Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Happy Birthday Christopher Lee!

Last year on this same date I celebrated the birthday of one of my favourite actors, Vincent Price. By some coincidence, today is also the birthday of another horror film veteran, Christopher Lee. (And if that's not amazing enough, his buddy and frequent film costar, Peter Cushing celebrated his birthday yesterday on May 26th!)

But today we honour Mr. Christopher Lee, whom I'm happy to see is still quite active an actor, having appeared in The Lord of the Rings films, as well as in the most recent Star Wars entries as Count Dooku. And as if that wasn't enough, he's done a couple of turns for his big fan, director Tim Burton, including playing Willy Wonka's dad in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I see from his IMDb page that he's also scheduled to play the Jabberwock in Tim Burton's upcoming Alice in Wonderland. I suspect that it will just be his voice that's heard in that role though, as I can't imagine him wearing a rubber dragon-like costume to play the part.

All of this film activity is particularly admirable when one considers that Mr. Lee will be turning 87 today. Where have the years all gone? He received his greatest fame, of course in all of those wonderful Hammer horror films of the late 50s/early 60s, including several star turns as Count Dracula. Frankly, it doesn't seem that long ago when Christopher Lee was starring opposite Roger Moore in the 1974 James Bond entry, The Man with the Golden Gun. It is his role in this film as the million dollars a hit assassin, Scaramanga, that inspired this caricature I drew of him a few days ago after watching the film again on DVD. What a great villain he makes, with that refined deep, rich voice of his - the perfect British cad! I wish I could find a YouTube clip from the film where he speaks, but you'll just have to settle instead for this non-verbal scene where Scaramanga menaces his mistress, played by the lovely Maud Adams:

However, if you would like to hear that deep baritone of his, here's a real oddity I came across in my search where Christopher Lee actually sings. I must admit, I have never heard of The Return of Captain Invincible until now but, after watching this bizarre clip, I have to somehow see this film!!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Digital Cheesecake!

For a long time now I've been trying to figure out this digital painting stuff with Photoshop and finally I seem to making some headway. I went through pretty much all of the Photoshop brushes, trying them out in various ways to see what I could do with them, but I find most of them rather unsatisfying. However I did stumble upon this one that, after lots of messing with, I found I could get some nice painterly results. I also had been studying the work of fellow caricaturists, Court Jones and Paul Moyse, both of whose abilities I admire greatly, in order to analyze how they're using the medium so well.

So then I decided to experiment and see what I could accomplish with this initial amount of Digital knowledge, as little as it was. I started out sketching this girl right on the screen using a brush I'd created from a tutorial that gives a nice soft pencil look. Then on a separate layer, I jumped in with both feet and started to paint it. I must confess that I got very frustrated along the way, nearly giving up a few times, but I persevered just to see what I could learn from the experience if nothing else. For this first attempt, I do wish I hadn't painted the background so close to the colour of her hair, though I do kind of like the way her hair melds into it at the back.

The more I worked with it, the more it started looking like a cartoonier version of the type of pin-up paintings I've always loved by Gil Elvgren, with a rich, creamy, oil paint feel to it. Since I didn't really know what I was doing most of the time, it took me hours longer to do than it really should have, but this was just a learning experience and hopefully I'll be able to accomplish things more quickly as I get more proficient with it.

For this second attempt I used several vintage 50's pin-up photos as reference, combining elements from each and making stuff up as well. This time, however, I drew her in pencil on paper the way I normally do, then scanned in the sketch. After making it into a transparent layer in Photoshop, I painted in the main areas on a separate layer underneath, first in flat colours, then adding a bit of modeling based on the lighting in the reference photos. Above is the rough sketch with quick colour added. It's actually a fun and satisfying technique in itself, and warrants more exploration sometime.

Once I had a rough colour sketch I was happy with, I merged the two layers together and started into the "oil painting" technique on top. Though I was having an easier time of it since my first attempt, the difficulty with digital painting is knowing when to stop and leave an area alone. I tried to keep the whole thing progressing at the same rate, but it's always so tempting to start embellishing it with details too early in the process.

Seeing the finished artwork, I'm still not sure about some things. In my opinion, there could still be more tonal definition, as I feel that some areas look too soft, especially when compared back to the colour sketch. Doing narrow, smooth lines is not easy in Photoshop, and I therefore have a hard time with detail in the hair, as well as the eyelashes, and any areas where I've used a bit of soft darker outline to help accentuate some of the form. Here's where a good sable watercolour brush still beats the heck out of computer technology, in my opinion. (Yes, I remain a traditionalist at heart!)

Anyway, these are just a couple of initial attempts to learn the digital painting process. I keep on studying the work of artists I like in order to pick up additional skills, but I know it's a long road ahead of me.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Happy Birthday Bobby Darin!

Last year at this time I observed the 10th anniversary of the death of my favourite singer, Frank Sinatra. Not long thereafter, I discovered that May 14th coincidentally also happened to be the birthdate of my second favourite singer of all time: Bobby Darin.

Despite his breezy and hip onstage persona, Bobby led a pretty rough life. As a young boy he was bedridden for some time with rheumatic fever, a disease that recurred and left him with a weak heart. Doctors at the time didn't give him much chance of living beyond the age of 16, but Bobby was determined to prove them all wrong and set out to pack a lot of living into what time he had left, keeping a sharp focus on becoming a big name singer and musician. In addition to singing, he learned to play guitar, drums, harmonica, vibes, among other talents, and all of this he did well, adding film acting to his portfolio a short time later.

Originally he started out as a typical 50s rock 'n' roller, being groomed by his record label to follow in Elvis's footsteps. But Bobby had set his sights on being more of the nightclub performer, aspiring to give Sinatra a run for his money. Despite his becoming a crooner in the popular style of the day, the rock 'n' roll side may have given him a bit of distinction though, as there was often an edginess in his choice of material, delivered with a particularly sardonic flair. His big hit, Mack the Knife is a about a murderous thug, yet sung with a morbidly humourous, swinging beat. Both Clementine and Artificial Flowers take a similarly light approach to stories of tragic deaths, and I sometimes wonder if it was Bobby's sense of his own impending mortality that informed this almost detached and satirical bent in his rather dark subject material.

I must admit, I was never as keen on Bobby Darin's later work as a politically active folk singer (adopting "Bob Darin" as his more mature stage name), although I certainly give the man credit in his admiration and efforts for Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and the civil rights movement of the turbulent 60s. Bobby himself may have tired of the tuxedo and nightclub style of singing but that is still what most of his fans love him for the most. He came to realize it too, as he found that the folk songs weren't enough to keep him in the public eye and he'd gone into recluse for some time following the assassination of his friend RFK, but he eventually went back to the stage as Bobby Darin once more to popular acclaim. Sadly though, shortly after appearing in a televised concert for NBC in 1973, Bobby Darin died of heart failure in December that same year at the tragically early age of 37. I wonder what greatness Bobby would have been capable of had he lived a normal lifespan.

Here is a clip from that televised concert featuring Bobby Darin singing my favourite of his many hits: Beyond the Sea.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Sheridan College Open House 2009

I'm falling behind with my blog posts, I'm afraid, as I'd meant to post these up soon after I'd drawn them. These caricatures were sketched at the Sheridan College Open House, held on May 2nd as the school year was winding down for summer holidays and this is the annual last hoorah to show the community what the college has been producing. This year, they'd commissioned several of my Animation students and I to sketch caricatures in the main hall of the college. My usual method is to work with marker on 11 x 14 pads of smooth bristol paper, but for this event we were all working on large manilla pads set up on easels. Admittedly, this isn't the most comfortable way for me to draw and it's bit too large for my liking, but they came out pretty well for the most part. I've put up all of them on my Facebook site, but here's a sampling to show here too:

These first three above are of a young lady currently enrolled in the Sheridan Music Theatre program along with her proud mom and dad!

Before I started to draw him, this fellow requested, "Make me wacky." I did the best I could... :)

By the way, my friend and Sheridan colleague, Mark Mayerson has written a couple of posts on Sheridan Animation's annual Industry Day that was held on April 30th. You can find them here and here. There were quite a lot of strong films with fun character animation this year, and I'm glad to say that most students are aspiring to full keyframe animation.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Happy Birthday Orson Welles!

Here is my caricatured tribute to a giant of the American cinema, both in the figurative and in the literal sense. It's hard to imagine an actor more imposing and with as much presence as Orson Welles. I can't claim to be an expert on the films and career of Mr. Welles, as I've only seen a fraction of his work, but I do admire several of his films greatly, including his legendary Citizen Kane, The Lady From Shanghai, and my favourite, The Third Man, where his role may be relatively small despite the fact that the plot centres around him, but it's so deliciously memorable!

Rather than sketch him from one of his film roles, though, I decided instead to use this vintage TV interview as my drawing reference. I have the complete interview on DVD that I recorded about a year ago, and it was conducted by Canada's own CBC back in 1960 in Paris, where I gather that Welles was working on a film at the time. The full interview runs nearly an hour and is fascinating for how bluntly candid Orson Welles is regarding his career and body of work. Here is one of the segments that someone has posted on YouTube, and additional segments are also to be found there. Just listen to how articulate and introspective Mr. Welles is throughout the interview, by the way. Frankly, I can't think of any film actor working today that can speak so eloquently as did Welles and many of his contemporaries - there was so much more class back then. Enjoy!