Prolific Star Wars artist Russell Walks runs us through the process he used to create the new Iden-focused PS4 Theme for Star Wars Battlefront II.
I made my first Star Wars drawing – in ballpoint pen on the back of an envelope – immediately after seeing Star Wars: A New Hope. It was a portrait of Luke Skywalker. Or it may have been Han Solo. Some areas around the chin looked sort of like Greedo. Honestly, it wasn’t very good, but that didn’t matter, because for the few minutes I was drawing, I was off-world, on the Death Star, shooting at stormtroopers and saving a princess. In the years since that first drawing, I’ve been creating work based on science-fiction and pop-culture for some of the most well-known companies in the world. I’ve probably drawn Luke Skywalker about a thousand times. And still, every single time the pencil hits the paper and another Star Wars drawing begins, the same sense of wonder and magic come back to me.
I was incredibly excited when the opportunity of creating a Star Wars Battlefront II inspired PlayStation theme was presented to me and had all sorts of ideas as to what could be done. In my mind I was looking for color, for action, and for a sort of “retro/propaganda” feeling, and I believe that comes across nicely in the work.
To take you behind the creative process here is that path I take on a project like this. First I spend a couple of days doing research – I’m sometimes looking for images of the characters I’ll be depicting, but I also spend time just checking out art, sort of free associating and following whatever trail the web lays out for me. In this instance, I started by looking at vintage racing posters, WPA artwork from the 30’s, and street art created by folks like Banksy and Shepard Fairey. This an important step. Inspiration is a collaborative process, and seeing what others have done almost always gives me an idea or ignites a spark in the creative part of my mind.
After I create my initial comps and share them with the group involved in the project, I sit at home in my darkened studio, convincing myself that everything I do sucks, and that at some point in the next few days, I’ll get an email firing me. (Luckily, that hasn’t happened yet, but I still get the same butterflies every single time.) I usually send a couple of ideas, and after one is selected, I begin revising, incorporating suggestions and tightening up areas that could stand to be improved. In this instance, I spent most of my time revising Iden’s face, moving from an angular interpretation to something more feminine. It was also at this stage that I decided to drop the gun and add Iden’s droid, ID10. Ultimately ending up arriving at what you can download today for free!
Although it was important to me that the pieces I created focused on Iden, my initial comps included some hints to the other characters she would encounter in her journey. Then, as I worked, and learned more about Iden’s importance in the giant, sprawling story of Star Wars, I decided that she deserved some time to herself, and dropped the supporting characters, with the exception of ID9. Additionally, while my initial intent was to depict Iden helmeted, I sort of fell under Janina Gavankar’s spell – Her enthusiasm and excitement are contagious, and entirely evident on her face. I thought it might be cool to show that, particularly since the Battlefront II story isn’t only about laser blasts and lightsabers. It’s also about doing the right thing, and finding the courage to act in the face of overwhelming odds. Ultimately, Iden’s story is also about finding her humanity, and I thought the best way to show that would be to simply show her face.
My initial attempts. It’s obvious something’s missing here. There’s no sense of immediacy, no “Call To Action”. There’s no movement here, and the viewer is on the outside looking in. Finally, the focus is barely on Iden.
These are like appetizers at a chain restaurant: They’re not very good, but they at least make you hungry enough to try something else.
Creating this piece reinforced my contention that, at least with our initial work, the best idea would be to concentrate entirely on Iden. I like this image, but, ultimately, the story we’re telling is Iden’s, and I wanted the focus to be entirely on her.
I’m on the right track here, but I don’t like either the composition or my color choices. It also occurred to me around this point that I should include another element.
So close! I don’t like the angularity here, though, nor the fact that the composition is basically the same as the other piece. It was easy to soften her face, but the compositional aspect had me stumped. Then, sometime around 2am, as I was playing the game, inspiration slapped me on the back of the head, and it occurred to me how much sense it made to drop the gun and add ID10.
I STILL felt like the backgrounds were too complicated. Dropping the third color simplified things, and I finally felt like I had achieved my goal.
I usually get the question of “Do you have an all-time favorite Star Wars poster from one of the films?”
Well I have a few!I absolutely love Drew Struzan and Charles White’s “Circus” poster. I also dig Kazuhiro Sano’s one-sheet for Return Of The Jedi, and Drew’s “Special Edition” triptych.
I look at these pieces over and over, and while they are inspiring, I don’t look for elements from them to include in my work. It’s more accurate to say that these pieces, and many, many others inspire me to do my best, and to find a new/different way of looking at a property so many of us love. It’s not a stretch at all to say that Star Wars changed my life, and if you told twelve-year-old me that this is what grown-up me would be doing for living – creating artwork for a Star Wars game! – twelve-year-old me would probably have a heart attack. Doing this is hard work, no doubt, but it’s also fulfilling, and rewarding, and most days – when I’m deep in the heart of a single-player campaign, for instance, and I’m laughing in amazement at how freaking cool Battlefront II is – I can’t believe how lucky I am.