Monday, December 22, 2014

"Fire and Ice" backgrounds

Detail from Frank Frazetta's poster art for Fire and Ice, from
Director Robert Rodriguez announced a few days ago that he has completed a deal with Sony to produce a live action version of the 1983 Ralph Bakshi animated film Fire and Ice, based on the artwork of Frank Frazetta.

I was one of two background painters on the film. The other was my friend Tom Kinkade, who later on became the "Painter of Light." Each of us had to produce about 600 paintings at a rate of about 11 per week, while working on our instructional book "The Artist's Guide to Sketching" on the weekends. 

 Some background paintings were fairly large — this establishing shot of the volcano city of Fire Keep is about 16x20 inches, and it took me three days. It's painted with cel vinyl animation paint and airbrush.

The layouts were drawn by Tim Callahan on illustration board. He started with photos of the actors, who blocked out each scene on a soundstage. Animators used the rotoscoped live action as a starting point, but then used their imaginations to create the action. The soundstages had ramps and scaffolding, which we had to turn into jungles and volcanos and ice caverns.

We painted the foreground elements on acetate overlays. Each sequence was held within a specific color gamut, usually with the color of the sky keying the mood of everything else.

Here's one of the paintings I did of a spooky forest. We were looking at Frazetta's paintings for inspiration, but also at N.C. Wyeth, Arthur Rackham, Frederic Church, and a lot of other artists. Frazetta and Bakshi often visited the background room to hang out with us and talk about art. We had a lot of good laughs together. 

Here's another establishing shot that I did, influenced not just by Frazetta, but also by Roy Krenkel and the Orientalists. It will be fun to see what Rodriguez does with filmmaking tools that are very different from what we had in the early 1980s.

Here's the trailer for the original film (YouTube link)


Tryggvi Edwald said...

Will 'The Artist's Guide to Sketching' ever be reprinted? By all accounts, it sounds like it should be.

Pierre Fontaine said...

I'm so happy you brought this film up. I follow Bakshi on Facebook and today he posted a short clip from the film of warriors on pterodactyls attacking a fortress.

While the rotoscoping technique is quite evident on any biped character, all the scene of the pterodactyls were hand animated and spectacular.

That clip got me thinking about all the background paintings that are used for just a few brief seconds and how much time was needed to paint a single one. Today's post certainly answered my question.

I'm going to take a look at the 5 part series on your participation on the film.

I'm eager to know what you thought of Bakshi. Personally, he's one of my heroes and someone who I believe will be recognized as a pioneering filmmaker in years to come. He's certainly highly regarded in the animation community but still largely unknown by the film community.

I admire anyone who has the talent and drive, like Bakshi and yourself as well, to carve out a niche for themselves and turn their passion into art and their art into a career.

Thanks for the great post!

James Gurney said...

Tryggvi, no plans at present to bring back Artist's Guide to Sketching, though I have a fondness for the book.

Pierre, Ralph and I got along great, and we still stay in touch. His nickname for me was "Winslow" after Winslow Homer. I've always admired Ralph's incredible energy and enthusiasm, and the way he fought to make animation belong to everyone, not just kids. I'm grateful to Ralph for having enough faith in me (just a kid out of school who had never really painted before) to entrust me with an important job on the film, and that's really where I learned to paint.

Unknown said...

This movie blow my mind when I watch it by first time, and it set a standard on my personal way to enjoy the art in animated movies. Still today I keep watching "the making of.." of this movie and others like Heavy Metal, so great, so inspirational!!

By the way, yesterday arrived my copy of "Color and light", I bought it on amazon with other books (Scott Robertson's How to draw and Michael Hampton's Figure drawing), I live in Mexico so I have to wait near two months to someone to bring them to me since I couldn't go pick them up because of my job. All I can say is: Worth it, the book is amazing, i give it a fast reading and all is so comprehensive and didactic, you made a good job in this book. I hope one of these days I can meet you and have my book signed jaja.

Your blog is great too, to me is a must read every morning.

Unknown said...

That’s too bad about the ‘Artist's Guide to Sketching.’ Probably the best book on drawing I’ve read (in many ways actually better than Loomis, IMhO). I wish more people could benefit from its/your excellent instruction.
@Pierre The ‘Blue Underground, 2-disc limited edition dvd of Fire & Ice’ has a whole disc (‘Frazetta: Painting with Fire’) of interviews, background and history on Frazetta’s work and his career. It covers his childhood, early influences, and work on ‘L’il Abner’ to the Frazetta Museum.
Thanx for the Journey, Jimi Gi. -RQ

77studios said...

One of all-time favourite movies. I watched this every single week as a kid. It really shaped my art style a lot!
I wish there was an 'art of' book for it, but thank you for sharing these.

TommyD said...

What a great experience for a young artist - to not only paint for a major project, but to have an artist like Frazetta stop by to chat. Am curious how you were paid? By the piece? Contracted for the length of the project?

oakleyses said...


Eugene Arenhaus said...

What is the medium in cel paint? Acrylic?

James Gurney said...

Eugene, it was Cartoon Color cel vinyl, the very opaque water-based paint used to paint the characters on the cels.

Tommy, I had to join the animation union, and was paid a weekly rate.

Peter, wow, I didn't know that many people knew about it because it didn't get a wide release at the time.

Thanks, Roberto. The Frazetta bio "Painting with Fire" has Ralph and Frank reminiscing about the project.

Hector, mucho gusto. I'm glad you liked "Color & Light."

Oakleyses: 2

Daniel New said...

If anyone's interested, there's some behind the scenes footage from the animation on youtube. They show both James and Thomas for a little bit in the middle.