Jakku Sunset Star Wars The Force Awakens by Craig Drake
My favourite mondo artist of film culture, Craig Drake…which you’ll already know I’m a massive fan of his Patrick Nagel ‘Pop Culture’ style of visualisation, has at last entered the realm of Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens with this rendition of the character Rey and her speeder. Rey is played by 23-year-old Daisy Ridley, who is a scavenger and desert rat on the Planet Jakku…although Craig has initially called the artwork Tatooine Sunset, since Jakku was only recently announced as her home planet at Star Wars Celebration.
Craig Drake signing prints at Star Wars Celebration 2015
Craig Drake at Star Wars Celebration
Even the legendary Boba Fett actor Jeremy Bulloch turned up to meet Craig Drake to grab his own personal copy of Proto Fett, which was featured on Milner’s Blog earlier.
Jeremy Bulloch with his Boba Fett artwork by Craig Drake
Part of his Star Wars Celebration ‘Official’ Artwork was also the creation of the ID Badges for the event, some of which I’ve already feature in my Art of Star Wars blog, but this montage shows the full set of characters he created.
Star Wars Celebration ID Bages by Craig Drake
He’s also recently dabbled into the Marvel Cinematic Universe with the rendition of Black Widow for the Avengers: Age of Ultron exhibition at the Hero Complex Gallery.
Black Widow Mondo Art by Craig Drake Avengers Age of Ultron
What’s next for Craig!…More Force Awakens mondo art I hope, especially his Solo Show II at Hero Complex Gallery, on 2020 South Robertson Boulevard in Los Angeles, California on the 22 May 2015…watch this space for a Milner’s Blog report on the event.
Star Wars Celebration is just a few short months and the official Star Wars website has just revealed some key art from the event. Theposters are a pure Mondo art form unto themselves, and for an artist to capture the essence of Star Wars on a poster — the feel and look of the films, the drama of the stories isn’t easy…but Star Wars Celebration is in safe hands with my favourite Mondo artist, the incredibly gifted Craig Drake, who’s produced some stunning new artwork for April’s mega-event.
He even posted some new Leia artwork on his Tumblr site, a standalone variant of Leia from the Star Wars Celebration poster, and ‘Empire Leia’ in her Hoth outfit, which is quite reminiscent of his first Leia artwork.
What I found out most recently about him, was his love of fellow Star Wars Poster artist Drew Struzan and the legendary concept artist Ralph McQuarrie, and also having been a senior designer at Star Wars.com, you know he has an inherent love of the SW Universe, which really shows in his work.
Craig Drake’s Interview with Star Wars.com
Star Wars Celebration 2015 Official Poster Artwork by Craig Drake
Drake loves and knows Star Wars, having worked at Lucasfilm for seven years as the senior designer of StarWars.com, and he has that rare ability to convey what we love about a galaxy far, far away in an immediate, almost subconscious way. In his poster, there are classic Star Wars elements: the overwhelming power of Darth Vader, dark and light colors in a sort of harmonious conflict, and a sense of Star Wars-branded danger and excitement. The style, however, is all Drake’s: the lines are sharp, the details simple, the colors bold. Ultimately, the image successfully adapts his style into the language of a movie poster. So how did he do it?
“I essentially took the basic line art that I usually do, that’s very recognizable, and painted over it,” Drake tells StarWars.com. “Before I even did that, I took a look at the [legendary movie- and Star Wars-poster artist] Drew Struzan’s of the world and how those color palettes feel. So, the basis for what I usually do is there, it’s just underneath a lot of color enhancement and free-hand painting, just to dial it up a bit, and I think it added a nice touch that made it feel more filmic.” It’s a method that allows Drake to employ his own style while still making something that’s familiar. Yet, upon closer inspection, it’s not THAT familiar — Han, the stormtrooper, Leia, and Vader all look and feel the part, but their poses can’t quite be placed in a specific movie scene. The expressions match the characters, but they’re kind of new, too. That unfamiliar familiarity, it turns out, is intentional.
“I like to go into the films and take screen caps for reference, versus the style-guide art,” Drake says. “Style guides are asset kits [given to artists and third parties]. It’s a wealth of images. You see those poses used quite a bit in posters and packaging, so I wanted to dig a little deeper into the films themselves.” His process involves scanning scenes with an eye toward the unusual, or something rarely seen. When it came to Vader, Drake had a clear goal. “I was trying to get this very perfect side view, a really great profile. You don’t see Vader from the side very often, and I think it’s a neat shape. I grabbed a shot from Episode V that worked really, really well.” The result is striking. Vader is cast as a grand, ominous figure, almost engulfing all others; the side view seems new, and the arched angle, with Vader looking upward, hints at the tragedy and internal struggle of the fallen Jedi.
..You don’t see Vader from the side very often, and I think it’s a neat shape
And if the star-filled Vader rings a visual bell, that’s because it’s meant to — the effect is taken directly from the original Empire Strikes Back theatrical poster. “That’s exactly what I lifted,” Drake says. “I’ll admit it. The very first soundtrack LP I got was The Empire Strikes Back, and that was the cover. So, that’s burned in my mind, and I kind of wanted to emulate it a bit. I like the stars sort of bleeding through. It’s a very cool effect.”
When Drake can’t find a shot that matches what he sees in his head, he gets even more creative, mashing up different character appearances to create a new image. “Specifically, the one that [technique] worked for was the Leia profile shot,” he says. “I got that reference from the medal ceremony at the end of Episode IV. She had a different hairdo, so I got her face from that, and then did her hair from memory.” Leia wasn’t always a sure thing for the final poster, however. Originally, Drake explored different character options and color choices — with a much greater focus on the dark side (for lack of better term) of Star Wars — revealed below for the first time anywhere.
“I initially was given quite a bit of freedom to tackle a theme,” Drake says of the early process, “and that’s how I came up with the first version, featuring Boba [Fett], Vader, and the stormtrooper.” His inspiration came not from a specific love of the bad guys, though. It was borne more out of the spirit of Star Wars Celebration. “I really thought of it from the fan perspective,” he says. “You know, at those events, people dress up. Especially the 501st Legion, with everyone crafting their costumes. It seems to be the stormtroopers, Boba Fetts, and Vaders are the heavy focus in terms of costumes. Those are just iconic, wonderful shapes to actually illustrate. And I think through that process, we quickly decided, these are neat looking, but we actually wanted to include human faces and build it out like a traditional movie poster with a variety of characters.” This led to the second attempt, also seen above, which saw a new layout and added a certain sharp-shooting princess; finally, the third time was the charm, as the Han-focused illustration struck the right balance of heroes, villains, and energy. By looking at earlier versions of the poster in comparison with the final art, however, certain elements emerge that harken back to core Star Wars designs.
One motif visible in each stage of the poster’s evolution is a diamond or wedge shape — sometimes explicit, sometimes in the form of rays of light, sometimes swallowing the image up from Darth Vader’s cape or helmet. That, also, is intentional. “There’s a behind-the-scenes clip where George [Lucas] was talking about the wedge shape, the triangular shape,” Drake says, “and how it’s a repeated shape in ships in Star Wars. That’s something that always stayed in my mind. The Star Destroyer, some of the Jedi starfighters [have that shape]. That’s something that Ralph McQuarrie was able to just harness perfectly. Take the most basic shapes and make them even more iconic in spaceship form. So that is something that is always very present in my mind, and it worked into the framing element of the poster.”
In addition to shapes and characters, color plays a huge role in each version of the poster. From the deep red of his original concept to the green-blue of the final work, Drake’s use of color is a tool for conjuring the tone of specific films. “I have color associations with the first few films,” Drake explains. “For example, Empire Strikes Back, to me, is straight up orange and blue. Jedi is totally green. In that sense, I didn’t want to necessarily lean this toward Episode IV and V. I definitely did with the character selection, but I think my color association, with the use of the green there [in the final poster], is where I balanced it.” When StarWars.com points out that green instantly recalls Return of the Jedi for one reason — Luke’s lightsaber — Drake agrees. “When I was a kid,” he says, “and I saw that he all of a sudden had a green lightsaber, my friends and I freaked out. It was like, ‘Yes, this is awesome!’ That simple use of color. It was so powerful.”
Fans have reacted strongly to Drake’s poster, and for those who love his work, there’s even better news: Drake’s also creating the art for all Celebration badges. Revealed below, the badges will be in visual continuity with the poster (note the use of color and slanted lines) and similarly draw from a classic (and very cool) influence. “The actual format feels a lot like trading cards,” he says. “I’m eternally enamored with that format, the old Topps trading cards. In the end, I think we have 22 different characters, and that means 22 different badges. It’s been a really fun project to draw all of them. Super fun.”
Swapping Han, Leia, and Vader for Ezra, Sabine, and the Inquisitor, respectively, as well as adding the Ghost starship and the Lothal cityscape, it’s a similarly great piece and successful on different fronts:
..The poster was like fresh new territory. I’m looking forward to exploring even more.
The stormtrooper remains, creating a thematic connection between this and the original; the animated heroes and villains of Star Wars Rebels fit seamlessly with Drake’s take on the movie characters; and Star Wars‘ themes of darkness and light, and its sense of wonder, are present and strong. With Star Wars Rebels still new, Drake had less imagery to pull from — a challenge he enjoyed. “It was particularly fun for that reason,” he says. “The poster was like fresh new territory. I’m looking forward to exploring even more.” With more badges and art to go, he’ll have his chance.
Taken together, Drake’s Celebration art spans and, fittingly, celebrates the saga. But for someone who started out as a fan, and is now giving a visual identity to the world’s biggest Star Wars fan event, the experience is even more special. “It means a lot to me on a couple of levels,” he says. “First, as an illustrator, it’s an honor to be given the keys to the Star Wars universe. Secondly, as a fan who grew up seeking all the Star Wars art inspiration I could find, this is an incredible project for me.”
Interview by Dan Brooks, Lucasfilm’s senior content writer. Copyright Lucasfilm 2015
My love of Craig Drake‘s ‘Patrick Nagel’esque’ style of Graphic Art keeps on growing, I’m not saying I’ve fallen out of love with Nagel’s feisty erotic symbolic work, It just that Craig seems to have driven his monomaniacal style of work into ‘my’ trajectory of Geekdom. His current work constantly follows the themes of popular movie and TV culture, whilst still dabbling into the old geekologie archives of movies long past.
I’ve constantly updated my ‘Master and the Apprentice‘ blog (which talks about the comparisons between Drake and Nagel) with some of Craig’s latest additions, the likes of the beautiful Medusa and ‘Mother of Dragons’ Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones, but his capture of Shotaro Kaneda from Akira depicts the character from my first venture into the Manga movies so perfectly.
Medusa by Craig Drake
Daenerys Targaryen Poster from Game of Thrones
Shotaro Kaneda from Akira by Craig Drake
Rather than just add to my ever-increasing ‘fandom’ gallery of his work, I’ve devoted this new blog to show evidence that this young Californian upstart has indeed become the ‘Master’ of this mode of expressing such a refined cleanness of Mondo Geek Art…Although, I maybe slightly bias in prematurely calling him the Master, this is mainly because he’s chosen some of my favourite movies of all time for his latest masterpieces, firstly Aliens with the aptly titled ‘Get away from her, YOU BITCH’ …a beautifully crafted ‘light and shade’ image of Ripley using a Caterpillar P-5000 Work Loader aboard the USS Sulaco…(using my geek knowledge overload for that description. 😉 Then there’s ‘The Spinner’ from Blade Runner as Deckard ascends into the Future Noir skyline over LA, and then my second favourite ‘LEIA’ …I’m not sure this need any further explanation, It is after all… Star Wars. But for me his genius ‘paint’ stroke is the Han Solo and Lando Calrissian done in the style of Crockett & Tubb’s from Miami Vice… beautifully titled Bespin Vice, but called by some on his Facebook page Smuggler’s Blues, after the Miami Vice Soundtrack song by Glen Fray… Exquisite
Craig in my eyes has finally shaken the dark shadow of being labelled a Patrick Nagel ‘style’ copyist and is now forging his own path with this theme of Mondo Art in the popular geek genre… I hope he keeps up this impressive volume of work.
I’ve included some of his other new work as well, Daft Punk, Star Wars Vampire Leia, the Jedi ‘Night Sister’, Vampire Guitar player ‘Marceline’ + variants and an unreleased Beatrix Kiddo from Kill Bill.