Last year Brian Martin got an amazing job, but had to keep it secret from even his close friends. Animation projects are kept hush-hush so other studios don’t get wind of a great idea. Now he can share that he’s been working on Steven Colbert’s Our Cartoon President. The half-hour cartoon show premieres Feb. 11 on Showtime. Brian graduated in 2015 from Kutztown University majoring in Communication Design with Ad and Illustration concentrations.
Brian signed an NDA, or Non-Disclosure Agreement, so he can’t share photos from inside the studio or images he has drawn for the show. I’ve grabbed art from the official Our Cartoon President trailer, which can be seen at Showtime.
Last year, Brian was a designer for a pharmaceutical e-learning company. It wasn’t his dream job. He promised himself he’d land his first animation gig before he had to renew his apartment lease. He just made it with one month left on the lease.
Q: How did you land the job with Our Cartoon President?
Brian: “With animation, past experience isn’t that crucial. It’s your reel that counts, and it always comes down to how well you do on your animation test, where they’ll ask you to animate a scene from the show. I finished the test in one all-nighter, and they emailed me the following week offering me a three-week position that could lead to long term if my work was good. It was Friday, and they wanted me to start Monday, so I packed up my desk immediately, and never went back. It was a giant risk, but every bone in my body told me to do it. Best decision I ever made!”
See the demo reel that got Brian’s foot in the door here.
Q: What was the move to NYC like?
Brian: “The first four weeks, I commuted from north Philly to NYC every day. It was a 5 to 7 hour round trip, – pretty brutal, but I think my commitment to the cause was appreciated! After the first five weeks, we went on a month-long hiatus, so I had plenty of time to prepare for the move. The first season is in production till sometime in March, so I’m staying in an Airbnb in East Harlem. “
Q: Like you, Floyd Bishop and Tom Warburton graduated from KU and had success in animation. Where did most animators you work with study?
Brian: SVA is the one I hear brought up most often.
Q: What is a typical day like? Do you work on one particular character or facet of the cartoon? Do you use specialized software?
“I’m not sure how much of our workflow I’m allowed to talk about, but I can say I work entirely in the realm of hand-drawn character animation. I don’t do any of the puppeting or rigging. We’re animating in Adobe Photoshop so our files can be imported into Adobe Character Animator, a brand new software.”
Q: Can you share some of your sketches?
Brian: Sure! Work stuff is a bit too top-secret, but here’s some recent sketchpad doodles!
Q: What is Steven Colbert like?
Brian: “I’ve only met him a couple times. First time, I was walking from the bathroom back to my desk. I was alone in the hallway and heard a voice behind me shout, “Hi there!” I turned around, and he was sticking his head out the elevator door with a big grin on his face, clearly with the intention to startle the hell out of me and leave me star struck. “
“The second time was at the Late Show holiday party. A coworker and I drunkenly thanked him for our awesome job. He was super cool about it and talked to us for a minute and took selfies with us and a few dozen other people. He just seems like a super nice dude and an average Joe in the best possible way. It’s one of those things that never quite feels real, so it’s hard to truly appreciate.”
Brian can’t talk plot, but Showtime reveals a bit about the show’s first episode: “The President tries to revive his low approval ratings by delivering the greatest State of the Union speech in history and to strengthen his relationship with First Lady Melania by naming her the national bird.”
Brian can’t tell us much more about his work. However, Our Cartoon President‘s lead animator Tim Luecke shares much about process in this cool Adobe video.
Our Cartoon President, Feb.11 on SHO, or on demand beginning Jan. 28. Could it be funnier than a White House Press conference? Let’s see! New subscribers can get a free 7-day trial of the Showtime app. Tell ’em Brian Martin sent you.
P.S. I contacted Floyd Bishop, now an artist at Microsoft, who taught Brian animation at Kutztown. Floyd says, “Brian pushed himself to tackle tough challenges, and grew his skills faster than anyone I’ve ever seen. Whatever he gets involved with is going to be great!”
Searching the web I came across this archive of mugshots taken by Australian police in the 1920’s. Love this dude’s rockabilly haircut.. I used his likeness for painting demos in my sophomore illustration class.
I drew his likeness twice on gessoed masonite. Then I painted monochromatic studies using blue, black, and white and red, black, and white acrylic paint. The golden rule for painting with acrylics or oils is to paint thick over thin. In other words start with a light wash, top it off with thick paint. My students artwork, below, is better than mine. They had three 3- hour classes, for nine hours of studio time for the project.
Here are my Project instructions: Your Angel or Demon should be largely monochromatic, with red or blue the dominant color. Close up, a telling detail, not full figure. Imagine the light is coming from the upper left. Angels or Demons can be either blue or red. No color code, but largely one or the other. Note how Jake used a bit of red to highlight the rosary in the image above.
Grading criteria: Originality, sense of mass, and consistency of light source. No points for originality if you lift a cherub from Rafael or devil from Bosch. Better to find a baby picture or photo of a wicked-looking person for reference. Even better –take your own reference photo of yourself or a friend.
I used to insist students pick the assignment from a hat: angel or demon. Illustration, after all, is often done in response to someone else’s vision. Nowadays, I let the students decide. We always get a good balance of angels and demons.
Mikala Campbell’s demon, above, is based on a photo of actress Lauren Bacall.
This is a simple enough assignment. I get the masonite from Lowe’s where it cost $10 for a 4ft by 8ft sheet. They provide 2 free cuts, so it fits in my car. I trim the board into 1-foot squares on a table saw. We use acrylic gesso as a primer. The painting teachers here tell students to paint an X on the backside of their board, so it doesn’t warp. That step isn’t really necessary at this small size. The materials we use are pictured below.
We’ve done this project before, so to see even more angels and demons, lookie here.
In Illustration 1 class, we added a bit of motion to our art using Photoshop gifs. Shout out to Prof. Dannell MacIlwraith for teaching me how to make a gif loop.
Amanda Collins, artwork above, sits alongside Mia Clark, artwork below. Both focused on nostrils, oddly enough.
Ashley Ferguson animated one of her 3 icons, or “tricons,” as they are called here. Not sure what sort of lifeform this is, but looks to be dancing on a very magic mushroom.
Haeley Vernon imagined a green smoke enveloping a purple skull encrusted with crystals, something you don’t see every day. Yow!
Rachel Lefko began working on an ambitious animation of a cliff diver. I hope she completes it someday. Meanwhile, she delivered this quirky item, The Devil Knitting.
The gif assignment was a first for these juniors and the results were fun. Coming full circle back to nostrils, Todd Weber produced a somewhat snotty image, below.
Gif illustrations have definitely gone mainstream. The New York Times digital edition runs gif versions of art that appears static in the print edition of the newspaper. Check out this link for the animated version of the art below by Peter and Maria Hoey. By the way, Peter Hoey is a successful Kutztown University illustration grad, BFA 1982. So, we expect great things from the current crop of students.
Art for NY Times by Peter Hoey and Maria Hoey. Click through to see in gif form. Teachers in TIAA retirement plans, like me, may find the story eye-opening.
Subject matter: Animals heads on human bodies. For this colored pencil project I suggest students use ordinary marker layout bond. Some prefer smooth bristol board. Recommended pencils brands are Prismacolor or Derwent.
I have been on tour with my kid’s books, so I haven’t been posting much. These images speak for themselves. All done by sophomores in the Kutztown University Communication Design program. Enjoy.
Kelly Brong has a sketchbook full of fantastic sketches on tones paper. She got permission to use grey paper for the above portrait.
Leah Tierney impressed me by even attempting to portray the circus crowd.
The Knitting Cat , above, and the Rammy fellow, below, are a tad sketchier than most images, In both cases the subtle color and careful mark making are truly exceptional.
Robin Hoot is the name someone came up with for the image above, my fave. One tip with colored pencils is using a bit of isopropyl rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab to blend colors. If used everywhere the alcohol makes the colors mushy, but in moderation it’s a special effect worth trying.
Speaking of alcohol and moderation, Shannon Roser’s Crowbar is atmospheric, isn’t it?
I met Robert Weaver in September 1984 on day one of the MFA Illustration program at the School of Visual Arts. First thing I noticed about him was he was white. With his thick glasses, clear diction, and gentlemanly manner he looked like Jimmy Stewart playing James Thurber. I’d expected he’d be black.
During that summer I’d looked up all my future teachers’ names in the card catalog at the Hoboken Public Library. I found the children’s picture book he illustrated called Me Day. Drawn in pencil, Me Day tells the story of a black boy and his desperate desire to spend a day with his estranged father.
It’s a beautiful book set in Harlem. Everyone in the boy’s world from the postman to the hot dog vendor is black. The drawings were so right. Every individual face, hand and gesture rang so true that l presumed the artist had to be black.
He stood there in his gray sports coat and told the class to call him Bob. He didn’t like to be called Mr. Weaver. Some of us took to calling him Professor Bob which seemed to amuse him. Behind his back we called him “The Weave.”
The Weave grew up in Pittsburgh. During World War II he was a conscientious objector and spent the war years toiling in a mental hospital. In Italy after the war he worked on his sketchbooks. He believed an illustrator was obliged to truthfully document our world.
He began our 1984 grad school year with assignments that were a bit vague, telling us to “go find a construction site, or excavation, or somewhere else” where we could draw a record of some visible change over a two-week period. We all failed the assignment.
When the day came that we pinned our paltry drawings to the crit wall, he paced back and forth. He examined each drawing for a long time. He’d get so close it looked like he was going to walk through the wall into the next room. His eyesight obviously was impaired. He informed us he had a very limited field of vision, but he could see fine at very close distances. That first crit was devastating. He told us the drawings were lazy. He told us he expected more, much more. His undergrad students did more, and weren’t we graduate students? The students exchanged glances and raised eyebrows. What’s with the Weave? ‘How exciting can a hole in the ground get?’ someone protested. He listened to excuses about the hassles of moving to the city or finding affordable art supplies, or the right site to draw, the weather. He told us he found our excuses much more fascinating than our drawings, and said he hoped we could someday get that sort of narrative power in our artwork. Brutal.
Not long after that he changed his approach to our class. It got quite interesting. He brought in remarkable models – the overdressed character actress, the jazz drummer, the window washer – and we drew in class.
The window washer was a big soft-spoken black man with a club foot. He climbed out the classroom window nine stories over Second Avenue. He hooked his harness onto tiny buttons built into the window casement and inched his way across the front of the building. When l complimented Professor Bob on his choice of a model, he confided with some pride that he had invoiced the school for a “visiting lecturer” rather than “life model” so that he could pay the man a bit more. Besides, the windows were sparkling at the end of class..
One night my wife had to work late and I couldn’t find a sitter, so I brought my daughter Zoe to class. She was a toddler then, and it was the night he’d hired the jazz drummer. The drummer did the longest drum solo I ever hope to hear. Zoe loved it. She picked up some paper scraps, waved them in the air, and danced around the drummer. I tried to get her to calm down. “Let her go,· said Weaver. “She’s giving us more to draw.”
The Weave was a great talker. He quoted the classics the way another man might cough. He would quote: Shakespeare, Shaw, Dostoevsky, his opthalmologist. He loved William Carlos Williams’ poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow,” and he recited it to the class more than once. It is a poem about seeing, about how much depends on unremarkable objects that we sometimes take for granted.
He insisted that we draw from life rather than photos whenever possible. He was very keen on what historians call primary material. He told a story about an art student he met at a bus stop. The student was headed up to the picture file at the New York Public Library.
“What sort of photo reference are you looking for?”‘ Weaver asked.
“A bus.” said the student.
“What sort of bus?” he asked.
“A regular bus. A New York City bus.”
“Why don’t you stay on this corner and draw a bus stopped in traffic?”
“Photos are better,” said the student as he hopped on the bus.
One day he showed us his famous series of drawings of Ebbets Field after it had been forsaken by the Brooklyn Dodgers. He talked about growing up in Pittsburgh during the Depression, how he and his brother didn’t have enough money for bleacher seats, but they would still go out to Forbes Field. They would stand outside the stadium. They couldn’t see the playing field, but they could see part of the crowd, and they could hear the crack of the bat and the cheers when the Pirates scored a run.
The Weave told us about the time he was a spear carrier in a production of Julius Caesar at Lincoln Center. His brother Fritz Weaver, the actor, got him the job. He had no lines. He said he was a ‘supernumerary.’ I had never heard that word before. He just stood there in a toga and sandals with his hair combed forward. It was a long run and after a while he began to find his stage career tedious. Then one night he looked out into the audience and everything seemed transformed. He found himself observing the clothes and even the facial expressions of the theater goers and wondered why he hadn’t done it before. Suddenly he realized it was because he couldn’t see that far. He was wearing his glasses on stage.
His stories might have seemed like digressions, but they always related to the central theme of his teaching, – the power and poignancy of observation.
I’ll always remember this. It was very late in the school year. After the others left class, I told him I didn’t think I’d come back for the second year of the two-year program. He asked why. I couldn’t really explain clearly, but I felt in my bones that I did not belong there. I really liked my classmates, and I drew as well as some, but I felt very different from them. The best seemed to me to be catching on to something, developing a certain polish to their work and in their personalities. I could see they were becoming artists. I couldn’t see myself ever reaching that point. I was quick to add that I’d learned a lot from him and it was not a problem with the school. It was me, All my life I loved art and books and learning, but never felt I quite belonged in any school or group. The Weave’s head went back, he seemed startled. “Is that how you feel?” he asked. “Well, that’s … great! That’s fantastic!” he said. “You’ve got to nurture that. You’ve got to cultivate that. That sense that you don’t belong. That’s what makes an artist. Artists don’t belong.”
He was dead serious. “It’s the person who crashes the party who really observes everything, isn’t it? The artist is the uninvited guest. The kid without a penny and his nose pressed to the glass of the bakery window. Isn’t he the only one that really knows the significance of what’s inside? Don’t you see? You’ve got to put yourself where you don’t belong to have any hope of making art. You’ve got to decide about school for yourself, but that’s a precious gift you’ve got, that feeling that you don’t belong.”
I told him I’d think about what he’d said, and I did. I did the second year and got my MFA. There have been times since when I have felt alone and out-of-place and I have taken some solace from his words. Other times, when I feel more comfortable. I start to feel like I belong, then I recall the haunting words of the Weave. It isa precious gift, the feeling that you don’t belong!
Kutztown illustration students went on a field trip to The Pencil Factory, Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to visit a great illustrator, Paul Hoppe. Paul grew up in Germany and his name is pronounced something like “Powell Hopp-uh.” He is a graduate, like me, of the MFA Illustration as Visual Essay program at SVA. He also teaches in SVA’s summer program.
Paul doesn’t let the grass grow under his feet. If SVA illustration has a core philosophy, it revolves around self-propulsion. When you don’t have a job, – you make a job. I first met Paul selling his handcrafted comic zines at Moccafest. His mini-comic superheroes channel 20th century Marvel heroes, but get into NSFW jams.
Today Paul works in a large shared space with other four artists on the fifth floor of the old Eberhart Faber Pencil Factory. Paul used to work from home, but he enjoys the sense of community. He has been able to grow his business to afford the studio rent. Paul was up against a tight deadline for a children’s picture book set in Brazil. He showed us his sketches for the project, Neymar: A Soccer Dream Come True by Mina Javaherbin coming in 2018 from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Jasu Hu is from China. She got her graduate degree from MICA in Baltimore. She draws metaphorical figurative work. She says she does 4 or 5 commissions a week!
She has an illustration each month in Oprah magazine. She showed work she does for trade magazines, the sort you don’t often see on newsstands. Come to think of it, how often do you see a newsstand?
Alex Eben Meyer, is originally from Eastern PA. He studied at Wash U in St. Louis. His illustration style differs from his studiomates. His unlined vector images remind me of Matisse’s paper cut-outs.
Alex passed around his recent sketchbooks and noted that he continues to go to life drawing classes. He was working on a big project for MIT lab and just got back preliminary images from a children’s book about the concept of opposites for Abrams.
Neil Swaab has a diverse portfolio. He is a graphic designer specializing in book covers. He self-syndicated a comic, Rehabilitating Mr. Wiggles, in the indy press. He has done animation on “Super Jail,” been an in-house art director, and taught at Parsons/The New School. Students asked the artists about their grad school experience. Neil’s advice: “Don’t go to grad school until you’ve worked awhile.” and, “It is all about finding your voice as an artist.”
Coming from a Kutztown perspective, it was invigorating to see such a concentration of amazing creative talent. There are more illustrators in the Pencil Factory than in some states. Many thanks to all the artists in Pencil Factory’s Studio 515.
After our Pencil Factory studio tour we walked to Transmitter Park on the East River. We spent the afternoon sketching. It was a perfect fall day.
Illustrator Ryan Lynn, 2006, BFA, Communication Design, is doing fine, thanks. I remember covering my ears when Ryan’s punk band, The Aurora, rocked the Trexlertown Grange, around 2005. His music career may have faded, but his artistic energy certainly hasn’t waned. He just completed the biggest illustration job of his career. His slightly-retro super-graphic style is the perfect match for this project.
He writes, “I was approached by Miller Lite to create a series of illustrations for 15 NFL teams that were to appear on posters, billboards, and other materials in each NFL team’s market. These illustrations were created in the Miller Lite illustration style that I helped establish in their Summer Poster Campaign.
As a huge NFL fan, it was awesome to get to work on this series and immerse myself in each NFL team’s colors, attitude, and traditions.
Question: How did this job come to you?
Ryan: I’ve been working with Miller Lite’s agency of record for about a year. I got an email from them one day out of the blue asking if I could do a poster series for the summer (the dragon and octopus, plus a robot one that never got finished). After that, I kept working with them on some billboards and trade show graphics before getting the NFL series.
Q: How long did it take?
Ryan: It was a tight turnaround – 15 posters took around 5 straight months without weekends or holidays. I even had to skip a cousin’s wedding!
Q: You are an Eagles fan, but strictly from a graphics point of view, which image is your favorite?
Ryan: I’m pretty happy with how they all turned out. If I had to pick, I like the Ravens because it has a lot of detail. The Steelers is cool, too.
Q: What size is your original art?
Ryan: They are all the same size 24” x 36”. Each poster also has a landscape version as well. The final illustrations had to be vector so their team could put them on billboards, buildings and whatever else.
Q: Have you gone to any of the Stadiums to see these?
Ryan: Not yet! I don’t know if they all are going to be in their stadiums. I know the Atlanta Falcons illustration is in their stadium bar and there was talk of the Texans putting theirs on a mural, but I don’t know.
Ryan: Miller Lite illustrations for Major League Baseball!
Thanks, Ryan. All I can say is “Wow!” Your artwork is solid and just right for NFL.
Visit Ryan’s website and shop to snag listed edition sic-fi art and gig posters for as at little as $20. Ryan is still into music. Below is his poster for Cruisr, the hit band that includes two KU design grads, Andy States and Jon Van Dine.