Making Magic: Halloween Love Talks to Digital Art Master Casey Callender

Casey Callender Interview

This week my quick-fire Q&A features a chat with mega talent Casey Callender, an artist I have been following with great interest for some time. For many reasons his work represents the kind of art I desperately wish studios would once again embrace in an official way for movie promotion … it’s infused with that special ‘something’, a hint of magic that I can’t clearly explain, but it reminds me why I fell in love with poster art in the first place.

There is a searing intensity to the light within Casey’s work that gives each piece an almost dreamlike quality. He is capable of near photo-realistic final results but you still know you are looking at highly skilled illustrations which is balancing act I personally love and really admire. He probably won’t thank me for this, but I recently described him as a digital Drew Struzan when a friend asked me to describe his work.

Casey produces art that pays tribute to movies across many genres, he doesn’t focus exclusively on the world of horror and monsters like many artists I have spoken to, but when he does enter that realm, great things can happen. He has been a joy to communicate with and the time and effort he put into his answers didn’t surprise me one bit. I hope some young aspiring artists out there get to read this … it’s a wonderful insight into what can be achieved when you combine passion, ability and some good old fashioned hard work. Take a look …

Casey Callender Legend Art

Halloween Love: First of all can you tell me about your journey to this point. Were you artistic / creative from a young age?

Casey Callender: “From my earliest memories it seems like I have always been drawing, painting, or scribbling doodles when I probably should have been doing homework in grade school. From my first experiences with a crayon to the evolution into my first foray using digital tools as a teenager, developing my creativity through visual art has been with me from the very beginning. I was truly born with a desire to create and as I’ve gotten older my desire and passion to create has only grown that much stronger with no signs of slowing down.”

“When I was about 14 years old, one of my closest childhood friends introduced me to one of the earliest versions of Adobe Photoshop on a small early model Apple computer. For me, that was the turning point in my artistic journey and I have not looked back since. I still sketch and draw traditionally and my love for the traditional art remains, as I firmly believe it is a crucial core part of becoming skilled at digital methods, but without a doubt my workflow regarding any freelance or gallery work is 95-100% digital these days.”

“While it seems technology advances at a dizzying speed, I try not to get caught up in the bells and whistles that digital tends to offer, rather, my style and technique are very traditional in approach. I’ve never really been all that concerned with process as an art form itself such as you might see with more traditional mediums. I find that I tend to be more focused on achieving the intended end result using whatever methods necessary to reach my visual goal. Thus far, digital has allowed me this freedom. I rely heavily on sketching, laying down value, color etc., and working digitally I’m allowed complete and total control to correct any mistakes or if I change my mind about a design I can alter a print quickly and effectively without destroying the design itself. No other medium can offer that in the way digital does with such speed and accuracy.”

Casey Callender Twilight Zone Art

HL: I first became aware of your work after discovering some of your poster art online. Can you give me a basic idea of the process involved when you create a new movie poster piece from start to finish.

CC: “Sure. The most important element of any new print release, beyond technique, beyond design, is that I come to it as a fan first and foremost. For me, being a fan of the subject matter is as essential as having the proper tools to create the vision for my design. Fortunately for me, there’s a lot of subject matter in pop-culture, particularly movies that I’m quite passionate about.”

“Once excitement and enthusiasm for the subject matter has been established then I go to work researching and referencing as much material as I possibly can to help get inspiration for my design. This usually takes several days, sometimes a week or more, as I tend to be quite thorough in my research for a new poster design. Reference material can range from watching a film multiple times over a couple days (this is practically required for film inspired prints that I create), researching the history of the subject matter while paying close attention to details of a film that the average viewer might have missed but a hardcore fan would recognize and appreciate, acquiring other physical references such as books, action figures, various collectibles and pretty much anything in between that might help my design come to life and that the fans of my work will appreciate.”

“After all my reference material has been organized and laid out I begin the conceptual phase which usually involves sketching and blocking in shapes to figure out how best to create a visual flow in the poster. After that, I focus on value working strictly in black and white while slowly moving into detail. From there, I focus on color which tends to take the most time after which I’ll spend days refining the end results, tweaking the line quality, contrast, color etc. This may result in 5, 10, 20 sometimes 30 or more variations of a single print, many of which never see the light of day where the general public are concerned. My personal motto concerning my own art is, “It’s never good enough”, and for me it really never is. It can always be better. I’ve never released a print where I was 100% satisfied with the end result, maybe 95% on a really, really good day but never 100%. However, I can find enough reason to part with it and see it released without losing my mind.”

“I’m a firm believer that my knowledge as an artist should always be open to experimenting and learning new techniques, particularly where design is concerned. For some designers when they hit a creative block they occupy their mind and time with something else, hoping to diffuse their creative block and it certainly works for many people. For me, I tend to be a bit stubborn and rather than walk away and take a break I dig in deeper and refuse to give in when the ideas won’t come easily. With time I’m finding that if I stick with it and keep thinking and pushing myself, the ideas will come but that’s not always the case. It’s an ongoing struggle and something I’m still learning to do. A recent good example was a print I was creating based on The Fifth Element. I spent days researching, prepping, doing mock designs only to hit one of the greatest creative blocks I think I’ve had in years. So, I put away the design with hopes to finish it another day. Typically I can push through a block, but I met my match on that poster. I can look back and see designs I’ve created in the past that to me are sub par, in fact there’s some I’ve made that when I see them now I actually cringe. Again, if you’re always working to be better you’ll see mistakes and learn from them as time goes on. This is the core of my process. Work hard and you’ll eventually be able to achieve the creative results you’re after.”

Casey Callender Jaws Art

HL: It’s possibly an overused term these days, but have you had any of your work go ‘viral’ in a big way? I personally have seen your JAWS art ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat’, a lot in recent months.

CC: “Absolutely. One of the first big splashes my work made was with the character Bane from The Dark Knight Rises. I created a portrait of the character for fun but some months later Warner Bros. wound up buying the design for potential use with merchandise based off the movie. It was a great boost to get me motivated to keep creating new work. Since then, my JAWS piece certainly garnered a good bit of interest with fans of the film and is one of my favorites and I also had a portrait I did of Clint Eastwood’s “Man with No Name” character which fans seem to really enjoy (this will get a limited edition release at some point).”

“Most recently I’ve been working on a new Blade Runner print that fans of the cult classic seem pretty excited about based off of the reactions of the preview I’ve released. Blade Runner is my favorite film of all-time so I wanted to create a print that represented the iconic visuals of the film, however the film has several, therefore I’m creating a few variations of the print that I think fans will enjoy. I’m reasonably pleased with the end result and I hope to have this new release available for purchase at the end of this month through the Hero Complex Gallery in Los Angeles.”

Casey Callender Bane Art

Casey Callender Pennywise From IT Art

HL: When we first started to communicate you mentioned that you enjoy horror but don’t have a strong passion for it. would I be correct in assuming the horror art you have produced features movies and characters you did connect with? Such as Pennywise from ‘IT’ …

CC: “Correct. While I would not consider myself a huge horror fan in general there are certainly iconic films I’ve seen that have stood out in my mind, IT being one of them. While I may chuckle at him now, Pennywise terrified me as a kid.”

“I’m not into gore, that’s not really scary to me at all. Scary to me is what you can’t always see or hear, this is what made Jaws so incredible. While Jaws might be considered more of a thriller, for me, it was far more terrifying and horrific than say a zombie movie would be. Jaws was infused with heightened reality, it was something that had the potential of being real. A massive shark that you never see coming and then viciously bites its victims in half amidst a bubbling frenzy of water, blood and screaming. That’s the stuff nightmares. That’s horror.”

Casey Callender Alien Art

HL: Always a tough question, but do you have a finished piece you are most proud of? Perhaps something that exceeded your expectations when completed or got the biggest reaction online?

CC: “To be honest, the Bane portrait was something I never expected to get that much reaction from folks and I’m still a bit stumped why people enjoyed it so much. It’s easily received thousands of online hits from various sites around the web, with nearly 40k on DeviantArt alone. As for anything current, I think I’m most proud of my recent Blade Runner print. I had a vision in my head of what I wanted it to look like and for the most part, I got there. As I’ve stated before, it’s not 100% right on the money for me but there’s nothing more I can do right now so I’m leaving it alone, otherwise I’d tempt the fates and mess it up. Sometimes you’ve got to leave well enough alone.”

Casey Callender Blade Runner Art Variants

Casey Callender Legend Darkness Art

HL: What do you think of official movie posters in todays market?

CC: “Studios and marketing agencies no longer concern themselves with the magic and art of the illustrated movie poster. It’s all about quick, easy and cheap, and in my opinion it shows in almost every run-of-the-mill photo manipulated poster that Hollywood cranks out. Sure, there are some nice designs to arrive from time to time but in general the classic illustrated movie poster is a thing of the past. I can remember as a kid going to a theater, and while I didn’t know who he was at the time, seeing a Drew Struzan movie poster and being completely captivated by the power of the imagery which only excited me that much more to see the film. It’s sad that the days of John Alvin, Drew Struzan, Bob Peak, Richard Amsel and so on are long gone.”

“I still dream (emphasis on the word dream here) that one day major studios will offer up illustrated movie posters again on various promotional movie marquees, as collectible prints in theaters (which some do from time to time) and there will be a renaissance in the industry where digital and traditional will meet in the middle and fans will once again see the magic and artistry of the illustrated movie poster. It’s a fun thought that will almost certainly never come to pass. That said, at least we have the resurgence of movie poster artists emerging from pop-culture art galleries and various creative media outlets that have boomed, creating their own designs as not only artists but fans of these films, reminding people just how powerful a promotional tool illustrated movie posters can still be with a particular fan base. So in a sense, all is truly not lost.”

Casey Callender Duel Poster Art

HL: Finally, what does the immediate future hold for you? Any upcoming plans or projects you can talk about?

CC: “2015 is shaping up to be a big year for me with many new, exciting print editions lined up for release. Add to that I’m continuing to pursue development of my first intellectual property, which currently has the working title of “Kingdom of Zeu”. It’s a massive, complex alternate universe of characters, creatures and environments that I’m currently fleshing out to be published into a novel or possibly character/universe bible that would lead into spin-off stories based around the more prominent characters.”

“It’s a massive undertaking inspired from ideas that have been brewing in my mind since I finished grad school nearly a decade ago. I don’t want to get too much into the specifics but the story, visuals, etc. are very much versed in the same styles and approaches as some of my favorite films growing up. Long term my ultimate goal would be to have the stories optioned and turned into a feature film or series of feature films, as the look and feel of this project certainly lends itself to film. Thus far things are progressing nicely and I’m really excited to continue pushing the project along this year.”

Casey Callender Dracula Art

On behalf of everyone here at Halloween Love I want to say a huge thank you to Casey for taking the time to be involved. To see much more of his work you are only a Google search away or zoom over to his facebook page and give it a ‘like’ to keep up to date with his latest news.

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