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Archive for August 2009

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Microsoft Superhero Video Storyboards and Stills

So, after Microsoft decided on a format change from an 8-page comic book to a semi-animated video, I had to rethink the storytelling and change gears. Either format was fine with me; I just had to disregard the comic page layouts I had already begun to formulate in my head and think instead how to tell the story in a fixed widescreen format, with zooms, pans, fades and simple movements and effects. Instead, then, of doing comic book page layouts of varying panel sizes and shapes, I needed to do a series of what amounted to 35-40 "shooting storyboards" to figure and convey the action frame by frame. These were drawn quickly and small, 2" x 3", taking maybe 3-10 minutes each, depending on the degree of complexity. They're not much to look at, they're supposed to be just enough to form the plan to tell the story, a guide for effects and movements, and figure shot compositions. Below is a sampling of the boards alongside the finished color shots. The story begins with the four heroes meeting at their...meeting place, Justice League of America-style:

Nova (kinda like Charlie did with his Angels) speaks to them via intercom, informing them of the situation and and their task. Then, my fave, Affinity affords her mates a glimpse into the Dark World of the Workers they're to aid:

The Workers' World is filled with shadow and devoid of color, as they toil away chained to their desks at their desktops, limited and hampered in their prison-like workplace:

Affinity peers into that Gray World and transports herself and her colorful clan there to perform their task:

But despite their best efforts, the evil force, Pernicious fights back and begins to drain color and energy from the heroes!

Harmony turns on her charm, spreading enthusiasm and sweet color to the workers, freeing them from their sorry state:

The above shots of Harmony leaving her feet we determined to be superfluous, slowing down the action. I'd hoped to see her lower into frame from above, but that action was cut from the final video.

Harmony and the heroes celebrate before returning to their headquarters for kudos from Nova.

In the end, I lost only a few effects and motions I'd planned and hoped to see, and was pleased the animator added effects I hadn't thought of or expected. To view the video for the rest of the story, visit the GXS Facebook page. And now in benediction, Harmony wishes you peace and happiness:

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Afghani in Repose

A quick warm-up sketch I did before plowing into work today. Done with my new Copic Multiliner (0.7) and the trusty Pentel Pocket Brush.

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Michelle Shocked Video Intermission

Not feeling great today, so I'll try and post the rest of the Microsoft stuff ASAP. In the meantime, here's a little pick-me-up, Michelle Shocked live doing one of my favorites of her songs, (Don't You Mess Around With) My Little Sister, from one of my favorite albums ever, Captain Swing, which sports a fantastic cover by Jaime Hernandez.

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Microsoft Heroes Character Design Process

While planning their new sales tool, GSX, Microsoft wanted to add some energy and pizazz by utilizing the superhero genre. Initially, they intended to use the comic book format to help get the point across, create interest and enthusiasm within their sales force. So, when I began designing the four heroes, a comic book it was to be. With some superhero illustration projects I've had over the years, clients sometimes lean towards a silly, campy and retro tone, which is fine - it can be fun. Many seem to want to emulate the Batman TV show. Y'know, it comics - it's for kids! I've drawn a Pizza-Man, who wore a hairnet and glasses. Also, heroes who aren't too muscular or curvy, or even in superhero costumes. In this case, Microsoft wanted something cool and edgy. I was on the right track right off the bat with the two heroines, Affinity and Harmony. Affinity has a punk-ish look, with something of a mohawk and lots of leather. I was asked to try leggings instead of the semi-loose leather pants, change out the boots, and then add skirt with chains. Her tattoo was later dropped. Though I think she ended up with kind of a Desperately-Seeking-Susan look, she turned out well, my favorite of the four to draw.

Harmony was to be meditative and calming, so I went with a clean and straightforward super-heroine outfit, borrowing some french curves from the yin/yang symbol. She was good to go from the start.

My initial designs for the two male heroes, PI and Alt leaned towards a sci-fi look, more clean and streamlined, evoking the new Battlestar Galactica. But to their credit, the folks at Microsoft yearned for something less "Star Trek" and more "Watchmen." So it was back to the drawing board for the males. Alt wasn't too big a change, I just added a leather jacket and made his outfit mostly black, darkening his overall look. He became a bit more serious and cocky, rather than too smiley and friendly.

For PI, a complete overhaul was required. He became a more shadowy, detective-like character in a long overcoat and fedora, more like the Watchmen's Rorschach, Will Eisner's Spirit, or DC Comics' Phantom Stranger.

I also designed an Average Joe worker, then named Simon, patterned a bit after "Jim" from The Office. His role decreased as the script was developed, but I used him in the final art when depicting workers in the story.

About halfway through the character design process, the client changed gears and decided to do a semi-animated video instead. That was fine with me. More about that part of the creative process tomorrow, including some storyboards and some of my favorite shots from the video...

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Father's Day Abstract

My daughter, Laura did this and presented it to me for Father's Day. It sure cheered me up during a rough time.

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Canine Classic Animal Shelter Tee Shirt Art

I did this dog art pro bono for a good friend who volunteers at an animal shelter in Rockford, IL, the Winnebago County Animal Services Auxiliary. Because the folks at the shelter wanted a little girl's hands to be bandaging the dog's paw, I figured it'd be best to use a cute little puppy (to minimize the size of the hands and maximize the dog, proportionally) and settled on a tiny Corgi. The art was used on posters for their 20th annual Canine Classic fundraiser event, as well as on tee shirts which will be available at the event and regularly at the shelter.

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Posing with Microsoft Heroes

The heroes I designed and drew for a video for Microsoft's new sales interface, GSX appeared at MGX, the recent Microsoft Global Sales Meeting as life-sized stand-ups. Here are some of my favorite photos from that Atlanta, GA event, even while the heroes and GSX are going global, as GSX is being rolled out internationally. Learn more at the GSX Facebook page.

The four GSX Heroes: Alt, Affinity, Harmony & PI

Microsoft employees in muscle and meditative poses.

Alt with his girlfriend, Molly.

On Monday I'll post some behind-the-scenes character design art and a few of my favorites shots my wife, Mary and I produced for the video.

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The Evolution of an Illustration: Rose-Fairy-Rock-Birthday-Girl with Snakes

After freelancing in art for 25 years, most jobs go smoothly for me and for my clients. Sure, with some jobs you'll run into a bump in the road, a creative challenge or a deadline shift, but I've been doing this a while and communicate pretty well. I know what to ask and how to deliver. But then there's that atypical job that starts choppy turns out to be a rough ride all the way through. A short while back, I got an email from a client with whom I've worked before. They needed some art for a 16-year-old girl's birthday invitation and cake. They wanted me to replicate another artist's style and the budget was decent but on the low side. I responded I didn't want to replicate the style per se, but would take it on if I could do my own spin on it. Plus, it was needed over the weekend. So I jumped on it and did a quick sketch that was exactly what I had in mind, and thought it included elements that were asked for:

Since it was Saturday, I proceeded right to final pencils, inks and colors so we could deliver the art on time on Monday. I probably should have sent his sketch to run it by them; it may have saved us all some trouble. But at the time, I was pleased with the results, and so was the art director:

But apparently, the end client wanted something more dark and edgy, so we were asked to change the girl, remove her wings and add a leather jacket and a snake around her shoulders. We also added more hearts, making them darker and changed the color of the roses. I asked for more cash to cover the extra work, but the budget was topped out, and so I agreed to make the changes at no extra cost. Move on and job done, right? Not so fast.

We next heard this still didn't please the end client. They now wanted to remove the girl altogether. I was ready to bail on the job entirely and receive no payment of work already done and told them so, but more money was offered to make yet more changes and finish up the job. At this point a couple weeks had passed beyond the original deadline, which is kind of funny since it seemed such a rush at first. So, my wife and I patched in more roses and thorns, different snakes, made more color changes and delivered a final illustration they were happy with:

Now I like all three of these finished illustrations, but still prefer my first one. A lot of the problems we encountered on this job might have been avoided with better communication from my side, the middleman and the end client. Or maybe I shouldn't have taken it on in the first place, since I am generally resistant to replicate the style of another artist. I've turned down work like that before, in which case I miss out some income but save time, trouble and headaches. Though I'm sure all involved wish the project had gone more smoothly, in the end everyone got what they wanted and needed, and I still get to use and display my original illustration.

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Microsoft Superhero Sales Video

We recently completed artwork for a superhero video for a new internal Microsoft sales tool interface, The Rise of GSX (Global Sales Experience). The video can be viewed at the GSX Facebook page, where you can become a fan and check out screen captures from the video and desktop wallpapers. Don't miss the photos from MGX, the recent Microsoft Global Sales Meeting, where 12,000 international Microsoft salespeople had their chance to pose with life-sized stand-ups of the four GSX heroes: Alt; Harmony; PI and Affinity.

I'll post here more art from the project here soon, as well as behind the scenes pencils, layouts and initial character designs.

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Building a Robot

On this blog in April I posted about Jewish Robot Comics. For that installment, I needed to design a robot, the Sedertron 2000, who would be built by and interact with the star of the recurring strip, Joey. Sometimes I have a good idea of a design of character in my head before I begin to draw. Other times I'll work it out at the old drawing board in the studio. But on most occasions faced with that fun challenge, I like to just doodle and play on the page while watching TV or sitting outside, to let the sketching take me places, especially when I'm not sure where I'm going or have just a vague, Will-o'-the-Wisp idea of a character design. For this robot, I wanted him to be fun but formidable. My first stabs...

...were not on the right track. These looked not personable enough, or too scary. His head was looking like a toaster or insect or a Stormtrooper. Had to change gears:

Better in some ways, but too silly, clowny and simple. Then I began to hone in:

Yeah, that's more like it! Now to just complete the design for his full figure:

I also needed to come up with an old professor/teacher, who was quick and easy. He came out right away on paper exactly the way I saw him in my mind's eye.

More details of the robot were refined as I worked on the layouts and pencils. My wife and I ended up coloring him differently than I'd originally intended, which was probably mostly red and grey. I like him better this way:

To read the full story check out our Prime Projects section, which also features other Jewish comics, and other assorted projects. And you can find more Fricke robots on this blog.

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