Thursday, January 24, 2013

Behold! The King of Space!

I spent a big chunk of last year working on my upcoming picture book 'The King of Space'. The main character, Rex, was created in 2004 for an online art challenge, and has been lurking around my sketchbooks and doodles ever since. This book was almost my first picture book for Templar in 2009, and then was even closer to being my second picture book in 2011, but in both cases pesky pirates won the day (Oooo-ARR!), and 'The King of Space' went back in the plan chest. But Templar did think it'd make a good third picture book, and it's very nearly here!

Rex is a young boy who lives on a small moon, on his mum and dad's moog farm.  He has a plan to become King of Space. But he doesn't want his mum and dad finding out, because they might be cross. Rex enlists his clever friend, Blip, to help him build a robot army. He also has a crush on a girl in his class called Princess Kooki. Could that be the weakness in his plan?

The whole thing is a bit of an homage to my childhood in the 1970s and 80s, where sci-fi was the best thing since Breville toastie makers and girls on roller skates.

The book will be published on March 1st, but is already available to pre-order on the magical interweb... for example, HERE. I received an advance copy in the post a week or two ago. Here's a bit of a rubbish photo.
The book (right) is the same size as 'The Pirates Next Door', and the poster's a whopper!

So for anyone thinking they might like to buy this book, here's the important stuff:

1. There are no pirates in this book. Actually you may spot a couple, but they don't have much to do with the story. So mums and dads might not have quite as much fun with pirate voices, but feel free to read it all in pirate voices if you like. Believe it or not, I can draw stuff, other than pirates....

2. It doesn't rhyme. I like rhyming books, but this one just didn't feel right rhyming, just so you know. My next book rhymes, but you'll have to wait a while for that one, because I've just started the colouring-in. It's not about pirates or space or moogs.

3. It's got quite a lot of words. Just less than 1500 words, in fact. Which is about 400 words more than 'The Pirates Next Door', and 300 words more than 'The Pirate Cruncher'. This might be a good or bad thing, depending on your point of view. If you don't like too many words, there are lots of nice pictures to look at, and might even be able to work out the story, even if you stop reading when you get past 1100 words or so. My three year old daughter likes it, and makes various sound effects whilst turning the pages.

4. A lot of the words are in speech bubbles and some pages are a bit like comic strips. I like comics. Here's an example:

5. Some of the pages have a lot of black on them. The story is set in the great emptiness of space. Make sure you have a light on when you're trying to read this book.

6. It's got a big gatefold, like 'The Pirates Next Door'. I have been informed by my grown-up readers that these can be a bit cumbersome during bedtime reading. But kids say they love them, so you parents will just have to suffer for the children and remember it's still a lot easier than folding an ordnance survey map in high winds. This gatefold has lots of spaceships,  quite a few robots and some moogs.

7. If you live in the UK, and you buy the hardback, you get this whopping poster. It's 56cm x 81cm. And it's got a Warbot on it. If you ask me, it's almost worth buying the book just for the poster, but then I am biased. I've got mine on the wall above my desk, and it looks fab. I ironed it to get rid of the folds.
If you live in the USA, you gte a line-up of all the characters in the book, on the back of the dust jacket. It's not as big as the poster, but it's still rather nice, and you can learn everyone's names. The UK get the line up too, sharing the back of the poster with the cover art.

8. 'Moog dung' is mentioned quite a few times. Rex lives on a moog farm. And you can't live on a moog farm without encountering moog dung. I live in the countryisde and I could frequently smell aromas similar to moog dung whilst colouring-in this book. It's all part of the moog experience....

So, if you like aliens, alien cow things, spaceships, dung rays, and big robots (or you know someone who does), 'The King of Space' is coming soon, to a galaxy near you.... It's published on 1st March in the UK and March 12th in the US of A.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Pirates! At the Oscars!

I spent four years working on Aardman's stop motion 'Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists!', or 'Pirates! band of Misfits!' for those of you in the USofA, and have been meaning to post some of my character designs for aaaages. And then yesterday I found out that the movie has been nominated for this year's Oscar Academy Awards, click here, and that seemed like a very good prompt indeed.

I started (on what was a very small team) in February 2008. I was having a tough time, following the death of my dad in a motorbike accident, and being asked to contribute to an Aardman project was a dream come true. My dad and I watched a lot of Aardman stuff a lot together, and both of us loved the humour, craftsmanship and attention to detail. I was shaking in my boots when I travelled down to Bristol to show the directors, Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt, my portfolio. The first thing I was asked to work on was a 'Very Big Pirate'. I think this was more of a test, to see whether my style would fit. This is the design I came up with...

And then a brilliant sculptor, Bloxy, came up with this...

I worked a few days each week during the first half of 2008, sometimes at home, sometimes at Aardman's Bristol studio, sketching and working on character designs. For most of this time, there were two character designers, me and a wonderful french artist called Zebe. Here's some early stuff...

In June 2008, I was asked to knock out some colour studies of the principal characters, to send to Sony Pictures, who funded the movie. These were done pretty quickly, over a few days...


For the next three years, I worked on and off for a few days each week, producing more detailed designs and turnarounds, for periods as the only character designer, after Zebe went off to work on 'Arthur Christmas'.

As well as character design, I spent quite a lot of time working in the set department, designing figurative elements in the backgrounds, from statues and figureheads to stuffed animal heads. This was really good fun!

There is a 'making of...' book available, which features quite a lot of my drawings. There are a few mistakes in the credits. A couple of the images above are credited to Michael Salter. I think the mistake came about because Mike came up with original design, and then I did a colour pass and a turnaround to tie it in with the other characters. Designing all the characters was a big team effort, with input from concept artists, story artists, sculptors and, of course, the directors, Peter and Jeff, so I'm sure it was difficult getting all the credits in the book bang on target. Here's an example of Mike's original design, re-drawn by me, and later becoming a colour study (above)...

And also, there are a lot of images credited to me that have colour, but I only ever did a black and white drawing!

For anyone interested in animation, and particularly stop-motion, the book is fantastic, and gives a great overview of the movie's development.

Working on 'Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!' was a wonderful job. I've never enjoyed doing concept art as much as I did on this movie. I'm hoping Aardman will have me back one day to work on something else... Or a sequel perhaps....