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Monday, December 29, 2008

Smaug: Symbolism

I have always seen Smaug as the great dragon from Beowulf. Tolkien was a Beowulf enthusiast and it was he who first spoke for the merits of the Beowulf poem on its literary quality and narrative elements, as art and not just as a means by which we can learn about Anglo-Saxon history. He writes at length about this in his lecture,"Beowulf: The Monster and the Critics."
In creating Smaug, and in writing of Bilbo's interaction with him, Tolkien drew heavily from Beowulf and the stories reflect one another clearly.
In both stories a thief takes a golden cup from a sleeping dragon. The dragon wakes up and realizes that a piece of his treasure horde has been stolen. He searches everywhere for the cup and cannot find it. He finds the track of the thief and follows it, circling all around his trove. Then when he cannot find him, he returns to his mound and lies in wait, like a cat, eyes slit, murderously alert, for the thief to return.
Then sitting brooding there over how he has been wronged, he is overcome by his fury and wrath. Tolkien said himself that "...The episode of the theft arose naturally (and almost inevitably) from the circumstances. It is difficult to think of any other way of conducting the story at this point. I fancy the author of Beowulf would say much the same."
There is something very human about the dragon's actions and motivations in both stories. They are fascinating because you can relate to them.
John Gardner, in Grendel, which is his adaptation of the story of Beowulf as told from the antagonists point of view, also writes on this same dragon. Gardner takes it further though, and he works down to the character's essentially fatalistic worldview. He deals with what type of human thinking leads to a man becoming what the dragon in these 3 stories is. The Dragon in Gardner's Grendel, is an ancient creature, very much a miserly, mean-spirited old man. He knows everything there is to know. He sees everything from every angle and has determined through the obviousness of existence that there are no absolutes and no basis for truth except what you determine for yourself. The Dragon believes that existence is a chain reaction of accidents. No beliefs or ideoligies can be real. And in the end, after stripping absolutes away, the Dragon is left with nothing but his own immediate greed as the only substantive belief that consistently appeals to him. His last admonition in this story, his last advice to the Grendel, and to the audience is, "to find a pile of gold, and sit on it."
In Grendel, the Dragon becomes archetypical of nihilistic thinking. All the Dragon has left is his immediate greed. His desire for possessions in this, isn't the desire of the collector or the caretaker, that it is the gold's beauty or craftsmanship that appeals to him, but rather that other creatures might want to possess it, it is the far end of greed that wants something for the sake of preventing another from having it.

Another concept that has been put forth on the dragon in The Hobbit is that he could be seen as symbolic of the traditional relationship between evil and metallurgy. Perhaps even of industry, as these were themes that found their way into Tolkien's writing. Originally I was very taken by this idea and I wanted to make the dragon look like he was made of bronze that had patinad and that his scales were of metal that was rusting and flaking away. I like the idea that he literally did eat his gold and metal to give him armor, and that, like all things earthly, it was deteriorating away. His original skin and scales are long since gone, since he started introducing these heavy metals into his system, and now he must eat ever more and more as he ages, to keep his skin armored as the old metal rusts and flakes away faster and faster.

However, as much as this idea made arcs of lightning in my brain for being a cool visual metaphor, it simply wouldn't do for this image. The classic image is of a red dragon and in the end, I preferred a more personal, brooding, hateful greed that I see in the dragon to the more abstract notions of metallurgy or industry as the dragon being symbolic of. I may at some point go back and do a version of the dragon with metal flaking off him, but for now, I will stick with a more classic Smaug who is fascinating enough on his own.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Smaug: Thumbnails

These thumbnails are for a scene pre-dating the events of The Hobbit, when Smaug first came to the mountain.  I believe I will stick with the classic scene, but I like evaluating the other possibilities.  One of my teachers once told me that often, your first thumbnail will be your best, but you should still do the other 29 just to make sure.  

Friday, December 26, 2008

Smaug: Sketches

Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Hobbit: Smaug

I had a difficult time picking which image of Smaug to do.
So many other truly great artists have done such amazing versions of the classic image that Tolkien himself drew:

Among others, Donato Giancola, David Wenzell, Allen Lee and John Howe have all created stunning works which have more or less been crystalized into what everyone now understands Smaug to be. (and no doubt Jackson and Del Toro's forthcoming film will reflect this as Lee and Howe's stunning work has been the template for the major visual aspects of the films thus far)

But in the end it is too tempting a piece and I find that I must get the ideas that were in my head as I read this scene down before the films come out. Del Toro will do a fantastic job on this as he always does with monsters.

The other scene that I was particularly interested in (and that I hope to do in the future) is the scene where the dwarves have to leave their ponies and flee into the mountain just before smaug attacks the cliffs where they had been hiding. The tension of seeing a fire breathing dragon flying towards the dwarves as they are trying to pull their friends up is really appealling to me.

...up he soared blazing into the air and settled on the mountain-top in a spout of green and scarlet flame. The dwarves heard the aweful rumor of his flight, and they crouched against the walls of the grassy terrace cringing under boulders, hoping somehow to escape the frightful eyes of the hunting dragon...
...A red light touched the points of the standing rocks. The dragon came.
They had barely time to fly back to the tunnel, pulling and dragging in their bundles, when Smaug came hurtling from the North, licking the mountain-sides with flame, beating his great wings with a noise like a roaring wind. His hot breath shrivelled the grass before the door...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Riddles in the Dark: Final Digital Steps

justin gerard illustration the hobbit bilbo gollum riddles in the dark
While I am happy with the final piece, I find that it seems to work better cropped as a landscape. I think I may have gotten carried away in my inspiration from caves. In the tall piece the elements of the cave seem to fight for attention with the 2 characters, who are supposed to be the real focus point.

Next up: Smaug...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Riddles in the Dark: Digital Process

"Alive without breath,
As cold as death;
Never thirsty, ever drinking,
All in mail never clinking."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Riddles in the Dark: Digital Process

Unfortunately for Gollum Bilbo had heard that sort of thing before; and the answer was all around him anyway.
"Dark!" he said without even scratching his head or putting on his thinking cap.

"A box without hinges, key, or lid
Yet golden treasure inside is hid."

Friday, December 12, 2008

Riddles in the Dark: Watercolor

"It cannot be seen, cannot be felt,
Cannot be heard, cannot be smelt.
It lies behind stars and under hills,
And empty holes it fills.
It comes first and follows after,
Ends life, kills laughter."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Spectrum Fantastic Arts

I am going to take a brief break from the Hobbit posts today for some shameless self-promotion. 
Spectrum 15: The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art was recently released by the awesome folks over at Underwood Books.  
I am honored to have 2 pieces that made it into this years issue, one of which, "Beowulf and Grendel," got a full page. 

I had the pleasure of meeting the book's wonderful directors, Kathy and Arnie Fenner, at the San Diego Comicon this year, at the Underwood Books booth. (I nearly perished when they told me I got a full page this time around.)  Also at the booth, I met Irene Gallo, the awesome art director at Tor books, who bestowed upon me both artistic wisdom as well as a Tor.com button. I also met and talked with Jon Foster, who is one of the best illustrators of our day and a great guy.  I also got to kick it with Donato Giancola and Gregory Manchess, both of whom possess uncanny powers.  Not only did I meet these people, all at one awesome booth, but the three of them went on to do a few live demonstrations that rocked my face.  It was hands down the coolest booth at Comicon.  It was a big, greasy cheeseburger in a vast wasteland of tofu.  

Our friend Kitty Mach helping us sell shirts so we could afford to travel home when the party was over.  Our booth, cramped though it may have been, became a central hub for young aspiring youtube filmmakers, ancient rock stars, science fiction stunt doubles, and a real live World of Warcraft army.

Speaking of the San Diego Comicon and awesome booths, Portland Studios will officially be back at Comicon for 2009. We have received our package, and we have our spot. And this year, we have four times the floor space! That's four times as many faces that will be rocked in 2009.  Four times the action! Four times the excitement! We plan on bringing giant robots and sentient bears to wow audiences. And, as always, we will be bringing a lot of new art and new stories about fantastic adventures in average places. For some more shots of Portland's booth from last year, as well as some video of us in action, check out Cory's blog.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Monday, December 08, 2008

Riddles in the Dark: Thumbnails

Once again I return to my love of caves for the scene of the Bilbo and Gollum's riddle game from The Hobbit.  
Of all the characters that I lost in my mind after having seen Peter Jackson's rendition, Gollum was probably the one best kept intact. I thoroughly enjoyed the stunning work that Jackson, Weta and Andy Serkis did to bring this potentially difficult character to life on the big screen. They managed to make him convincing, threatening, miserable and human in a way that I had not seen as possible outside of classic animation techniques. 
However, in spite of the solid designs I never did quite forget how I had seen Gollum and I have tried to recreate here what I remember.  You will probably think it all looks the same, that one rose blossom looks like another, but there were a few odd points in my mind that I always saw a bit differently. So we shall have to see how they turn out.  

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Great Goblin: Final Digital Steps

justin gerard illustration the hobbit

Next Up: Riddles in the Dark

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Great Goblin: Reference Hunting

In 2004 I had the pleasure of touring Carlsbad Caverns while on a roadtrip of the American West.
Like most, I was stunned by the beauty of the cave formations there. They are spectacular and well worth the trip across the desert.
As I read through these passages on Bilbo and the Dwarves being lost in the Misty Mountains I remembered wandering around the stone halls and tunnels of Carlsbad.  It brought back to mind all the inky dark pools, the cold, still air and the sound of water dripping somewhere off in the darkness. 
My friend Zach argues that this is why literature is such a compelling form of art. The more life experiences you have, the more fully your imagination can engage in the story. Whereas in movies, for instance, you are given concrete, unchangeable information and your imagination is not required to be active.

Caves freak me out though. The eerie stillness, the claustrophobic closeness. The thought that if the lights went out down here I would never make it out. I have always pictured the tunnels in the Misty Mountains and the Goblin's Lair to look like what I saw at Carlsbad. 

It doesn't take too much imagination to see troll and goblin shapes in some of the stalagmite formations. For the Great Goblin's throne I used reference from some of the photos from Carlsbad. If I was a great, fat goblin, I would certainly have made a throne out of these formations.