31 December 2012

Ten things I've learned in 2012

Take them for what you feel they're worth. They were hard lessons to learn, and rather then elaborate on each of them I'll just present them here as generic fortune cookie wisdom:
  1. Just because you've known someone for a long time does not mean they are your friend. That said, true friendships are mutual efforts.
  2. I can try to prepare for future hard times, but I must balance that as to not be an expense of being happy in the present.
  3. All things are temporary. Good times and bad. But temporary doesn't necessarily mean short term.
  4. Pining over "could-have-beens" only robs you of future opportunities and potential. Learn from the past, but don't dwell in it.
  5. Just because you are good at something doesn't mean you have to find a way to monitize it. In other words, if you really want to turn a hobby into a career, you'd better be damn sure you have another way to relieve stress.
  6. I was happy to help people realize their dreams, but now I know it's been at the expense of realizing my own. Time to change that and accomplish something big.
  7. I've learned to turn hate into pity; it takes effort to understand them, but it gives me the upper hand.
  8. Greed and ego has stolen our children's future and burned our ancestors wisdom. Our generation will be remembered with both awe and contempt. I've realized that my calling is to make sure I can help retain some of that old wisdom for my forebearer's survival and happiness, and I realize that I can do that through story.
  9. "The way things are done" are just someone's opinion, and they only matter if they sign your paycheck. Opinions are only as strong as that person's resolve and the consensus of their followers, and/or if they make sense.
  10. Cutting your losses is not the same as giving up. The trick is differenciating the two, and you do that by being honest with yourself.
No resolutions for 2013, but I am going to change for the better. HAPPY NEW YEAR!

16 December 2012

Time to Change

It's been a while since I've had a chance to write in any of my blogs. Of course it always has to do with how busy my life has become. A giant chunk of my time goes to family- as it rightly should- but little ones always need to be watched like a hawk, and my wife's 60+ work hours makes my job as Mr Mom that much more important. The time I stole from sweet sleep to use for freelance was taking up everything else. And really, it wasn't fair to my clients or to my family... or to myself for that matter. Without going into too much detail, it caused too much friction with those I cared about most. It's time for a change.

So, I'm retiring from all forms of freelance. I have my sights on new interests that I hope that one day will evolve into new endeavors. But for now, time at home needs to be spent on home.

As for day job, that too is also changing. We've hired a new fantastic designer and my focus will now shift to all the back-logged video. Frankly, I'm excited for the opportunity.

With that, to get myself into the mode again, I've been looking again to Vimeo for inspiration... and I found it with this:

LONG LIVE THE KINGS - Short film documentary - from SAGS on Vimeo.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

15 November 2012

Looking up from my work stupor

Hey all, it's been far too long. I have been busy busy busy- mostly with freelance, and then some projects that have arisen while others have been shelved. The creative process is frustrating, but a big part of the chaos is simply a matter of survival. Cryptic? Yes. To sum up, it's been a matter of working to pay the bills.

I haven't had a chance to work on the Kubert Correspondence Course I spent $300 on. I don't want that to go to waste, so I need to get my butt in gear. With Joe Kubert's passing, it's been hard for me to get motivated- I took it as hard as any who admired him, and only feel the deepest condolences for his family.

That said, with old man winter peeking around the corner, I've been trying to work out some projects that I can shoehorn into my tumultuous schedule.

I met a fantastic artist online by the name of Robert Schaupp- really nice guy that possesses an incredible talent. Check out his Comic Vine Gallery and you'll readily agree with me. He had inspired me to use the forums to 'work out' in the artistic gym to pump up those creative and drawing muscles. I did one contest, with my entry which is pictured here- ATOMA: Cyberpunk Angel of Death.

I've was drawing quite a bit, then abruptly stopped, but I have some illustrations planned for a personal project that's been shelved for a while. I am in the process of getting it protected legally, but once all the i's are crossed and the t's are dotted, you won't be able to get me to shut up about it.

14 June 2012

The Muse decided to pay me a little visit

I wouldn't quite say I'm on a roll, but I have been more productive in the past month than I've been in the few month's prior.

I've done a few things that needed to be finished:

  • I finished my short film Southside of Elsewhere.
  • I've had tons of (welcome) freelance.
  • I created some concept art for James Cawley.
  • I helped with a friend's film on the 48 Hour Film Project.
  • I created a poster for his film.
You can read about SSOE and the 48 on my Lost Skies blog, but for relevance I'll just talk about the concept art and the poster here.

Concept/promotional art for James Cawley's fan film THE GUNSLINGER.
I wracked my brain trying to come up with a concept for his promotional art... so many others have done the gunslinger looking at the dark tower. I decided to put the raven in there- even though it isn't the main character's pet. What I really am proud of is the figure of Roland - his pose says something. I think it turned out pretty good, even if I do say so myself.  Photoshop composite, painting, pencil.

Illustrated movie poster for Tony Henrichsen's 48hfp entry THE BEAST WITHIN
This one came together very fast. I had an immediate idea- kind of a black velvet painting with the beast and lots of splatter, nasty chompers. The title is a graphic element that support the illustration. I actually decided to make the eyes blue instead of red for one of my red-green colorblind friends... I felt that they would probably get lost in the mix if they were red. Photoshop painting.

Big stuff coming soon!

08 June 2012

The Gunslinger Fan Film

My friend, James Cawley, is gearing up to do a fan film based on Stephen King's "The Gunslinger". He asked me to create some original art based on the book:

It's hard to really deviate from what's already been done. King's imagery is so strong, but I added my own flair with Roland's gesture- reaching out at Brown's bird Zoltan!

The other design consideration is the Dark Tower. I originally had all sorts of spires and a wicked edge to it, but it was unbeliveable, almost cartoonish. I opted for something that is simple, and seems closer to reality- though my version of the tower looks to reach 5 miles high!

Anyway, it's always a pleasure to work with James. I hope you like it!

26 May 2012

23 May 2012


After three years, Southside of Elsewhere will finally have it's online premiere! Tune in to Lost Skies Production on VIMEO on Saturday, May 26th, 2012 at 10:00am MST and watch the hard work of many people!

Here's the official synopsis: A researcher goes on the run when he tries to hide his daughter from becoming the target of a megacorporation's super-soldier project.

I'm excited for all of you to see it!

20 May 2012

Neil Gaiman's Timeless Advice for Artists

We've had a rough couple of weeks recently. We've been dealing with the passing of our young nephew, so as you can imagine it's been stressful and heart breaking. I've also had some freelance that needed a quick turn around, which was a much needed diversion.

With everything that has happened, I stumbled on this address from Neil Gaiman to graduates- and he had one striking piece of advice that I know I must follow: When times are rough and life seems overwhelming, make good art.

Now time to follow that advice.

26 April 2012

Time to retire an old friend

I tend to use tiger stripes and snake tattoos quite a bit.

Here is an old business card that I have used for years (altered here, no offense but I'd rather not advertise my cell number online :). These illustrations are old, and the card itself was in black and white to save printing costs.

In any case, it's time to retire the old bugger. It's served me well for many a yarn, but I've been using my Lost Skies business card more and more. However, I'd would still like to use a separate card strictly for illustration purposes. But what should I put on v2.0?

24 April 2012

Quick Update

It's been a bit busy lately. While Aaron is hammering out a new script, I've been taking care of life, but have also stayed creative with drawing. Not to worry, I will have a storyboard article sooner than later! As for SSOE... plan on a Vimeo release in May.

Meanwhile, please check out my other site http://juanmaestas.blogspot.com to see what I've been up to lately!

"Adventure" Library PSA

Back in 2005ish, I had done a set of illustrations used in some public service announcements on how exciting it is to read (which it is, of course). The images were given motion, sound, and music by the producer. They were rather effective. I illustrated two, and storyboarded a few others.

This particular one was titled "Adventure", starring the tomb robber "Montana Stagg", named after my friend Brett Stagg who helped me with some photo reference. I particularly like how this one turned out- it almost seems like a traditionally animated cartoon. Note how they are formatted in the "academy" aspect ratio of 4:3... the good old days of NTSC before the digital switchover.

23 April 2012

Kubert Correspondence Course Sale!

I've been waiting for a Correspondence Course sale at Kubert School, and I was hoping one would be popping up soon.

Kubert School is celebrating the 13th Anniversary (of I'm assuming their Correspondence Courses) and they have a big contest to win a print drawn and signed by Joe, Adam and Andy Kubert! 13 lucky winners of the prints will be drawn (heh) from the best of the second assignments. If that's not incentive to do your best, I don't know what is!

So I have some freelance gigs coming up which will pay for my order! And I will post my assignments and critiques!

22 April 2012

Stocking up

Hmm... what could these be for? You tell me, I've had them for a while.

The initial idea was that I wanted to convert one of my feature length screenplays into 6 issue mini-series that could become bundled into a graphic novel. I have plenty of ideas- more than I know what to do with- and often because I keep switching back and forth, it's paralyzing. Running too many directions at once paralyzes you in place. I want to do too many things and I lack focus some times- or rather I get discouraged. I'm working on it, though. I've always done well in school, freelance, and work- when I have deadlines and I have people relying on me... but it's at the expense of my own goals.

SO they're patiently waiting for me to get to the point where I won't waste them.

21 April 2012

The Cisco Kid, Volume 1

The Cisco Kid: Volume 1. Now Available For $24.95
I'm really looking forward to getting this- I just placed my order through Amazon. But a bit of background- I first came across Jose Luis Salinas' artwork while perusing Comic Art Fans' website. I've always loved the adventure comic strip, I used to cut and save many of them when I was younger- usually Prince Valiant, Spiderman, The Empire Strikes Back, Tarzan, etc. I was always taken by the draftmanship of these cartoons... ever since I was 4 years old. Seriously.

When I came across Salinas' work I was awe-struck. Anatomy, expression, landscape, light and shadow, sequential storytelling, costumes and props, inkwork... I could go on and on. AND it was all done BY HAND, nothing digital at all about it. No crutches of 3d software or anything- just plain old talent and skill.  You hardly see anything like that anymore. I'll leave that rant for another time.

However, there are many articles about Salinas throughout the web, and many examples of his art. When I found that Classic Comic Press was compiling a series of books, I was ECSTATIC!!! I hope I can gleam some sort of education from owning this, to help my own adventure cartooning and inking. Between that and Kubert School's Correspondence Course, it's just a matter of time and discipline.

Looking across their site, I've discovered another strip that I might have to get- Frank Godwin's Rusty Wiley- amazing stuff. Looks like the folks over at Classic Comic Press will be getting quite a bit of my money- and I'll gladly give it to them for such amazing books!

20 April 2012

More sketches from FB

Space Ranger Concept.
I was looking through my sketchbooks, and I realized one thing- I started drawing only 3/4 view heads. I think I was searching for a new 'style'.  I'll post some of those in the future, but I found that I was in a rut. Nothing really new, more like random doodles, I wasn't really exploring ideas or finishing anything that I was drawing. What happened?

It's frustrating. I've dedicated the past few years (and tears) to filmmaking- which has been fun, and has taught me many things about storytelling, cinematic visual language, timing, acting, lighting- all things that are in the best of comic books, but I've let my drawing abilities lag. I am extremely out of practice, and sometimes I beat myself up about "had I stuck with it, I'd be much better." I then have to remind myself that what I've learned while filmmaking is equally, if not more valuable than just working on technical skills.

Still, I look around and realize that I haven't done as much- or improved as much- as I wanted. I haven't accomplished what I had set out to do all those years ago when I was in school.  But that's a matter of hard work and focused direction... and I'm getting there!

SO as I try to figure that one out, I am posting a few of my last 'finished' drawings. I think taking that Kubert School Correspondence Course will go a long way to helping me find my groove again.

Barbarian sketch... I realized I was lacking a bit in anatomy.

My Space Ace drawing before photoshop colors.

My Street Mage drawing before photoshop colors.

60s sci-fi babe.

19 April 2012

A few older FB posts...

Some more stuff that I have on Facebook that I had shared with my friends. I was on a pretty good kick of posting things once or twice a week until life kind of took over.

Sketch book characters. The Dude with the hat is Recondo from GI Joe :)

A villainess inspired by Cruella DeVille. My wife told me she looks like a manager we had at one of our old jobs.

This was for a freelance project- A British Gunnary Sgt during the Napoleonic Wars.

Just a typical, heavily tattooed bad-ass.

A futuristic corporate security guard concept.

17 April 2012

Kubert School Correspondence Courses

Ever since I've seen the ad for it in an old comic when I was fourteen (many, many years ago), I've wanted to go to the Joe Kubert School of Cartooning in Dover, New Jersey. Life happened and I made other choices, so the dream of going to college there may never come to fruition, but the desire to go there never faded.

That said, I've been going back and forth for YEARS about doing the Correspondence Course.  And although the price is a little steep for me, it's far less than taking a class at the local community college.

Now, I think I'm going to go ahead and do at least one (Superheroes) to see how it goes. Wish me luck!

28 January 2012

Conceptualization for Film: Part Two

Wikipedia has a pretty good definition of concept art: "Concept art is a form of illustration where the main goal is to convey a visual representation of a design, idea, and/or mood for use in films, video games, animation, or comic books before it is put into the final product. Concept art is also referred to as visual development and/or concept design. This term can also be applied to retail design, set design, fashion design and architectural design." 

The level of concept art depends on how much a specific idea needs to be created and produced. This can be as simple as a color palette and wardrobe ideas, to dressing a room, to creating vehicles, props and prosethics. Sci fi and fantasy genres will more than likely have more concept art designs than a modern day drama.

As always, it's best to have a finished script so you know what you need to design.  There needs to be a visual breakdown of each scene, each shot, and everything that will need to be created for use.  This can be anything from specific specialized props, costumes, characters, vehicles, building, etc etc etc.  Everything needs to be created if it's not bought off the shelf.

Of course, Concept Art is used other than film. It's heavily used in video games, comic books, etc.  Here is an example of characters for Jason Anderson's Role Playing Game "SoulChasers":
Post-apocalypic characters Moy, Snake, and Hannah.

The above example is far more refined than what you'd typically use when you're conceptualizing something- it's more akin to production art.  Concept art should be more rough- to get a point across.

For Archangel Alpha, I created early concepts for the "Alphas", as well as some other vehicles. Here are some thumbs and design notes:
We really played around for quite a while on the head design. The director wanted wings on the head, since these were aerial combat mecha. The design went through dozens of revisions, which inspired the eventual final design that was created by the director himself.

Original Thumbs.

For Two Sides of the Moon, I created a possible idea on what the Skinwalker could look like:
While certainly not the final design for the skin walker, we did need to decide how large the monster would be. Stilts were a heavily considered option in a real costume.

For dramas, it's often a good idea to design wardrobe and makeup for a consistent look, even if it's as simple as photographing the actors with wardrobe changes.  On American Junkie, a drama about drug abuse and teen pregnancy, I created some basic wardrobe suggestions before they cast anyone:
The bad boyfriend. You can tell these are old, before I started a system of labeling them.

The teen junkie girlfriend. I also made some notes about possible makeup to emphasize her drug addiction.

For James Cawley's Bigfoot short, I created refined thumbs for to give direction to their FX artist:
Possible creature looks- we didn't want the typical man-in-the-suit look.

A favorite look for the creature's face. He came out a little typical, something that quickly happens when you refine a design.

There are a ton of resources for the concept artist- conceptart.org is one of the largest.Or simply google Concept Art tutorials.

However, it's okay to be inspired by another piece of art and to run and make it into your own- but it's NEVER okay to flat out plagerize it.

Next week: Storyboarding!!

13 January 2012

Conceptualization For Film: Part One

I'm highly visual. I've spent 21 years learning to illustrate- from commercial illustration to comic books to TV storyboards to concept design for film. So of all the things filmmaking-wise that I feel somewhat qualified to talk about is conceptualizing your film.

What's involved? Well, there's plenty: Key Scenes, conceptual art, storyboards, animatics, and production art- just to name a few.  In this post, we'll discuss KEY SCENES.

First off- the #1 thing that a conceptual artist should have gotten from the director or producer, above ALL ELSE, is a FINISHED LOCKED SCRIPT. I consider it a red flag when the script isn't finished.  I feel it means the director is indecisive and is looking for inspiration within someone else's work. Some have made reference to George Lucas using concept designers to inspire his script for the prequel trilogy... but we saw what happened there.  Of course, the designers don't mind, they're getting overtime.

Also, to work with unfinished scripts means a scene might change the tone of the entire movie... plus without an unfinished script, often the director themselves don't know what they want- and you fly into an endless waste of time designing by trial and error until you've accidentally hit on something they want.

The same goes for you as the director- if you don't know what you want, you're going to spend time and money exploring that. Now, if you have money, then I have the time... but that's for another post.  First off, let's talk about coming up with a way create the spirit of the film by using Key Scene Illustrations.

After they have a finished script, I read it trying to find the key scenes that define the movie visually. I'll talk these over with the director to see if it's where they felt the emotional and visual high points of the film are. 

These Key Scene Illustrations often will be used for investment pitches, or if money is in place, an anchor to keep the spirit of your visuals consistent. Concept designers will often find inspiration within these key scene illustrations and draw out more ideas. It may also inspire the director of photography, or even give the director insights into their script where they hadn't seen before.

For Archangel Alpha, I created six Key Scenes- using color, tone, texture and elements to give you the sense of otherworldliness. Four of these are scattered around the internet in articles relating to Archangel Alpha, but the last two are making an online appearance for the first time.

This scene was simply to show one of the main characters, Alex, looking out over a Soviet inspired homeland of Rodinia. I used lots of greys and blues to show how cold the world was as it entered into a new ice age.

Admittedly, this image is an homage to many an action film, heroic silhouettes of the ace fighters flying in an epic sky.

To give contrast to a world covered in ice and snow, I wanted to show the dirt that has been kicked up from a massive battlefield known as the Sea of Glass.  Here, the main character, Elena, emerges from her crashed Alpha to witness the wounds the world war has inflicted on her homeland.

As a direct contrasted moment to Elena and the Sea of Glass, this scene shows Alex and Grigori, overlooking what was once a proud city. Silhouetted over a stormy sky, and the ice cold rain shows that devastation has hit everywhere. In a way, this scene is far more bleak than the the previous one.

This scene would have been in the beginning as the province of Praetoria riots against the Rodinian capitol as it strips it of resources. Dust, smoke and tear gas mix as people run from Rodinian Alphas that take harsh police action on the rioters.  Although the script was written in 2007, it seems allegorical to our world of today.

I had experimented with this scene, animating it in a gif image- click on it to see some .gif animated action.  It is a destroyed and abandoned bunker that the characters encounter in the dead world. The green artificial lighting almost makes it feel eerie and haunted... showing that even the ghosts are fading from this nearly dead world.

In Two Sides of the Moon, I created five Key Scenes, again using color, but also suggesting interesting camera angles.
In the beginning of the film, a strange skeleton is found by archeologists. The reveal on this would have been an overhead so we could clearly see the skeleton in it's grave, and the archaeologists almost as strange ants.
The Skinwalker- the monster of the story- lurks in a young girls room, waking her. It is a very low-key light scene, barely able to see. While my first inclination was to have the eyes glow, the director wanted the attention to be on the girl- who herself illuminated by the moonlight, and she can barely make out the weird shadow. These decisions belong to the director.

The family that the story revolves around is camping in the woods.  The father attempts to scare the children with the legend of the skinwalker, which lurks in the woods, just watching, melding with the cold, post autumn trees. The scene is cold, but the only warmth is the tiny light that is around the family- which the monster tries to stay away from.

As a direct contrasting shot to the beginning where the skinwalker bones are discovered, a strange ritual takes place as the family is put into coffins as sacrificial fodder to appease the skinwalker. As the dancers dance around the bonfire, a strange pinwheel pattern emits from them.  I came up with the idea to give a different spin on an otherwise dreadful scene... I wanted to show a certain beauty in their beliefs.
The secret society that revolves around the skinwalker attacks and silences one of the perceived threats to their way of life.  The Sheriff goes down in a grisly scene of vain blood as cloaked figures enter his house and take his family. I felt that the scene should be devoid of color, and framed by shafts of light and shadow.  He dies in the most undignified way... I really wanted them to seem like demons.
In summary, the director should be involved while making Key Scenes.  While it is the work of the artist to interpret the script and bring something forth in an emotional way, and even can suggest camera angles and composition, the director should begin DIRECTING at this point... because ultimately the film is theirs to mold into a work of art.

Next week: Concept and Production Art
Questions? Feel free to post in the comments below.