March 25, 2013

Art Directing: Eric Wilkerson!

Ender’s Game by Eric Wilkerson

I recently completed the design of the SFBC’s 60th Anniversary Edition of Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. This omnibus of 2 of Card’s novels in the Ender’s Game Series has been a fan favorite since it’s initial publishing in 1985. There’s a movie adaptation of Ender’s Game directed by Gavin Hood planned for release later this year starring Asa Butterfield as well as Harrison Ford and Ben Kingsley. I knew that I needed to produce art that was conceptual in conveying both novels or at least can show Ender as a youth as well as a full-grown adult but, I also needed the art to be rich in details and have the depth that would be needed to compliment the movie. I needed someone who would approach this project with a world-building perspective: Eric Wilkerson.

I don’t exactly recall how I first met Eric Wilkerson but I do remember bumping into him at various industry related events: a convention, a lecture, an open-studio day at Donato’s, probably something at the Society of Illustrators, etc. Eric also tipped me off to the plein air paint-out events hosted by the Barrett Art Center in Poughkeepsie, NY which I’ve participated in. His website and blog are a testament to his passion for Science Fiction. His art often takes a cinematic turn in that Eric composes his backgrounds as if they were sets for his figures to live in. He pays close attention to lighting and costume.

I had a chance to catch up with Eric and find out a little more about him and his process:

MK: You’ve recently created a stunning image for the Science Fiction Book Club’s omnibus edition of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead. What research did you do for this illustration?

EW:  First let me say how honored I am that you chose me for this assignment.  I started off by listening to the audiobooks for both stories and taking extensive notes. 

After seeing all the past covers for the series I decided to treat mine more like a pre-production illustration for film rather than a stand alone book cover or theatre poster style image. Something I could hand off to a production designer. I really wanted to get in and play with a little environment design and costume design for Ender’s flash suit as well. This however meant a ton more work than what would normally go into a sci-fi cover illustration.

The book really didn’t portray the battle school as a positive place to be so I felt the corridor should lean more cold gritty gunmetal than porcelain white with lens flares. Knowing that some of the same designers from Avatar worked on the upcoming movie it’s my guess that they’ll take the same approach.

I tried to stay as true to the book as possible when it came to the flash suit. Even though it wasn’t described in any heavy detail I wanted the Ender in my painting to represent Dragon Army. The suit colors and dragon logo had to be correct. This was so much more fun to design than sticking him in army fatigues. I imagined the suit to be a more high tech sports/laser tag outfit with appropriate padding for floating in Zero-G. The Chest would be the sensor hub for responding to gun blasts and would send a signal to compress the fibers of his clothing and restrict the movement of limbs when hit. Sensor nodes were placed on the hands, waist and back. No loose wiring or restrictive elements. He had to look like he could freely move his arms, so the chest padding couldn’t be too bulky or loaded with chunky details. I really look forward to seeing what the film does with the suit.

The second book treats Andrew Wiggin with the same kind of authority and respect that a priest would receive so it made sense to have his costume or the hint of it in the painting have subtle nods to the clothing of a catholic priest. Further developing the look of the whole illustration I made a full body costume design for Ender and the Speaker.

MK: At what point in your life did you decide to pursue art? Can you tell us about the moment you realized that art would be your career choice?

EW:  Anime and comics were my world as a kid and I knew for sure that I wanted to make art for a living after discovering the work of comic artists Jim Lee and Whilce Portacio in the early 90s. I’m sure there are countless fantasy and comic artists all over the world that share a similar path.

MK: Which artists inspire you?

EW:  Too many to list but my favorites are definitely Jean-Léon Gérôme, Dean Cornwell, Manuel Sanjulian, Syd Mead, Andrew Probert, David Kassan and former painting instructors Marvin Mattelson, and Garin Baker. 

MK: Can you describe your artistic process? 

EW:  My process for both traditional and digital painting starts like most illustrators, with rough sketches, followed by reference gathering/ sculpting maquettes (depending on the painting) then a final line drawing. In oil paint I work with a premixed palette developed by illustrator, Frank Reilly. For my digital work I made a PSD version of the Reilly palette that I use to mimic how I paint traditionally. It really comes in handy for me when painting a face. I have flesh tone and color wheel value string layers with an equivalent neutral gray string to control the chroma of my selected hue. The rest is pretty much the same. Moving background to foreground until the painting is complete.  There are so many working methods for painting. This is what works for me.

Animated step-by-step of the hologram detail.

MK: You’ve created 2 amazing pieces of illustration for me in the past. Both were created digitally but, have an oil-painting appearance. I also know that in the past you painted using traditional media. Can you tell me where you are in terms of digital vs. traditional painting?

EW:  Thanks, Matt. I still use traditional media but more for personal works and private commissions. I usually don’t push my digital art any further than what I could do in oils just to maintain consistency. I’m trying to do more oil painting now than I have in awhile. Going back to real paint is a joy. What I observe and practice in oils informs my decisions digitally so it’s good to keep it up.

MK: Where else can we see your art?   

EW:  For the past 3 years I’ve been working as lead concept designer and costume designer for Blue Man Productions, the creators of The Blue Man Group. My designs were being fabricated by WETA Workshop but are now being developed by Show Creators Inc.  Some of what I’ve done can now be seen daily at the Blue Man Group show at the Monte Carlo Resort in Las Vegas. 

I’ll be in a few group shows this year.  One is the upcoming Zombie exhibition at Last Rites Gallery in NYC.  I’m a finalist in the 2012/2013 Art Renewal Center Salon.  I’ll also be showing original oil paintings at this year’s Illuxcon. If anyone out there is interested in knowing more, they can follow my blog. I try and keep it current.

MK: What do you do when you’re not painting?   

EW:  I should say “I’m always painting” but honestly, I just got Netflix so I do marathons of Power Rangers, Futurama and every other show I missed out on while learning to paint. It’s really unhealthy.

Final jacket design.

Now as the weather improves, I’m looking forward to joining Eric for some plein air painting!