Monday, September 12, 2011

Malgrave Concept Art

Mystery Case Files: The Malgrave Incident was Big Fish's second collaboration with Nintendo and our first console game. The development time was at least double what we're used to with our PC games. It was also different in that we were working not only with and external producer, Nintendo, but also an external development team to handle all the 3D specific work. Personally it was my largest and most challenging project. Fortunately, it was also extremely rewarding.

Here is a bunch of rough concept art from the Malgrave project. It was largely done really quickly (two images per day) due to the nature of the development schedule. In the last image, the color render is by Bill Meyer, one of our senior artists and the original artist on the MCF series.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

To love or not to love the sketchbook

This was an article I wrote for 2d artist magazine a few years ago. I share my thoughts of how my sketchbooks because an important part of being an artist.

art love,


My sketchbook is my “portable playground” of ideas and images. It is a book I carry around with me everyday, wherever I go. This wasn’t always the case, however…

In the first 10 years of my professional career, I struggled with the desire to draw, much less carrying around a sketchbook to do that drawing in. I hated that part of the art process. It was only a means to get me to the painting stage, which was what I really thought I enjoyed the most.

At that time, when I would meet artists who carried around these amazing sketchbooks with pages and pages of gorgeous drawings, I just couldn’t relate to how an artist could flow with that much imagination and produce such quality drawings without using photo references. Where did the desire even come from or the drive to want to draw? How do you even think that way?

To develop that habit seemed, to me, an unreachable goal, achievable only by the super talented. Only others much more gifted than I could output that kind of beauty. And yet, I began to realise that there was a time in my life when I flowed like that… those early years in the elementary school playground when drawing was not a precursor to painting, but a fun task in its own right.

Today I love my sketchbook and the whole drawing process almost more than the painting process. My sketchbook has become the heart of who I am as an artist. It’s my place to play. What changed and how did I get there? The biggest change was in my thinking. I slowly developed the habit of sketching in the little bits of spare time I had in any given day (the bits of time I usually wasted).

Then an artist friend got me started by having me make random shapes on a page without thinking in advance about what I would draw. The next step was to take the shapes and turn them into something that my imagination thought they looked like. It’s like looking into a wood grain or cloud pattern and seeing faces or creatures.

This is what I call a reactive process. You react to what you see, then push the drawing in that direction. The results were so revealing and exciting that this exercise made my imagination come to life (Fig.01 and Fig.02 are examples of this method). I also started to see shapes as design and pattern, so that when I started a drawing I set out to make beautiful shapes. It allowed me to not over-think the drawing, but just to start enjoying the development of the image. As a matter of fact, I found that if the shapes were interesting to look at, then the structural flaws of the drawing were not as distracting. The drawings took on a life of their own, instead of my pencil fighting them. I now prefer to draw more out of my imagination as I study life. Even as I draw from real life, I begin to stylise the shapes to make them more interesting. Each artist has their own shape language, or style of drawing shapes, which makes their drawings unique.

I have many sketchbooks going on at any one time. My main sketchbook I carry around everyday in my backpack; I draw on the commuter train or at any opportunity I get during the day. One of my other sketchbooks is themed with just fantasy fish drawings (Fig.03, Fig.04, Fig.05, and Fig.06 are examples from my fish sketchbook).

There are many forms of drawing and sketching that I produce in the sketchbooks: from compositional studies to gestures, ideas, notes, random thoughts and shapes. I also do a lot of study sketches for my paintings, to work out values or composition. The media I most enjoy are pencils, black pens with grey markers on top and black conté crayons. I use a click pencil with a refillable HB lead so that I don’t have to sharpen it. If I want a thick-to-thin line, I sharpen a 2B pencil with a knife to a chisel point. The wedge shape gives me a cool calligraphic line.

Fig.07, Fig.08 and Fig.09 show the progression from studies to drawing, through to the complete painting. This piece started as a drawing exercise with the theme of “Bullseye, My Favourite Pet from Mars”.

Fig.10 and Fig.11 are examples of the sketches and studies from my cat painting series. The studies are more about cat behaviour and my concepts of that than structural studies showing perfect cat anatomy. I love to stylise their forms into interesting shapes, and my four cats make great models – when I can get them to sit still!

Fig.12 is a study of the forms of trees, mountains and rivers for my oil landscape paintings. Again, I love to stylise the shapes to push more drama and movement into the environment. My focus in doing this is to break up the forms into patterns of light and shadow.

Fig.13, Fig.14 and Fig.15 are examples of character studies and drawings.

Fig.16, Fig.17, Fig.18 and Fig.19 show the process from under-painting to finished painting. “Dash for the Coral” is an acrylic painting and “Scary Fish” is a Photoshop painting, but you can see that my process is the same, whether I am working digitally or traditionally.

I can honestly say that I can now enjoy creating a drawing that will just remain a drawing, and never turn into a painting. The funny thing is that many of the drawings I am doing now, I get very excited about turning into paintings!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Story Lecture by Matthew Luhn

Wow, what an awesome lecture. We've been blessed with some really special visitors this year. All of them from the front lines of the best creators of animated film. Yesterday, Matthew Luhn, a senior story artist, and really funny, tallented guy at Pixar. I've regretted not taking more detailed notes from our previous speakers, though I didn't do much better this time. (It's easy to forget when the presentation is so fun.) But I'm going to rewrite here what I did scribble down in hopes of making it stick.

Fist he cited Joseph Campbell in his "The Power of Myth" interview with Bill Moyers. To paraphrase, Campbell says that stories are universal and give people some sort of explanation for the mysteries of life. I'll by that.

Classical story structure has a begining, middle and end. There are other types of story structure but most people will not respond favorable to them because they don't really have what they are expecting in a story. For instance, "minimalism" may not have a plot to speak of and be more like a dream (most Jarmusch, Felinni's 81/2) and "anti-plot" (which is a little more difficult for me to understand but apparently "Wayne's World" is an example because they broke the fourth wall by speaking to the camera. Mulhulland Drive anyone?)

He spoke about the story development process specific to Pixar. In the beginning... there is only a premise. The premise is the seed of the story but is not a story so much as a situation. For example: A rat longs to be a gourmet chef. The premise is then developed into "controlling idea". The way I understood it is that the controlling idea puts a fine point on the main character's motivation and character arch. It's still only a single sentence, and it's still not a story but it's the core of the story and should be maintained throughout the writing process. Every decision made throughout the development of the movie is based on whether or not it supports the controlling idea. He also mentioned that Pixar likes to use a director driven idea. They like to have the whole show lead by one individual with the "vision" - the guy that came up with and owns the idea.

All Pixar films use a "classical" story structure.

-Exposition (the setting, the main character, and the "rules")
-Inciting Incident (this often creates a big change, problem or opportunity in the main characters life)
-Progressive Complications (there can be many, they usually challenge and change the protagonist)
-Crisis (this is where the protagonist makes an obvious change and completes his character arc, usually overcoming a fear or weakness)
-Climax (the protagonist uses his new ability to defeat the antagonist)

In most stories, the main character goes through a change that involves either overcoming a fear, or learning to care about something, or both.

Strong characters often clearly embody a particular character trait. For instance Woody of Toy Story = Loyalty, Marlin (Nemo's dad) = Overprotection/Anxiety.

When developing a new character, try to create someone original and avoid clichés by invoking real memories and meaning from your personal life.  Finish these 4 sentences about your character, each one sees the character from a different perspective.
-It is...
-You are...
-Thou art...
-I am...

That's all I got. He spoke about a lot more shed a lot of light on the storyboarding process as well as writing gags, which apparently he's very good at. He said in brain storming for gags he makes two lists. One of all the connotations regarding the type of character he working with, and one of all the connotations of the setting or activity the character is doing. An example he used was a cowboy doing laundry. What are all the things that people think of regarding cowboys? Hats, boots dust, horses... And for laundry there is the wash board, suds, cloths shrinking or colors blending, the sound shoes make in a dryer. Anyway when you have huge lists for both you start putting them together in funny ways.

Okay, that's all I got. Feel free to correct me or fill in the holes.

Thanks again to Matthew and to Big Fish! Here's Matt's site:

Monday, August 15, 2011


We didn't have a lot of time but I got this sketch durring lunch last thursday. I think I might paint into it later.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Hi guys

For the inaugural post I present to you, my esteemed colleges, not much... But please, come back and make this a place of interest for all artist types.

Use this blog to share personal work, sketches, thoughts on anything art related and/or links to articles and portfolios you enjoy.

This is just a quick photo copy I did one morning a few months back.