Thursday, March 29, 2018

THE FRIST CENTER - Choose You Own Adventure...

At the beginning of the year, I had the great pleasure to team up with the Frist Center in Nashville to create a "Choose Your Own Adventure"-styled book to accompany their exhibit ROME: City & Empire.

The brainchild of curator Ginny Soenksen and with design by Phil El Rassi, "Fortune & Glory" offers a branching narrative and context to lead the viewer across time and dozens of artifacts in the gallery space. 
As the protagonist, our museum-goer steps into Rome in the role of merchant, soldier, or revolutionary, charting a fate that ends in acclaim or death.

For my part, I illustrated 20 images, including the cover, in a limited palette that evoked both art of the era and mid-century American prints on the subject.

The exhibit is up now and here are some examples:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

SESAME STREET _ The Magical Wand Chase

I got to design a Muppet! Anyone that knows me knows that Sesame and Jim Henson were essential to my becoming an artist. After several years of Art Directing for Sesame at Magnetic Dreams, the opportunity arose to design the fully CG antagonist for the new TV special, THE MAGICAL WAND CHASE. The movie was a fantastic adventure for the Sesame characters to leave the Street and visit other diverse neighborhoods.

The character, voiced by Elizabeth Banks, was written as a hapless villain who mistakes Abby's wand for a stick and triggers magical mayhem as the Sesame friends attempt to retrieve it. She needed to have a distinguishable pink head feather, but, beyond that, the design parameters were fairly open. Here's the sketch that led to the final design, chosen particularly because of her small stature and innocent gaze.

Creative Director Rickey Boyd and I worked up a book of designs for Sesame to select from. I tried different varieties of Muppet anatomy and felt pretty strongly about making her a lavender that would find its place in the rainbow palette of her six Sesame pals. Here are some unused designs:

FRONT and SIDE reference for the modeler.

Unsurfaced model by Ryan Kittleson (he nailed this thing on the first try with minor tweaks)

Surfacing reference for texture artist Joe Jones, who did an amazing job feathering with Ornatrix and capturing the fine detail of foam and fur.

There she is!

Rickey's also a Muppeteer and, with rigger Steven Alley, donned a glove to create a mo-cap performance of the Bird with nuanced head and lip synch and with all of the immediacy of a puppet. Our animation team (Jamie Coakley, Beau Sherman, Ben Fosselmann) continued to bring her to life as scenic and comp were responsible for the hot air balloons and CG city. The focus of my role on the project ended up being primarily on logo and opening and closing credit design.


The working title for the special was "Get That Wand" which I liked for its call-to-action kinship with "Follow That Bird."

I was inspired both by the construction paper art of the reading nook on set and also the "Around the World in 80 Days" hot air balloon focus of the Special to arrive at this final design.

I have the artist pack rat tendency to not throw away anything and the construction paper in the background is actually aged and bleached almost 20 years in my art supplies from college.

After arriving at the cut paper look for the titles, I discovered that Sesame already had a similar style in their consumer products guides. I made sure a few fan-favorite characters found their way into the opening airplane.

Sesame requested that we include Penelope Penguin (hysterically performed by Leslie Carrara-Rudolph) from Elmo's "Airplane the Musical"

For the closing credits, I was inspired by Pixar to continue the story in the moments after the final frame. It was important to me to reunite the friends with Nina, introduce her to the Bird, and let the rest of the neighborhood have their own sunset balloon festival. Rickey lent his hand to a number of these designs and Ashley Malone was my right hand in finishing them off and animating these shots.

This last frame was a treat to design as a coda to the Special and, hopefully, a chance for us to get to revisit our new "Elizabird" friend on Sesame Street.

Friday, September 8, 2017

SESAME STREET _ The Count's Castle

Concept Art

A little while ago, I had the tremendous opportunity to design the exterior to the Count's Castle for Sesame Street as Art Director at Magnetic Dreams Studio.

I based it on a number of his previous castles (on-air sets, book illustrations, theme park attractions) and situated it in the middle of a park, a la Belvedere Castle in Central Park.

Overhead Reference

It's finally seeing the light of day in this Sesame Street: Trick or Treat DVD and you can see it in action in the promo here:

Here are some details of the model by Stephanie Miranda Goldstein and Brad Applebaum:

A look at the full model:

And, a comparison of the final lighting and rendering by Don Culwell and compositing by Rhea Borzak:

Thursday, July 20, 2017


For about two weeks of my life, I was consumed by a country song. Specifically, DOING IT TO COUNTRY SONGS by Blake Shelton & The Oak Ridge Boys.

Magnetic Dreams producer Jeff Galle pitched the concept of Blake and the Oaks as country critters living and loving around a local watering hole, Lake Shelton. When we landed the job, one of the few notes we got was that Blake needed to be a deer. Blake Shelton loves deer, he thanks them on every album. And, although it’s no easy task to caricature someone as a deer, Blake Buck was born.

an earlier more graphic version of Blake

final version of Blake

I’m grateful for the opportunity to shepherd this project on an incredibly tight turnaround at the service of country royalty, a devoted fanbase, and this cheeky barroom tune. I did a little bit of everything on the spot, from creating the narrative and look and Blake to peppering the place with easter eggs, but the real thrill was to captain an A-Team of talent in getting it done. Thanks to Mike Halsey and Don Culwell for bringing us all together.

Full credits and links below along with my favorite contribution from each artist.

Character Designer
Rickey Boyd - Fun fact: Rickey once designed animatronic animal versions of the Oak Ridge Boys for a proposed theme restaurant, but that’s a story for him to tell. Here, Rickey designed most of the characters, immediately capturing the Oaks but also lending a sultry charm to our lady skunk that I didn’t know he had in him.

an unused version of William by Ben Fosselman

Trea Bailey - My right hand on the project, Trea did finishes on characters and especially made his mark on the crowd and his final version of Ol’ Red the bartender.
Ashley Malone - That moose! The utensils on the antlers is a sight gag that still makes me nod when I see it.
Kimberly Cranfield - She owned the raccoon, in all his underlit glory.

detail of the exterior BG - I wanted to show off Joe's boats!

Background Designers
Joe Spadaford - I knew I needed a background designer/ painter who could own the exterior. Joe created a centerpiece for our video, even though he had never worked in the style before.
Amanda Wood - Mandi painted all of those Bill Wray-inspired detailed DOING IT stills. In the thick of things, when I received her painting of the buckle, I knew we had our key art and the heart of the piece.
Michael Lapinski - hey, that’s me. I was just pleasantly surprised they let me ride with the John Hubley meets country-fried Samurai Jack style I cooked up.

Kimberly Cranfield - Kim and Ashley pulled double duty on this. All-Stars, both. Kim really brought the raccoon to the forefront as the bar’s soul.
Ashley Malone - Although she brought a sly charm to the Oaks, its her spastic chattering of Joe Beaver at the end that never fails to make me smile.
Shin Matsuda - Shin hadn’t done much character animating before but man did he ever nail that smushy slow dance buckle grind.
John Hill - Fire! Once I knew we would have John on the piece I had to have him animate the few EFX we had.
Ben Fosselman - I couldn’t imagine doing this without Ben on it and luckily we got him long enough for some Crow meets Hound romance and Richard Frog’s post-show snack.

Compositing Supervisor
Rhea Borzak - As always, everything flows through Rhea and it wouldn’t get out the door or look nearly as good without her. But, it was her late addition jowel jiggle to Ben’s hound animation that I applaud her for.

Shin Matsuda - blazing fast as a compositor but now I want to get him character animating again
Joel Robertson - with more than a few music videos under his belt, Joel livened up our camera and delivered on the red light scene change in middle of the piece.

Thanks team, thanks Blake, thanks Warner Music, thanks Lindsay, and, most of all, thanks to the deer.

Monday, December 7, 2015

SESAME STREET _ Smart Cookies

SMART COOKIES will be a new recurring segment on Season 46 of SESAME STREET (the one premiering on HBO in January).

The segments star Cookie Monster as the rookie agent of a team of crime-fighting cookies called "Smart Cookies." His teammates include leader Chipowski, tech-guy Figby and clue-giver Miss Fortune. In each segment, Cookie Monster learns about self-control and regulation as the team thwarts the dastardly attacks of a villain known simply as "The Crumb."

Here's a preview episode on Sesame's YouTube page:

As with other Sesame segments like SUPER GROVER 2.0, ELMO THE MUSICAL, and COOKIE'S CRUMBY PICTURES, the Muppets are shot on green screen and it's the privilege of the artists and animators at Magnetic Dreams Studio in Nashville to create and integrate the world around them.

I thought I'd use this post to share some development art and to credit the team involved.

As an educational parody of an action adventure cop show, we first explored the possibility of doing 2D illustrated backgrounds like the ones below (by me with layouts by Creative Director Rickey Boyd).

Ultimately, Sesame asked us to build a world from baked goods and packaging that complimented Cookie's "fish out of water" position on the team. Below you can see some stills of the day and night versions of the city exterior featured in the open. All assembly and renders by Tim Crowson.

(my Photoshop style frame reference for city asset CG modeling)

(unsurfaced CG models)

(Ext City Day 01)

(Ext City Night 01)

(Ext City Night 01, with final color correction and compositing)

The Smart Cookies drive around in a tactical vehicle that I always imagined as a cross between a cookie jar and the A-Team van. Modeling by Brad Applebaum, surfacing by Stephanie Goldstein and Tim Crowson based on my design. Will there be a toy? (I hope there's a toy) Also fun incorporating kitchen details into the interior consoles.

Lastly, a look at the classy gallery interior of the preview episode. We're just about finished with all of season one and have created our full share of corrugated cardboard and piped icing.

I love working with this Magnetic team and so much talent and ingenuity went into developing the look for this show. Here's a rundown of those involved:

Executive Producer - Mike Halsey
Producer - Randy Saba
Creative Director - Rickey Boyd
VFX Supervisor - Julian Herrera
Storyboard Artists - Benjamin Fosselman, Kimberly Cranfield
Concept Designer - Kimberly Cranfield
CG Modelers/Assembly Artists - Tim Crowson, Brad Applebaum, Stephanie Miranda Goldstein, Wenie Rahardja, Don Culwell, Andrew Trout, Meghan Connor
Dynamics - Wenie Rahardja
Compositors - Rhea Borzak, Josh Stafford, Judd Eschliman, Abdel Pizarro, Joel Robertson
Rigging - Steven Alley
Animators - James Coakley, Richard Aldridge, Abdel Pizarro
The Money Lady - Lisa Halsey
The Computer Guy - James Ramsden