Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sundown In Retrospect

The Official Sundown Poster
Copyright 2010 Danielle Pajak Illustrations
and Phoenician Pictures
 September is well on its way to being over, and I am pretty busy working away on my projects. Other than my last post, I hope to have an update on my current projects soonish, but for now I wanted to blog about a past project. It was 2 years ago in the month of September that my cousin, Alexis Johnson, and a group of friends, who were fellow film enthusiasts and professionals, came together to create a short film. My cousin and I are an inseparable duo, both passionate for the art of film and plan, as much as possible, to make films together. I had previously helped her with a film that she did while in college, and it was on that project that we had come to know a group of talented people who were hardworking and great colleagues. Desiring to do another project with the same group, my cousin was instantly struck with an idea to do a western, and thus Sundown was born.

A short story about a young sheriff set in an old town of Arizona presented to us exciting challenges. Where could we film? How would we get costumes? How could we do this all in the smallest budget possible? True, living in Arizona gave us tons of resources at our fingertips, but trying to make it look authentic as we possibly could was not easy. How it all came about was truly remarkable and could not be done without our amazing cast and crew. Preproduction was full of ups and downs. We couldn’t hold onto our actor for one of the roles, finding authentic button up shirts, vests, and a dress for our leading lady was difficult, and then making sure we could have access to good equipment was a feat in itself. Even on our first shooting day when we were at our location (an authentic old western town called Rawhide) was met instantly with some trouble as one of the Rawhide representatives who knew of our plans was laid off and someone else had replaced her. Yet by the Lord’s grace each obstacle was overcome; a good friend of one of our leading actors stepped into the much needed role, by much diligent searching and the generosity of actors Greg Bronson and Dawn Nixon we had our costumes, the resources of our Producers Aiden Chapparoni and Matt Barr enabled us to have good equipment, and even though the representative had been laid off, Ed Vanderlee (part of the Arizona Roughriders at Rawhide) who became our overseer ended up being one of the biggest blessings to our movie. It was by his generosity that we were able to have real guns and bullets, and our actors were taught to shoot and die convincingly (this was done ON shooting day, so an excellent example of the talent and hardwork of our actors). Ed Vanderlee was even able to get us some extra shooting time at Rawhide, even though we had only scheduled two days! It was amazing how the Lord orchestrated this project, from the donation of horses (and riding lessons!) from a good friend of my cousin's to the bringing together of a cast and crew who were willing to be pushed hard in an unforgiving time crunch. Through all the stress, 100-degree weather, and obstacles, we were able to create something that was wonderful and memorable. Our actors, crew members, photographers, and extras were all what made this little movie possible and it was truly one of my best experiences. And that’s why I love the movie business!

My role in Sundown was primarily as Art Director. I did the poster design, production photography, concept art, storyboards, and some prop design. I do want to keep my blog focused on concept art and illustrations, but seeing as I love doing movie poster art and my illustrative background is used much in my poster design, I will also put the poster work I did for this film along with my concept work.

Left: Zane Ulysses, the protagonist. 
The intense young sheriff played by Jacob Maynard-Ortiz 

Right: Saul Copper, the psychotic antagonist, who was put into prison by Zane and is seeking revenge. Played wonderfully by Adam Hanson.
Left: Delilah Rose, the sweetheart of the sheriff,
played by the lovely Alli Bakken.

Right: Sam Duncan, the wise and loyal friend of the sheriff,
played by Radcliff Misseri.

The following are a variety of storyboards, not all of them that I did, but a good portion. 

The first scene of the film, a flashback as Zane gets ready for the new day.
Meeting the characters. Saul Copper returns!
The fighting begins! Delilah is taken hostage and Sam saves the day. 
Sam dies. Zane cleans himself off and rides to save Delilah and deal with Saul! 
The final showdown! Zane and Delilah ride off into the sunset.

Below is an example of a prop that I did for the film, the Wanted Poster of Saul Copper. I thought I would post it up since it incorporates illustration. I did the sketch myself to make it look like the printed likenesses of the old western wanted posters.

The character posters:

All posters Copyright 2010 Danielle Pajak Illustrations

As you can see, I really desired to capture the look and feel of an old western, but with elegant twists. I used rich, warm tones, high contrast, and emphasized the glow of the setting sun. The Sundown logo, which can be seen on the official main poster as well, was the concept of my cousin's that I have used as a focal point; the setting of the sun being a crucial idea from the film. I will have more on that in just a moment, but my inspiration for the emblems and designs, of course, was Art Nouveau; Alphonse Mucha being one of the leading artists of this style which grew to popularity during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Here are some examples of his work:

The exquisite, two-dimensional detail and organic, floral shapes are something that I love about this style of art. Whenever I do any sort of graphic design or photographic art pieces, I always try to incorporate illustrative emblems, usually inspired by Art Nouveau. I think it adds more dimension and originality to a piece and a chance to add symbols, which I love to work with! In the case of the Sundown posters, I've given each character their own symbol. Delilah has a delilah flower and I have even added a touch of the shape of her parasol from the film in the upper left corner. Zane Ulysses has a sheriff's badge, of course, and Saul Copper a boot spur. Sam's symbol is a gun trigger, two of them symmetrical from each other. I believe by using these symbols it makes each piece more unique to the characters and makes you think a little about the whole design. The other unique touch that I added were the Bible verses from the Book of Ecclesiastes, the book of King Solomon's musings about life and its great vanities. As I was stating above, the idea of "sundown" is crucial to the story. Inspired much by Ecclesiastes, the story shows the overly cautious Zane Ulysses having to come to face the unfinished business in his life before sundown; for life is a vapor and chasing after the wind. It is a story about not being paralyzed by caution, but to seize the moment before it is too late. Our life is brief here on this earth, a passing shadow, and one should not delay over long only to find that life has passed you by and that all you have left are "the could have been's". It is a simple truth and story, but something that deeply resonates. Behind the gun fights, cowboy hats, and the interplay of good vs evil lies the tenuous and sobering thread of the brevity of life. Below I have lyrics from film's original song "Don't Let the Sun Go Down" written by Chris Pajak (my cousin's father) and Alexis Johnson. The music and its arrangement are also by Chris Pajak. I think it explains quite vividly and beautifully the theme of the film and what I have conveyed through the poster designs.

Don't Let the Sun Go Down
Life is but a vapor, life is but a breath
Promise of tomorrow is the ruse that will cheat death
Life is just a restless wind, from north and south it twists and turns
Remember Man that you are dust, and to dust you shall return

Don't let the sun go down on your anger
Don't let the sun go down, words you left unsaid
Don't let the sun go down, on your promises and plans
For tomorrow may never come round
Don't let the sun go down
Sundown, sundown

In the world we walk through joy and strife,
It's a fragile thing called Life
The greatest wrong that men may do,
Let those days and years slip through
Don't let that sun go down on you
Don't let that sun go down on you

Sundown, sundown
Don't let that sun go down
Don't let that sun go down
Sundown, sundown
Lyrics by Chris Pajak and Alexis Johnson Copyright 2010.

I hope enjoyed this post. It was truly an experience I will never forget. 

Sundown Logo Copyright 2010 Danielle Pajak Illustrations and Phoenician Pictures

For all things related to Sundown and to find where you can watch the short film go to:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Little Bit of Nature

This passed weekend I was up in Flagstaff, Arizona. There is a lovely area just 20 miles or so outside of the town that is called Lockett Meadow, and it is beautiful area full of meadows and aspens. I was fortunate enough to be there when the sun was setting, and to see how the warm light came through the aspen trees and illuminated the forest clearings. It is such places that I thrive in and love. Nature has such splendor and never ceases to inspire me. So, while I was there I decided to do a little sketch. I have been trying to sketch more and take time to study (with my pencil) the things I observe. I notice, though, that a lot of the on-site sketching doesn't always turn out the way I want it and I find it rather cumbersome. I realized, though, that this is because I am trying to interpret what I see literally whereas it is my natural inclination to interpret conceptually. I decided, then, to try something a little different; inspired by the wonderful asian artist (asian again!) Tyrus Wong. One of his greatest artistic achievements was his influence on Disney's Bambi. The artists who worked on Bambi faced a similar problem of trying to interpret literally when it came to the Forest, i.e. every branch, every leaf. It was by a stroke of happenstance (seemingly!) that Tyrus Wong ended up on staff at Disney where his pastel works and conceptual ideas were noticed. He chose to simplify what he saw and bring out color, shape, light, and shadow in a dreamy and otherworldly fashion. There was movement and abstraction in his work, and was able to capture, I believe, the true essence of the Forest. Here are two examples of his work:

It is unfortunate that after making Bambi, Tyrus Wong went on to Warner Bros. because I think Disney could have benefited much more from this wonderful artist, and who knows what he could have contributed to the animations that came after!

Oh, by the way, if you ever desire to see the making of Bambi on the DVD, I would highly recommend it. It was amazing how this film came together and the innovation in animation it was able to achieve. I was inspired! 

Anyway, here is my simple sketch, inspired by nature, inspired by Tyrus Wong. Enjoy!