The Evolution Of A Great Blu-Ray Cover
Stewart McKissick Show-and-Tell On Gulliver Box Design
Freelance illustrator, graphic artist, and instructor Stewart McKissick has the floor today at Greenbriar, having been invited to explain/illustrate how he came up with the cover design for Thunderbean's newly released Gulliver's Travels Blu-Ray. What follows is Stewart's own account of his art's evolution:
Every May at the Cinevent classic film convention in Columbus, I look forward to seeing what new discoveries Steve Stanchfield will be bringing to show us. In 2013 he shared a hi-definition transfer of GULLIVER’S TRAVELS that he had recently made from a 35mm IB Technicolor print. In short, it was a revelation! Jaded old film-collectors crowded around the computer monitor, marveling at images so clear and sharp, revealing details and colors, oh those colors, that most of us had either never witnessed or had not seen in over 30 years. All previous home-video releases of this important animation milestone have been sub-par at best.
Needless to say, we all urged him to make this Thunderbean’s first official Blu-ray release, and I volunteered to do the cover art for the project. As an illustrator I have had a life long fascination with animated films, especially the backgrounds, and am always looking for a project that will let me pay homage to the great artists of the past who originally created these vivid worlds. As Steve and I discussed the disc, he mentioned that as usual, he wanted lots of extras and to include some other public-domain Fleischer titles. I hit upon the notion of Gulliver holding some of the characters from those extra cartoons, Steve liked it, and a cover idea was born.
John McElwee here at his wonderful Greenbriar blog has asked me to share some of the “behind the scenes” process for making a cover like this, and as a life-long teacher I am happy to do so. To begin with, I knew I wanted a wrap-around cover so I could include a version of the beautiful backgrounds that you can now see so splendidly in this new transfer. All illustrations begin with some kind of “thumbnail” doodle to get a basic idea on paper. Here’s mine, done in literally 30 seconds on a note pad with a ballpoint pen while sitting at Cinevent. Impressive, huh? But actually it does contain all the elements I knew I wanted in the illustration: Gulliver holding the tiny characters of Popeye, Betty, and KoKo, with a background that would include some of those wonderful fairy-tale buildings and the great Little Dutch Mill model. I always knew I wanted the black & white film characters to stay black & white.
The next step is to get reference, and Steve had provided me with a raw file of the un-restored transfer. Even before the hundreds of hours of cleanup that he put into it, you could see so much more detail in this than ever before. So I made “screen captures” of key elements I wanted in the final art, really just snapshots of scenes from the films. You can see some of them here. Next, I took parts of the various captures and made rough composites of them in Adobe Photoshop to get the poses I needed. Here is the one of Gulliver and the figures in his hand that I ended up using. Most of the characters I could use exactly as they appeared in the films, as I was able to find appropriate poses where they were looking up and surprised, but for Gulliver I had to make a new pose. From these composites I made a more careful line drawing to help me visualize the final illustration. You can see that even at this stage I was beginning to think about where the type would go. I shared this with Steve for his OK, and then began the final painting.
While most of this is painted in Photoshop, I wanted the characters themselves to look as much like the actual scenes in the films as possible, meaning they would have been outlined on cels, so I digitally “inked and painted” Gulliver, Popeye, Betty, Koko, and Gabby, who I’d since added, in Adobe Illustrator. This “vector” program lets me get very clean and precise inked lines, as you can see in this comparison of the screen capture and final version of Popeye from “The Paneless Window Washer”. I later brought these into Photoshop and included them in the final painting, adding shadows and additional details. For the background, I used parts of various ones from the film combined into a new composition. You can see in the final line drawing that I originally had the mill much larger, but that was way out of scale and took up too much room needed for copy besides.
Just as with the figures, I re-painted all the background elements to make them clean and sharp, but tried to keep them as faithful to the originals as possible. While I usually like to put more personal “style” into my own work, here I knew that this image needed to be as much like a scene from the actual film as possible. I did change some of the colors to make it all hopefully blend together in a kind of “sunset” light mood. Finally for the main type, I wanted it to be just like the actual titles of the film, so I again made a screen capture, and then using Photoshop I made “new” letters (f, h, c) so I could spell out “Fleischer Classics” in the same font style. As Steve got closer to getting the final disc ready to release, I just added the copy he wanted and some other elements to put the whole design together. Here is the final painting without any of the type. I hope fans of the great Fleischer classic animations feel I did them justice. And indeed, everything Steve Stanchfield does at Thunderbean is a labor of love, by fans FOR fans. Thanks to his tireless efforts many long-neglected gems from the history of animation have been rescued and made available for new generations to study, learn from, and most of all enjoy. I’m pleased to be a small part of it.
Visit Stewart McKissick's website, with more samplings of his art, HERE.