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The San Diego Zoo Murals – Part Eighteen

Having finished the mural depicting the contemporary wildlife of San Diego, I have returned to the San Diego Pleistocene mural. This painting examines San Diego 20,000 years ago, back when San Diego had elephants in the form of mammoths and mastodons.

Since these murals will be installed in the San Diego Zoo’s new elephant compound, I felt that the gigantic Columbia mammoth should be prominently featured in the painting. Because of its importance, I endeavored to paint a truly monumental depiction of this mighty beast.

Note that the tapir and flamingo are pretty roughly blocked in here. I decided to move the tapir as it didn’t seem to be on the same plane as the flamingo and mammoth. You can see my hasty repositioning here:

I then refined the tapir and painted out the ghost image on which the new tapir painting overlapped.

For this southern California prehistoric tapir I chose a coat pattern based upon young modern tapirs, as the coat and color patterns of the fur, feathers and scales of young animals are often vestigial throwbacks to their ancestors.

As you can see, I corrected the flamingo’s anatomy and proportions from the rough lay-in.

Note that the uniquely curved beak of the flamingo had not yet evolved.

Here’s all three animals together. I’ve also started reworking the sabertooth cats.

…and the entire painting so far:

Next: The Jaguar and Sabertooths

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What a Monsterpalooza!

I Meet the Legendary Dick Smith

Aaron asked for a Monsterpalooza report. OK!

It was great, as usual. The highlight for me was meeting make-up legend and Rick Baker mentor Dick Smith (that’s us up top; photo by Samantha Holmes). A photo op with the amazing Mr. Smith seemed to be on EVERYBODY’s mind (including mine)…

The night before Monsterpalooza saw the premiere of the documentary on Bob and Kathy Burns, Beast Wishes. The film is great and the response was phenomenal. My friends Frank Dietz and Trish Geiger have put together an incredibly entertaining and loving tribute to the two people who are perhaps the most beloved icons in the world of us Monster Kids.

I had breakfast with Bob and Kathy and friends on Sunday morning. They were quite touched and delighted by the film.

My friends, the lovely Bela Lugosi family, were set up not far from the Monsterpalooza entry point, right next to Sara Karloff and the Lon Chaney family.

Mike Hill had his usual spectacular display. This time he sculpted full size figures of Jack Pierce touching up Boris Karloff as The Mummy, plus Rick Baker making up David Naughton as the American Werewolf in London. Incredible! You’d swear you just saw them breathe! Do some Googling and I’m sure you’ll turn up pics people shot of Mike’s fine work.

Speaking of American Werewolf, John Landis was at Monsterpalooza signing his new monster book for Dark Delicacies. John was the only one of my director pals to show up. I believe Guillermo del Toro is busy on Pacific Rim, Frank Darabont is working on a new film noir series for TV, Jon Favreau is tied up with two huge projects and J. J. Abrams has his fingers in a dozen pies…

Rick Baker was ill on Friday but made it to Monsterpalooza later.

Another of the big highlights was seeing my dear friend Donnie Waddell (guest coordinator at WonderFest), who came all the way from Louisville, Kentucky (the number of people from out-of-state for Monsterpalooza was the most I’ve ever seen. I guess the word has gotten out on what a great show this is).

Long time friend Pete Von Sholly and his talented wife Andrea were selling Pete’s monster wares, including his gigantic monster panorama murals. The ultimate Dinosaur Kid Don Glut reported to me on how touched he was by Beast Wishes.

My big sellers at the show were my Tarman action figure (duh) and my Dinosaur Discoveries book. Make-up wizard Todd Masters purchased my pen and brush drawing of Noble Johnson as the zombie in Ghost Breakers (Mr. Johnson was also the chief in King Kong).

Eliot Brodsky and his staff work incredibly hard to make this the coolest monster show in the world.

Thanks, Eliot, for another fantastic Monsterpalooza!

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I look forward to seeing my friends, fans, colleagues and those who are both this weekend at the coolest most amazing monster show in the west: Monsterpalooza! It was at capacity last year, so get there early.

I’ll be selling my books, prints, paintings, drawings and my Tarman action figures. I think the Tarman himself, Alan Trautman will be there, too, along with other cast members from The Return of the Living Dead — as well as every make-up and effects guy in The Biz.

See you there!

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The San Diego Zoo Murals – Part Seventeen

Here is the modern wildlife mural completed. When I say “completed”, that means for now. I’m going to put this painting away for a week or so and then look at it with fresh eyes to see if any errors have become apparent or if there are bits to be added, refined or taken out.

Compare it with the last mural entry’s image and you’ll see many changes. The biggest one is uniting the dark values at the bottom of the painting and the refinement of the plants and landscape. Also noticeable is the change in values on the two most distant mountain ridges. Allow me to share a great secret of how I accomplished this:

If I had left the two distant mountain ridges the same values they were previously, it would have severely limited the feeling of depth in the painting. So, I mixed up a batch of titanium white with a little purple, giving me a nice lavender/orchid color. I heavily diluted this color with lots of medium (I use 50% turpentine with 50% Liquin). I then brushed it over the two farthest mountain ridges. It covered them up right away so I began to work the paint into the canvas with my brush. This left me with a nice translucent glaze that lightened the mountain ridges without making them chalky (which would have happened if I had just used straight white). The orchid color worked with and enhanced the underpainting.

I did this twice because I really wanted to knock back those mountains. After the second glaze I felt the two ridges were too similar in color so I mixed up a glaze consisting of titanium white with a bit of pthalo green (I’ve found glazes of viridian and purple can do magic things together). Heavily diluting it again, I brushed it over the closer ridge, working it into the canvas to get rid of any streaks. Like my old teacher Harold Kramer used to say, “For a change of form look for a change of value, a change of color — a change of some goddam thing.” I used both a change in value and color for the closer ridge to separate it from the farthest ridge.

You can see here that I refined several of the plants, visually defining them as particular species.

I finally painted the tarantula that is the focus of the gray fox‘s attention. The green plants at the very bottom are real. I shot the painting in my front yard, standing it upright on my lawn. A bit of the lawn got in front of the painting’s bottom edge.

That digger pine nicely breaks up that long row of California oaks.

I was in San Diego last Saturday, celebrating museum president Mick Hager‘s twenty years at the San Diego Natural History Museum. I wore a tux! On the drive back both my wife and I noticed some of the clouds dipping below the tops of the coastal mountains. My wife reminded me of this when I was finishing the sky this week. I included some of what I saw in the mural. It was a great way to break up that long hard line of mountain ridge tops.

There wasn’t too much left to do to finish this section of the mural. I can now see that I need to go back and brighten up the mid-ground prickly pear fruit a bit.

Next: Back to the Pleistocene!

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JEAN “Moebius” GIRAUD – Part Eight

Inside Moebius
Like nearly every other human on the planet, Jean Giraud was subject to the occasional dark spell, despite being heaped with honors all over the world. He had one such depression just a few years ago. He was going through a very dark period of feeling old and forgotten. His way of dealing with his depressed state was to draw. He began by creating an unusually loose semi-autobiographical exercise in self-diagnosis and surrealism entitled Inside Moebius. His feelings poured out on to the pages of the first volume, then the second volume and then volume three. The art in each successive volume grew tighter and tighter. Jean drew six volumes in all, the last looking like classic Moebius in style.

My clever friend had used these six volumes to work out his personal problems and their solutions in public. Moebius being Moebius, he happily ended up resolving everything that was bothering him in those 700 (!) pages.

Moebius' Last Arrzakk Book

Last Time Together
Jean was at the peak of his powers as an artist just before our final time together last year at the Creative Talent Network show in Burbank, California. His new Arzakk book had just been published and it was every bit as good as his very best work.

Jean was the CTN event’s special guest. He was the subject of a long, well-researched interview and career overview that evening. This Los Angeles area celebration of Giraud was simultaneously mirrored in Paris by the largest exhibition ever assembled of Jean’s work (Moebius-Trans-Forme; October 12, 2010 – March 13, 2011).

Exhibition Catalogue Cover

I had heard he had leukemia (it had been reported in The Wall Street Journal) but he looked terrific that night. It was the look of fear and sadness in the eyes of his wife that betrayed the true extent of Jean’s condition. Jean and I had a great, extremely loving conversation away from the CTN crowds. We expressed our deep affection for each other and each other’s work. I gave his wife contact info for an expert I knew regarding Jean’s particular type of leukemia and alternative treatments. She seemed quite relieved. Sadly, the leukemia proved to be too far along. I never saw Jean again after our final hug that evening.

I miss you already, Jean. Your incredible body of work lives on in the shelves of my library, ready at any moment to reacquaint me with your genius. You, my friend, still live in my heart.

Au Revoir et Bon Voyage, Mon Ami!

See you on the Other Side.

William Stout
Pasadena, California

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JEAN “Moebius” GIRAUD – Part Seven

Arrzhahk's Last Flight

I was asked to participate in a book celebrating one of Moebius’ famous creations: Arzak. Each artist was given a full color page to express their own thoughts on the character. I created a full page illustration entitled “Arzach’s Last Flight”. It depicted the death of Arzack, the moment at which his soul was exiting his body.

I heavily loaded the picture with symbolic imagery. Of course, Jean immediately and enthusiastically grasped what the picture was about and what I was doing. Not that it was difficult; I imagine it must have been much like a Harvard literature professor reading and interpreting Dick and Jane. Nevertheless, he confided in me that it was his favorite piece in the book.

I was delighted when one day I received a phone call from Jean’s agent (and my friend) Jean-Marc L’Officier, asking me if I would like to collaborate with Moebius on a new Arzachk story. Moebius wanted to expand his empire a bit, producing a comic book based on his own characters — but with different artists interpreting them. Moebius had written various Arzaak stories that were all in various states of completion. Giraud gave me first pick.

I chose a story that Jean had begun but had then stopped, halfway through the story. I relished the idea of this being a true collaboration — him writing and laying out the first half, me coming up with the story and layouts for the second half and the story’s ending. Then I penciled, inked, lettered and colored (the pen and ink version appeared in black and white in Moebius Comics; my later color version was published in Heavy Metal. If you pick up the Moebius Comics version, please note that one of the story’s pages was printed upside down, much to the mortification of Jean-Marc). I followed the two basic Arzaach rules: no dialogue and a different spelling of Arzzaak whenever his name appeared.

We continued to see each other off and on through the years, mostly at comic book conventions. He tracked me down at Comic-Con one year. I told him how delighted I was by Angel Claw, his then-new tightly rendered, extremely sexually graphic collaboration with Alejandro Jodorowsky.

His eyes lit up (I assume he caught a lot of flak for the work in this country) and twinkled with mischievous glee.

“It was very unexpected of me, no?”

“Yes — but beautiful.”

One of the milder images from Angel Claw
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JEAN “Moebius” GIRAUD – Part Six

Quality and Characteristics of his work
Sergio Aragonés
pointed out to me one day that everything in a Jean Giraud drawing has a function. If you built it, it would work. That’s just one small indication of how Giraud so thoroughly realized his worlds.

An example of Moebius' fine pen work

Technique: Pen & ink, Brush, Paint
Although Giraud became a master of every medium he touched, Jean primarily became known for his extraordinary skills with pen and ink as well as watercolor and gouache. Not surprisingly, considering his tendency to constantly challenge himself, he eventually became proficient with digital color as well. Jean’s line of serigraphs were especially striking.

Jean’s pen work could be breathtakingly simple or astonishingly complex. His line weight was always perfect for the subjects and styles he was depicting. The styles he selected to use were determined by whatever would most effectively tell the story at hand.

One of the most interesting gigs Jean ever landed was when he was approached to design an entire floor of the Metreon, a Sony-owned building in San Francisco, intended as the first of a proposed chain of urban entertainment centers. Each of the Metreon’s four floors was assigned to a different artist (one of the floors, for example, was devoted to Maurice Sendak).

Jean went the distance with this one. He was extremely hands-on with every detail. He chose all the paint colors for the various rooms and designed exquisitely sculpted bas-relief decorations for all the walls and doorways — he essentially designed every cubic inch of his floor. Giraud even designed his arcade’s video games. Visiting the Airtight Garage (Jean’s floor was named after a popular Moebius graphic novel) was like taking a trip inside Moebius’ head.

Sony was blown away by the detail of his designs for the Airtight Garage. They understood that Jean went far and above the call of duty on this one, way beyond what he was obligated to do in the job description. Knowing Jean’s love of the Old West, Sony purchased an unexpected bonus for him in appreciation of his extra efforts: they presented him with an original Frederic Remington painting.

Sadly, the Airtight Garage floor of the Metreon no longer exists. I thought it would be there forever. I wish I had done a thorough photo documentation of Jean’s amazing space.

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JEAN “Moebius” GIRAUD – Part Five

Moebius Pen Drawing of He-Man
Moebius/Stout Ink & Watercolor Version of He-man Redesign

In 1986 as production designer for the film Masters of the Universe, I hired Jean Giraud to solve some of our film’s more difficult design problems (he was living in Santa Monica at the time, working on and trying to raise money for his own film project). It was a joy to collaborate with Giraud. Among other elements, I assigned him the tasks of re-designing the lead character, He-man, as well as the Sorceress. Giraud also came up with concepts for the throne room, the center of power to all of the universe.

In his re-design of He-man (played in the film by Dolph Lundgren) Moebius completely modernized the look of the character, making him visually hip and relevant for the audience of that time. Jean came up with a brilliant concept for He-man’s armor. He theorized that the armor was made from scraps of metal and machinery picked up from the battlefield and then strapped to his body. Unfortunately, I had to fight Mattel (the toy company that produced the Masters of the Universe toy line) every step of the way to even get a watered down version of this design on the screen.

Giraud’s throne room design (I’ll try to find a copy of this design and post it in the future) included a row of what I referred to as “space gods” lining the walkway to the throne. Below the walkway was a series of gargoyle-like creatures. I picked up on Jean’s concept immediately and incorporated it into my set design. Since power is neither inherently good nor bad — it’s what you make of it — both the yin and the yang of power needed to be represented in that room.

Willow Landscape

Giraud created magnificent concept art for George Lucas and Ron Howard‘s Willow (1988).

He then wrote the story and produced concept art for a Japanese animated feature version of Winsor McKay’s classic, dream-like comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland (1989). That same year Jean contributed creature designs to James Cameron‘s The Abyss, working once again with Ron Cobb.

Giraud contributed character and other designs to Space Jam (1996). Luc Besson’s 1997 science fiction feature The Fifth Element was production designed by Moebius and the creator of the French sci-fi comic book series Valerian, Jean-Claude Mézières.

Eventually, a Lieutenant Blueberry film was made to mixed reviews.

Lieutenant Blueberry Promotional Image

Jean contributed this painting (see above) to raise financial interest in the film at Cannes. I don’t know whether or not Giraud had any involvement in the making of the actual movie (Jean has no imdb credit on this film), ultimately shot and released as Renegade in 2004. It ended up starring Vincent Cassel as Mike Blueberry — not Martin Kove.