November 2, 2007

Return of the Kings, Part 1

I've been given the A-OK to talk about my big news regarding the upcoming Lord of the Rings: Masterpieces II card set. Well, for me it's big. :) Topps & New Line asked a small number of artists to be part of the base card set, which means the painted (or digitally-colored) reproduced cards that make up the actual set -- and I'm one of the artists!

I was very flattered and excited, to say the least. It feels kinda like a graduation from sketch cards. (Of course, I'll probably still volunteer to do some sketch cards as well, because I have so much deep geeky love for LOTR, and I can certainly use a little extra cash this holiday season, but that's besides the point.) :P

So this week I finished up my card art and sent it off to Topps. What I want to do here on my site is show each stage of the journey (or shall I say, the greeaattesst advenn-ture) and describe the process I went through to get from the initial rough to the final image. Partly because I think it'd be cool to show you guys the various steps.. and partly because my editor doesn't want me showing the final image online quite yet, so I have to stick to sketches and in-progress shots until it's closer to the release date.

Part 1: Concept & Rough Sketch

They were pretty open about letting each artist do their own thing. The process was this: I had to come up with a few rough sketches, then Topps would decide which one they wanted to use, suggest editorial changes if need be, then run it past the folks at New Line to get approval. At first I was really in love with the idea of featuring Eomer and Eowyn, and having my card be Rohan-focused. But Topps told me a different artist had beat me to the punch and was already doing a card like that, so it was back to the idea factory for me. My Arwen sketch wasn't a big hit, because they wanted to avoid close-up portrait shots. The first Masterpieces set had a lot of those, so I think they're trying to shoot for more moments than characters this time around.

I started thinking about Killian Plunkett's Star Wars Celebration IV print, which featured an unseen scene from A New Hope (stormtroopers attacking the sandcrawler) and it inspired me to try and figure out, What's something that we know happened in LOTR, but never saw? .. And that's how I came up with the idea to show Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli, along with the king of the dead and his soldiers, sailing on one of the black ships toward Minas Tirith to save the day. The challenge was to try and figure out how to fit all this onto a tiny trading card, but Topps and New Line really liked the idea, so I ran with it.

You can see my rough sketch above.. very quick and loose thumbnails of the characters and the ship. I then dropped in an actual movie screencap of the scenery behind them, to help me with the color scheme and to figure out where the water/land lines should be. Initially I had only half as many ghosts onboard -- Topps' one editorial suggestion when I turned in my rough was that there should be more ghosts, some possibly floating above the others. And I agree - That was a huge help. You can kind of see where I added in the floating extras - the greens and line widths are different.

I also struggled with whether the card would be horizontal or vertical.. By all accounts, given that the image features a ship and a bunch of characters, the automatic choice would be horizontal. But I've always had this weird frustration with horizontal cards.. When I was a kid and I had trading cards in an album, it would drive me nuts that some of them would be sideways and throw the whole unity of the set off! (This is my OCD speaking.. :P) So I knew that if I ever had the chance to create a base card, I could never bring myself to make it horizontal. It had to be "tall-ways," as I called it when I was a kid. So yeah.. that's the reasoning behind that. Crazy, but true.

Part 2 of 'Return of the Kings'