Making of 'Superbad'

Introduction

My painting of Michael Cera, titled "SuperBad", was actually created as part of a pitch for his new movie, Youth Revolt. The client wanted to persuade the studio to use an illustrated poster for this film, rather than the usual photographed one sheet. The direction I was given was to keep the art vibrant and make sure that Cera looked as nerdy as possible. They wanted a MAD Magazine type of look, minus the distortion.

This is the original mock up that the client sent in their brief (Fig.01). The photo will be replaced with my painting.

Fig.

Fig.

Walk-Through

Using photos included in the brief as reference, I began my drawing (Fig.02 - 03). I always start with the face since I find that the most interesting. I would normally work up a series of thumbnail sketches first; however, the client knew exactly what they wanted, so it wasn't necessary in this case.

After I got the general likeness in his face, I moved onto drawing the rest of his body. The line drawing was scanned into my computer and cleaned up in Photoshop (Fig.04).

In Photoshop, I created a document that was 100% of the presentation size at 200 dpi. I chose a fairly vibrant blue and filled my background. I knew I wanted a halo effect around the actor's head, so I chose a lighter blue and created a radial gradient (Fig.05).

I opened my scanned line drawing in a separate document, then copied and pasted it onto a new layer, above the background colour. The blend mode of the pencil layer was set to Multiply and the opacity was dropped to 60% (Fig.06).

A third layer was then created and placed between the background and line layers. This was where I began blocking in my shirt colour. I always work the same way when creating an illustration: by keeping my clean drawing very tight and painting on layers below it, I am able to work the piece like a "paint by numbers" set (Fig.07).

Once the shape of his T-shirt had been defined, I checked the "Lock transparent pixels" option on my layer. I chose a darker yellow tone and started to rough in some folds (Fig.08).

I quickly moved on and repeated the process, creating two new layers for the trousers and skin tones (Fig.09).

Fig.

Fig.

At this point I was happy with everything and decided I was done with Photoshop for the time being. I saved the file and opened it in Corel Painter. Even though I only began using Painter earlier this year, it has quickly become my application of choice. Using the Fine Detail Airbrush I decided to refine the glow on my background layer; lighter tones of blue were painted near the edge of his face to add more punch (Fig.10).

Now for the fun part! After mixing a palette of flesh tones, I started blocking in the face. I always work my shadows first and save my lighter tones and hot whites till last (Fig.11).

When I was comfortable with the direction the face was taking, I created a new layer. This layer was placed above the line drawing and was used to do my refining (Fig.12). I broke my own rule by getting ahead of myself and finishing the eyes - I generally don't like to work sections of my painting unevenly.

Fig. 12

Fig. 12

Luckily I could just turn off the visibility on that detail layer and get back to working the piece as a whole (Fig.13). I switched from the airbrush to a modified scratchboard tool and the "just add water" blender. I find the scratchboard tool gives a nice random texture that works well with skin. Because of this, these are two of my favourite tools.

Fig. 13

Fig. 13

With the overall level of detail uniform, I decided to add my highlights. I put a bit of extra time into the hands, but I think it was worth it (Fig.14 - 15). For me, hands are very easy to screw up. If the lighting is wrong on one finger, the whole piece can feel 'off'!

Almost done now! I always paint hair last because it's so time consuming. It's easy for me to lose my place here, so I had to pay special attention to my reference (Fig.16).

Hair is one place that I don't mind letting my pencil lines show. I find leaving some construction lines, especially around the temples, seems to add to the illusion of realism. Once I'd finished and step back, I notice the tone of his hair was too orange. I was happy with everything else so I dropped all my layers and created a new one set to Colour. Selecting a desaturated blue, I painted over the hair. The layer's opacity was reduced until I got more of a hazel tone, and then the layer was dropped. After adding a light blue rim light, I bumped up the resolution to 300 dpi and saved (Fig.17).

One last time I opened the file in Photoshop and after boosting the saturation, the piece was complete (Fig.18).

Fig. 18

Fig. 18

Even though the studio really liked how the piece turned out, they decided that they want a slightly different pose. So, starting from scratch, I did the whole process all over again, and the result can be seen in Fig.19. 

Fig. 19

Fig. 19

The total time spent on this project was about eight days. I'm still not sure that I will get the movie poster, but the client did decide to use my art for the book cover. Plus I got a couple of pretty good portfolio pieces out of this experience, too!