Thursday, 15 July 2010

Ironhide Exclusive Print available at London Film and Comic Con

I'm pleased to announce that an EXCLUSIVE print of Ironhide will be available from the Apocalypse Comics stall at LFCC. The print has been drawn by the awesome Transformers artist Casey Coller and coloured by moi, as a tie in to Casey's IDW mini-series "Ironhide".

The print is extremely limited and once they are sold out there will never be any more printed, so snap them up while you can.

Only a day to go until the LFCC Last years was amazing and hopefully this year will be even better!. This year I'm there again colouring sketches while you wait. I'll be at the Apocalypse Comics booth where the confirmed artists will be my lovely lady Jess Bradley and and for those that want it I'll be colouring. I'm also happy to colour any sketches brought to me from any artist on the day. If you have colour reference that would be handy!

For anyone who purchases a sketch (or brings me a sketch) an extra £10 will get you a fully coloured version of your headshot sketch, and a full body sketch for an extra £15. Examples from last year are here:

They'll be coloured and printed out high quality on glossy photopaper as fast as my wee hands will carry them and ready for you to take away on the day. If you want them on the day its best to come over to me ASAP as the slots fill pretty quick. Anything not done on the day (or if you don't mind waiting) will be sent in the post ASAP after the event. If anybody has already purchased a sketch and would like it coloured BEFORE the show to collect there then let me know.


Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Iron Man 2 in Review - SPOILERS ABOUND

Iron Man was an unexpected surprise of a movie. It managed to find surprising depth, suprising warmth and humour and it had inevitable scenes of blowing stuff up. And it blew things up really well.

Iron Man 2 has a lot of pressure weighing on it. Not only is it a sequel to an exceptionally popular movie but it also acts as a big link in the chain of the upcoming connected Marvel Universe of films. If it isn't very good then it bodes badly for the films to follow.

I'm pleased to say that it is a good movie, though unfortuantely it isn't a great movie. One of the most important aspects of a "big" movie like this one is the action and this film has it in spades, and each sequence is enjoyable, frenetic and has a very good pace to it.

One of the main parts where the film fall down relative to the first is in characterisation. The acting is as strong as the first film (with the merciful removal of the pitifully weak Terrence Howard), but the chances for them to shine are greatly reduced by an expanding roster of characters. Robert Downey steals the show again after a bit of a weak first 5 minutes on screen. Unfortunately the excellent Sam Rockwell is massively underutilised and his character doesn't really undergo any kind of journey, and is largely a foil for the plot. The same can be said for the character of Pepper Potts, Nick Fury, Whiplash, Black Widow... Which is a terrible shame. You could remove Scarlett Johanssen's character and it wouldn't have made any real impact on the movie. I'm sure she will be used elsewhere but I have no idea why she's in THIS movie.

Because of the increased cast there is a lot of "laying pipe" going on with the plot being layed out without really feeling like the character is driving it but rather that the plot is driving them. The worst example of this is the plot involving Tony's relationship with his father. Conveniently Fury knows more about his father than Tony does and we discover that Tony's father helped establish SHIELD. This seems extremely unlikely, and chronically convenient. Tony's estrangement issues go almost as quickly as they arrive as within minutes he watches a film of his father who leaves a message for him telling him how important his son is. This is coupled with a very weak stretch in that Howard Stark left a secret message for a new element in the layout of the 70's Stark expo model... It's a bit of a hideous plot contrivance, especially as this just so happens to be the solution to Tony's medical condition. WHAT ARE THE ODDS?

There are a few moments like this unfortunately, especially in the climax where the army of Iron Men are brought down within seconds after Tony's been running from them for 5 minutes. Added to this, the final showdown with Whiplash is embarrassingly brief and basically is the "don't cross the streams" gag from Ghostbusters. The strongest aspect is the relationship between Rhodes and Stark which is very strong and well acted.

In the first movie Tony was cocky, realised he WAS the problem, and then changed his ways to make amends. In the second Tony was cocky, realises he WAS the problem, blows lots of things up, but ultimately makes no impact on the central problem of proliferation and is then given a medal. Pardoned possibly, or at least forgiven, but honoured? He brought down Whiplash, but he's proven to be wrong in his estimations and it's proven that his advances are causing problems, so a medal feels very wrong here.

Despite these aspects of the film being lacking it is still an exceptionally enjoyable movie. The trademark humour is there, the charisma of the actors is there, it's just a shame that the story and writing is a tad on the weak side. It has flashes of great potential, with Tony's self destructive tendencies in how he deals with his life-threatening condition hinting for a time that this would be the dark middle film, the Empire of the Iron Man movies, but it all gets neatly wrapped up. It shows that Marvel can make good movies but so far they've only made one GREAT movie - the first Iron Man.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Logic Dictates Commentary

Okey dokey there girls and guys! I've decided to start posting the odd (very odd if you ask me) commentary of things I have either written or coloured. Sometimes it'll be about the writing or the thoughts behind it, sometimes it'll be about the colouring techniques I've chosen and sometimes it'll be about how I did it. This time it'll be a mix of all three.

Before I begin I want to send an enormous amount of props to Rui Onishi who was the penciller and inker for this. The artwork was stellar and made my work a whole load easier when it came to colouring! I would very much like to pimp Rui's DA page here:

The fully lettered version of this story is available here:

The Story

The story started as an inkling of an idea that tinkled in my head after a conversation probably a year ago with Josh Van Reyk of TF:Mosaic, but that never turned into anything concrete. After admiring Rui's work I asked who Rui's favourite character was: Shockwave.

One thing that always made me intrigued about Shockwave was that he was cold and logical, more robotic than the others. The origin of the story was, why did he become that way, he surely hadn't always been that way, what would be the the thing to make you shut down like that? The answer for me was grief and pain. Shutting down his emotional centres and pain receptors was/is his only way to survive. Revenge is what drives him but in order to get close to the one who did this to him, killed his friend, the thing he cared about the most, he needs to be methodical. He needs to be able to get close, and if he felt rage he couldn't do that, he'd get sloppy and killed. The notion that he was in disguise, appearing loyal and working to undermine and destroy Megatron seemed an interesting unexplored avenue to go down. It's a bit more "real" that just making simple grabs for power. In addition it doesn't undermine any established IDW continuity.

The key thing with one page comics is that you have to either reveal something about the character or tell a story with a twist, there's no room for waste. When I write a Mosaic I try and ensure that the story lives beyond the one page. At the end of this story you have learned something new, something that has deepened your understanding of the character and something that informs the next story you read about Shockwave. If that sounds easy, it isn't, and I don't always get it right, but that's what I'm aiming for.


Here's the page without words:

The Mosaic begins without letting you know who it is is narrating, but whoever it is they're stepping out of hell. He's all emotion, the first panel is all fire, though somewhere far away the two still moons of Cybertron are icy cold. When we get to the second panel, Shockwave is out of focus - lost. Behind him the fire illuminates him but the colours as we look down on his lost friend are all cool and cold, lifeless. Everything in front of Shockwave has a cold hue, and the colour scheme on the fallen comrade is also deliberately cold. Normally colour schemes are set on TF's but I had a chance here to choose colours that suited the story best. Whoop!

As the story progresses we get closer and closer to the stages of his transformation, more foreshadowing of who he is going to become. As we see the transformation the colours get cooler, the colours get colder. The final image has Shockwave cool in colour against a warm background, the only heat coming from his cannon arm and single, logical eye, a sign of what's lurking behind it. The only other hint of rage we see is his POV of his attacker and the murderer of his friend - Megatron. This panel is very deliberately not like any of the others. Red isn't really used anywhere else on the page and makes this the most angry panel, a sign of his mental state at this point and the beginning of his change. Even the panel borders are different in colour at this point. i think of it like a very quick cut in a film, just a few framed flash, a spike of pain, before returning to the main scene. Everything after this panel though becomes more logical, more matter of fact until we see his purpose and plan spelled out in cold logic.


A few folks have asked about some of the techniques I've used. At some point I may do a tutorial but until then, the smoke was done by lassoing the smoke linework, increasing the selection radius a bit and then putting the smoke all on a layer above the linework. Then I use a lot of rough, speckled brushes to do shadows and highlights which I then apply a light Gaussian blur. After that I do another few specks of black/grey/white on the smoke layer, using orange and yellow linear dodge on any fire elements.

As for the starry sky, I get asked this a lot and its very difficult to explain. I start by using some star brushes until there are too many stars, and add some coloured haze depending on the mood I'm after. I then use the burn brush to make some of the regions of space darker than others, and making it look like specific clusters of nebulae stand out. Then I pick a different sized star brush on a linear dodge to make some very bright stars and keep all the stars from looking uniform.

Well - there's a lot in there, hope it helps with either the writing or colouring of your own project or adds to your enjoyment of the story.



Sunday, 10 January 2010

Avatar Unseen

A firend of mine over on DeviantArt posted a link which discussed the original treatment for Avatar. It's discussed here:

What is particularly interesting is that all of the plot conveniences, one sided and convenient storytelling is all absent. The story here is much more coherent, much more conflicted and the stakes are a lot higher. In short it makes sense and plays fair with the audience. It is a shame that Cameron then hatcheted at this until all the holes were visible. I think he'd have had to cut some of it as the treatment is quite long and he'd never fit it all into the run time but all of the original flair and IDEAS are here. The end result is all about the whizz bang and there's no originality.

Almost all of my criticisms are addressed in this draft which goes to show that they were valid points and that there ARE huge chunks missing in Avatar that make it a funtamentally flawed movie. From the reason that negotiation has failed to the less out-of-the-blue god intervening moment, the logic of the story is here. Other facts such as Pandora's ability to cure all known disease and the true value of Unobtanium (as well as a description of the fact that this is the joke name for it not the real name) are in this draft. The unity of the planet also conspires against the humans at the end and says that if mankind ever comes back it will create a disease that could wipe out the human race. This is a sensible example of Nature winning over technology, not throwing wooden spears through windcreens. It also means the film ends with no humans ever being able to come back which considering the value of what they're having to give up also makes Sully's conflict more of a conflict. It also sets up Earth as an almost lifeless shit hole which would have made even more of an impact when you realise no-one's seen forests before Pandora...

Ah what might have been, had Cameron not done a George Lucas and decided that more money means more effects which only means dialogue, plot and character all get shunted out of the way.

Have a read and you'll see what I mean.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Avatar Review: Spoilers Abound

James Cameron. On one hand: Terminator, Aliens, The Abyss, T2. On the other: Titanic, Dark Angel and True Lies. Cameron has been the purveyor of excellent action and some genuinely inventive contributions to the screen, but simultaneously his characterisation and plotting has been less than stellar. Which leads neatly to Avatar. Which is complete crap.
The plot essentially involves a paraplegic ex soldier who is given the chance to transfer his consciousness into a giant blue cat. The reason behind this is that the world they are on is entirely full of giant blue cat people who happen to have their magic tree directly above a pocket of a mineral called UNOBTAINIUM. A good thing it wasn't called CATGUANIUM... Unobtanium is important because, er, it floats? That's never actually explained but it apparently costs a lot. Which is why Mankind has invented the consciousness clones to get in with the locals. At no point though do they actually discuss with the love cats ways in which they could mine the ore from UNDER the tree. Instead they send our hero, I'll call him Rumpleteaser, to infiltrate and find out their weaknesses. This he does after a brief scene from Starship Troopers.
A moment about the effects. They're fine. Lip syncing has got better than the days of Gollum, but the actual effects themselves are no more impressive. As for the much hyped world of Avatar, it is no more impressive than any of the environments created for the Star Wars prequels. The areas where the effects do impress is where the 3D helps create depth, in particular the scenes at height where you genuinely get the sense of there being one hell of a fall. Beyond that the 3D is no more impressive or not impressive than the same effect in Ice Age 3, Up or Bolt. There's too much nonsense about the film being a "game-changer". The only thing that has changed is the means by which the film is captured using new mo-cap technology and virtual cameras. This changes the way that directors can visualise the film, it does not change what appears on the screen in the same way that using a new brush does not guarantee art from the bristles.
And its a terrible shame. Every idea on show in Avatar seems borrowed. From the bad fantasy novel trapping of interconnected consciousness through a big tree to the achingly poor Native American parallels, it's all a bit too familiar. The only difference is that there's big blue cats and moss that glows when you walk on it. Even the usual Cameron high points of production design are mercilessly stolen from his other, greater works. The aircraft are incredibly similar to the drop ships from Aliens and the Armoured Suits are very reminiscent of the Cargo Loaders, also from Aliens, or indeed almost copied from the robot suits in the Matrix Revolutions. Everything has had a nice ipodesque sheen to it to bring it up to date, but unfortunately the update didn't extend to the logic behind the concepts. Firstly, why is there no bullet proof glass on ANY of the military hardware? On a planet of poisonous gas this would be quite an important consideration. But instead they went for glazing that wouldn't even repel wooden spears. The only purpose for this oversight appears to be to allow an incredibly unconvincing victory by Rumpleteaser at al. There is absolutely NO way they could win this, but they do, because it's written that way. Similarly, if I were in the army and building a giant war machine walking suit I think I'd design one with a gun or guns built into the suit as opposed to building a robot with hands that have to HOLD the gun (with both hands) making the suit utterly pointless, less adaptable and nonsensical. Again, had this been thought about the final battle would have ended with Rumpleteaser et al being mowed down in seconds as there would be no position in which the catfolk could have taken one on. But again, Cameron needed the plot to go a certain way so he just wrote crap. It also allows the final scene to consist of a man in a robot suit having a knife fight with a giant blue cat. I really haven't ever seen anything as stupid as this scene.
Cameron's convenient plotting includes the Na'vi's inexplicable belief that they can move consciousness from a human body to the clones permanently. How do they know this? How could they possibly know this?! After an embarrassing scene which recalls the underground rave in Matrix Reloaded they fail to save Sigourney Weaver, but its OK because you know it'll work in time for Rumpleteaser. There's also the absolute maximum deus ex machina (literally) moment when after Rumpleteaser talks to the magic tree the entire planet of animals all come come together to fight the foolhardy and moustache twirlingly evil humans with their single glazed cockpits. He literally asks God and God says, "Here, have some animals". Breathtakingly dumb.
It's utterly unclear what Cameron is trying to say in this film. All humans are evil? That nature always triumphs over technology? The first isn't true and the second has never been the case in ANY conflict in the history of Man. The human race is portrayed in the most one dimensional terms throughout. The General in particular could not be any more ridiculously evil had he been raping kids at knife point and drowning sackfuls of puppies. He actually utters a line at some point along the lines of "Bombing them so hard to leave behind a racial memory they'll never forget". By making the other side so unbelievable, so silly it undermines any attempt at a message. It isn't the story of Native Americans despite the blatant "the land and the people are one" message. This story ends in a twee and convenient way that just proves that the film says nothing and is about nothing.

Even though there have been other films that have had very little to say but consisted of a lot of things blowing up few have been this expensive and this hyped. The film is basically Ferngully: Last of the Rain forests channelled through the effects of Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. Avatar epitomises an old story. It doesn't break new ground, there are plenty of style over substance films in existence, many came out this year. But this was the most expensive film ever made (allegedly) and it is a shame that the ambition didn't match the budget. Despite the hype the film brings nothing that hasn't been seen before. From Jurassic Park to Lord of the Rings to Star Wars to Aliens, there's nothing new here except for the sheer amount of money thrown at it to have more of everything. The film will make a fortune of course, the child-friendly plot, hype and the inflated cost of the 3D tickets will see to that. What we need is a storytelling revolution more than we need a technological revolution, which is ironically a complete contradiction to the main thrust of Avatar.