February 11, 2006

Lights! Camera! Action!

My favorite part of making a book is doing the rough sketches. It's like being a moviemaker... only we lucky artists get to do everything ourselves.

We're the movie director, writer, art director, costumer, casting director, scene builder, lighting technician, sound engineer... all in one.
We design the scenes, set the lighting, decide if it's a closeup or landscape shot. We get to tweak the costumes and haircuts... we choose every detail down to the upholstery on the furniture... we add in the extras (avoiding crowd scenes if possible). We get to do the entire movie!

Recently I happened upon a real movie crew shooting a scene outdoors at the University of Washington campus. I sat and watched them for an hour... it really looked tedious. They had about 25 extras who were the 'crowd' who simply stood in their marked places on the sidewalk for the duration... and when directed would walk about 15 paces. Then they'd return to their marked spots and stand another 15 minutes.

The equipment looked incredibly expensive. Two giant trucks parked 100 yards away with cables, generators... gigantic lights... two tents to keep the rain off all the editing equipment... a humongous ride-on camera... giant 8 foot lights (even though it was outdoors)... filters for the lights... a crew of at least 15 techies... walkie-talkies... a nearby lunchroom RV so the whole crew could break for lunch. I'd guess, just that one afternoon's shooting must have cost at least $20,000. And from all I could tell they only shot about 2 minutes of film total. Cold, boring and tedious. That's how it looked to me.

Makes sitting at my desk seem like the most luxurious creative freedom imaginable in comparison... where all alone I can create the whole production by myself. Makes spending 5 months on a single book seem like a flash in the pan.

Of course it's just the publishers who make the final production a reality.
They're the Producers who have the god-like power to axe our dreams or make them come true.

The bookcover above was done for the US version of 'Otto & the Birdcharmers', originally published in the U.K. It's a remarkable novel set in a kind of Harry Pottery type of world. It was a joy to read... and I have to say I liked it more than most Harry Potter books, since it was darker and more Kafkaesque. Amazing imaginative scenes throughout... sorry I couldn't have done some interior art too. In fact the hardest part was choosing which scene to do for the cover. I'd fold down the page whenever I got to a really good scene... and by the time I'd finished the book, about half the pages were folded down.


PG said...

This is true and something to remember when we (I) are/am grumping about the studio because we've been asked to draw 8 foreign princesses...'avoiding crowd scenes if possible' :) has to be in the top five golden rules of illustration!

John Nez said...

Yep... those crowd scenes take some special talent to finesse. I remember my first year of illustrating I got an assignment to draw an entire orchestra!

I didn't have a clue how to do it... and remember the sheer torture of drawing each muscian and their instrument one by one.

Photoshop hadn't been invented.


tlc illustration said...

So some movies ARE still being made in Seattle? I thought the tax laws had changed to effectively send everyone up to Vancouver (a very good friend of mine used to drive for the movie industry here. Has ended up becoming a massage therapist instead when the work fell off.)

I enjoy your work. Do you do anything with the local SCBWI? I'm on the east side and don't make it out for meetings often, but don't remember seeing you on the agenda (with your publication record, I'd think they'd make you a guest speaker as often as you were willing. :-)

John Nez said...

Hi tic....

Oh I used to go to the SCBWI. I guess I've been about 3 times. Once I was a speaker... about 5 years ago. I was supposed to be part of a panel, but then everyone else on the panel dropped out so I wound up being the speaker by default.

It's amazing how every Wednesday night at the start of the month there seems to be something else keeping me from going out in the dark to drive accross town. But I keep meaning to go...

BTW I find the two words 'public speaking' to be the scariest in the english language. LOL!

Thanks for your kind comments.

I don't know much about movie making in Seattle... just know that setup I saw sure looked cumbersome!