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20 January 2015

Brain Dead: A Work in Process

Recently, I was hired to create a poster for an upcoming tour by the thrash bands Brain Dead and Madrost.  I thought it would be fun for me, and possibly instructional for some, to show the steps I took to making the final image for what turned out to be a kickass piece of work.  Enjoy.

Preparatory notes:  I have a little bit of history with Brain Dead, having designed the art for their demo CD and their first studio album, and had created a mascot of sorts for them that they wanted to use on the poster.  I had no direct contact with Madrost for this project, but they had a mascot of their own that needed to share prominent space on the poster.  The notes I was given for the poster indicated that they wanted something that showed the two main figures doing violent things to the audience at a thrash metal concert.  From that, I got the idea that they would be brutalizing the crowd, but that the crowd was loving it, kind of the way a good metal concert will tear up your eardrums (at the least!), but is more enjoyable the more it does so.  The band liked the idea, so off to the drawing board I went!

At this stage, I really just wanted to nail down the concept and composition of the piece and make sure the major elements got enough room.  I was also asked to leave some room at top and bottom for text placement, so I avoided putting any important details in those areas.
Just for a personal touch, I looked up some photos of the members of Brain Dead and sketched them into the drawing.  I may have hidden a small self-portrait in there as well, but I ain't telling!

As I've mentioned here before, most of my ink work these days is done on a tablet PC.  I met cartoonist Mark Oakley a few years ago and he let me play with his Toshiba Portege, and I've been a tablet convert ever since.  I'm currently working on a Fujitsu Lifebook T5010, and it's the best art tool I've ever bought.  If there ever comes a day I can't get a tablet PC with pressure sensitive pen input, I think I'll be lost.
For this, I scanned the pencils in pieces using a nifty little hand scanner I found a while ago, and stiched the whole thing together.  Then I opened the piece in Sketchbook Pro and a couple of my favorite custom brushes to ink the piece.
When I'm working on a project like this, I'm always aware of where my influences are coming from, and they're always coming from somewhere.  Working on a piece like this, the work of Derek Riggs on Iron Maiden's album covers can't help coming to mind, but I was also aware of bringing in a little influence from such odd characters as Drew Friedman and Robert Crumb.  That's the kind of odd paths my mind takes at times.  Plus, if you'll take a close look at those clouds in the background, you'll see I've been toying with the style of Nico De Lort a little; his work has just been blowing me away lately.
Clearly, I tightened things up a lot here, and I must confess to one little cheat:  the buildings on either side in the background were photographs that were corrected for perspective, then converted to black and white using the Threshold tool and Gaussian Blur filter in Photoshop.  It saved me some time and gave me the raw kind of look I wanted for those areas.


Here, the color work begins.  For this I switch over to Photoshop, and follow a very comic book style process.  My first task here is to do flat colors for the whole piece.  This lets me get the overall color scheme in place and figure out where I need to balance or adjust colors.
I knew that the bands were going to want to add some text at the bottom, so I made the crowd nearly monochrome to create a good contrasting background for anything they might drop in there.  You can see that I'm leaning towards primary colors here to give the final image more impact, with just enough variation to allow me to establish depth and make the central figures pop.



Next, I add another layer set to multiply and brush in some shadows using a bluish shade of grey.  I realize a lot of colorists use channels for this sort of thing, as using layers increases file size significantly, but I'm more comfortable using layers, and my PC has plenty of RAM, so if it ain't broke, don't fix it, right?
Somewhere in there, I added the "Brain Dead" logo (also my design) to the band mascot's hat.  In earlier images, the hat says "Thrash", but we've changed it for this version for a bit of brand recognition.
Now we finally start to get some depth to the figures, even the monochrome ones, and this thing is starting to come together.
On top of that, I add yet another layer set to Lighten, and add some highlights.  Using the extra layer like this lets me adjust the intensity of the highlights much easier than if I were to paint them right onto the flat color.
Now this thing's getting much more life, and getting much closer to done.  Time for a few special effects.


For this (nearly) final stage, I added three special effects, one of which is very subtle.  First, the glow from the stage lights was created using the lasso tool and a gradient fill on a layer set to Screen mode.  Then, I selected the area around the trailing edge of the discs the robot creature is throwing, did a "Copy/Merged" in Photoshop, pasted the copied area as a new layer and ran a Motion Blur filter on the layer to add a slight sense of motion to the discs. 
Finally, I pulled a little trick that's sort of the artistic equivalent of backwards masking in music.  I found a large, good quality scan of Bruegel's "The Triumph of Death" and pasted it over the background layers (everything except the figures).  This is very subtle, but it lends a little bit of texture to the background plus it lends a little symbolist depth to the whole piece.  It's probably difficult to see at all in the online version.  If you happen to see a good print of this, look in the lighted areas of the background, especially right around the spotlights, and you'll catch a bit of it.  This is not the first time I've used this technique, but in prior attempts it was a little more obvious.

As I did not have to add the text areas myself, I guess we're done now, right?  Wrong.
Since this was going to be printed up for offline distribution, I wanted to be sure the colors would register properly and that the printed product would look good, so I had a test print done locally before sending it off.  In so doing, I found out that the Brain Dead character was turning out WAY too pink, and that the red tones overall were just way off.  So, I took it back to Photoshop for some color adjustments and tried it again.
 NOW we're done!  This final version doesn't come across quite as vibrant online, but it prints a whole lot better.  This is the one that shipped off to the band to add the final text to promote their tour.
And here's the poster with all the added text.  If you're in L.A., keep an eye out for this thing around town, and be sure to check out Brain Dead and Madrost when they roll through in May!

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