Joshua Middleton (update)

Joshua Middleton, comics, covers, illustration
Joshua Middleton is an illustrator, comics artist, concept artist and art director who I first wrote about in 2006. At the time, he was primarily working in comics; since then, he has worked in film and television for clinents liks Universal, Lionsgate, Sony, Sony Pictures Animation and Warner Brothers; and as a cover artist for book publishers such as Scholastic, Abrams, Bloomsbury, Tor, Viking and Disney.

Middleton has also come full circle back to comic book publishing, becoming noted in particular for his striking cover art.

Comic book covers owe their lineage to the pulp magazine covers of the 1930s and 1940s. In those, flashy, often lurid images were used to grab your attention and get you to plop down your precious dime and pick up the magazine.

Comic book covers are basically in service of the same function: grab your attention and make you want to buy the publication. In pursuit of this, a lot of comics covers over the years have fallen into the least-common-denominator routine of being loud, brash and in-your-face. Not that there isn’t a place for that, but Middleton and some of his contemporaries have been raising the bar.

Middleton’s covers are attention grabbing to be sure, but also subtle in a way that is still unusual, with keen attention to nuanced shifts in color and value, and the use of fine, single-line weight outlines. The latter retain the graphic appeal of traditional comic art, but shift the line-to-color balance to bring the color forward, more in keeping with the styles of European and Japanese comics than mainstream American comics.

In particular, Middleton has been grabbing attention, both individually and on a larger scale, in his series of striking covers for DC Comics’ Supergirl.

Middleton brings some of that same nuanced sensibility to his book covers. Though usually more rendered than his comics covers, and often without outlines, these also pull back from over-rendering into a balance of shape and color that is particularly appealing.

Middleton’s current website serves as a blog, in which he features finished work as well as work in progress, various projects and comments on other topics. In the right-hand column you’ll find links with which you can sort for categories like “finished work” or “sketches”.

Stop PIPA and SOPA

Stop PIPA and SOPA
If you stopped by Lines and Colors yesterday, January 18, you may have noticed that Lines and Colors had gone dark, along with a significant number of other sites, in protest, and to raise awareness of the “anti-piracy” internet censorship bills looming in the U.S. Congress.

If you didn’t happen to stop by yesterday, but would like to know more about why it matters, what I had to say about the issue, and why the continued existence of Lines and Colors and websites like it hinges on the defeat of these bills, here is the page that was up in place of the site yesterday.

The effort to raise awareness of this issue across the web has apparently begun to have an effect, as a number of legislators have withdrawn their support for the bills, at least in their current form. But the fight is far from over; the hugely powerful and influential lobbies that represent the entertainment industry will not slink quietly away and call it a day; they will continue to pressure congress to give them the kind of extraordinary and frightening control over internet content that these bills provide.

Those in other countries may feel this doesn’t affect them (it will if hundreds or thousands of websites go dark at the whim of the big corporations), or you may feel frustrated that you can’t affect it directly. Right now, the spread of information and awareness is important, and those of you in Europe and elsewhere will soon enough have your own fight on your hands over similar legislation that these companies are trying to force into law around the world.

Those in the U.S. can directly affect the immediate danger of these bills passing by calling or writing your U.S. senators and representatives and urging them to reject the bills. Here is a site called Stop American Censorship that has more information on how easy it is to do that.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that if these bills pass, Lines and Colors, and significant other portions of the web, will cease to exist.


Thought of You (Ryan Woodward)

Thought of You (Ryan Woodward)
Thought of You (also on Vimeo) is a short animation by professional animator, storyboard and concept artist Ryan Woodward.

It is a simple but beautifully done dance sequence, with suggestions of a story, but open ended enough for viewers to make their own interpretations. Elegantly animated, the sequence is set to World Spins Madly On by The Weepies.

What I find particularly enjoyable is the way the characters are drawn as gestural figures, as though from quick life studies, or the kind of construction line drawings used by those who must invent the figure from imagination, like storyboard artists, illustrators and comics artists.

I also admire the way he has used variations in finish or solidity of the figures to evoke degrees of presence.

In addition to his own site, which includes examples of his illustrations, storyboards and animatics, as well as other short films, Woodward has created a site for Thought of You and similar experiments called Conté Animated, referring in part to his years of teaching gesture drawing, a history that informs every frame of Thought of You.

[Via MetaFilter]

Adam Brockbank

Adam Brockbank
I can tell you little about Adam Brockbank, except that he is a film industry concept and storyboard artist, and quite a good one.

His site doesn’t include any biographical information, but does, fortunately, showcase a number of his terrific concept paintings and drawings for movies like Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (image above), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Alexander, Troy, Spiderman 2, Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider 2, Fire from Heaven, X-Men and Sleepy Hollow.

There is also a selection of storyboard work from films and television productions like Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, Dinotopia, Alice in Wonderland, Lost in Space and The Borrowers.

You can see a more complete list on the IMDB site.

His storyboards are clear and crisp, with just enough tone work to suggest lighting and atmosphere. His concept art ranges from briefly notated sketches to fully rendered paintings of complex and large scale scenes. He seems particularly adept at portraying the cities and scenes of ancient civilizations as depicted in movies like Alexander, Troy and Fire from Heaven; combining a National Geographic feeling of historical reconstruction with a cinematic flair for drama.

In between his lightly rendered and highly rendered approaches are paintings that frequently look more rendered than they are, in which his artful economy of notation conveys a great deal of atmosphere and mood in the choice of large areas of color balanced with smaller passages of detail.

There is also no indication of medium or technique on the site, but it looks like he paints digitally, though his work can have a feeling of traditional painterly materials.

I can’t give you direct links to sections because the site is in Flash, but be sure to view his wonderfully realized historically themed paintings for Fire from Heaven.

Addendum: Adam was kind enough to write and let us know that he has been working on a new comic called Mezolith, written by Ben Haggarty, that debuts next week in issue 15 of The DFC, a UK kids comics anthology. You can see a preview here.

Bill Perkins

Bill Perkins
Bill Perkins has worked as a concept artist, production designer, layout artist, art director and storyboard artist for companies like Walt Disney Feature Animation, Warner Brothers, Dreamworks, ILM, and 9th Ray Studios.

His film credits include The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Fantasia 2000, Space Jam, Shrek, and the upcoming John Carter and the Princess of Mars and The Spiderwick Chronicles.

In 2001 he formed High St. Studio as a preproduction and design studio for films, television and the gaming industry.

The galleries on the site include some of his beautiful concept art for these features and other projects. His drawings and color renderings are filled with wonderful suggestions of detail, luxurious textures, and a striking use of color and theatrical lighting. Perkins has the kind of loose, fluid drawing style that can only be founded on the confidence of solid draftsmanship.

There is a gallery on his site of “Continuity Guides”, something rarely posted, even by concept artists. These offer a fascinating glimpse into the concerns for consistency and design clarity that are important to the art of visual storytelling, animated and otherwise. The world that characters inhabit can be as fantastical as the design artists can imagine, but to be effective it must be consistent within itself.

The High Street Studio Continuity Guide gallery includes Style Guides, Color Scripts, and Workbooks used as previsualization tools for directors and guides for concept artists to keep them on the same page with the look and feel for a given production.

This is a more interesting process than it may sound like on the surface. The first item in that section, for example, is concerned with the design for grasslike plants for a production of GON (which I assume refers to a film adaptation of the Manga dinosaur character), in which a fantasy version of an African veldt-ike environment is being designed. The plant design develops as a combination sketches from real world plants and stylized drawings based on Henri Rousseau’s “primitive” painted plants.

Rousseau is referred to again, along with Cezanne, Escher and other artists, in description of the kind of visual space that can be defined for the characters — “Flat Space”, as exemplified by Rousseau, in which elements are essentially all on the picture plane; “Deep Space”, the traditional two-dimentional projection of three dimensional reality that is the basis for realism; “Limited Space”, a range between the first two, demonstrated in the paintings of Cezanne; and “Ambiguous Space”, as in the deliberately disorienting images of M.C. Escher.

There are also continuity guides on ths site for the overall color palette of an animated film, in this case, Tarzan. Just as a painting can have passages of different colors, that must still work together as a whole; so can a visual story, such as a live action or animated film, have passages in which certain colors and moods predominate but must fit into a unified visual feeling for the piece as a whole.

The design of basic elements can vary within a story as well, in order to enrich the sense of place. There is a model sheet of tree branches for the animated Tinkerbell, demonstrating how tree branches are to be drawn differently for the backgrounds of scenes in London, Neverland and Pixie Hollow.

Perkins’ site also features a section of color and monochrome sketches, including some wonderfully fluid life drawings, and a selection of storyboards.

What’s missing, unfortunately, is much information about the artist himself. The very brief bio on Wikipedia indicates that he is currently teaching composition, color, and watercolor at the Los Angeles Academy of Figurative Art. His bio on the LAAFA site tells us that he began his career in gallery art, was one of the co-founders of the Plein-air Artists of California and has been a member of the Plein-air Painters of America since 1985.

I wasn’t able to find a dedicated online gallery of Perkins’ plein-air painting, but Michael Hirsh of Articles and Texticles comes through again with a post on Perkins from last year that includes some of his landscape paintings.

Unfortunately, I’m late in telling you about an exhibition of Perkins work at the Laguna College of Art and Design that just closed Septemebr 27.

Not only do Perkins drawings and paintings, concept designs, model sheets and workbooks offer a fascinating insight into the level of thought and detail that goes into good visual storytelling; the range of influences in his work points out the connections I am always trying to suggest between various genres of visual art that people often assume are distinct and separate from one another.

[Links via John Nevarez]

Carson Van Osten’s Comic Strip Artist’s Kit

Most people think of comics as simply a series of illustrations, and of the skill involved as essentially one of drawing.

What they don’t see is the art underneath, the art of visual storytelling, which in many ways is more important in comics than outright drawing skill. A person with good visual storytelling skills and modest drawing ability can make better comics than someone who is a dazzling artist, but lacks an understanding of visual storytelling principals.

An important part of that skill set is a subset dealing with the design and layout of comics panels. Here is a link to a great resource for anyone interested in comics storytelling, or its close relative, movie and animation storyboarding.

Mark Kennedy, on his blog devoted to storyboarding, Temple of the Seven Golden Camels, which is itself a great resource, has posted a wonderful 7-page feature called Comic Strip Artist’s Kit, by Disney comic book artist Carson Van Osten.

Van Osten went to the Philadelphia College of Art (now the University of the Arts) here in Philadelphia. He was also a musician and played bass in the legendary Philly 60’s bands Woody’s Truck Stop and The Nazz (Todd’s Rundgren’s original band).

He later went to work for Disney Studio’s comic book department, writing and drawing Mickey Mouse and Goofy comics for distribution in Europe. He then moved to their American comic strips department, worked with Floyd Gottfredson on the Mickey Mouse daily newspaper strip, became the art director of the department in the 80’s and 90’s and, as far as I know, continues to do work on various Disney comics.

In 1975, as part of a slide presentation for a Disney meeting in Frankfurt, he drew up some sheets on common problems in comics layout and staging. It was so well received that the company printed 2000 copies and distributed it to all Disney offices. The sketches also were used in the book The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation by Ollie Johnston and Frank Thomas.

Copies of the sheets, which are a terrific primer on the principles of staging and layout in comics and storyboarding, have generously been made available on the web. Carson saw a mention of the pages on Kennedy’s storyboarding blog and sent him large copies, which he has posted in versions at a high enough resolution to be really usable and printable.

Even if you’re not interested in creating comics or storyboards, take a look for a fascinating glimpse into some of the “hidden art” of visual storytelling.

Links via Metafilter and Drawn!