Tuesday, July 29, 2008

"Maria" Problem Solved!

For the record, I have to state that I am not a fan of so-called "reality shows" on TV. I've especially avoided the various "American Idol" type talent shows, mostly because I can't abide contemporary pop music. However, a recent addition to the reality show genre did intrigue me enough to tune in earlier this summer. CBC started showing "How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?"- a talent search for the leading role in a big stage revival of "The Sound of Music" to be produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber, no less, here in Toronto. It's based on a previous talent search that successfully aired in Britain on the BBC some time ago.

Being a Baby Boomer myself, I grew up in the tail end of the Hollywood musical era, when film adaptations of hit stage shows were still big box office. So, yes, I saw "The Sound of Music" when it originally played in movie theatres back in 1965. I believe I saw it again in a rerelease a few years later, which is when I probably understood better what it was all about. Around that same time I also saw "My Fair Lady", which still ranks first on my list of favourite musicals. Anyway, I thought it might be fun to see what type of talent would be on display in this CBC search, so I tuned in from the first show. By the time they'd pared down a possible 20 to the 10 young ladies who would compete on the weekly show, I was hooked. It has been a real delight to see all these wonderful girls sing their hearts out each week, hoping to make it through to the following week.

Of course, that's also the problem with the series, for in order for one girl to win, nine must lose. And so it went that I'd enjoy the hour long Sunday night show, watching the ladies perform, and then cringe a bit at the end of the half hour Monday show, where two girls would have to do a sing-off based on the lowest number of votes cast, resulting in one being eliminated by the judges. There is something inherently cruel about the process, which is why I still don't much care for the whole reality show concept. Even though some of the girls may not have had the right stuff, I did not like to see any of them hurt, as they were all quite adorable.

I'll admit I had my favourite, but once they'd whittled it down to three final contenders by last week, I was convinced that any one of the three would have been ideal in the role. These three girls pictured above are the final contenders, Jayme Armstrong, Janna Polzin and Elicia MacKenzie.

So here I'll reveal Janna Polzin as my favourite choice for the role. I liked her right from the start, as there was a very professional air about her. Not only blessed with a beautiful singing voice, but Janna seemed to have an instinctive flair for the performance in delivering her song material through strong expressions and body language. I also found out along the way that Janna just happened to be a graduate of the Musical Theatre program at Sheridan College, at the same campus where I teach in Animation. In fact, in researching her, I realized I'd actually seen two productions at Sheridan that she'd appeared in, though she was only in the chorus so I couldn't recall her. I'm a big fan of Sheridan's program, and try to show my support by seeing the shows whenever I can. I know a couple of the girls who would have been Janna's classmates, and I'm also friends with Sarah Cornell, a grad from a few years ago who went on to star in the Toronto run of "The Producers", of which I wrote about in a previous post. Yeah, I'll admit I'm a sucker for pretty gals who can sing and dance - they're my feminine ideal!

Janna did in fact make it into the final round this weekend, and she'd been considered the front runner for awhile, I believe. But it was not to be, for last night the winner was announced and it was.....

....Elicia MacKenzie!

Fact is, though she may not have been my pick, I still think that Elicia richly deserves the role. She too has been blessed with a wonderful voice and seemed the most adaptable to whatever type of song they chose for her to sing. Whereas Janna seemed the more seasoned professional, Elicia is still that diamond in the rough, though I've no doubt she will rise to the challenge and be ready for the stage this fall. She is certainly a fresh faced, wide eyed beauty, and very much the image of the Cinderella who has well earned her "happily ever after". I think Elicia was more surprised than anyone when it was her name that was read from the envelope and her victorious performance at the show's finale of the title song from "The Sound of Music" was just magical. I wish Elicia much success and look forward to seeing her on stage as Maria!

Here are video clips of both Janna and Elicia, courtesy of YouTube:

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Photoshop Frustration!

I must admit, I'm still pretty leery of digital artwork. Up to this point, all of my artwork generated on the Mac has been of the hybrid sort: drawn and inked traditionally by hand, then scanned in and coloured up with Photoshop. Notice I said "coloured" as opposed to "painted". You see, I don't consider what I've achieved thus far to be digital paintings - at least not in the truest sense.

Here's a recent example which explains why not. This actually just started out as a test to see if I could create something using the Paths function on Photoshop. Frankly, I've never been able to figure out how to use that nefarious Pen tool, with it's Bezier Curves function. Being a right-brained kind of guy, I just couldn't make sense of those weird little handles. However, one of my students this year at Sheridan, Lawrence Lam, was kind enough to give me a basic tutorial on the different aspects of the Pen tool. I hadn't been practicing since then (about March), so it took a lot of messing around with it a couple days ago to figure it all out again. Fact is, it took me several hours to achieve what l did, so I'm going to have to work with this a lot more to get up to speed!

First of all, I needed some subject matter to practice on. Let's see now, what should I draw? Hmmm...hey, how about a CUTE GIRL! Fortunately, I'd been downloading pics of The Toronto Sun's daily "Sunshine Girl" for just such an occasion, so I had quite a collection to draw from. Though these pics are all relatively small, I wasn't in great need of visual clarity, as I am not attempting to achieve a perfect caricatured likeness of a specific girl. Anyway, I liked the sunny look of this cute blonde with her ponytails, plus the pose was appealing, so I went with her.

So here is my pencil sketch, starting out with a rough blue underdrawing, then defined on top with a dark pencil outline. (Are you paying attention, Sheridan students?) Like I said, I'm not trying to get a true likeness of this girl like I would with my celebrity caricatures - I'm just trying to capture her essence and using her pose and facial type as a starting point for what will be a much more cartooned interpretation. You can see how I've pushed the pose more, exaggerating the tilts and angles. For some reason, I have no idea why, I just gave her a single ponytail in the back instead of the two that the model has. Anyway, I only spent less than 20 minutes on the drawing, as it really was just for the purpose of this test with the Paths tool.

So after creating individual Paths for her flesh, hair, skirt, top, lips, eyes, etc. etc., I was finally ready to start adding colour. Initially I just filled each area with flat colours using the Paint Bucket tool, then started some fairly simple rendering in each area. I did want to try to get away from just using the Airbrush tool, so I used a custom brush that I learned how to make from an online tutorial that gave a more textured sort of rendering, similar to pastel. That, plus some softening here and there with the Airbrush seemed to result in a piece that was fairly appealing. I kept my pencil sketch on a transparent layer on top, lowering the opacity of the linework so it didn't overpower the colour. However, here's where I feel rather handicapped by my minimal knowledge of Photoshop and digital painting.

Here is the same artwork with the pencil sketch layer turned off so that just the colour is visible. As you can well see, it doesn't work like this, as it needs the pencil line to pull it all together. Ideally though, I would like to develop my Photoshop skills enough to attempt a real digital painting, using just tonal rendering to create the form, though perhaps using a bit of accent linework to strengthen it here and there. Recently, I've joined the National Caricaturist's Network (NCN), and have been studying the wonderful work of such talented folks as Joe Bluhm, Court Jones and Paul Moyse, just to mention a few. All of these guys are exceptional talents working with both digital and traditional media, but it's their digital work that I'm really trying to learn from. These guys are truly digital "painters" in the very real sense - something that I currently can only aspire to. If anyone can recommend any good sites for simple and clear Photoshop painting tutorials, please feel free to post them here in the comments section. Thanks!