Tag Archives: Star Wars Celebration VII Artwork

Craig Drake’s Art of Star Wars

Star Wars Celebration is just a few short months and the official Star Wars website has just revealed some key art from the event. The posters 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.

These standalone Mondo portraits of Boba Fett and a ‘Original Trilogy’ Stormtrooper he posted on his Facebook page will make a timeless poster on any Star Wars fans wall.

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

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.

star-wars-celebration-2015-official-leia-poster-artwork-by-craig-drake
star-wars-celebration-2015-official-leia-poster-artwork-by-craig-drake

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.”

Drake’s work doesn’t end with the badges, however. He’s also created a Star Wars Rebels variant poster — which was revealed exclusively on StarWars.com.

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
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The Apprentice Awakens

Craig Drake is a name synonymous with MilnersBlog, as I’m such a massive fan of his Patrick Nagel ‘Pop Culture’ style of visualisation, although now its about time we lay down any reference to his work being any homage to the late Nagel, and instead embrace him for the talented awakening artist he has now become in forging his own palette of Geekologie inspired art, which firmly embraces visual film culture, instead of the pop culture style which Patrick Nagel presented.

He recently presented a well deserved Solo Art Show at the Hero Complex Gallery in Los Angeles, and I’ll admit the show looked like it was on another level…as you can see in the pictures below, Drake showcased a huge body of work of iconic film culture heroes! He even saved four special works of art until the end of the show, the best space ship in film culture in my opinion, the “Millennium Falcon” plus a few new additions to his film culture palette with Lucas/Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and also The Hobbit with a the beautiful dragon Smaug and the graceful Gandalf the White which was screen printed on a brushed aluminium.

carrie fisher princess leia by craig drake
carrie fisher princess leia by craig drake

In an interview with the Hero Complex Gallery he gave a rare insight into his creative process.

Craig Drake’s Creative Process

Craig Drake has hit the ground running with Hero Complex Gallery! For our first show, Weapon of Choice, he created 3 stunning pieces: MacReady from The Thing, and two versions of Hanzo’d, featuring a sexy close-up of art inspired by the character O-Ren Ishii from Kill Bill. His work has a style that is reminiscent of the celebrated 80’s artist, Patrick Nagel.

Craig hails from the chilly suburbs north of 8 Mile Road in the Detroit, Michigan area. Determined to be an artist, he studied at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, and graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Graphic Design. In 1998, Craig moved to San Francisco and worked for several years doing freelance design and animation for companies such as Adobe and EA (Electronic Arts). In 2006, he transitioned to Lucasfilm where he created his first Nagel homage of Princess Leia. This piece was then printed as a signed, limited edition poster.

In Craig’s own words, “Like a lot of Star Wars fans, having grown up in the ’80s, I was exposed to some amazing signature pop culture visuals. Truthfully, [Nagel’s] style really annoyed me as a kid, but as time went on I began rediscovering his work — his brilliantly minimalist yet bold vision of beautiful, strong women is what inspired me to illustrate Princess Leia.” From the original Leia poster, a line of five other Nagel-inspired Star Wars character pieces were spawned.

Since then, Craig’s popularity as a world-class artist has exploded! Last year alone, Craig produced numerous pieces showcasing his brilliant style featuring beloved characters from movies such as Blade Runner, The Bride of FrankensteinMetropolis, Black Swan and Escape From New York, just to name a few. With his clean lines and stylized take on portraits of pop culture icons, it’s no wonder why fans are clamouring to get a Drake on their walls!

When I asked Craig to breakdown his creative process, he had this to say, “First I start with rough pencil sketches to block in shapes. At this stage, not much reference is used to keep the original composition vision pure.

From there I might make a tightened pencil. Then hi-res images are gathered to soak in the subject’s details. Second stage is the drawing the final vector itself. Using Adobe Illustrator [and] using my trusty Wacom set up, this process takes anywhere from 1 to 2 days. Best part is this Illustrator master is print ready after a few technical mods to make separations for silkscreen posters. Third stage is painting. Which can take up to 5 days for larger pieces like R.J. MacReady.

Since the master drawing is complete digitally, I then use it as an exact guide and draw the image to scale on illustration board. After that I use gouache paint to bring it to life. I love engineering in small variances between the digital composition and the one of a kind painting. Even collectors have picked up and geeked out on these details, which makes me very happy.”

Since the show he’s forged ahead producing countless more stunning pieces of Mondo Art, his latest was for the organisers of Star Wars Celebration VII, the travelling confab that celebrates all things connected to George Lucas’ galaxy far, far away, which returns to Craig’s home state of California at the Anaheim Convention Centre from the 16th-19th of April 2015. 

I wonder if he’ll be producing a calendar like he did for Star Wars Celebration VI with some new artwork for J.J. Abrams’ “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” before the 2015 release date… Fingers crossed

A brief selection of his work he’s done since the Solo Art Show… he’s a busy man 🙂

Finally a rare find, some Mondo Art he did for Ridley Scott’s Prometheus which was sadly never used.