Thursday, February 20, 2014

My Bloody Valentine or You Make Me want to SCREAM My Head Off!

     Who will ever forget the chilling voice at the end of that telephone line,"Hello, Sydney...."

...I know I certainly won't.

     Today's post will discuss a project I just finished today. It is the second in the Drawing Club I am now a part of.  Incidentally this is kinda what occupied my art time during the Valentine's Holidays. Which is strangely amusing considering the subject matter.  This second assignment was to create a poster for a Horror Film of our choosing.  The film could be pre-existing or made-up.  As I have SUCH a Love for this film genre, I found myself torn trying to decide which film I would fashion a new poster for.  Since coming up with an original image to represent the chosen film, I found that working with a pre-existing film that I'm very familiar with in and out would be better than trying to make up a film and an image.  Well, at least I thought it would be easier in a "work smarter not harder" kind of way.  In the end, I discovered that I should know this about myself by now, that when it comes to making art, I NEVER make it easy on myself. I always CRAVE that next challenge.  SO DECISIONS, DECISIONS, DECISIONS, right?  I really had trouble settling on a film selection. I'm glad we had 3 weeks to do this project.
 I know everyone who truly knows me, would have guessed that my first choice would have been JAWS or POLTERGEIST as they are my most favorite Horror Flicks. And they would be absolutely correct. I did think of those first. However, when I think about re-inventing a movie poster, I'd like to think it's for the reasons that I could bring something better or different to the image that everyone has made synonymous with those films.  I really couldn't think of an image that would represent JAWS better than that Monstrous Leviathan shooting up below the female swimmer (from the beginning of the film) dwarfed by the enormity of "The Fish" (if you've read the novel.)  I could not think of anything that could evoke more primal fear and terror than that image.  It is ingrained on society and I have no shame in admitting that I definitely could not come up with something better than that.
As well as the young Carrol Anne with her hands pressed against the snow-filled Television screen.  That image evokes such a vulnerability and terror in the context of the story it represents.  These two illustrations were meant to be the truest representations of these films. They really get to the heart, visually, of what their stories are truly about.  I want to create an illustration for a film that did the same.  I wanted to evoke the terror and vulnerability and the shear primal fear of a great Horror Story.  After all, isn't this why we crowd in to movie theaters across the world?  To be captivated, captured, tortured and thrilled all from the safety of our seats.  Seeing these stories in a cinematic presentation with a group of people allows us to explore the darkest corners of our minds and reach out into the utter darkness to see what's there, but together with others... not alone, where we would feel as vulnerable as any Horror Film Protagonist would feel in their respective tale.

     I spent several days deep in thought contemplating different films. In the end, my mind settled only on one, Wes Craven's SCREAM (the first film).  Even though I ABSOLUTELY ADORE all 3 sequels that came after this film, probably because they were all directed by Wes Craven, all 4 films.  The first SCREAM film was just special, though.  If any of you have watched the 2 retrospective documentary behind the scenes films on the movie franchise, you are aware of some of the reason's behind why I chose this film.  SCREAM is a Teenage Slasher Film, obviously a sub-genre of horror.  And up until Kevin Williamson dropped his screenplay, then titled "Scary Movie," right in the middle of Hollywood's lap, Slasher Films followed a very predictable, solid and commercially successful formula.
Wes Craven, himself, responsible for some of the most famous of those.  No one ever saw the need to stray from that formula.  But one evening Kevin Williamson, in a fit of inspiration, had a brilliant idea to turn that genre upside down and take every comfortable fan of the slasher genre out of their seats with something completely unexpected and never seen before.  He began, feverishly typing into the sunrise, what would eventually become know as the film SCREAM.  [A quick aside: Did you know that Kevin Williamson is also the creator and writer for the Series Dawson's Creek?]  I won't divulge all the wonderful Easter eggs any fan of the series would get from watching those 2 documentaries.  I'm just going to go over my favorite points that make this particular Slasher film so special, not only to me, but in the entirety of Horror film making.  One of the elements that make this film clever in how it tells the story.  There is something flawed about every single character, to the point that the mysterious murders could be committed by any of them.  The "Slasher Monster" in this film is Ghostface, whose iconographic image is quite effectively chilling. But the best thing about the visage of Ghostface is that it could be anyone: man or woman, neighbor, friend or foe.
With the introduction of cloned cell phones, a voice changing box and an everyday curb-store bought mass-produced Halloween costume, the killer really could be ANYONE... It's enough to make EVERYONE paranoid and distrusting, let alone film protagonist, Sydney Prescott.  SO the "monster" is a real person of flesh and blood, nothing supernatural, which is very common in this particular sub-genre. It's 100% Primal.  A single shadow in the dark, lurking just over your should waiting to make you it's prey.  The Hunter and the Hunted.  Even one of the characters in the very beginning of SCREAM4 explains how they find that there is just something about a stalker with a knife that is far more terrifying than any conjured beast from under the bed.  This is, of course, a tip of the hat from writer, Kevin Williamson, to John Carpenter's original Halloween, which is incidentally KW's favorite scary movie.  This is why the "babysitter" in the beginning of SCREAM notes that Halloween is her favorite scary movie when asked, conversationally, by the killer.

     SCREAM is also set apart from it's predecessors in that all the main characters, Sydney Prescott and her friends, are ALL obsessed with watching, analyzing, deconstructing and criticizing all other horror films.  This sense of self-awareness brings us, the audience even closer to the characters. As Sydney says and does the exact same thing we would do if we were living a horror movie.  If we would shout at the screen,"Don't GO in THERE!" then the characters in this film would have the same exact thought and not "go in there." However, they are not saved from the danger, it just expands and changes game and comes at us in a way we were not expecting based on decisions we would avoid, because we the, audience, have seen those situations time and again and would "NEVER Do what they did." We would be smarter in that situation, right?  This is why SCREAM was SO cleaver when it was released in theaters, because KW wrote it with that very audience in mind: the self-aware, better decision because we have seen it all audience.... Then he turns it all on us and uses our own better judgement and whit against us, the audience.  This is why I just LOVE this first SCREAM.  In this way, KW can COMPLETELY Surprise us, like Sydney is in throughout her horrific experiences in the film.  "SURPRISE, Sydney!" >;0P

     The original Movie poster for SCREAM and all of it's pre-release promotional materials were used as yet another clever rouse to trick the audience in a very awesome way.  I set out at the beginning of this project to create a poster that encompasses the themes and encapsulates essence of the film.  The original movie poster was set up to sell the film on STAR-POWER alone. This was a very calculated move by all parties of the makers of this film.  SCREAM was advertised to the world as a film staring powerhouse actress Drew Barrymore as the leading lady of this Scary Movie.  Every promotional image, every movie poster and every trailer SCREAMED Drew Barrymore (pun intended) ;0)    This was so that the audience would be ABSOLUTELY FLOORED, SHOCKED and HORRIFIED when Drew is murdered by the killer in the first 10 terrifyingly-suspenseful minutes of the film.  This left audiences seeing the film for the very first time without any notion of what is going to happen next.
The story tellers have the audience captive and unnerved and they aren't going to tell you where they are taking you next because the unknown is what is truly terrifying to our core.  Perhaps it is why a mysterious and unknown threatening voice over at the end of the phone line can be so chilling. (By the way: none of the actors on set were allowed to see the actor who voiced Ghostface.  This was Wes Craven's way of getting a more terrified reaction out of his actors.  They never saw the man's face until they were don shooting the film.)  If they would kill their powerhouse star in the first 10 minutes, what else were they going to do to us.  Credit for this idea came directly from Drew Barrymore, herself, who was originally cast as Sydney Prescott.  She went to director, Wes Craven and pitched the idea of her playing the smaller role of Casey Becker, instead.
Casey Becker was originally not supposed to be as important, she was just a typical element of Slasher Story-Telling.  There is a victim killed in the very beginning to set the mood and put the rest of the story into motion.  It is meant to shock the audience and create anxiety from the get-go.  Neve Campbell was later cast as Sydney, which ultimately was a great choice. She was perfect in the role and brought the strength and resilience needed to the character.  She personified everything we shouted at a silver screen that we would or would not do.  She was, in a way, our window of opportunity to truly live through a Horror Film Situation, if we ourselves were the one's in the driver's seat, making the calls and decisions.  Sydney was making all of them the exact way we would have... again, such clever writing. 

     Drew's amazing and brilliant idea was realized and made the film even more clever and successful.  However, [and I'm sure Wes Craven was definitely aware of this as well as many of you movie buffs out there will too] this concept is not entirely original.  It's first and really only other comparable example is in the first act of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, which incidentally broke a lot of cinematic rules in film-making, story telling in the horror genre and even revolutionized the way America went to the movies.
Hitchcock and Joseph Stefano (screen writer) decided that it would put the audience on their heads if they killed, Janet Leigh, the "star" of the film in the first act.  Lead them to believe that the film is about the character this actress portrays, get them involved in a story line about her (the robbery) and just when you think you know what the film is all about WHAM! Kill Her!
She gets stabbed to death in the shower by "Mrs. Bates" traumatizing and shocking the audience into never bathing again.  Hitchcock, of course, flips the audience on his head once more at the end, revealing that Mrs. Bates was Norman all along.  Surely, as influential as Hitchcock is in the genre of horror, I think he deserves some credit to the brilliance behind the Drew Barrymore/Neve Campbell switch-a-roo.  Psycho is even mentioned in the film by the character, Billy Loomis, Sydney's boyfriend.

     I know this seems like a lot of ramble, but , I promise, it's VERY relevant to the decisions I made for the illustration of this movie poster.  Since it has been over 10 Years since the film's initial release, the cat is obviously out of the bag and everyone knows that Neve is the true star of the film.  This being said, I wanted my poster concept to cover theme and evoke emotion instead of relying any on Starpower. In fact, that was the first decision I made was NO STAR POWER! Not even Neve's.  I didn't want you to see the subject of the illustration as Neve Campbell or ANY actress/actor.  I wanted you, the viewer, to see character, and character ONLY.  SO lets talk theme.  To me, the main themes that run throughout the film are: paranoia, distrust & desensitivity to violence (still a VERY hot topic in visual media to this day.) The film is quite Hitchcockian in that sense.  Since both writer and director are big fans of Hitchcock, this is not too surprising.  Just like in JAWS and in Poltergeist's movie posters, I wanted to extract the HEART Out Of what this film is about.  For me, the heart of this film is the obsessed stalking of Sydney Prescott vs. her mistrust and isolation from others, due to her mother's untimely murder.

     So the main concept of my illustration is, in foreground, Sydney Prescott running from an unknown threat.  Aside from the solution to solving the fact that I didn't want the image of Neve Campbell in the illustration, turning her head to look behind her as she runs toward an emanate and unknown danger was a good solution.  Also, it demonstrates her heightened sense of paranoia that she arrives at by the end of the film.  The iconic image reads instantly: the feeling that you need to look over your shoulder because danger or death may be behind you, stalking from the depths of the shadows.  This deep seeded primal fear of being hunted, being the prey, is something we all can identify with, even as sophisticated animals. We still have those instincts inside us.  I wanted to draw sharp relief on to that very primal fear.  The image of Sydney being hunted by 2 killers is the heart of what this film is about: predator and prey.  The film plays with who is hunting who as well...  again, clever writing.  I framed the illustration with a the upheld brandished knife held by the costumed/robed killer (one of them) the other is lurking in the doorway behind Sydney.  The silhouette holding the mask: my own personal nod to the original inspiration of the story's killer (Michael Myers.)  The "Shadow" is always an ominous presence.  The silhouette also reflects that of Mrs. Bates.  [On a side note, I echoed Billy Loomis's Pose from the moment he stages being stabbed by The Killer to gain back Sydney's Trust. Billy is basically the figure in the doorway and Stewart, his accomplice, is the figure in the close foreground. Unless you're a REAL Movie Geek you would miss that one.]
She is unaware that the killer, in the background, has basically fed her to the killer in the foreground. This is a visual metaphor as to how the killers play Sydney and their other victims in the film. I wanted to illustrate the cat and mouse way they committed their crimes in the film. I wanted the mask of Ghostface to be present, but not the focus of the poster.  His face is SO recognizable that I felt it would distract from the true emphasis of my composition: Sydney.  I put the mask small in the background. I liked the idea that, even though the killer is "unmasked," he/she is still VERY threatening and dangerous. Since the figure is back-lit, I can still keep the identity of the killer a secret from Sydney and the viewer.  It's kind of an intentional tease.  The last detail and element to my composition is the knife and it's placement in the image.  I originally toyed with the idea of having it just frame Sydney, the light-cast shadow and the figure and the door way. It was to wrap around everything, creating a frame but also evoking a sense of danger. I decided to integrate it more into the image because it seemed SO disconnected to the action happening in the illustration.  I also liked the idea of the killer's knife (darkness) tearing into the light from the doorway as if it were the flesh of it's victim.  It frames Sydney's figure more and isolates her from the rest of the image. Making this visual edit allowed me to include another theme from the film: Sydney's isolation from others, both the physical isolation of having her friends murdered and/or not trusting them and also her mental isolation from the world and herself brought on by the trauma of her mother's murder.  She eventually is forced to face it all when she discovers that her stalkers are also her mother's killers. This is why I am them visually trapped in the composition.

   Let's talk style:  I was very much inspired by the Vintage Horror Film posters of the 50s & 60s.  I really am a fan of Hitchcock's film posters and really took most of my visual influence from those.
I was also HEAVILY influenced by the poster for the original Halloween.  I thought that it would be a nice touch to add a stylistic influence from this poster since that film's influence has also touched the film in several ways.  It also is responsible for some of my compositional choices.... It was all alot of influence and style to take in. A style I don't normally illustrate in, myself.  But then again, I never make things easy for myself.  I felt my chosen medium lent well to expressing this style of Poster Illustration. 

     Let's talk medium:  Since this was a project for the Drawing Club, I wanted to use the assignment as a means to practice something specifically about drawing. Since I am currently studying and working in Black and white, I wanted to create this image with a Black and White Medium.  I am learning my way through scratch board, so I figured this project would be another "good-as-any" reason to practice my hands with that specific medium.  I found that it is a bit unforgiving, but allows great control in creating value in rendering forms.
It was both challenging and very relaxing to get out my scalpel and SLICE into the inked clay board surface with and image.  One thing that I did learn, this time around, as opposed to my last scratch piece (Illustration Friday SEARCH) is how to properly transfer your illustration outline to the scratch board to work from. Thanks Saral Transfer Paper. You certainly were one of my favorite things this past couple of weeks.  So just to run through that process: I did a thumbnail of the composition I saw when I was working out my ideas to represent the film's themes.
I then developed the image from some reference I was able to find. (there wasn't a whole lot I could work with.)  I then Traced my pencil drawing with tracing paper and made a working outline that would help me know where all the major forms are in the illustration, transferred them to the surface of the scratch board with the transfer paper, then meticulously scratched out my Horrific Image.  I did very little digital  touch up work.   ***Thanks to Bobby again for helping me photograph the finished scratch piece as you can't really scan them, due to the way a scanner light lights the image as it scans it.  I then, of course, added the recognizable original film logo to the bottom and formatted the image to standard poster size.  I also added the original tag line for the film as a small detailed touch.

     Just real quick, On creating the running image of Sydney Prescott:  I had to create this figure from several reference pieces as nowhere in the film does she do this action seen full body.  I felt a bit like Dr. Frankenstein in this sense (appropriately so.)  I thought it might be fun to share all the reference that went into it as sort of a behind-the-illustration kind of thing.  Since I have spent most of the past couple of weeks with ALL 4 SCREAM Movies playing on loop in my studio (to help keep me focused and on point with this project) I thought it would be funny to add these images as kind of a "bonus material" of sorts. Cheesily echoing what you would find on your DVDs: Movie:Bonus... So Illustration:Bonus.... I may have been up too long to have written that last. lol.

     Well this is pretty much A "Wrap!" ;0P   I've covered everything I wanted to discuss involving this project.  I hope you all enjoy the rest of your weekend. Maybe this poster might inspire you to watch a Scary Movie, or maybe even enjoy SCREAM again. 

until next time...
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, keep making art. 

True Love is TWISTED... Especial on Illustration Fridays.

     Yay! It's Illustration Friday and I'm pleased to share this week's challenge submission with you. I almost didn't participate this week as I was expected to still be working on a Project for a Drawing Club I am now part of.  I did, however, finish the drawing work on that project much sooner than expected, so I was able to sneak in an Illustration Friday Project, if I had an idea as soon as I found out what this week's topic would be.  I logged onto the site and read "TWISTED" at the top of the page...

IMMEDIATELY I had an idea for this topic!

     For some, I might imagine, the word twisted brings up dark and perhaps horrific ideas and images for a subject to this illustration challenge.  There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that. Dark emotional spaces and parts of the human Psyche deserve to be explored and can make for very fascinating artwork.  Coincidentally the Drawing Club Project I am working on this week is dealing with that very subject in a very dark way.  So I felt that creating another illustration dealing with the dark part of the human mind would just be OVERKILL (pun intended.)  ;0P

     But... It's February and we just came out of Valentines Day and I really wanted to produce an Illustration that reflected the mood of this Holiday.  When I made that decision that my illustration would reflect the mood of love in the context of the word Twisted (which is tricky by the way)
This image instantly came to mind: Two Love Birds Twisted and Tied Together! I instantly thought of a flamingo with it's neck tied into knots. But this did not convey a sense of love or romance, so I decided, obviously, there would be two. I pretty much doodled out a quick compositional thumbnail right there and then.  I figured out how I would "tie" an "twist" the flamingo necks together (in shorthand).  I felt that knots were a really great visual metaphor for real life relationships. Nothing is usually cut and dry. EVERYTHING is "twisted" and tangled together. You and your significant other are woven together, just like these flamingos. I added the detail of their heads meeting in the shape of a heart.  It's certainly a visual cliche, I know, but what's a definitive Valentine's Day Illustration without a little typical Valentine's Cliche Iconography? ;0)

[A quick aside: I collect Children's Books; partly as a hobby and partly as a means to research the field.]

     One of my gifts this Valentines was a copy of Molly Idle's Flora and the Flamingo.  I though the coincidence amusing.  That my book should arrive in the mail today on the very week that I illustrate a pair of Flamingos in love near the calendar day set aside to celebrate Romance and Love.  It certainly made me smile to think about it.  If you haven't checked out that book (it came out last year) you should. Molly Idle is an Illustrator and writer and comes from an Animation Background. She left Dreamworks studios to pursue a career in children's literature.
She brings a wonderful storytelling perspective to this field. Any trained animator would recognize it even if they were not aware of her background.  The reason this is relevant is that Molly tells this story of a young girl who wishes to befriend an animal, a flamingo, with whom she has found a particular fascination with.  She tells this story completely with pictures alone and does it brilliantly and beautifully. The illustration work is absolutely amazing, elegantly simple and nothing short of breathtakingly gorgeous.  She is certainly not the first to do this, but you can tell that her "animator" was definitely showing in this project.

[Animators are trained to tell stories without words or dialogue as part of their education. Even though I chose to pursue a career in Illustration, I was also formally trained to be an animator.]

In Any Case....

     It is a Very Good example of how One Picture can definitely be worth a Thousand Words.

     SO FLAMINGOS!  I did some quick reference research and began to sketch out my Romantic Illustration for this month (as I had yet to make one and Illustration Friday's Topic Choice this month didn't really lend well to that.)
 I first caricatured my reference I found of Flamingo heads and then developed the rest of the illustration from there.  I also studied various knots and how they were made as this element was a crucial part of the concept of this illustration... Not to mention that without that element, it would not fit the context of the topic AT ALL.

     From there, It's pretty much business as usual with these type and style of Illustrations. I inked the final sketch, scanned it in and began to use my resource well of scanned paper and fabric textures to build up the illustration's layers. 

     I did add an additional echo of the heart shape in the background, just to really drive home that "cheese."  If only I had some wine to go with it right?

      Well I hope you all enjoy the Illustration and certainly enjoy the rest of your Friday and upcoming weekend.  I hope that you had a pleasant Valentine's Day last weekend, even if you are single.  I told a close single-friend of mine, recently, that on the years that I was a Single Man during Valentine's Day, I would plan a special evening for myself with some fun and a few treats that I certainly would not do normally.  I told her that, in this way, you get to enjoy Valentine's Day in either case, whether you have someone to celebrate Love with or you just celebrate it by loving yourself or your friends.  I never understood why anyone could complain about the Holiday if they approached it this way. Either way: HAPPY BELATED VALENTINES DAY!

On a side note: I HAD to share this photo because it was SO silly. I came across it when I was searching for photo reference... I'm gonna wear this next Valentine's Day out in public, I think or perhaps next year's Halloween Costume. LOL! ;0)

Well until next time, all you Love-Birds and Love-Yourself Birds...
Keep sketching, keep thinking, keep laughing and most important of all, keep making art.