Saturday, March 29, 2008

What I Did Last Summer..

Hello again!

Well, seeing as the "Will & Dewitt" cartoon is now airing episodes regularly on both YTV (Canada) & Kid's WB (United States).. I thought it'd be safe for me to post some of the BG Design work that I'd done for them?
After a particularly distasteful experience, working at 'CORE Digital' on their "Iggy Arbuckle" series.. I started looking for new work at some of the other local Toronto animation studios.. Sending out a few Resumé/Portfolio samplers, here and there. As I happened to be in the area,-- I dropped one off personally, at 'Two Presidents Productions'..
I did not know Michael Carter, previously.. But was somewhat acquainted with Alan Kennedy, the other co-owner.. I knew Alan a bit, back when he ran his previous studio: "Canuck Creations"; which was located inside the 'A Space', at the corner of Spadina/Richmond.
Thankfully, he remembered me too.. And promised he'd keep me in mind, should any new Layout or Design work arise.. And in mid-July of last year, asked if I could do some BG Design work on their new "Will & Dewitt" cartoon, for 3-4 weeks..
Well, fortunately for me.. 3-4 weeks quickly turned into a much longer 6-month stint!
And I'm happy to say that it was a very satisfying show to work on.. Not only did they allow me to work remotely, from home. And upload the finished artwork to their FTP and CAS (Client Approval System) sites.. But they allowed me to work traditionally (pencil-on-paper), too.
To my knowledge, all of the other artists were working digitally, and in-house..

The show is a very simple Flash cartoon, aimed at a preschool audience.. They're half-show episodes (2 x 11 minutes/half-hour). Featuring a boy named "Will". And his magical morphing Frog friend (named "Dewitt")
; who acts as a kind of conscience/advisor/life coach, to young William..
It was directed by Paul Riley. With the Design Supervision, ably handled by Andrew Hickson..
My good buddy Dave Pietila, served as my main 'contact' during the production.. He engineered & managed the Layout/Paint/Setup system.. And kept me busy with Shot Lists to work on, for each episode..
For the most part, my role was to "fill rooms with stuff.." for the Layout crew. Who would take my drawings.. Vectorize & tweak them.. And send them over to the Painters. My layout drawings here, all feature hard pencil "holding" lines.. But if you've seen the show, then you already know that the "look" of the BG's is much softer, with a color-to-color finish on them.. Which makes the character poses stand out, a lot stronger.
The 4 layouts (above), were for an episode that took place in a Library.. As "Dewitt" morphs into a Cowboy, Spaceman, Pirate, and Dinosaur.. The bookshelves on the BG also transform into the appropriate Settings, around him.. All of these, needed to be designed upon the same Template, re: shelf positions..
More examples of "stuff" crammed into the BG drawing.. Toys, this time!
I know it looks quite crowded, as is. But much of it eventually gets changed by the Layout crew, working in-house.. Where they work their Photoshop "magic" on it.. Removing stuff they don't want. And/or shifting elements around.. My main responsibility, is to ensure that every part is drawn using the same Perspective scheme. Otherwise, things can really start to go awry!
Here's one of the last shots I did.. An episode about the importance of Ecology. And how polluting a community creek, really sucks!
If you've got small children in the house,-- I'm sure they'd find the cartoon appealing.. You can find the show's "Official Website", by clicking here! There's a Preview to watch. And (I think) a number of online Games to enjoy, too!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

WEHT Dave Stevens?

WEHT: "Whatever Happened To Dave Stevens?.."

That's a title for a Discussion Thread, that I've seen on a number of different Internet messageboards, over the past couple of years.. Frustrated 'comic art' fans & enthusiasts, wondering aloud where Dave Stevens has been? And what has he been up to?!
In hindsight, it turns out.. Dave spent most of his time, simply attempting to restore & retain his health, as best he could..
I was aware that he'd not been feeling well, of late.. But was surprised to hear of his personal battle with Leukemia. Sadly, it was a war that he lost, sometime on Monday, March 10...

Like most other fans, I first got to know Stevens' artwork, in the early 1980's.. In the wake of the rousing success of his 'The Rocketeer' comic-books. Even now, I still marvel at the excellent draughtsmanship & lush, slicker-than-slick inking! Amongst many favorites, Dave quickly became "the favorite comic artist.."
In 1985, while attending a comic-shop signing.. I even convinced another favorite: Mike Kaluta.. to draw me a sketch of Dave's famous creation, for me.. A chore he relished, he told me. As it was his favorite current comic character, as well..
If you're like me.. Once you've familiarized yourself with Dave's art.. Then you can't begin to imagine a reason why anyone would draw things, in any other style.. The slickness of his linework, initially sucks you in. Yet it's always solidly-drawn.. And radiates a slightly cartoony vibe, as well.
That "animated" quality, found in the movement in the Posing & Staging, may be due to Dave's pre-comic career, as an Animation storyboard/layout person. He worked for a number of years at Hanna-Barbera, before launching 'The Rocketeer'..
I think this 'Catwoman' illo for DC's Who's Who series, was one of his very best:

In 1988, I wrote Dave Stevens a gushy Fan Letter.. Along with a few of my Art Samples, for him to look at.. To my surprise, Dave took the time to send me back a lovely handwritten letter.. Turns out, he was looking for "extra hands" to help him pencil the 3rd installment of 'The Rocketeer'.. And was wondering if I'd like to take a crack at a page?!
Well, you could've knocked me over with a feather, at that prospect!..
Unfortunately, (for a number of reasons) it never came to pass.. Dave may have gotten cold feet on handing this kind of opportunity to a relative novice?.. Eventually, he gave the work to 2 more experienced hands: Art Adams and Sandy Plunkett..

In 1999, I attended my 1st-ever San Diego Comic-Con. I travelled there, with my buddy: Tom Ranheim.. A Norwegian fellow, who still runs the 'The Authorized Dave Stevens Website'. We both made a quick beeline for Dave's table. And he was very generous with both of us, despite our completely nerded-out behaviour..
When we both attended Comic-Con again, in 2001.. Dave allowed us to visit his studio in L.A., afterwards.. A cherished memory, to be sure!! Here's a photo of 'Yours Truly', nervously cradling one of the many pieces of 'Original Art' that Dave had lying around his studio space. You can see that I'm leaning back a bit, so as not to dribble any of my drool, on the Bristol Boards! ha ha
During that period, Dave had been busy working on an ambitious Illustrated Novel, featuring his latest creation: "Mimi Rodin"; a female heroine, designed after the likeness of fitness model: Marla Duncan.. The page on top, shows 'Mimi' in profile.. Underneath that, you can barely make out a half-finished watercolor illo, featuring 'Mimi' in the underground Catacombs of turn-of-the-century France..
Dave also gave us a quick tour of the Art College he was attending.. I forget the name of it now, unfortunately.. But Dave was quite enthusiastic about the place. He was studying 'Oil Painting', there. And occasionally, he would e-mail me JPEGs of his efforts, to show his progress.. Most of them, featured straight-ahead Portraiture.. Like this example:

In 2003, I managed to self-publish my own sketchbook: "WANG-DANG-DOODLE!".. (the namesake of this Blog!) The format for which, was largely based on the kind of sketchbooks that Dave had been publishing/selling, during this same period..
Thru e-mail, I tentatively inquired if Dave would perhaps allow me to try selling my book, from his own Comic-Con booth?
Though I had the money to make the trip down to San Diego. I really didn't have enough extra $ for my own table.. Dave graciously allowed me to sit with him. And the experience of sharing time with him during the 2003 show, was another truly amazing experience!

The last e-mail I received from Dave, was dated from March 23, 2007.. Almost a year ago.
He asked me how things were going.. And I wrote him back, to keep him appraised re: how my Life was going.. I wrote him back a couple of times, after that. But didn't get a response to either message..
Not unusual for Dave.. But given the circumstances now, I wish that I'd tried a bit harder to get in contact with him..

Dave had told me then, that he'd been hard at work, putting the finishing touches on his upcoming bigass hardcover/coffee table 'Art Of Dave Stevens' book. It was to be published in 2007, thru Arnie Fenner; the genius behind the recent Frank Frazetta art volumes..
Dave e-mailed me the following JPEG, to show some of the recent coloring work he'd done..
It's excruciating to me now, to imagine that Dave will be gone forever.. And that we'll see no more "new" artwork, for our eyeballs to lavish over.. But I'm hopeful that the book he'd been so diligently working on, will still someday (somehow) see the Light Of Day?.. It'd truly be a shame, if it didn't..
Last I'd heard,-- the title had been changed to: 'Dave Stevens: A Creative Life'.. An appropriate title, for a guy that's done everything from 'The Rocketeer'.. to storyboarding Spielberg's 'RAIDERS Of The LOST ARK'.. to working with Michael Jackson on his 'THRILLER' video?!.. I can't imagine a more diverse Resumé, to be honest..
The book was set to be released at the 2008 San Diego Comic-Con.. Let's keep our collective fingers crossed & hope that this happens.. I think it'd be a great legacy for him to leave behind, for all of us..

It was an honor to consider you a Friend.. Rest In Peace, Dave!!