Nov 30, 2014

STRIDER HIRYU and his Plasma Sword FALCHION: The BLINDINGLY QUICK SWEEP of OBLIVION!!

Marc Ericksen's 1989 Title block treatment for Capcom"s Strider


Much has been posited about the incredibly swift strike of the Plasma Sword of  Hiryu, the youngest novitiate ever to reach the A level in the futuristic (2048) organization of assassins known as Striders, a concept created in 1988 by a group of Manga artists named the Moto Kikaku, published by Kadokawa Shoten, and serialized in their magazine Weekly Comic Comp. The image of the Plasma Sword itself was thrown open to interpretation in 1989 when I was contracted by Capcom to create the cover illustration for their video game package of the exciting game that they were developing out of this concept.
NES Hiryu in action

The playing field was wide open when it came to Plasma Sword Configuration in 1989.


Will the REAL Falchion Cypher please rise? Marc chose to stay very
close to the original Manga version created by Tetsumi Wada, similar
to the arcade version above.

Working with Capcom on STRIDER.


Here we see the two handed grip Hiiryu is employing, behind
 the Billy-club projection grip below the blade base.
Here are the blast assist elements with which I
equipped Falchion On Capcom's NES Boxart.
 I had watched the gameplay at Capcom and was very impressed with the speed with which Hiryu was able to wield his sword, and the power of the stroke. The explanation that the plasma trigger allowed the blade to pass through any material effortlessly was a fantastic idea, but didn't necessarily explain the speed of Hiryu's stroke. I drew a preliminary sketch that allowed for a blast assist to the wielder of the Cypher, just fooling around, and the creative team liked what they saw: tiny blast ports pushing the plasma blade through its stroke in the blink of an eye. In studying the sword's shape created by the original Manga artist, the amazing Tatsumi Wada, I saw that he was using a Billystick configuration within the handle: a straight even two-handed base grip with a single grip bar extending 90 degrees out from one side at the top of the haft, like a capital 'T' with one top bar removed.This is a common law enforcement night stick design.




Hiryu, here from Capcom vs. Marvel:
Strider 3 (not Marc's Illustration) grasps his Cypher, Falchion,
using the alternate grip.



Sadly my blast assist contribution to Cypher lore, although approved by Capcom, never went beyond the art I produced for the original Capcom NES version of Strider, and there are many sites now devoted to the parsing and cataloging of the many variants of every piece of equipment available to Strider warriors. One such site I found very useful was Strider Wikia







                                   

THE SORTOFSOVIET GUARD.

Marc's AK-2048



CYPHER BAIT...





Russki Kommunikator
2048
Hiryu's opponent in the struggle depicted on the box art is a guard, strangely reminiscent of the old (it wasn't in 1989…) Soviet military, in an area called Kafazu (nee, Kazahkstan?) The guard is equipped with an AK-47 styled futuristic weapon with a nasty bayonet in place, trying his best to kill Hiryu with a lethal thrust, not realizing he's about to be in two pieces, rather than one. On his belt he is wearing some faux Steam Punk low tech  1989 version of a portable communication device. I wanted it to look clunky i.e.. made in russia, and in '89 it did.

In 2014 it looks like he's wearing an old television on his hip. An iPhone it's not!









                                  NES Treatment for Hiryu


As to the garb with which I created my Hiryu, I stayed very much within the actual pixelated character I witnessed in the beta play that was shown me. The blue basic jumpsuit, with bare arms, and and bare head with very copper colored hair were representative of the Hiryu that inhabited the levels played by NES Strider fans. Perhaps unique to this hero were the indications of white  horizontal stripes on the legs of his jumpsuit, across his thighs, never to be seen again, to the best of my knowledge. The red scarf flowing in the breeze in later versions was not apparent in this version. The red kanji breast patch later seen was also not yet in place in the 1989 making of Strider.


Another great source for Strider knowledge and background is Hardcore gaming 101, and thank you to Kurt for so much useful info!



Thanks so much for looking in, and best wishes to everyone for the Holidays!

Nov 18, 2014

OUR LOSS of INNOCENCE: Into the new Millennia, Color FADES, and Game Box Art Enters a New and Darker World.

IT HAD TO HAPPEN: The earliest days of video gaming was lean on graphic sophistication, but was one of the earliest users of the new medium of color television technology. Imagine creating your colors using light, actual glowing light, as your palette!! The gameplay was awash with light and color, and a treat to the eye. Gamers forgave programmers for the unrealistic imagery, because after all, it was so cool to be able to reach into the picture and actually dictate (to a degree) the actions of the characters! Prior to that viewers were captives to whatever television executives and actors put before them, the action was ordained by the script. We illustrators were turned loose to create a visual matrix to guide the players with fleshed out versions of what the pixelated worlds and  graphic gameplay was meant to represent, and to create Box Art to bridge the gap:

In SNK's Guerrilla War, I was called upon to lend the player my imagination, as I created a world that
accounted for the gameplay scenarios, situations, dangers, and triumphs. My illustration is on the left, and gameplay on the right.
Pitfall Harry in a cut out
counter top display

STRONG, BRIGHT COLORS WAS THE NAME OF THE GAME.

From the age of about 30, I was involved in the creation of Video Game Box Art for almost every company producing games for players, and the key was always attempting to visualize in an exciting visual of what I was shown on the screen, for the purpose of enticing gamers to try the new game. I also produced a lot of what was called P.O.P., or Point Of Purchase display art. These were typically posters, but could also be stand up counter top cutouts, and even banners. Activision was a company that issued very design oriented box art, and to counteract the approach would often feature P.O.P. materials and magazine ads that were much more realistic. I did several pieces for them for their top selling 'Pitfall', starring Pitfall Harry. Again, intense color was a key element.
Pitfall Harry a La Francaise in a
magazine advertisment



Yeah, But...ORANGE SKIES??


My U.N. Squadron art was used by Capcom
for posters and magazine ads.
I've always most enjoyed giving the viewers of my illustrations a lot to see:
Details in the cockpit have always been a big favorite.

When Capcom created a game named UN Squadron, they contacted me to produce a large poster for their distribution, and I felt the color intensity for this piece deserved to be striking, so I chose a strong yellow orange sky as the backdrop for their dueling aircraft.










THE MODEL HELD FOR TWENTY YEARS


Strong color and value, and entertaining and exciting action, carried video game art for 2 decades, before the cracks began to appear: More realistic gameplay animation was a consequence of technological progression, and I had known from the beginning that it would become the major force in box art, and eventually negate the need for illustrations from outsiders to be done for covers.


 It was actually amazing to me that it took as long as it did, to be honest. I was always cautious not to be exclusively a video game artist, and my clients over those two decades included tech companies like Varian and Intel, for whom I did high tech cut away art, And companies such as Ocean Spray and Hidden Valley, illustrations for food product packaging, cartooning, presentation art for The Chicago Field Museum, and The Ford Aviation Museum in Dearborn Michigan, through Academy Art Studios. I also continued to do storyboarding for most of the major Advertising Agencies and Design firms in San Francisco, , as well as editorial and sports illustrations, doing art for the S.F. Giants, San jose Sharks, the Forty Niners, and the University of California and Stanford Football programs.

I saw myself through the transition to digital media, learning, with the great help of my studio mate of many years, Robert Evans, to use Photoshop, and to a lesser degree Adobe Illustrator.

IN 2003, I DID MY FINAL VIDEO GAME  BOX ART.
 Electronic Arts  contacted me to do 'The New World 1503'. Fittingly, Robert posed as the Conquistador soldier behind the Viceroy adventurer, who I made up from sketches. Another close friend, Denis Kelly, a Marin County Realtor, posed as the captain holding the telescope.


THE SLIDE INTO PERFECT DESTRUCTION.

It was at this time that the animation of the games began to appear regularly on the boxes, and rightfully so, as the animation has become incredibly complete, and realistic. 


In my estimation, Games began to take on a more sinister dimension. The face that society has yet to find an answer for. Power, control, strength, and destruction. The emergence of first person shooter games of such corrosive reality that the action is breathtaking in the realism of its destruction. I'm alarmed by the addictive nature of their casual brutality.

Just because developers now have the capacity go there, does that mean they SHOULD?   ….My personal view is absolutely not, but I recognize that just as with any culture, we don't come equipped with brakes, and certainly there's no reverse.

So, Batman has been stripped of his bluff altruistic nature as a two fisted crime fighter and friend of the common man, and remade into a twisted confused and dangerous maladroit split personality.


It's ridiculous to deny the role of all of us in the early days, or to pretend that because the graphics were more colorful, or the animation was cuter, that the intent was somehow softened, but shooter games have always been out there. It was just  easier to not take them seriously, perhaps. We also leavened them with games like Lock 'N Chase, and B.O.B., and James Pond, Harley's Humongous Adventure. And Especially MegaMan…which brings me back to my original context:

                              

          WHERE DID OUR COLOR GO?

If you gather all the pure chroma available on a painter's palette and mix them all together, you'll get a kind of sick brownish gray color. At the risk of sounding like an old guy (...I'm 67 ), looking at recent
game color box art, I have to agree once again with this rant by my friend Taylor Gilbreath:

 "I'M NOT BUYIN' IT!!"                   Taylor's Rant




THANKS FOR CHECKING IN!


Aug 18, 2014

BAD DUDES Crash PRGE!! THE 1989 DATA EAST COVER REMASTER IS READY!! ….Are you BAD enough to rescue a PRESIDENT??!!

Blade and Striker are awaiting their orders, and find themselves surrounded by Ninjas and assorted bad guys in the Data East cover art awaiting you at the show!!



Eyes of Blade as he contemplates the odds, surrounded by
chain and Shirukin equipped henchmen.


IT'S ON!! ..But Striker needs to beware the Shuriken!!

Blade's Cobra quick fists of steel measure the
moment of action




Striker lashes a roundhouse kick into the midsection of a sword wielding Ninja, as another waits for his opening to hurl his Kurumaken at Striker's jugular. The Metropolis is in an uproar, as the kidnapped president is being spirited away, as the Dudes fight for their lives, spinning, chopping and kicking to stay alive against the legions thrown against them!!









DUDES I HAVE KNOWN.

Bad Dudes has always been one of my favorite game covers. In September, 1988 I had been contacted by Connie Freeman at Data East about a fighting game with a plot that revolved around rescuing our President from malevolent forces. They wanted the two featured protagonists prominent on the cover, with drama and action, in a city setting. It sounded great and I got to work on step one of my process: The staging rough. This was typically a few quick renditions of  possible arrangements for the illustration.



                                                      


    


                               STEP ONE: Staging Rough

Pencil roughs like these are designed to quickly show the client your thinking with regard
To placement and action. Typically requiring only a few minutes for execution, I often
would create these on demand while discussing the job in the clients office.
                                                  


                                                STEP TWO: Color rough

The staging rough was followed by the color rough. In those days, I would xerox the staging rough, and proceed to work out my color suggestions at my North Beach studio in San Francisco, in ad markers, and a bit of gouache and airbrush. Again, a very quick exercise, usually under an hour. This I would send by Fedex to the client for approval.
I have several of my original color roughs in my collection, sadly
Bad Dudes is not one of them. What you see here was done in Photoshop,
and very closely mimics what a color rough circa 1988 looked like.





                            THE PHOTO SHOOT


Now for the fun! Gathering together my cast of willing friends and associates, we always posed for one another, in this case my stalwart, Carl Buell, and an amazing North Beach martial artist by the name of Darryl Chan, an incredible guy! A Hollywood stunt man and actor he has appeared in Pirates of the Carribean, Dead Man's Chest, and World's End releases, and too many films to mention, since the day in '88 when we shot these.


Darryl was critical in getting the major poses for Blade and Striker correct, as you can see in transparencies 4 and 13, and in pummeling Carl an me into submission throughout the shoot!



AND so, the finished product:Available as a hand signed 18" X 24" Print at PRGE in October.

 This is the way the art looked when I delivered it to Connie Freeman at Data East in September of 1988. The company did a fantastic job on Logo and the graphic design, and gave us a package that stands the test of time. Still one of the iconic Boxes of the Retrogame Era. 


Other signed prints I'll have for offer: Mega Man 2, Galaga, Tengen Tetris, Tengen Afterburner, Herzog Zwei, Sega Genesis G-LOC, Sega Genesis Steel Empire, and others.



THANKS FOR DROPPING BY!! I'II SEE YOU IN PORTLAND AT PRGE!!



































May 8, 2014

IT'S GOING…IT'S GOING...IT'S OUTTA HERE!!!! ...HITTING A HOME RUN, SUPER BASEBALL 2020 STYLE, in AIRBRUSH, BABY!!!

IT WAS 1990, AND IN ONLY 30 YEARS WE THOUGHT CYBER PLAYERS MIGHT FILL THE AIR WITH HOMERS!


We're only six years out, and there aren't any cyberplayers in sight? Looks like another aerocar of the future, but WHO KNEW?! 


I got a call from Gamepro magazine for a cover based on the concept of cybernetic Baseball players in an NES game called Bases Loaded II: Second Season, from japan's Moero 3!! Pro Yakuu '88, and we took it to the wall! It was used on the cover, and as an inside illustration.This job, which eventually led to another piece for Electronic Arts in 1994 named SUPER BASEBALL 2020! The staff at EA remembered the cover and quickly gave me a call, and we got rolling. I've chosen these pieces to talk about using Airbrush to paint these illustrations because it seemed a good match: blasting paint and getting air!




Fans of this site will of course recognize my fellow illustrator and model Carl Buell using some of his moves from his Double A SemiPro days!







Super Baseball 2020 found many fans in Europe as well as Japan, the home of the original Bases Loaded II: Second Season!



MY GEAR:


Otherwise known as my Tools of Ignorance, (as they once called a catcher's protective gear) …The Jun-Air Compressor … My airbrush of choice was the Thayer & Chandler.


The Jun Air would maintain a
tank pressure of around 15 pounds
and a head pressure of around 5-7
pounds

My Jun Air Compressor circa 1994
The rig I used for 95% of my video game art was my Thayer & Chandler Model A Air brush with either a tank of compressed air (early days), or a beautiful jewel-like compressor built in Denmark named the Jun-Air.

The airbrush was held as one would a pen, and had a top mounted pivoting trigger that released the pressurized air, pulling the paint from a side mounted cup into the pressurized airstream. This created a fine mist of color that laid down on the surface of the illustration board, and immediately dried.
I used the brush with the rear cover off. This allowed me
to constantly remove the pressure needle for cleaning.







Portions of the art that needed to be protected from the paint overspray were covered with a tacky sided film called friskit. This was laid down over the art, and the areas to be painted were cut out gently with an Exacto knife, and the friskit removed.


The 1994 EA release for Super Baseball 2020


Here we see the 1994 U.S. release of the package for EA. Quite a handsome box with excellent design, as were most of EA's offerings over the years. I've always been grateful to Electronic Arts in joining Broderbund with their policy of allowing artists signatures to appear in the art.










And the EURO version:

The smooth gradations and brilliant color were only two of the many reasons I employed the airbrush technique. I also found it to be very fast, which aided me in my scheduling of deadlines, and it seemed an extension of my drawing capacity.




As you can see, the Game borrowed much from the Gamepro cover, but the baseball was added, and the catcher was made into a young woman, There was a robot Umpire added as well, but left out in this European release. It is also clear to see on the close up of the batter's and the young catcher's face the detail and clarity that could be gained by using the airbrush.


Here's a shot of my 5X7 transparency of my original art back in '94, showing
both the players and the Robot Umpire.




THANKS FOR DROPPING BY!! I'll see you in Portland in October!


Mar 19, 2014

CRY 'HAVOC', and Let Slip the DOGS OF WAR!! ...and that ROBOT TRAIN thing! ...and those CHOPPERS, and AUTOMATIC WEAPONS!! ...and …and, oh yeah, that FROGMAN guy!!

It's SNK's MECHANIZED ATTACK!!

Really?…A Boiling Brain?
Wait,…ROBOT TRAIN?
In late December, 1989, I received a call from a design group named Beeline, in San Jose. They were in a panic about getting an illustration done for the cover of a new SNK release tentatively called "Mechanized Attack", and they had 6 days to produce it from sketch to color!! The only problem was that this shooter game, in addition to a Boiling Brain, had every malevolent enemy known to man, and a few not: An evil robot headed train? There were thuggish troops that are actually cyborgs, Battleships, attack
choppers loaded to the gills with armaments, cyborg DOGS?…and vile attack frogmen wanting to get inside your guard and shove a K-bar shiv into your guts!
Vicious, Slobbering, Attack Cyborg Dogs?!! OMG!!



Your Light Zapper Uzi machine pistol
seems equipped with a bottomless
magazine, and all the rounds you
can possibly fire.















HURRY UP and WAIT.

I immediately began throwing together sketches and lining up gear for shooting reference models as rapidly as possible, but the client had a sudden realization that the release date couldn't be met in a number of ways, so the project slowed way down. In the end we had plenty of time, and it became one of my most chaotic jam packed fight scenes ever, and it was great fun.
This product was an NES platform using The Light Zapper application, and in the earlier arcade iteration allowed the player an Uzi style machine-gun to wield.

CARL BREAKS BAD AGAIN!

Stalwart Carl Buell again stands in as a raging
UDT cyborg enemy apparatchik desperate to
get his knife in you before you cut him down
How can I say any more about Carl Buell than I already have in prior posts? Here goes: What more could any illustrator of adventure themed imagery want, than a tall, great looking hunk-like matinee idol styled illustrator for a friend, daytime studio mate, and willing model? 

Granted, he could be a pain in the neck, but in his time he had been a model, the lead singer in a touring upper NY State rock group (that actually made money), a Vietnam veteran (shot in the Gluteus during a firefight and sent home with his drawing hand intact holding a Purple Heart) , a semi pro football and baseball player, and to top it all off,  is a world class drawing talent in demand for his art of the natural, and prehistoric, world. 

How Carl's shot developed on the actual box cover.












Whew, that's quite a catalogue, yeah? 
Like me, to this day, he is still making his living illustrating.
So, who better for our menacing flipper freak? He also posed for the Cyborg Guards, The shooter's hands with our studio Uzi, the Robot Train, and the Attack Dogs! (…just kidding about the last two.)



TYPICAL STUDIO FLASHBANG PHOTOSHOOT


Carl again in the various guises of the nefarious cyborg thugs arrayed
against the gamer in SNK's Mechanized Attack.
This 4-transparency inclusion photo (if enlarged) will give you an idea of just how lame our photo sessions could be. Although we had photo flood lights, the sun blasting through the ceiling to floor windows at our studio at the foot of Telegraph Hill in North Beach usually rendered them useless. It was basically, "Just stand over there Carl, and I'll put up the tripod here and we'll bang these off and get them to the lab!" We were always in one another's way, but worked well together. I had 4 to 5 freelancers sharing my space at any given time. Always for at least 4 years. Robert Evans was with me for 25 years, and Carl for 12 years.

I shot 35 mm Kodachrome transparencies, because I could project them down onto the illustration board into the positions I needed the figures. There was always a process of melding the reference shots into the drawing base, then revising angles or body position to get everything to work together.

SO 23 YEARS LATER, I FIND MYSELF TRYING TO CLAIM AUTHORSHIP FOR THE COVER ILLUSTRATION FOR "MECHANIZED ATTACK.'


No signature, no credit line, no proof of authorship?

Proving to Mobygames.com that I WAS THE GUY, came down to my putting together a technique comparison guide between M.A. and another SNK game to which they had already awarded me credit: Guerrilla War. As you can see here, it was a collection of visual similarities that convinced the judges at MG, combined with my log sheet, and invoice from 1990.


THANKS AGAIN FOR DROPPING BY!  I'll see you at The Portland Retro Game Expo: prge.com