When we celebrate a film, the director is, more often than not, credited as the sole visionary who brings a project to its realised state. While it is true that a director is of vital importance in cinema, when the film credits roll we see, more often than not, a multitude of names appearing. That is because film is truly a creative, collaborative art form on a grand scale.
Filmoria will be taking an in-depth look Behind The Scenes, celebrating the many creative and technical roles responsible for contributing their own slice of cinematic magic. In the first of our new series, we talk to Douglas A. Sirois, a conceptual artist whose past projects include working with MGM, FOX, Radical Comics/Publishing, Zoom Entertainment, Publishing Works and more. Most recently, his name has been mentioned alongside Gary K. Wolfe, the creator of Roger Rabbit. Together they are working on concept art for a brand new Mickey Mouse and Roger Rabbit feature development project, The Stooge.
Can you tell me a little about the conceptual process for an animated film. Where do you start?
The approach I use to conceive an animated film is one that utilizes conceptual art and key art of the packaged concept. It usually consists of putting together a “design bible” for the look and feel of the property. I may hire an illustrator bringing a specific style or mood that enhances the concept and suits the project, but mostly I take on all the illustration duties because that is what I do. The first step is to come up with a plan. The plan could be to develop the look and style of the main characters of the film and then several scenes that take place throughout the film. These scenes are also called key art (like movie posters) and these highlight an action taking place in. For example, a strong presentation could consist of the most important scenes a three act structured film including images representing the opening hook, the introduction of the main characters, plot turn one, the mid point, plot turn two, the climax, and then the resolution. If there is a poster image and come character designs, accompanied by a summary or treatment. Those too will add to a solid presentation. When dealing with this approach, you need to consider the needs of the story. Is the film an epic sci-fi fantasy or a romantic comedy? Those are two totally different approaches in the overall style and look. The package for one may need more conceptual art to show the complexity of the world while the other may need a subtle more minimalist approach. It really depends on the story. Story is God in the development process, it drives everything.
Do you write yourself or are you purely focused on art?
Story is what drives any great film, novel, comic book and without it the project has no spine. When it comes to developing a project, great art can’t save a bad story and a strong story can’t save ugly art. The two need to be as one. Story is one of the best tools for getting new ideas out into the world. I often watch films and ask myself why I like the movie. Was it the story? Was it the direction? I make a few internal notes about both. I do write. I am good at coming up with concepts and outlines and even better when I work with another writer who I can bounce ideas off. Of course, the art is my primary focus in this industry, but I have some stories in development that will make their way into the world. I love working with writers and the more I do, the more I learn how to bring life to my ideas to the page.
When did you realise you wanted to pursue a career as an artist?
Very early on I fell in love with art. I owe that to my mom for introducing me to drawing. My cousin also gets credit for giving me his comic book collection and for getting me started with my obsession with sequential storytelling. When I saw comics, that was it, I was hooked and I knew that I wanted to do comics for a living. It wasn’t until college when I realized I could do more than just comics, that there were many avenues that I am interested in, such as painting. I started freelancing in California for everything and anything from CD covers, DVD covers, posters, clothing and apparel, you name it, i did it. I finally got my first professional comics gig after 7 years with Radical Comics as a digital painter on a Hercules: The Knives of Kush. Since then I have branched off to graphic novels and concept art. I love telling stories and that is what I realized early on.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
Its been an honor to have had the opportunity to work with some great people from so many different industries. Some of my highlights are usually when I finish a big project, like last year, I illustrated a graphic novel version of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol with veteran comics creator, Stephen L. Stern. Just the feeling of accomplishing a book like that is a highlight. One of the biggest highlights happens everyday, just being able to do the kind of stuff I do from my home. It’s really important to me to be able to work from home because I get to be home for my kids. They are young so this is very precious time that goes by fast and I am blessed to be able to see them during the day. I also feel like i have many more career highlights to come! I am also working on an illustrated novel project as a colorist for Anomaly Productions with Skip Brittenham and Brian Haberlin. It comes out in October of this year and I am super excited about it. I also have in the works an illustrated book that retells the Greek mythological story of Apollo and it’s written by Erik Von Wodtke.
Which comics/graphic novels had the biggest influence on you growing up?
The comics I started reading as a kid were DareDevil (the Frank Miller years), Power Man and Iron Fist, of course Batman, SpiderMan and then the Image stuff. Later I found painted comics and fell in love with them such as Batman: Arkham Asylum, Black Orchid, Moon Shadow, and SandMan and really just about anything with the artwork of Dave McKean, Jon J. Muth, George Pratt and Kent Williams. I really love comic book art and the sequential form. I started following the artists of course and years later when I was in my late twenties I finally reached professional status actually getting paid to do comics, so that was another highlight.
Are there any comic book characters or stories that you would like to get your hands on?
As far as comic books, superheroes in particular, I am not so interested in. I would rather develop comics that I have worked on or my own concepts. I just finished working on a graphic novel entitled, The Burning Man. It’s written by Stephen L. Stern and television movie director Peter Sullivan and a cremator named Kenneth Ceballos and art by myself and John Gajowski. It’s a story about a cremator and it would be a really cool thriller movie. I am also working on developing a steampunk adventure and a post-apocalyptic horror with some other folks that may lead to film, books ad possibly TV. There is a huge surge of creator owned material that will bring new ideas and stories to pop culture rather than recycling the same superhero cliche that seems to be dominating entertainment. I don’t think its a bad thing because we’re seeing the stuff I grew up on hitting the big screen. I have a five year old who’s loving it more than me!
Your portfolio is quite impressive: MGM; Fox Entertainment…
I have worked for several design studios over the years on a lot of home entertainment projects. Being hired as an illustrator to create movie poster key art for films like The Princess Bride and The Planet of the Apes as well as countless others had been a real treat. I have illustrated artwork that has been used in the repackaging of these films. It’s always great to see the images on display at the store. For a few years I focused on just entertainment packaging illustration at several studios in the LA area. One thing I can say is that you can never be too attached to a concept for any particular project, because you never know what the studio’s marketing team will shoot down or change. Or change again and again until it’s not your concept anymore. Those images I did create, the ones that got shot down, they make nice portfolio pieces.
Your portfolio also includes many vintage illustrations…
I have been commissioned to recreate hundreds of vintage movie posters, usually because the films are repackaged for home entertainment. These have included painting a huge John Ford collection including the classic The Grapes of Wrath. Also, many Elvis Presley and Marylyn Monroe films. There was a musical film box set that came out which I painted 50 or more covers for, and I was real happy about that. I have always loved vintage movie poster art and to have the chance to work on so many projects emulating those styles has been a highlight in my career, for sure. Once in a while I am commissioned to do vintage movie poster styles and I have a blast doing them.
You’re currently working on conceptual art for a new Roger Rabbit pitch. How did you become involved with the project?
I lived in Claremont, California for ten years and I became friends with development producer, Erik Von Wodtke, from Edge of LA Productions. He approached me about doing some concept art and development poster art for packaging several different screenplays that he has written. So far we have worked on half a dozen intellectual property packages together, where I act as art director and illustrator. We both met Charles Fleisher (the voice of Roger Rabbit) in 2008 at one of my gallery shows and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. A few years later Erik came up with this great parody idea for a team up story starring Mickey Mouse and Roger Rabbit based on the Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis comedy called The Stooge. As the art director on The Stooge proposal, I brought in a talented illustrator, Cuyler Smith (www.cuylersmith.com), and directed him on the best way to approach the key scenes we needed for this development proposal. I illustrated and designed some proposal posters and the proposal book for the concept. We approached Roger Rabbit creator, Gary K. Wolf and he is so excited to see The Stooge get made into a movie and he offered to help write the film. Shannon McGee, a technical director at Disney Animation (Tangled, Wreck It Ralph) is very interested in directing The Stooge as a feature animated film as well as another story developed by Erik Von Wodtke and I, entitled, Santa’s Helper. We are very optimistic that it will happen.
Aside from his regular appearance on the Disney Channel’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Mickey Mouse seems to have been very quiet of late when it comes to feature films. How does it feel to be working on such an iconic character? The Stooge will be, sort of, a feature resurrection for the character. How does it feel being part of introducing, or re-introducing him, to a new generation?
Disney seems to be aware that they are running Mickey in the mud right now with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse tv show. They have been trying to figure out how to do a Pixar type thing with Mickey and the same with Roger for a while now, but they never thought about Mickey and Roger together. No one has thought of comparing Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis with Mickey and Roger, but everyone who looks at the proposal and watches The Stooge with this proposal in mind, has voiced how perfect it all fits. Gary K. Wolf was blown away after Erik had him watch the Stooge. It all fits bizarrely perfect. The studio seems to be looking for same buddy comedy emotional animated feature type thing that they did with Buzz and Woody in Toy Story.
If the Stooge gets picked up, it will be a great feeling to have had a hand in bringing these two iconic characters to a larger audience. It’ll be huge for me personally. I can say to my kids that I had the opportunity to introduce these characters that I grew up on to them and theta i am very proud of that. Well, My fingers are crossed for that!
How far along in the development process are you with The Stooge?
The Stooge has a treatment and we have a few writers brainstorming. We are developing more concept art. We have two directors interested and are actively looking for a Disney producer to take it to the next level. It is a great concept and a ton of fun developing. We also have been working with Gary K. Wolf on some Roger Rabbit short animation concepts that will also grab more attention and celebrate the 25th anniversary of the character this year! P.p.p.p.p. please stay tuned!!
Tell me more about Santa’s Helper
Santa’s Helper was written and the script was developed by Erik Von Wodtke and Hal R. Williams. I art directed and illustrated a poster, characters sketches, and key locations shown throughout the story. I also hired background painter/illustrator Brad Sutton to help in the concept art. Shannon McGee, a director at Disney is very excited to make this into a feature animation and has been involved with its development. It is an origin story about the Dutch Santa Claus or “Sinta Klaus” and his helper Pete, but told in the sort of dark, epic fantasy fashion of the Harry Potter films. We have already pitched it to a few studios including Paramount and Sony. It is a very high concept feature an it would fit perfectly in Disney’s catalogue, as far as I am concerned.
What else are you working on right now?
I’m working on a book called Apollo, written by Erik Von Wodtke, once again. It is a full color illustrated book and will be published by Markosia Publishing. Apollo is a retelling of the greek mythology but with and added dose of some HP Lovecraft. Basically the serpent in the original Apollo mythology is replaced with Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, the ancient god monster from the depths of the sea. Hopefully it will be out by San Diego Comic Con in July. I just have to paint 60 pages to get it out. It will be a beautiful book.