A few weeks ago I received an email from the art director of Wired magazine, inquiring if I would be interested in a quick editorial illustration. I was recommended to her from a fellow diorama artist Thomas Doyle. Thanks Thomas! I owe you one. The project was a photograph to accompany an article on the end of the Harry Potter franchise. The last Harry Potter movie arrives in theaters this July 15. I jumped at the opportunity after hearing what kind of image they were looking for, a miniature funeral scene atop of one of the books, or the stack of books. When I read this description, I immediately had a picture in my mind of how I wanted it to look. But this doesn’t mean my idea matches their idea. So after consulting with Kathleen, she sat down and started making sketches. I went to work on procuring the needed art materials, because there is always something I don’t have ready to go in the studio. Sketches are great because it helps nail down what I’m able to do in the studio, and the magazine gets an idea of what I can deliver. Alice Cho, the art director was fantastic in expressing what they were looking for, yes to the creepy tree, no to the coffin idea, yes to the grave dug out of the book, no to the tombstones. It’s taken me several years to figure out what questions to ask. The single most important thing is to not get too married to your original ideas because they will change throughout the process. I’m being hired to give them a certain look, the “Lori Nix” look. I’m not being hired to create high art.
After we got the green light we headed off to Barnes and Noble in search of hardback Harry Potter books. We then took a ruler and eyed how large the creepy tree should be, and also what scale figures would work best standing around the grave. I started immediately making the tree form out of wire, lots and lots of twisting wire. After two days of wire twisting, the tree was ready to hand off to Kathleen. We knew how we wanted the bark to look, twisted and old. The perfect material is called Magic Sculpt, a two-part epoxy clay that hardens in three hours. The beauty of this stuff is that it’s non-toxic and easy to work with. Thank you Complete Sculptor. The next day I went off to the day job and Kathleen began to carefully put on the epoxy. It’s a slow process and not to be rushed. Three days later the tree is done, hardened and ready to paint. Let me just say right now how happy I am the magazine wasn’t looking for leaves on their trees.
Next come the figures. We’re not very good at sculpting people without them looking really cartoony. What we can do is modify an already static one. Unfortunately we chose an odd scale of figure for the scene, bigger than O scale 1:45, smaller than G scale 1:22.5. We like an in between scale at 1:32. Unfortunately, not many figures come in this size, but the ones we find can be modified to our needs. I’m just thankful the local railroad hobby shop has a great selection of figures. Thank you Red Caboose.
Now it’s time to create the grave in the book. With this project I treated myself to a new Bosch jigsaw, the perfect tool for the job. It emotionally hurt me to cut into the book, but after a few quick runs of the jigsaw, a nice rectangular hole was left. I took the loose pages and punched out leaf shapes to create a literary dirt pile next to the grave. Kathleen worked the figures over with super matte paint, giving one of the figures a Gryffindor scarf. Kathleen’s part of the process is finished, now it’s up to me to create the sky, model the lighting and start photographing.
This project was quick from start to finish. Friday I was emailed about the job. Sketches created over the weekend to arrive at Wired electronically on Monday morning. Received the thumbs up Monday afternoon and immediately started sourcing materials. Wire, epoxy and figures were picked up on Tuesday. Kathleen works on the tree for the next four days. Yes it takes that long. Sunday evening all parts have dried and we begin to set up the scene. I shoot late into the night, experimenting with light, fog machine, camera angle and more light. I get to bed around 1:30am but toss and turn all night because I don’t feel like I’ve achieved the best shot just yet. Monday morning I send Kathleen off to her day job and I go about rearranging the lights and background and start fresh. I like what I’m seeing so I send jpegs to Wired. The only thing that’s saving me is I’m on New York time and Wired is on California time. The four-hour time difference is keeping me from freaking out. I wait for Alice to say yes or no to the finals. She replies with a request to make one simple change. I’m on it and within two hours I have a final image uploading to California.
I enjoy commercial work. It always challenges me in unexpected ways. For a small time, I get to live outside of my head and inside someone else’s and create images that I would never create for myself. I also use these opportunities to work with new materials and experiment with new approaches. The secret to this success was asking the right questions, being flexible, and keeping the outcome on a realistic timetable. Short deadlines can really release the creative flow. And I honestly thrive under deadlines.