly creative in their approach. Although I helped to continue the conversation, all of the decisions and direction were theirs over meeting once a week for several weeks. The artwork would be a piece that was a memorial to those we lost, the ways in which violence has taken from us, but also a memorial to the living, the potential loss we still face. It needed to be colorful to capture attention. Rosario proposed the idea of floating messages on balloons. No, how about fortunes in fortune cookies? Piñatas?


They would make piñatas. In the center of the exhibit would be a destroyed piñata of the Earth spilling candy as well a memorials to people and ways of life taken through violence. Surrounding the Earth would be a constellation of self-portrait piñatas of the students, fragile vessels also containing candy as well as slips of paper listing the qualities that the world would miss if that student were ever killed or ruined by violence. They would invite viewers to add messages of their own.

It was messy and fun and the group took pride in decorating their work. But the seriousness of the piece was always behind the surface. It was Guadalupe who reminded the students that they should consider those who have fallen, the loss and hurt they felt, as they took whacks at destroying the Earth. The kids also pointed out the inherent contradiction in doing so.

Last bit: what to call it? Inspired in part by a SpongeBob Squarepants online meme, the group decided on "Nobody Cares." Not intended to be glib, but, even surrounded with teachers and parents and community leaders that care about them, this is what they wanted to give back as a response to the violence they face and the potential they stand to lose. It was as smart and audacious as they are and we can only strive to meet their challenge in creating a world that they deserve.

I know teens and pre-teens often get a bad rap for being lazy and disrespectful. But, this group showed me how sharp and sensitive they can be. They had innate BS detectors and the way they joked with each other showed how much they "got it," digested it, and spit the world back at itself. Their teacher Vanessa cared deeply for them and they knew it. Even when they would get rambunctious they were hemmed in by their desire to not let her down. I am better for having met them and sharing in their lives if only for a little while.

Below are some pics of the process along with the exhibit write-up and the final installation.

Nobody Cares 
mixed media, 2012
This interactive work of art was created as a part of the Frist Community Art Project: Stop! Take Notice! with the intention of connecting the surrounding area to themes present in the work of socially motivated artist Carrie Mae Weems.
The group of young artists at the Oasis Center chose to address the role that violence plays in defining their experience of their community. Each artist is represented by their own hand-crafted piñata, a vessel that contains not only candy but also documents that detail the unique qualities that they bring to the world; gifts that would be sacrificed if they were ever the victims of violence.
These piñatas surround the debris of a destroyed piñata representation of the Earth. The remnants include written messages about the impact of violence in the community and memorials for those we have lost to violence.
Please participate in adding to this artwork in two ways:
- You may write about your own distinct gifts on the slips of paper and insert them in the open piñata next to this sign. 
- You may offer memorials to people who have been hurt and taken by violence or accounts of how violence has affected your life by writing them on the slips of paper and including them among the pieces of the destroyed piñata.

Only revealed to me after the breaking of the piñata, the above message stopped me cold. It reads: "My uncle who was a dancer was stabbed to death, because he was homosexual. He was a professional dancer."

The above is me, as SpongeBob, by one of the kids.

Friday, October 26, 2012

ELMO THE MUSICAL _ Magnetic Dreams Studio

Magnetic Dreams 2012 Demo Reel from Magnetic Dreams on Vimeo.

Since moving to Nashville, I've been working with the local animation studio Magnetic Dreams as Art Director on a number of Sesame Street-related projects, specifically the new Sesame Street segment Elmo the Musical. Shot entirely on green screen, Magnetic is responsible for creating and compositing the fully computer-generated environment, effects, and any additional characters, like Velvet, Elmo's theater curtain companion. 

If you check out the reel above, you can see that Magnetic, co-owned by Mike Halsey and Don Culwell, brings the highest level of skill to a diverse array of projects and animation techniques. They've turned Marvel's Iron Man and Thor "motion comics" into mini blockbusters, designed motion graphics for videos for musicians like Taylor Swift and Shakira, and conjured creature and special effects for the feature film AFTER. Magnetic Dreams’ working relationship with Sesame goes back a few years now, on CG-animated projects like Twiddlebugs and Super Grover 2.0, and Elmo the Musical is the next great step forward.

I've said before that my favorite part of working in a studio is how everyone's contributions go into making the whole greater than the sum of the parts. As I showed in previous posts, the look of a given episode often begins with Photoshop style frames by myself and freelance artist Astrid Riemer and storyboards by Rick Ritter. But, the team at Magnetic goes way beyond those initial designs to make them a reality for Elmo to play in. Since movie or TV credits rarely give you any real insight into the work people do, I thought I'd use this post to shout out some of my favorite contributions from the crew here on the first few episodes of Elmo the Musical so far.You can find pictures and bios for the following artists on the Magnetic website, here.

(Barnacles from SEA CAPTAIN: THE MUSICAL, CG models by Tim Crowson)

The creative director, Rickey Boyd, is also a Muppeteer who basically brought Nashville animation to Sesame Street and vice versa. He’s part of the Sesame family and he couldn’t be more attuned to the needs of a shot at both ends of the camera and production pipeline. But, I'm mostly in awe of how he can channel the spirit of the Muppets, with on-model Muppet anatomy, into his hand-drawn character designs.

(Barnacles from SEA CAPTAIN: THE MUSICAL, design by Rickey Boyd)

(Unused Asteroid character from PIZZA: THE MUSICAL, design by Rickey Boyd)

Producer, John Hamm, steadies the ship with brightly colored schedules. On the creative/technical end, John works with Layout Artist Craig Simpson and Visual Effects Supervisor Julian Herrera to integrate the footage and camera movements of the live action shoot with that of our CG environments. Julian is initially on-set at Sesame in Queens to problem solve on the front end and record set data with the placement of tracking markers. All of this was best realized in a shot from CIRCUS: THE MUSICAL in which Elmo walks a plank, bounces from a trampoline, and leaps through the air as the camera whips around to capture his crotch-first landing on the head of a cactus. It's a living...


Our CG department is responsible for modeling, texturing, lighting, and rendering all assets for the show. My first literal "Wow" moment was when I saw my style frame for the "Temple of Spoons" come to life in the model by CG Lead Tim Crowson.

("The Temple of Spoons" from GUACAMOLE: THE MUSICAL, Concept Art by Michael Lapinski)

("The Temple of Spoons" from GUACAMOLE: THE MUSICAL, CG by Tim Crowson)

Tim alternates leading episodes with CG Artist Brad Applebaum. Brad modeled most of Pizza the Musical, especially the rad spaceships but I think it's cool to note that he's responsible for problem-solving the iconic opening to the show along with Motion Graphic Director, Rhea Borzak. I cannot wait to share more work from future episodes by Tim, Brad, and the rest of the CG Team, including Yannick Amegan and Lyn Lopez.
(Opening number from ELMO THE MUSICAL, CG by Brad Applebaum)

Our Compositing department is responsible for bringing everything together, from the unsung art of keying out the green screen footage and rotoscoping (particularly Melissa Cowart) to color correction to the final lighting changes and visual effects.

Rhea Borzak leads the team and is an accomplished artist in her own right, designing the backgrounds for the infamous Katy Perry/ Elmo video and short Sesame films like this magical firefly spot for the letter "N." On ETM, Rhea created and animated the playful squiggles, bursts, and pops that illustrate Elmo's thought process.

(ELMO THE MUSICAL, motion graphics by Rhea Borzak)

The next few images should give you an idea of the extra artistry that the Comp team brings to each episode. In order to emulate the aesthetic and devices of a Broadway musical, I'll often design special lighting for the musical numbers. Compositor Joel Robertson was the first to master this challenge head on for GUACAMOLE: THE MUSICAL.
(Special Lighting from GUACAMOLE: THE MUSICAL, Visual Effects by Joel Robertson)

PIZZA: THE MUSICAL was our space epic. Judd Eschliman, Justin Burks, Josh Stafford, and Joel Robertson were responsible for animating the deep space effects below:

Abdel Pizarro had already shown his goods as a CG character animator on our direct-to-DVD video game parody movie Elmo's Alphabet Challenge but I didn't know he was also a natural Compositor and effects guy. He cooked up the lasers and force fields for PIZZA and composited Elmo's "Golden Shoes" dream world for ATHLETE.

(PIZZA: THE MUSICAL, Special Effects by Abdel Pizarro)
 (Dream Sequence from ATHLETE: THE MUSICAL, Visual Effects by Abdel Pizarro)

Remember what I said way back at the top about the "whole being greater than the sum of the parts?" Well, this shot below is a little bit of gravy that added subtle character to the entire meal. As scripted, Elmo's flying up and down in his AIRPLANE:THE MUSICAL plane. But Josh Stafford decided to play with my chubby marshmallowy clouds by having the wing nick one with a rubbery recoil and a strafing trail of mist. It's the sort of whimsy that Kevin Clash brings to his performance of Elmo and I love it when our artists infuse moments with as much charm.
 (AIRPLANE: THE MUSICAL, Visual Effects by Josh Stafford)

Perhaps the greatest challenge we face on Elmo the Musical is to model, texture, light, and animate completely computer-generated characters so that they believably interact with and live in the same space as Elmo and the other Muppets. Velvet the Curtain appears in every episode but there are guest stars that present their own challenges. Designed and Animation Directed by Rickey Boyd, the goal is to create characters that look Muppet-crafted and convey some of what makes puppeteering so endearing and yet employs the dynamism the script calls for with CG Animation, and rigged to do so by Technical Directors Harry Han and Jeremy Estrada.

Sometimes, an Animator has to bring a slab of rock to life, as Jamie Coakley had to do with the singing and dancing Rhombus of Recipes...
 (The Rhombus of Recipes from GUACAMOLE: THE MUSICAL, Animated by Jamie Coakley)

... and sometimes, an Animator has to perform an elegant dance number with the stumpy flippers and trunk body of a whale, as Andrew Lee Atteberry had to do with Moby Pink.

 (Moby Pink from SEA CAPTAIN: THE MUSICAL, Animated by Andrew Lee Atteberry)

If you've made it this far, I think you can appreciate how much work, talent, and thought go into each moment of a deceptively simple looking show. And, that's not to mention the even more invisible contributions like that of Human Resources and Accounting Guru Lisa Halsey, Editor Victor Albright, and our IT team of George Friend and James Ramsden.

Lastly, the entire crew at Sesame has taken 40+ years of experience writing, scoring, singing, designing, educating, and performing for children (and adults) and created a perfection distillation of all those skills and poured them into vibrant mini-musicals of Elmo's imagining. 

It's all a part of Elmo's imagination, we just work for him.