||09-13-2011 09:01 AM
ILLUSTRATING RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK: STERANKO
The call came In almost two years ago. George Lucas was working on a new film. He wanted to know if I'd be interested in creating a series of production illustrations for the project, just as Ralph McQuarrie did for the Star Wars movies. Though my previous film work ranges from storyboarding to production design to posters, the prospect of developing his Ideas graphically was too aesthetically intriguing to turn down—especially after I heard about the characters and the story. Essentially, George was framing an action/adventure tale around a type of character who was popular in the movies of the '30s and '40s, the two-fisted soldier of fortune often portrayed by Clark Gable or Spencer Tracy. An indication that Lucas was working along those lines is reflected in the fact that the film is set during that period, and makes use of exotic foreign locales like such classics as Gunga Din, Too Hot to Handle, Calcutta, and The General Died at Dawn.
The hero in Raiders of the Lost Ark, might best be described as an incarnation of Humphrey Bogart out of Doc Savage. He's a globe-trotting adventurer who solves whatever trouble comes his way with his wits or his fists. He lives by an old-fashioned personal code that makes him the kind of fellow who is trusted by his friends, feared by his enemies, and loved by women. He's a man of action who carries a whip and a Colt .45. Woody Allen, he's not.
Frequently during the past dozen years as a comic artist and commercial illustrator, I've been associated with the all-American hero. Somehow, when art directors require colorful, action oriented art, I'm one of the Illustrators they think of. I've helped G-8, the Indestructible WW1 air ace from the pulps, launch his paperback revival. I've painted The Shadow into a couple dozen corners during his return to the newsstand. In the line of duty, I've rendered every kind of two-fisted hero, from trigger-quick westerners to battle-scarred space soldiers. Apparently, George wanted that approach applied to his new hero. The function of a production Illustrator Is to visualize the concepts and key scenes through the juxtaposition of characters, settings, and elements contained in the screenplay. That starting point, by which the look of a film will be determined, serves as a graphic guide to help the director stage powerful and memorable sequences. In this case, the director is Steven Spielberg, a man whose screen imagery is always remarkably potent. Of greater significance is his mastery at building strong cinematic tension, the kind that can bring an audience right out of their seats. One of my favorite Spielberg films, the TV movie Duel, is a perfect example. The story of a car and truck chase across a desert is, in most hands, worth a half hour of viewing. Steven's ability to develop and sustain high-gear suspense over the long haul of 93 minutes is a first-rate achievement in the art of motion picture storytelling. His treatment of Raiders of the Lost Ark should be no less compelling.
During a meeting regarding the film's direction, we discussed his approach and its inspirations. He plans to utilize a style that might qualify, to some sensibilities, as Teutonic, with rich, black shadows and intriguing compositions of light patterns to create the kind of filmic atmosphere which belongs almost exclusively to a handful of European directors—and to Europeans who made the great noir films during the '40s. Raiders is not, however, a suspense film. The plot is rooted in the action/adventure genre. The characters are larger than life; the locations are exotic, at times, bordering on the fantastic; and the set pieces are evocative of their period. Yet, action is the keynote, and the plot features enough cliffhangers to stock a serial—several of which were actually surveyed by Spielberg to hone his handling of the script's daredevil stuntwork and explosive movement. Those who know what the word pulp means might find that it applies here. Those who don't, will understand by assaying the Raiders paintings. My natural philosophy of story illustration leans heavily in the direction of tension—in terms of pictorial composition, time frame, and the choice of elements to be shown. I want my audience to feel what they are seeing, like watching a mainspring being wound tighter and tighter, or a balloon being blown up to the breaking point. While many artists go for the explosion, I find the moment just before the explosion infinitely more interesting.
Three of the four production illustrations shown here employ that concept. All are scenes from the story suggested by Lucas as subjects to illustrate. Each shows a different aspect of the film, generally defined in terms of action. As usual, I started the assignment with a series of lay outs, concentrating first on the scene which I felt would show the hero most clearly, the desert picture with the Arabs in the background. In the initial layouts, I experimented with a full figure of Indy, but felt that he was lost in the picture because of the limitations of his size within the prescribed horizontal format. I kept pulling him closer until he completely dominated the illustration by sheer size—precisely the feeling I wanted from the image. I amplified that aspect by painting him as a large, dark mass against the brilliant yellow, and by cropping his hat and legs, thereby suggesting volume and dynamic force even greater than what is shown. When the paintings were commissioned, the film had not yet been cast. lndy's facial characteristics were left to me, and I went fore rough, rugged visage, weather beaten and strong. I spread his arms and legs slightly, making him appear to be bracing for action, and threw the figure a bit off balance to suggest motion. The result was apparently not too far from what Steven and George were looking for, because Harrison Ford appears almost exactly like the figure In the painting.
In the fight scene, I went for something completely different. The emphasis was on the Flying Wing, an experimental plane from the '40s I knew about, but had little reference on. Production illustration Is concerned more with imagery than detail, so I unscrupulously substituted the landing gear from another bomber. The action called for Indy to be engaged in a no-holds-barred fist fight with a Nazi pilot, battling back and forth through the propellers with the distinct possibility of being chewed up. I chose a viewpoint from under the Wing because of the powerful silhouette it created. The angle kept the horizon low and placed the plane against the sky where it belonged. The two figures fighting in its shadow seem confined by the dark mass, which dually creates tension and symbolically underscores the film's conflict. The painting of the truck was fun because of the elements and the situation.
The horse-to-vehicle "transfer' is an update of the classic runaway stagecoach bit, typical of the film's hazardous stunt work. Note that I increased the danger visually by "pinning" the horse and rider between the side of the mountain and the ominous, angular bulk of the truck. In all three exterior shots, I was careful to establish the horizon, an important aspect in outdoor adventure epics. The vehicle depicted Is a composite, pieced together from references of German trucks and half-tracks of WW2 vintage.
Perhaps the easiest to lay out, but the most difficult to paint, was the scene in the temple ruins. As you've probably guessed, Indy gets around, and this sequence is quite different from the others. I began stating that diference through my choice of color. Although I maintained a harmonic unity with the other paintings by using browns and neutral earth colors, I dominated the scene with green. I wanted to give the impression of a cool, dark, isolated area that might be alive with danger, even death. The burial jars, spidery vines, and crumbling columns amplify that idea by surrounding the figure with their contours. Considering the situation, however, it hardly seems to matter. A bare knuckle brawl or a gunfight Is one thing, facing a nest of hooded cobras is another. Even a hero's flesh is allowed to crawl in certain circumstances. I focused on the danger by pulling one of the snakes very close to the foreground and painting it in stronger silhouette than the figure which It slightly overlaps. The verdant reptile's tense striking position, and fixed eye-to-eye contact make for a very uncomfortable scene.
In looking back at the past year and a half since the art has been completed, I realize that the most difficult part of all was simply keeping the story and the pictures under wraps. I confess there were times when the persona of the artist was seriously tempted by that of the editor. Thankfully, that temptation is over—at least until the next time.
Just goofing on you a bit my boy!
Originally Posted by JuniorJones
Yes, there is.