Monday, June 30, 2014


This is is the first of two posts with my notes from this talk. There was no moderator .. just the guests and the audience of about 200 students and professionals. This talk exceeded my expectations on all levels. Here are two views of the venue .. (these are the only photos I took at the event).

The rest of the images in these two posts are pictures I found online. Sometimes I was able to find and post the same images used during the presentation. In other cases, I've shared images I felt were reasonably similar to what I saw and/or heard that night. Remember folks ... this blog is my best effort to share experiences and topics I hope will be helpful to SNB patrons and others interested in Illustration, Animation and Comic Art.

Here are pics of the guests  ..

Robert Stromberg, Director
Dylan Cole, Production Designer
The talk was informal, but well structured. There was an amazing amount of visuals. The program started with an opening salvo that most presentations would spend the whole event building up to … a cascade of sketches and photo manipulated images of Angelina Jolie as variant Maleficents (different make-up effects; costumes with wings; without wings, etc)

Here are two images I found online that were also used during this part of the talk:

The talk began with how Robert and Dylan got started in the industry... then followed with how Robert’s pitch for the Maleficent project was presented. This segued into sections on concept art and development in the following categories: Maleficent lead character… Faery World … Faeries … Dark Faeries … King’s Castle... Human World... Dragon... Ruins... and the Thorn Wall.


Robert set the tone for the talk by discussing artists in general – who they are and what drives them.
These opening remarks also established the re-occurring theme: It all starts with drawing!
Artists draw pictures … he started in childhood with the Disney books. Artists have an intent desire to pay attention to details. There’s interest in drawing.. But mostly it comes down to lots of practice and REPETITION.

Dylan met Robert 10 years ago while they were both working on the film “Chronicles of Riddick.” They soon became part of small group of artists (at Lightstorm?) that worked together on a series of films.

Throughout the talk, they stressed the importance of being part of a group of artists who know each other and work well together. 


Robert credited his relationship with producer Joe Roth for paving the way to his directing debut. After “Oz the Great and Powerful”… it was Joe who approached Robert about directing and mentioned the Maleficent script at Disney. The Linda Woolverton script had been around for a while. Joe asked Robert if he might have a take on that material … and Robert had a very limited time frame to prepare his pitch. 

So he called on Dylan to help …. (here's that collaboration/teamwork thing in action).

Together with Dylan and Steve (??? last name not mentioned) they “powered out” twenty paintings, doing two or three paintings a day, so they could bring a portfolio of concept art to the pitch meeting.

Dylan mentioned that Robert’s two Oscars also gave him credibility in his new job as a director .. and Dylan talked about getting his own first-time assignment as Production Designer on Maleficent was due in part to lots of previous working relationships as well as lots of experience with other projects. Shortly after he was hired, he was put in charge of the art department in London, and was paired up with set builder Gary (???) who was the “nuts and bolts” go-to guy.


The first piece of artwork shown at the pitch meeting was Robert’s full-body portrait painting of his vision of the Maleficent character. The towering image projected at the talk showed her in a sweeping dark costume, holding out a version of her walking stick/staff (Dylan explained that the stick went through many versions, but ended up being very close to this original design), composed in the frame so that the viewer looks up at her in all her power and strength.

(Sorry it's not included here; I've not yet found this exact Stromberg concept art image on line.)

While this painting helped establish Robert’s vision for what became the screen-realized Maleficent, there was a lot of further development that went into the look of the character.

This singular image was followed by a waterfall of renderings showing variant costume and make-up concepts for the title role. 

As the many, many images flashed by, Robert also discussed how “part of hitting the target is NOT hitting the target.” Tangent ideas included giving Maleficent cloven-hoofed feet … they even went so far as to develop possible shoes.

Likewise, more rounds and rounds of ideas during the design process helped explore the other characters, the setting and the mood of the story … and all these ideas help communicate the personalities of artists you are working with.

Throughout the talk .. both Robert and Dylan returned again and again to the idea that being able to collaborate with the right team of people is vital .. and you must get to know the personalities of the people on the team. They stressed the depth of talent involved --- and recognizing the strengths of others on the team.


A massive amount of artwork was produced as concepts for the environments and characters in the Faery world were explored. Various images showed the many renderings of themes such as 

“Trees” …

"Standing stones” …. 

“Cliffs and Valleys” ….

Dylan commented how some of the pictures went to great “let’s get crazy” extremes… which then went into “let’s dial back” phases. Robert added that the vast quantity of images “allows you to zero in” on what’s working and what you want. Most of the paintings were done in one or two days … from a few hours work to 12 hour days.

This portion of the talk segued into Dylan talking a bit about his background. He had a fine arts degree from UCLA, but no formal art training. He really started learning his current craft during a summer internship at ILM. He described himself as “the most annoying, persistent intern … always hanging around and watching the pros and asking questions.” After that summer, it was a period of “brute force” where he just locked himself in a room until he mastered the skills and computer knowledge he needed to move forward. 

(At that point, Dylan didn’t seem to notice, but there was a ripple of recognition through the audience as folks in the crowd shuddered at the effort and talent his “brute force” phase expressed). Dylan discussed how an artist has to have the “emotional drive” to create --- and how even today, if he had a day job flipping burgers, he would be at his computer every night painting.


Here's early concept art by director Robert Stromberg for one of the faeries...

The Sleeping Beauty story is familiar … and the challenge was to find new ways to render landscapes and characters that would feel fresh and surprise the audience.
Both Robert and Dylan stressed that it is HARD to develop an original creature.
A creature must exist in the environment and make sense there as well as in the story. Everyone “knows” what faeries and pixies and dragons look like …. How do you realize them in new ways???

This is Dylan's painting of concept art for the wolf that raven Diaval is transformed into..

 Some success stories included images of how the characters are imbued with personality through their eyes …. Some artists are really gifted at rendering characters that come to life with expression and emotion.

Also, the characters needed to fit with their “jobs” in the forest world  --- for example, some were mushroom pickers.

The characters couldn't just have a catchy design and take up space in the landscape --- the goal was to have creatures that expressed credible form and function.

 There were also budget considerations. The three CG pixies were “a ton of work”. They presented a long period of struggle with their designs. In the end, it cost about $50,000 to have 1 pixie in 1 shot .. 

and there were 3 pixies in the movie.

In addition to these challenges …. Robert, Dylan and the design team also had to limit how dark to take the designs and “accept this was a Disney film … not The Dark Knight”. 

There were many mentions during the evening that effects and creatures had to be appropriate for “9-year-olds” in the film’s audience. The dark characters --- and the "good guys" who had dark edges ---  had to be “family friendly, acceptable and accessible.”
(The image below WAS NOT included in the talk, but I found it online and add it here to illustrate the point above)

These  Moors guardian characters were "good guys" ...but they packed a punch!

When asked about the time frame for development and production, they mentioned that the pitch happened in 2011... after which they had about 4 months to do all the design work and start shooting. The design work included not just renderings … but also old-school set building. While much of the picture was done with digital artwork  ... there were still sets like the throne room where all sorts of details like molding on the stair case had to be designed  ... then sculpted, cast and installed by artists. Not to mention the costumes ....

There was a place during production known as “the War Room” that was covered with all sorts of concept art. The team and crafts people could go to the War Room and re-visit the inspiration for what they were all working on.

Some of the other design challenges included learning to balance the new look of the film with the classic, Eyvind Earle design of the animated feature. 

At first, they considered the idea of sticking more with the graphic, Earle-inspired design. However, they soon realized that live-action had different requirements for the environment. A world that was too stylized might work against some of the most emotional moments in the live-action story (for example, the impact of live-action performances might be compromised if the audience is suddenly distracted by “that really square-looking tree” in the background of the scene.)

Here are two concept art paintings Dylan did in the graphic, Earle style ...

More on the talk in the next post ....



While the story of Maleficent was about a dark character --- the “Disney film” guidelines allowed for only three Dark Faery supporting roles in the design.

This matte painting by Robert of a Moors guardian was part of the pitch…

And quickly was accepted as concept art for the dark faeries --- but the forces of power at the studio insisted the boar and sentinel were two distinct characters, so in their view, this image depicted two of the three dark faeries. After much discussion, the boars were allowed without counting as one of the three.

In the end, the biggest challenge was the desire to create dark faeries with reptile or insect like qualities. Many designs were rejected as too dark --- but one artist (Howard ???) came up with a solution for the wooden bramble serpent that everyone could agree on.

The Dark Faerie world landscape inspired a number of paintings with various versions of large pits and crevasses in the ground. This sample isn't one of the "dark" ones .. but shows the scale in the images that were shared at the talk...


In (early versions of?) the script, the castle was described as being made entirely of iron (to protect against Maleficent). For various reasons, this turned out not to be practical, so different castle concepts were explored.

Here's Dylan's concept painting of the Castle .. this image was part of the pitch portfolio...

Robert was always a fan of the WB classic films like Robin Hood and Sea Hawk and these sorts of period films helped inspire the direction for the castle.

This part of the discussion continued on a tangent about directing and using visual and special effects:

Robert credited Cinematographer Dean Semler with lots of ideas on how to light the sets and create an atmosphere that would blend seamlessly with the matte paintings and other visual effects that would be part of the final images.

For example, here's Dylan's 1st concept art painting  for the thorn walll
 Here's a live-action shot from the thorn wall set  ....
 and here's the shot with Dylan's matte painting overlay ....

Robert also answered questions about directing actors. (Here's a shot I found online of Robert on set with actress Elle Fanning:)

He discussed how a lot of the job is about being able to judge a performance --- to understand the rhythms of a scene in a sequence … and how the dialogue has rhythms in a scene. There is an element of timing … the beats and moments in a performance … and also making sure that the tone of the performances are appropriate for that section of the story.

All artwork and ideas for sets and locations where real actors would be working in them, and real cameras had to be able to move around, etc. had to able to translate to nuts and bolts. Those designs had to be able to be rendered by real materials and understood by the different departments in charge of producing it. The design and artwork had to be respectful of the needs of physical production ... and to scale to work with live action performances.

Since this Maleficent’s dragon is transformed from a raven --- lots of the concept art explored the use of feathers and other bird-like features. The final concept for the dragon ended up being close to the original dragon in the pitch portfolio.

In the talk, they shared Dylan's painting of the dragon fight scene that was included in the pitch portfolio. Regret I haven't yet located that Dylan image online .. but it was very similar to what ended up in the film


Here is where some of the darker elements of the environment could be explored. This is Dylan's painting:

A lot of inspiration for concept art for these scenes came from not only the animated film, but also nature and found objects. Going back to the natural world … observing and paying attention to the details there.

 The classic animated film .. and the Eyvind Earle graphic look ... was also an important reference ...


The audience was encouraged to ask questions during all phases of the presentation. In the final round of questions as the evening wrapped up, Robert addressed some of the moments in the film that didn’t make the final cut.

He described how first act of the script was much more elaborate, and a lot of that didn't make it into the final film. Also, Stephan and Maleficent were close as adults and had an actual “break-up” that didn't get included in the final film.

At the end of the presentation --- Robert discussed a bit of what this directing process has been like: “It’s like living through an earthquake…. But you like earthquakes.”

This was my first visit to the Gnomon school .. and the first time I attended one of their events. It was an impressive introduction. They are holding open house/tours in August, Sept, Oct and November. Here is link to open house info on their website

On the Gnomon School general website you can also check their "Events" page to see video from some of the previous talks. Not all the events can be posted online afterwards. No news yet if this talk will have an online version.

As an aside, I'd like to add one thing Dylan NEVER mentioned, but I want to include here for those of you reading this post who are out of the SoCal area: Dylan has 3 art courses on DVD!

These are available for sale through the school:

So why two posts and all these images ..... it's for those you who were interested in the event, but couldn't make it. These posts .. and the blog.. are here to help you experience a bit of my adventures related to books, films and art. Please spread the word about Maleficent --- it's amazing!

Will there be an "Art of Maleficent" book??? Sadly, not that I'm aware of. The closest to an art/making of book for this film is a section that appears in the just released Charles Solomon book, "Once Upon a Dream: From Perrault's Sleeping Beauty to Disney's Maleficent". Yes ... we will have the book for sale on the Stuart Ng Books website.

UPDATE 9/8/14 -- IN FACT, we've just announced a MALEFICENT BOOK SIGNING!!! We'll have four contributors to the "Once Upon a Dream" book -- Author Charles Solomon, Producer Don Hahn, Director Robert Stromberg and Production Designer Dylan Cole. The signing will be held on Sept 23rd and we're co-hosting the event with Center Stage Gallery in Burbank. Can't make the event? NO PROBLEM .. you can pre-order a signed copy on the SNB website.

And now, here's some EDITORIAL COMMENT from your friendly Bride of Bookseller..... 

A bit of commentary from me that hopefully will help YOU understand what we do FOR YOU a bit better...

As many of you know, I'm no fan of AMAZON. It's been the death of many small bookstores. Yes, Amazon does what it does very well... it brings a wide range of books (and everything else) to folks who might not otherwise have access to these items. But it's also helped fuel a culture of consumer habits that have treated brick-and-mortar stores like local hands-on catalogs where customers can "check out" items of interest, then shop for the cheapest version on line. I get it ... people want cheap goods: but at what cost???

Do customers realize these habits kill off the selection and/or variety of items available. Walmart and Amazon thrive when they overtake a market by supplying the cheapest version possible, and kill off any other consumer option. Maybe we're all okay ending up with just one brand of soap that we can all buy really cheap, but if you think about it ... don't we really want MORE purchasing power than that??

Is our shopping experience just about essentials? What about the serendipity of finding something really GREAT that wasn't exactly what you were looking for .... markets for smaller, niche items and interests .. and not to mention the loss of jobs and neighborhood amenities (like your local bookstore). We risk LOSING ALL THIS when we shop just for costs and not for benefits. Small shops and businesses are great resources --- they select items with THEIR UNIQUE CUSTOMERS in mind, and can educate their patrons about getting the most out of what they sell. Online suppliers like Amazon offer one level of customer service, determined by what's "cost effective" for them. Maybe I'm old school, but I find it charming when a shop owner takes notice of my patronage over time and I can ask them for recommendations. On the other hand, it feels kind of creepy to me when even a first-time online purchase triggers a parade of algorithm-inspired suggestions under the guise of  "Other customers who bought this also liked...." Is there more value in being a customer or a profile being tracked by machines? When we find a cool item in a small specialty store, but leave it on the shelf to buy it later online and save a few extra dollars, are we really THINKING about what we're endorsing and supporting???

As a small business, Stuart Ng Books can't compete with Amazon ... so Stuart does something different. We typically DON'T sell books that are in-print and for sale at other retail sources (Barnes and Noble; Amazon, etc). Stuart finds and provides books that you can't get from major retailers, often because our stock is small prints runs or caters to a niche market. For example, Stuart carefully selects the self-published artists sketchbooks we carry, and we are the chosen retail outlet for many artists who create their own sketchbooks, but don't want to handle mail-order sales themselves. These services we provide are LABOR INTENSIVE with thin profit margins, but they have helped us stay around while many other small booksellers have folded. It's adapt to survive for bookstores these days. There are some Stuart Ng Books listed on Amazon (because we have some patrons who don't know how to find us except through that source).

When we DO offer books currently in print and available from other sources, we try to supply them with an added exclusive that our appeals to our patrons (and they are willing to wait for). We respect that YOU have a choice where and how to spend your bookbuying dollars. When you can order the book online someplace else... why buy it from us? Usually, it involves something we try to make fun for all involved  -- a book signing !!

For example, with the Solomon book on the Art of Disney Golden Books, we hosted a signing at Tina Price's Center Stage Gallery in Burbank. We had Charles Solomon there, along with 6 Disney artists whose work appears in the book. Our patrons we able to purchase signed copies at the event .. OR THROUGH PAID PRE-ORDERS. We are usually able to include personalizations for pre-ordered copies as desired. The logistics of these events -- both on-site and in handling the mail orders -- are worth a post on their own... and you can see a bit in the post for the Disney Golden Books signing. So that's the story folks ---- Because we love these books and artists as much as you do, we try to bring you something special for the books that are current and in our niche.

Right now.... we don't have a signing scheduled for Once Upon a Dream .... BUT ... Stuart's working on it! And you're learning that first here on the blog :)

Books matter --- and your patronage is appreciated. Thanks for reading!