Monday, May 31, 2010

I Need a Hero

Look for Merrill Hagan and me at the Monster Enterprises booth #329.
June 4 - 6, 2010
Charlotte Convention Center
501 S. College St.
Charlotte, NC 28202

Open to the Public:
Friday: 11.00 am - 7.00 pm
Saturday: 10.00 am - 6.00 pm
Sunday: 11.00 am - 6.00 pm

120 [m ] : Ben 10 Art

Part of the function of the Illustration group at Cartoon Network is to create posed character art to be used on licensed product. While there are times art is created especially for specific product items (a.k.a. SKUs), most of the art for licensing business is created prior to the decision of what and at what quantities of product will be made. That art along with logos, color palettes, patterns and more go into a "Style Guide", kind of like an album of assets.

Character poses in rough pencil, "Ben 10 Alien Force"
Color pencil and black roller ball pen ink on copier paper.

Gwen poses in rough pencil, "Ben 10"
Color pencil and black roller ball pen ink on copier paper.

With such a schedule, there is a sizable amount of guessing done with these pieces, but generally the artists try to mix up the static with the dynamic, the left-facing with the right facing, and the ones towards the consumer with the ones off-stage interacting.

With Ben, who wears the ever important Omnitrix only on his left wrist, most of his poses have that arm coming forwards to the consumer. It's become kind of iconic. It's also, arguably, become a little boring.

With the alien heroes, and really most action characters, you get a lot of running and jumping. Hitting and kicking are good too, as long as you keep any swish lines and bursts under control.

Making a set of poses of Gwen, Ben's cousin, is a relatively rare assignment, since most of the network's programs are aimed more to boys. Here Gwen from the first "Ben 10" series is a ten-year old girl with magic powers. What she is not is a princess, a sexy video-game heroine or moody vampire. As such, it was actually fun drawing these.


“Romantic love is the ennoblement of basic lust in a society with too much time on its hands”

I had formed something close to that “revolutionary" statement in college regarding what may be the world’s largest wastes of time, resources and finances next to linear particle colliders. It is exactly the type of statement to be made by a bugeoning cynic with knowledge collected and sorted like precious coins to be forged by youthful idealism into a sharpened edge to sunder outdated notions and unproved myths.

Such a well-formed concept then meets head-on its first and eternal antithesis in the Copernican-like submission, the crush.

The crush as opposed to the object of the crush may be explained as some combination of pheromones, thoughts and feelings focused by civilized politeness. But to say that much is to admit that it is real. It has weight and occupies space. There are no small crushes. It is loud and insistent and pulls upon your attentions at all hours. It is both the fuel and ignition for stupid poetry and brainless ballads. And more than that, it is the filter that makes the stupid and the brainless truer than one’s own name.

Unfortunately, it is one sided, because a crush isn’t a crush after it’s been mutually expressed. When that happens it’s mush, and at best it has only a one-in-four chance of happening: 1) he does but she doesn’t - strike; 2) she does but he doesn’t - strike; 3) neither he nor she does - strike, duh; and 4) he does and she does - bingo! See, one in four. And of course the odds grow ever worse with “he lied”, “she just wants to have fun” and $1,000,000 in prize money. But it’s the one-sided aspect that makes the crush a private bittersweet thing, with high chances for it to crash and crumble.

On the up side, a good and thorough crush will boost creativity. But even at it’s worst, what harm is there to write the 24,601st song to rhyme “girl” and “world”, or to bake cookies with too much salt in them. Practically speaking, the world is a better place for crushes if it accomplishes no other thing than encourage people to more closely attend their hygiene and bathe more frequently.

On the extreme down side: Grecian/Trojan level destruction and super-villains.

Left Brain say, “you fool.”

Right Brain says, “yeah, so what?”

I know that everything that I’ve ever written and drawn is in part an attempt to impress some body else. That may be as much an awkward form of social integration as it may be symptomatic of a crush, but in either case, that’s a lousy statement with which to conclude this article, so let me try this:

Only the crush knows why birds suddenly appear,…

… you fool.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

120 [m ] : Ben 10 Alien Force DVDs

Right on the heels of the Cartoon Network premiere of the animated action show "Ben 10 Alien Force" (2008-2010), itself the spin-off/ sequel of the popular "Ben 10" (2005-2008), the network's licensing group started rolling the plans for the consumer line of DVDs.

16 concepts for "Ben 10 Alien Force" DVD, vol. 1.

"Ben 10 Alien Force" DVD vol. 1
Final illustration.

Digital painting by Brian McGee.

For any given project like these, as few as three and as many as 24 iterations of concepts might be generated, usually on the "more" side when clients are involved. Past that, the illustration might be tweaked multiple times before it's called final.

With the first volume, I, as part of a team designing the packaging, was proposing not just one cover, but also the elements for the "Alien Force" line look - the visual bits to be carried through all the property's like packaging. Initially, the chosen concept was based on what is shown above here in the second row, second from the left.

Some thing like a week before work on the final illustration was to start, the white border was decided upon to go on all Carton Network DVD packaging starting in 2008. As a result, the entire illustration had to be redesigned. The three concepts to the right on the second row are part of that redesign as well as being proposals for the first three volumes' illustrations .

Three concepts for "Ben 10 Alien Force" DVD, vol. 2

"Ben 10 Alien Force" DVD, vol. 2.
Final Illustration.

Digital painting by Brian McGee.

Each volume in the DVD series as separate design projects, were spaced roughly about 3 months apart, meaning the delivery dates of the final packaging art were about 3 months apart.

The second volume would have featured Echo Echo, the small self-replicating guy shown in the first two concepts, until after research of the DVD's five episodes revealed that the guy just didn't have much to do in them. Four-armed Spidermonkey was chosen based on his presence on the DVD and his popularity for the 3-month old show.

With volume 2 as a type of template, volumes 3 through 6 would feature Ben and one of his alien hero transformations, and as a whole the decision to stick to that "template" would have its ramifications. Looking at the 9 different illustration concepts of the initial 16 concepts (the other 7 feature line look design explorations) and then looking at 5 of 6 covers featuring only two characters with logo centered at the top, does not at all display a straight line logic to the process, unless you follow the limited design and composition formula of "big main character in the center."

My theories regarding DVD package art, all of which which I have yet to convince my licensing clients, are these: a) be true to the property/ show; b) make it for the fan; c) don't try to win over the uninitiated, the person who has never heard of the property; and d) literally make it attractive.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

120 [m ] : Water Babies Hungee Squad

Digital color over digitally manipulated scan of line.

In the Spring of 2007, the adult swim web site was promoting the theatrical "Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters" and one of the initiatives was a daily changing landing page. This first page that pops up when you went to the adult swim site was simply a piece of art that appeared for a few seconds before directing your browser to the main site. The site had an open call for art work.

This was my submission.

Movie information on the Internet Movie Data Base:

When the Tough Get Going

Friday, May 21, 2010

120 [m ] : South west Animation Conference & Expo

SWACE Banner art
Blue and black pencil on paper

38.1 x 20.32 cm (15.00 inch x 8.00 inch)


Here is a piece of freelance where the assignment was to draw and draw and draw some more for one night. It's also an example of what you can get for $100 and a good story. The catch is this: with the job's initial specifications as the client's only input, I delivered just the drawing with no inking, no coloring and definitely no vector work or fancy Photoshop® layering of elements.

The art was intended for the top banner of the SWACE web site an event celebrating all sorts of animation. The art is intended to reflect that. Most of the characters are intended to represent or be reminiscent some animation character, show, short or style without infringing on those copyrights. In regards to that last part, I may have overstepped that line in a few places.

Without going over the whole piece, of which I haven't even counted the characters, here are some highlights:

- Bunny the Birthday Squirrel in an early WB shorts style (McKimson-ish maybe?).

- Little Tuffy with over-sized mallet in a simple style a la "The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy".

- "Time Flyers", a fourteen year old idea featuring time travel in a cardboard box.

- A baby oyster which I used to hide as a signature in occasional Disneyland work.

- Walt Disney.

- Lots of Shmoo-like characters inspired by Hayao Miyazaki's work.

- Cowgirl with giant revolvers. Not a specific character, but just because I wanted to draw a cowgirl with giant revolvers.

- A sky scraper which was a very obtuse reference to the Tom Hanks movie "Big." I think now I should have at least drawn in "Transformer" like arms. No, it has nothing to do with animation. It spilled out in the whole free-association process.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

120 [m ] : I Think I Shouldn't Like To Be Around Mad People

Early 2009, let's say January, I was asked to lend my artistic talents to design a mascot for a then upcoming event for kids. The character was the Mad Hatter, and the theme, of course, involved Lewis Carroll's "Wonderland" characters. The event was put together by The Young Audiences Arts for Learning group, a part of Atlanta's Woodruff Arts Center which also includes the High Museum of Art.

Mad Hatter concept sketches.
Black ball-point pen on paper.

21.59 x 27.94 cm (8.50 in. x 11.00 in.)


Of course, even with copyright laws preventing me from merely copying either the popular Disney design or the John Tenniel designs from the original books, this was an opportunity to see what I could come up with.

What I came up with was an amalgam of those influences, plus a little bit of caricature of actor Ed Wynn who provided the voice in the 1951 Walt Disney Animated Feature.

Mad Hatter
India Ink on paper


Besides adding color to what you see here, that would have been the end of that bit of weekend pro-bono work.

However, Dennis, who was on the Y.A. Committee Board, asked if I might volunteer to do sketches at the actual event. This request was predicated by the fact that Dennis had worked at Cartoon Network and was familiar and impressed by my ability to draw decent sketches of cartoon characters from memory.

On the Saturday of Mother's Day weekend, there I was drawing Alice, the Hatter, March Hare and other Wonderland characters while Queen Glitter read 10-minute stories of Wonderland. It wasn't a setting where I did request, although I've worked those types of events too which in my Disney days were called "chat and draws". Actually I did draw one request that day, a Princess Jasmine for Dennis' daughter.

This year, I again volunteered, however, the setting was more like a how-to-draw session where participants, both kids and parents, got to follow me and draw and color their own pieces of art. It turned out to be almost two-hours of non-stop drawing and talking about drawing.

More about the High Museum:

More about Young Audiences:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

120 [m ] : Disneyana Fan Club

Back in December 2009, I submitted some designs for the new logo of the "Disneyana Fan Club", re-named from the "National Fantasy Fan Club" (NFFC).

Here, the first logo features Mickey Mouse's gloved hand which was transferred from a piece of signage c. 1930.

Admittedly be tastes run fairly conservative. Maybe they couldn't trademark and copyright it. I like the combination of character identification (Mickey's hand plus the nod to the "Mickey Mouse Club" logo, 1955) and the the sense of nostalgia with Disneyana collectibles going as far back as 1929 with posters and lobby cards for the early Mickey Mouse short films.

Here's the second which is as basic a distillation as I could make it and convey the essence of the club. Is the "f" to difficult to see?

Maybe these look a bit too much like branding for the next high-end coffee house. Primarily, I was designing something to be identifiable as a 100 x 100 pixel icon.

And here again, my choice of desaturated colors for that nostalgic feel.

And here is the winning design by Mickena Guillaume.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

120 [m ] : Ben 10 Alien Force posters

"Ben 10" is now into it's third series, "Ben 10 Ultimate Alien," plus "Ben 10" has also spun off two live action movies.

The first, original series was created "Man of Action" whose site describes itself as "a Development/ Production House dedicated to writing, conceptualizing, and developing work of exceptional quality, commercial viability, and explosive creativity." If you're familiar with comics of the 1970's, it's a bit like "Dial 'H' for Hero" - a young boy has a device with which he may turn into any number of heroes with unique powers and abilities. In "Ben 10", 10 year old Ben accidentally gets the Omnitrix of alien origins and can turn into any one of ten aliens - well ten to start with.

The second series, "Ben 10 Alien Force" was turned over to Glen Murakami to helm, and it has a slicker design and slightly darker story line. Oh and Ben is five years older.

Poster concepts for "Ben 10 Alien Force" premiere
Pen and highlighter marker on paper.


Poster concepts for "Ben 10 Alien Force" premiere tease
Digital over scans of pen on paper.


How do you market and advertise what is in essence a sequel series - particularly when the licensed product line doing well (meaning that the importance of continued success is... important to a lot of people) . What do you show to get the audience excited? What do you tease or not show to leave as surprises in the watching? What about this will get the attention of an audience not already watching the original?

When the answer is dependent upon with how much money you have for marketing, you either run simultaneous campaigns of high conceptual teases and exciting reveals or you revise, revise and revise some more one or two key images. With the latter, you often end up with big heads and smiling faces - or in the case of an action adventure for kids, the ever-elusive and subjective "determined and fun-loving."

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

120 [m ] : FusionFall Calendar Page

monotonae is not the place for up-to-the-minute information and peeks about what I do at work at Cartoon Network (CN) - what with it not being my stuff ultimately, competition and confidential goopity goop.

That said... About two and a half years ago, I was working on a page (one month) of the Cartoon Network's 2009 calendar. The subject was FusionFall, the CN's Masively Multi-player Online Game (MMOG) mashed up with the network's On-Air mascot, a generic bowling pin headed doll a la Kid Robot. Like the collectible vinyl art figures that inspired it, the mascot is wrapped in any of various skins to take on the colors and details of a character on the CN.

Digital color over scan of color pencil and pen on paper.

In the creation of FusionFall, the game is infused with plenty of boy appealing stuff like fighting, explosions, ooze and monsters. Your avatar's evil opponents are associated with toxic green ooze. This concept plays like a PSA against the dangers of green ooze.

Digital color over scan of color pencil and pen on paper.

The logo image for the game is a massive clumping/fusing of different planets. Keying in on the figures' round heads, they're used in the same manner replacing the planets.

Digital color over scan of color pencil and pen on paper.

This a pop-art idea requiring the replacing of the enlarged dots with tiny silhouettes of the mascot figure.

Digital color over scan of color pencil and pen on paper.

This is yet another PSD idea (I'm gonna continue pitching these "Loose Lips Sink Ships" posters until some one bites). I must have had some bit of dislike for the little mascot figure.

Digital multimedia

This is the final image. The figures were drawn with shading with pencil on paper. The scanned drawing served as the basis for the digital art, and provides a bulk of the shading for the final image although recolored on some parts like the green center mass. The colors including stripes and craters for each figure were drawn digitally flatly. Then for added form, highlights were added.

The logo is pretty much the same as the final official logo for the game.

Clint Carruth came up with the head line.

all images Copyright © Cartoon Network.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

TAGS January 16, 1994

01/16: New year, new format.

January 16: Monster is already tired of the new year and Checkov (dragon, fifth appearance*) is amused by it, at least for the fifteen minute break.

If you're going to practice making a daily comic strip, then you MUST do an expanded Sunday edition. There was no question about it for me at the time. The unrestricted layouts that I would use for the Sunday editions, were inspired by the work of Bill Watterson on his strip "Calvin and Hobbes" which was inspired by the likes of Hal Foster's "Prince Valiant" and Windsor McKay's "Little Nemo in Slumberland."

These Sunday editions were drawn at actual size on letter typing paper. The comparative larger format meant more drawing and less words. It's funny how that works.

So, what cookies are in this first Sunday edition?

Panel 1: "24601" is the prison number of Jean Valjean from Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables." The trash bin says "High Ho" based on the Dwarfs' song "Heigh-Ho" for Walt Disney's "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs."

Panel 4 (in the center): on of the few time a managerial "Suit" is depicted in TAGS. The bucket Monster is holding is/was full of hot gravy.

Panel 6 (to the right): Monster drives the family station wagon. Also note the geographic icon: the Palm tree.

Panel 7: (L-R) Mr. Flops (puppy, not an official TAGS character), Murray (Cheetah, 6), Barron (9, stuffed bear), unnamed platypus, unnamed Muppet (based on a crittature of co-worker Troy), Vern (horse, 2), Matt (originally created as a mascot for an animation club), Monster (monster).

I can't remember what's up with having Monster rubbing his ear.

* Only Checkov's fifth appearance? Really? I'd have thought more.