Thursday, July 3, 2014

Battle Beast

This certainly was one of my favorite projects.  Not only due to the fantasticaly fun concept but also because of the band behind it.  And in the process of making the next chapter in the story, I thought it was only appropriate to explain a little bit how it all started.

The first time I listened to Battle Beast's music I was blown away by their classic metal flavor and how super catchy their songs are. Right up my alley!!!  

I am a child of the 80s...  a true generation X geek.  I grew up watching Masters of the Universe, Thundercats and Transformers so to say the project fed my inspiration and excitement is really an understatement! 

The original working title of the album was 'Machine Revolution' but somewhere along the line the guys decided to simply call it 'Battle Beast'.  I guess it was a statement of rebirth since they were presenting a new singer and a fresh new sound production; this time recording an mixing resided in thr sole hands of young Anton Kabanen.  And I must say he did a killer job.

Anton gave me specific sources of reference and inspiration but at the same time gave me enough room for creativity to propose an original scene.

Some of the reference material for inspiration he gave me was 'The Terminator, 'Mad Max and of course 'He-Man and the Masters of the Universe'.  Funny that while recently checking our notes I realized Thundercats and Transformers were never among the original references, but everybody assumed they were the main source of inspiration.  I should take the blame; I guess some things found their way out of my subconscious!

Either way, though obviously cats, the main characters are closer to Conan The Barbarian and Frazetta's work than to Thundercats; which wear color spandex body suits and not bronze age garments in partial nudity!.  The concept is just pure old school epic fantasy art with a modern flavor.  The perfect mix for me.

I proposed two basic sketches for this project. Both set in a fierce battle between Cats and Machines.  Surprisingly enough, the first sketch hit right on the mark!   The second sketch was obviously on the right track but lacked the iconic composition and spectacularity we needed.  No lioness either!   In the original sketch, the lioness wears a battle style maw-hawk but Anton pointed out that it was maybe too unfeminine, so I gave her a very sexy feminine hairstyle.

Anton asked me to make the main characters the center of attention so I just applied one of the oldest tricks of classic painting;  to suggest background through shapes and silhouettes.

The technique I used for this job consists basically in a very detailed grey pencil drawing later colored digitally.  Only the 'irregularity' and raw finish of the pencil can give the feel of analog art...  people know when it's a full digital work!

The scene required a very dramatic lighting atmosphere.  The sense of a battle that has been going on for hours and it's close to the end...  maybe all night!  In fact someone pointed out how the sunlight from the left manages to pass through the all the chaos and smoke get to the cats in a very hopeful way... a sort of hint of hope for our brave warriors, though surrounded by evil enemy forces, might still have a few surprises!!!   Honestly I never intended it as sunlight but what do I know!? Maybe it is!

Personally, I saw this project as my grain of sand to the dynasty line of epic album covers.  I remember being immensely captivated as a teenager with Ken Kelly's larger than life album covers for KISS and Manowar.   His work eventually led me to discover the fantastic work of Frank Frazetta and Boris Vallejo;  my life was turned upside down after that... I knew what I wanted to do in life.

The cool thing about working with Battle Beast is the fact that I know that for each new cover, there will be a new story to tell about our Lion-Man.   It's not that common to work in a consistent ongoing fantasy project with permanent characters... specially in metal music!  So for that I'm very grateful.

Who knows what new adventures are still ahead for Lion-Man!  Unleash the Beast!!! 

Click on every image for larger view:

The first sketch hit right on the mark!

The second sketch was obviously on the right track but lacked the iconic composition and spectacularity we needed.  No lioness either!

Refined pencil sketch of the concept.  This was the blueprint of the cover.

 Basic pencil render of the main character.  Later digitally colored.

Basic pencil render of the battle lioness.  Later digitally colored.

Basic pencil render of one of the cybernetic enemies.  Later digitally colored.

Final illustration.


Friday, August 17, 2012

Rata Blanca

Here I go...  my first medieval castle!

Rata Blanca is the most classic heavy metal band in South America and this image was commissioned to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the band.  When it comes to album covers, working with classic bands is always a privilege for any visual artist.   One of the first things that got me into art and graphics when I was a kid were all those fantastic illustrations on heavy metal covers from the 70s and 80s.  So the minute this band got in touch with me, I knew it was going to be something special.
The original gold was to upgrade the cover of the band's first album; a modern, more sophisticated version of that old castle.  Even though the original illustration is extremely simple, I didn't want to departure too much from it; just to add more detail, color and volume.  

My first approach was to add characters since I thought it lacked some action; so the first sketch featured a wizard and a couple of dragons!  This idea was quickly dismissed by Walter Giardino (the band's leader).  He also didn't want to departure too much from the original idea.  So I made another one, which was according to Walter, right on track but "too evil".  "It has to look magical and welcoming... people should really want to come inside", were his words.

So my final proposal is what you see here.  For this, I researched a lot of photo material of castles all around Germany and Austria.   

So please!  Come inside!

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click on every image for full size


Cover with logo

Sketch #1 (unused)

Sketch #2

Sketch #3 (with variations suggested by Walter)

Original Cover (1987)


Friday, August 10, 2012

A Journey to The Hollow Earth

I'm a huge geek of strange myths and the paranormal but I don't have the habit of proposing that kind of stuff to my clients. Strangely enough, these subjects find their way to me regardless.   This concept was commissioned by AFM records to be cover art of the album "Center of The Great Unknown" by romanian band Magica.

The Hollow Earth is probably one the most popular paranormal myths. According to Hollow Earth theorists, all planets are hollow and you can access the interior through huge 500 miles openings in each pole. Supposedly, as you navigate or fly through these openings, you are never really aware of where you're going since the holes are so huge that curvature is not perceived by the view.
As our "exterior surface", the "inner surface" has also oceans and continents with various landscapes. All life in the interior is possible due to the "inner smoky sun". It is said that the inner civilization is much more advanced than ours, they had electricity hundreds, probably thousands of years before we had, some people even have suggested that the inner earth inhabitants are the survivors of the last global extinction event some 100.000 years ago; survivors of the big flood and even the lost continent of Atlantis. It has been suggested that even UFOs might have their origin in the Earth's interior!

There have been several expeditions with the intent of proove or disproove this great myth. There are stories of miserable failures and fantastic accounts of new civilizations. One of the most popular stories is Admiral Byrd's expedition to the North Pole. In his Diary, he describes an encounter with the leader of the inner civilization; after that meeting, the leader sent Byrd on his way with a terrifying warning about humanity's fate.

The artwork is partly based on Admiral Byrd's Diary of his expedition to the North Pole and partly based on the book "The Goddess of Atvatabar" (which is somewhat similar to "Journey to the Center of The Earth by Jules Verne). The book tells the story of a group of expeditionaries in route to the North Pole on board a trap steamer. Eventually, they realize that they are actually going to the interior of the Earth through a huge opening in the Earth's pole!. Once inside, they sail the inner oceans to discover amazing cities and new civilizations.

Since I haven't yet visited, the interior of the Earth, I have no idea of how exactly the landscape looks like...   so imagination was a big factor here.    It was quite an issue to achieve the inner-horizont effect; since we are in the opposite/interior side of the Earth's crust, the horizont should curve upwards instead of downwards. The result is a spectacular view of the landscape curving up to the clouds and all the landmasses visible "in the sky". Since the "inner sun" is floating static in the Earth's center, all shadows must be at a perfect 90 degree angle underneath everything. If I would have follow this idea to perfection, the result would've been a very flat (and boring) lighting setting... so I decided to cheat; you can't actually see the sun, but light comes slightly from behind... resulting in a much more dramatic effect.

So here you have it... my take on the inner earth

Click on every image for full size.

Album Cover Art

Wide alternate scene

Concept Sketch #1

Concept Sketch #2


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Blind Souls

This might strike you as difficult to believe, but I'm really not good at creating nightmares and dark scenes!  I'm a pretty mellow guy; my favorite movie is Star Wars and I enjoy long marathons of Friends.  So you can say I stay in the realm of the positive side of life...  in fact, in recent years I even stop watching the news, the world is a horrible cruel place.  I've become a reclusive of the fantasy world...   almost everything I watch and read is either science fiction or fantasy.   It's all escapism.

So basically for this image I had a difficult time creating a visual situation I could feel strong and meaningful...  I really don't like horror for the sake of horror.  It's like pornography.  For me, art has to contain some kind of metaphor or clever message; even if this seems kind of obvious, it is not.   The internet is saturated with cool looking images that mean absolutely nothing.  

The basic concept for this one was the contrast and juxtaposition of Heaven, Purgatory and Hell.  I tell you, it was by no means easy getting to this solution!   The band originally suggested to depict Purgatory as a dark horrible place, much like Hell...  but then, you would have a cover with "two Hells"!  So I said NO, we will do Purgatory as described in religious mythology:  as a stationary place to contemplate our mistakes... neither rewarded or punished.  Since most people isn't totally good or totally bad, I imagined Purgatory as the most crowded place in all the spiritual realm... I mean really crowded!   Hell would be like nothing we couldn't find on earth; just a horrible place abundant in physical pain and torture.  Finally, Heaven would be a place of meditation; bright and peaceful.

I think the final result is quite surreal...

Cover (wide format)

Cover (Cd format)

Concept Sketch

Unused Concept Sketch #1

Unused Concept Sketch #2


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pink Beatles In A Purple Zeppelin

So here you have it!  Finally!  The flying beatles!!!

This is probably the most extravagant idea I've ever translated into graphic reality...  and it's all Arjen's "fault"!   

As all of you probably already know, this image is the cover of a song from the "Lost in The New Real" album.  The song is about a music service in the far future; they'd be able to create perfect virtual bands for you!  Let's say you love all the crunchy riffs of Black Sabbath and all the majestic operatic vocal arrangements of Queen...  No problem!  They'll blend these two elements together for you and create a new band:  Queen Sabbath!

At first, I thought the concept was just too abstract to actually come up with some solid type of scene...  what could I do?  A computer with musical controls and some technitians working around it?  A collage containing all the bands in history?   I couldn't exactly visualize it graphically until Arjen said:  " man, let's do it exactly as the title!" "...what?" "yeah, let's do some pink beatles flying in the sky on purple zeppelins" "wow, that is so crazy that it might actually work!".  I just loved the idea; it's so different from what I normally do.

I immediatelly knew we would need some special techinque for this; my usual fantasy painting technique wouldn't be the most perfect solution for this theme.  The song was also very old school and slightly hippie.  So I thought nothing would accomplished better this than a trippy 60s image in the style of Hipgnosis!   

I used my own photo material as a starting point to create the composition; except the zeppelins, which I took from historical photographs.  The colors are the result of endless experiments but the gold was obviously an LSD extravaganza!   I went back in time to possess the mind of a graphic artist living in 1969!!!   

So... enjoy the trip!  

The Song

The Art

The Cover Art

Arjen's Discography!



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Arjen's New Real

This is another cool piece of art made for Arjen Lucassen's "Lost in the New Real".

At this point in the story, Mr.L shockingly discovers that he wasn't really awaken from his cryogenic sleep; and more so, he wasn't even a full body!  Dr. Voight Kampff and his team were able to save his brain only,  so they put Mr.L's brain in a preservative tube.  Once submerged in this weird liquid, the scientists connected his consciousness to a virtual reality system that would create a whole new life for him...   Electrochemical signals through wires and tubes stimulating Mr.L's cerebral cortex to induce visuals, odor, touch and sound...   "The New Real".

But is it real?  is he still a man?  or is he a machine?   Mr.L will face this existential riddle at the end of the record...  in the 10 minute title track of "Lost in The New Real".

For this chapter of the story I proposed a very old fashioned concept loosely based in the movie poster of "Star Trek III, The Search for Spock".   I knew that depicting just the brain wouldn't be interesting enough; we needed Mr's L's image to round this painting as a whole.   "Mr.L's essence" is represented by his image over-imposed in the composition... almost ethereal.  Mr.L's physical form at this point is reduced to a lonely brain submerged in a tube filled with a green fluorescent liquid; surrounded by the lab equipment.

I think the result is super-cool but we couldn't release it as promotional material because it gives away the ending of the storyline!!!  So we included it in the last pages of the booklet.

Mr.L lost in the new real...

click on every image to enlarge:

The Painting

Concept Sketch


Friday, April 27, 2012

Yellowstone Memorial Day

Like I said before, "Lost In The New Real" is probably the most richly illustrated album I've ever participated in.  The booklet alone seems like a mini graphic novel!

This particular image illustrates the song "Yellowstone Memorial Day", which is about a massive volcanic eruption in Yellowstone Park.  The moment Arjen told me about the subject of the song I knew how technically difficult it was going to be;  I've never painted neither a volcano or lava before, so as usual, in preparation for this task I reviewed tons of photographic material.  This is what is illustrators call research; I saw countless pictures of volcanic eruptions like the ones of Etna, St Helens and Krakatoa.  I really wanted to get it right but obviously with the fantasy touch on scale and atmosphere.

Te result speak for itself... I think it took me around four days, 8 hours a day.  It is an extremely detailed painting.   Hopefully, Arjen will print posters someday to take advantage of its full resolution.

Enjoy the armageddon!!!