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All artwork and text is copyrighted by Frederick Gardner, unless otherwise attributed to the respective copyright owner, it is illegal to publish or print any such artwork or text without written permission by the artist or copyright owners.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Mondragon Plaza

Designing Mondragon Plaza

My first design assignment on The Book of Life production was developing Mondragon Plaza based on a sketch of the plaza done by Production Designer, Simon Varella

Plaza Gazebo - Simon Varella (Prod Designer)

Simon had done a gorgeous charcoal rendering of the plaza, but the action took place on the opposite end and no designs had been done for that location. 

My first step was to do a thumbnail sketch of the area so I had a good understanding of the staging and architecture to show the director, Jorge Gutierrez and Simon.  

Mondragon Plaza (Thumbnail Design)

Once they signed off on the concept, I started designing the focal point of the location, General Mondragon's statue and fountain. The rest of the plaza buildings would be a secondary visual read to the statue. The characters would populate the area between the fountain and the building facades. 

Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1805)  by Jaques-Louis David

Statue of Pancho Villa at top of Cerro de La Bufa

Statue of Panch Villa, Zacatecas, Mexico

Marionette joints

The statue was based on a painting of Napoleon on his horse and a bronze statue of Pancho Villa. Because the characters in our film were puppets, I had to incorporate the joints and mechanics of a marionette into the character design of the statue. Jorge (director of BOL) was also the lead character designer for the male characters in the film. He gave me a series of notes and a rough design for General Mondragon (Joaquin's father). 

General Mondragon designs

 I wanted Mondragon's horse to be as intense as he was, depicting Mondragon in the middle of a battle (perhaps his last), out of bullets, chopping heads with 2 swords and holding the reigns in his teeth. The reigns in Mondragon's teeth was too distracting for the statue! 

This is my favorite part of designing for film! Being able to tell the back story  or history of a character with a single design is very rewarding. It also gives the audience a reason to go back and watch the film again and absorb the visual story beyond the dialogue or script.

Mondragon fountain designs

Mondragon Fountain design

Mondragon's Horse design variations

By the time these drawings were done, many story sequences started to incorporate the fountain design into the staging. (notice the name of the film at this point is still Day of the Dead)

Mondragon Fountain (storyboard panel)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

La Muerte's Castle

La Muerte's Castle for The Book of Life

Inspired by Gaudi's La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain. I also used reference from photos from Sandra and Jorge Gutierrez's romantic trip to Spain and other designs from Gaudi. The challenge was to keep the Gaudi asthetic in the shape language of the Land of the Dead (later called the Land of the Remembered). 

Gaudi Cathedral Ceiling (Detail)

Gaudi - La Sagrada Familia Cathedral

The entryway to La Muerte's castle went through several design iterations, from a large skull whose mouth opens for entry to a giant sacred heart/tree of life with a lego-like doorway.

I added skulls, mustaches, antlers and hearts in varying scales to play up the enormity of the place. 

The final version of La Muerte's Castle Doorway came about by trying to get the design to fit in the HD 1:1.78 aspect ratio. A majority of the drawing was manipulated in Photoshop using the transform tool and then redrawn. 

La Muerte's Castle Entryway (Final)

In designing the interiors, I noticed shapes that reminded me of "The Lorax" from Dr Seuss. I embraced that and pushed the Seuss quality to keep things magical, light and yet, mysterious. La Muerte is a goddess and her power should be felt in the majesty of the structure. Jorge wanted the interiors to feel open and massive. 

Tree of Life - G Klimpt

The Gaudi cathedral interiors are the same way. Many of the pillars in the cathedral are designed as huge trees, so I kept that idea and the "swirl" design from the Gustav Klimpt "Tree of Life" (La Muerte's castle exterior). The floating pillars inside the castle now look like a forest with a canopy of prayer flags above. 

La Muerte's Castle Walkway

Friday, September 11, 2015

Book of Life - "El Matador" Posters

I began working on Book of Life in June, 2010, back when the title was "El Matador". My first assignment from the writer/director, Jorge Gutierrez, was to design movie posters to help pitch the film to prospective distribution partners. 

I didn't know much about the original story (at that time) except that it involved the life and death of a matador, Manolo and his love for his childhood friend, Maria. The story was similar to Romeo and Juliet, but continued beyond Shakespeare's tragedy. The idea of love from beyond the grave inspired the following images...

"El Matador" Poster Concept 1

This poster design (Concept 1) was the first image I had in my head. It depicts Manolo in a traditional matador pose surrounded by victory roses in a pool of light, and skulls in the shadows. The source of the "light" is a portrait of Maria, shown as a window to the living world. Manolo is a skeleton. Manolo's bullfighting victory is bittersweet. This is my favorite of the designs I had done because it concisely portrays the story in a simple image. 

"El Matador" Poster Concept 2

"El Matador" Poster Concept 2 (Sepia)

This concept was inspired by the balcony scene in Romeo & Juliet and some of the posters for West Side Story. There are more concepts illustrated here, from the pool of light with the victory roses to Maria being the source of "light". The difference here is the roses are at the bottom of a grave and Maria is seen reaching into the same. The graveyard is seen behind Maria. Calavera skulls are shown in the shadows and ancestral bones are layered in the walls. The roots from the ceiling share the shape language of Maria's hair and are shown sprouting tiny hearts (a symbol of hope).
"El Matador" Tattoo Poster Concept 3

"El Matador" Poster Concept 4

"El Matador" Sacred Heart Poster Concept 5

"El Matador" Sacred Heart Poster Concept 5 (Sepia)

This is another favorite. The concept of the bull skull resembling the "sacred heart" (a popular Mexican symbol) came together nicely. The one image telling different sides of the same story was exactly what I was looking for. 

Sacred Heart of Jesus

None of these images went beyond my concept stage. Here is the final release poster and teaser for comparison...

BOL Teaser Poster

BOL "Sacred Heart" Logo
BOL Release Poster

Here are some inspired "fan made" posters for "The Book of Life":

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Car Fox Den

Here is an early concept for a redesign of the Car Fox den. The drawing suggests the "den" is not too far underground (due to the low hanging roots) and perhaps "Car Fox" has been stealing computer equipment and internet from the neighborhood to operate his data center. The spiral staircase and circular design are a nod to SPECTRE and the early Bond films.

Car Fox Den

Time Vehicles

In 2014, I designed a "Time Vehicle" for a museum interactive installation. The vehicle would be built as a motion control ride in a 360 degree projection environment. Having worked on a few 'time travel" projects in the past, I chose to focus on realistic details and authenticity. My drawings were influenced by deep ocean submersibles and the pods from 2001: A Space Odyssey.