Art Direction and Visual Design Consulting...
A few recent examples of special venue and location-based entertainment projects on which I've served as Production Designer / Supervising Art Director...but also a few where I served either as VFX art director, lead concept designer, and/or visual design consultant... Sometimes that line can blur, depending on the level of creative input and the amount of nuts and bolts department management...
ART DIRECTOR / CO- DIRECTOR Two 3D "rideshow" media pieces for a $1.5Billion science-history-fantasy theme park in Jordan, 2012-14.
RGH Entertainment and the King of Jordan hoped to build a massive theme park and resort that was half "Star Trek Experience" (to be built by Paramount) and half original time travel themes and characters, all on a bluff overlooking the amazing Red Sea. I was brought on early by director Richard Taylor to illustrate and do some basic previs work for the media pieces, but once it was green-lit, I was promoted to Supervising Art Director and Richard's "assistant" director for the next 2 years.
The high resolution, photo-real 3D media consisted of one "darkride" trip through the ancient Wonders of the World, using a "California Soarin'" configuration in front of a large curved screen, the other a truly state-of-the-art, never-before-attempted 3D dome experience that we were inventing as we progressed. These two media pieces slowly became a waking-hours-devouring endeavor that used every skill-set I'd covered in my film career: Script interpretation, storyboarding and illustrating, 3D modeling and previs animating and editing, video production, and script re-writing. I directly supervised a team of two illustrators and 2 motion graphics artists, and working closely with the VFX producers, art directed a 20+ team of modelers, texture artists and animators.
Working with my researcher Liz Bolwell and occasionally the archeological teams at UCSD and Brown University, we reconstructed 6 ancient civilizations for "Wonders!," some of which had never been built before in 3D. Many months of researching architectural history, ancient plant life, fabrics and daily life of the Classic and Medieval worlds, resulted in some of the most historically accurate, photo-real recreations of Petra, Rhodes, Alexandria, Chichen Itza and Machu Picchu ever attempted. Creating everything from scratch, from absolutely accurate reproductions of the Acropolis' Elgin marbles, down to the laces on Incan sandals, we were particularly proud of our research on Rhodes (most of which was built over during Medieval times) and Jordan's prized possession, the Petra complex, whose many thousands of acres of ruins had never been completely reconstructed in 3D until our previs. The slideshow below barely scratches the surface of the amount of work done from 2012-2014. A couple of the more painterly color illustrations are by Robert Chew; other color CG paint-overs, plan views, elevations and B&W architectural detail illustrations are mostly mine.
"The Red Sea Astrarium" Aqaba, Jordan
UNESCO World Heritage Site Museum, Saudi Arabia
SUPERVISING ART DIRECTOR / MEDIA DESIGNER / LIVE-ACTION RE-CRE DIRECTOR Museum installation in Riyadh, KSA., 2015-17
Another intriguing project where I was able to wear many hats... Media designer/director, illustrator and previs super, and eventually, live-action recreation director, all under the title "Supervising Art Director."
UNESCO was retro-fitting the ruins of an 18th century palace with modern museum installations, and I was hired to design most of the animations and documentary media pieces that would play on monitors along the path through the complex exhibits. Again, after much research with my assistant AD Liz Bolwell and a team of talented themepark artists, we were able to "reconstruct" the Attaraif Palace complex through blueprints, illustrations and 3D animations, along with creating short films and animated pieces to tell the story of the rise of the first Saudi State.
Most of the examples here were produced over two separate six-month periods, but I wasn't able to see these preliminaries through to finals, as the supervising design company pulled out of the project, and handed off my work to the Saudi clients, possibly never to be seen again...
PAE Pictures, Beijing-Zurich "Mandate of Heaven" & "Logout"
CREATIVE CONSULTANT / ART DIRECTOR / ILLUSTRATOR 2 Pitch projects for Cannes Film Festival, 2014-15
Beijing-based PAE Advertising contacted me the last week of the Red Sea project, looking to have me help design a sci-fi feature pitch package for them to present at the Cannes Film Festival in a matter of weeks. Though they'd hoped to produce a combo pre-vis and live-action trailer (not completely impossible, given the schedule), creative differences over story within the company caused a last minute cancellation. Weeks later, the owner of the company and main force for the project called to see if I was available for him to fly to LA and work with me one-on-one and no one else for a week on developing story, structure, and visuals. We holed up at my home studio for a week, and completely revamped the idea, fusing Chinese legends with space opera, and the result was an Asimovian-like epic story of planet terra-forming and the rise and fall of cultures. The first six images below are for this project, "Mandate of Heaven." First original illustration by Benton Jew, the other five bashed-together quickies are mine.
After a year of the occasional dealings with PAE (including prepping a non-design international documentary project), the owner contacted me again to contribute some additional visuals and ideas to another project he'd just completed in Beijing, a large branded-entertainment piece starring Adrian Brody and Blake Lively, a 20-minute short/trailer version of a multi-platform project called "Log Out." Hoping to pitch his feature/TV/internet project to some important European investors literally the next day, I produced 5 super-quick bash jobs in a matter of 14 hours, from my own art and found pieces on the internet. This is an example of throwing images together quickly with materials at hand to sell an idea at a moment's notice... needless to say, it was for internal uses only (apologies and thanks to the artists whose bits and pieces I borrowed)...
"Herlock" Web series pilot, 2016
Director / Production Designer
Micro-budget web series pilot shoot that I also directed. We had intended to build sets on a controllable stage, but due to the budget, wound up building only one 2 1/2 wall motel room set within an existing space, and renting a 2nd floor guesthouse which we cleared out and re-dressed per our main character. Also designed and animated all on-screen webpage graphics.
"Got Home Alive" Travel Channel series, 4 episodes, 2011
Director / Art Director
True story re-creation series about travel events gone bad. I was brought on by "Unsolved Mysteries" co-creator and producer John Joseph to direct four episodes that were bigger and more "cinematic" than the previous shows they'd attempted, and he relied heavily on my feature film art dept. experience to design several problematic sets, and problem solve some tricky location situations. Main challenge was to build a jail cell area that could be flooded by a recreated Hurricane Katrina, a federal penitentiary from a parking lot, and a Bhutan hospital. Luckily they had the budget to rent some of the Herald Examiner standing sets at my request, but many others, such as the flooding jail and holding area sets, had to be built from scratch. Very happy with the look I was able to achieve given the microscopic basic cable budgets.
Director / Production Designer
Pilot for a syndicated series, which I also directed, during the heyday of "Xena" and "Stargate SG-1" distribution models. Basically pirates in space, so it was a lot of fun to design a mash-up of Star Wars aesthetic and "Master and Commander" wooden sailing vessels. Built several sections of a space station, including an elegant captain's cabin and multiple intersecting hallways with Trekian sliding doors, a massive palace interior (which then doubled as a large government building), a full bar large enough for a classic western barroom brawl, and several other partial cockpits. As we had a 4-day shooting schedule for 38 pages (with multiple shootouts, swordfights and brawls), my art director-construction coordinator Joe Walser had to work miracles such as turning around our palace/government set overnight, repainting while the shooting crew slept, then installing an entire western bar / Star Wars cantina during the next evening. All on a budget of $35K.
"Privateers" Syndicated series pilot
Visual Design Consultant / Visual Effect Art Director
"Dinosaur Revolution" Discovery Channel, 6 episodes 2011
"Dinotasia" Feature Documentary 2012
Backplate Director / Design Consultant / Story Artist
A massive 2 year, $10M, 6-hour project, Discovery's attempt to own their own "Walking With Dinosaurs," rather than license from the BBC...
I originally helped pitch the project while directing on 2 other Discovery and History dinosaur 1-hour shows for the company, but was already on to other projects once they started storyboarding the 6 hours of animation. A year of boarding later, and after shooting the first hour proved problematic, they asked me to return and organize the remaining 4 hours of boards into something shootable.
Animation director David Krentz and I spent every waking hour for 2 weeks redrawing and making sense of 2000 storyboards, so that I could leave for NoCal and the Canary Islands for 3 months to shoot the remaining 4 hours. As everything had been put off till the last minute, we luckily were able to find prop makers to build our dino eggs, nests, and whatnot there, taking cues from our experts back in the States. We finished a day ahead, despite losing two days to weather.
Back in the States, producers realized 4-6 hours of wordless dino action might need some framing device for explanation, so a "host" set was designed to help bridge the segments. I then worked with LA art director Paul Etheredge to locate a moody warehouse that would inspire a unique "dino lab" design. Set concepts below are super-quickie paint-overs and Photoshop bashes of location pics in order to test ideas...
"Dark Skies" NBC Series, 18 episodes
VISUAL EFFECTS ART DIRECTOR / ON-SET VFX SUPERVISOR
NBC's version of the "The X-Files," set in the early 1960s. I was brought on by VFX producer Tim McHugh (Blade Runner, Children of Dune) on Episode 4, after production had fired the first PD and art department. For the rest of the series, I designed and supervised all the visual effects sequences, which also meant I spent my day storyboarding those shots, and helping new PD Greg Melton with specialty props and set designs. Some of the longest hours I've ever worked (script meetings at 8am, on set sometimes till 2am...), but very satisfying...
"Space: Above and Beyond" Fox Series, Pilot and 22 episodes
VISUAL DESIGN CONSULTANT - Pilot LEAD ILLUSTRATOR - Series, 24 episodes
The most expensive show on TV at the time it aired, and Fox buried it due to internal network issues... Still my favorite job ever in the entertainment industry, I was brought on by VFX prod Tim McHugh at the very beginning to storyboard the pilot script by "X-Files" geniuses Jim Wong and Glen Morgan. No production designer had been hired yet, so as I boarded the entire pilot, I conceptualized a number of ships and sets... soon, we were borrowing illustrators from "Independence Day" that was prepping next door, and I was able to take those designs and develop them further. After the pilot was shot in Australia (where they hired PD Bernard Hides), they returned to Culver City to shoot the series, and I was immediately brought back on after a brief hiatus to continue designing the universe I'd helped establish concurrently with Bernard.
Throughout the next 22 episodes, I was lead spaceship and prop designer for Bernard, but mainly, responsible for choreographing all the weekly space dogfights and visual effects sequences. By the end of the one and only season, we'd filled 3 warehouses with ship interiors and planet sets, built working tanks and entire space fighters, and were averaging $2.5-3M per show, at a time the average episodic was $1.5. A mammoth undertaking, a job that everyone on it, to this day, still talks about as being one of their best creative experiences ever.
"Knightrider 2000" NBC MOW/Pilot
PRODUCTION DESIGN CONSULTANT - MATTE PAINTINGS
Yes, THAT Knightrider. NBC's first attempt to revive the franchise, and I was hired to design and create 2 matte paintings of a massive "future" prison complex. Once they saw my concepts, they asked I join the production to help "sci-fi" up their designs, as their PD had primarily only done westerns. So it fell on me to design and art direct all specialty sets and props, which also included building said props and physically creating all graphics and signage. Again, wearing many hats always makes me happy, even it it means sometimes furiously applying all the lettering to a jail set as the actors are walking on, then immediately climbing the camera crane to shoot the matte plates...