No Man's Land, first painting of the series
During the recent World Cup Series, Anheuser Busch ran a series of TV ads during breaks in the action. Entitled, “Rise As One,” it retold the story of the 1914 Christmas Day Truce that happened in the first months of WW1. If you’re not familiar with the history, it’s a touching story of how the soldiers in both the German and British trenches established a brief peace all on their own, and ventured out into No Man’s Land on Christmas morning, to play a friendly game of football. Soccer.
One hundred years later, I was contacted by Tarras Productions and asked if I could do a few paintings to give the film a more personal, and special feeling. I was immediately excited as this is the power of painting, to touch the heart of the subject in a way that allows the viewer to complete the scene in their own way. My paintings were to capture the feeling of those moments the agency had in mind.
The British trenches
At our first meeting, the art director thought that they might need 4 to 6 paintings to express the events of the day. They thought that my oil paintings would be a good fit, but they were also looking at a few other artists. They hadn’t made up their minds yet, and their client, Anheuser Busch, was inclined to work with a comic artist.
During the meeting, I quickly realized that if I was to get this job, I had to sell my work right then and there. I had to push them in my direction as I really wanted the assignment. I love that time in history and I thought that my paint would give the film the weight and gravity needed to pull off the emotion of the event.
The German Trenches
I explained how the oil paint would bring out the feel of the mud, the grime, the awful conditions of the trenches, and the depressed facial expressions of the men. I described how the colors could be muted for effect to enhance this, and how a few accent colors could grab attention in certain places.
Part of an actual trench maintained in Europe
The meeting went well. They loved my work and told me as much. I offered to help find a good comic artist match for them, if indeed the client ultimately went in the direction. It’s always good to help share the work in the field. They said they’d get back to me.
They always say that. I figured I’d lost the job.
That was New York, and I was due to fly back to Oregon the next day. Once back in my studio, I scratched up a page of thumbnails to show them what I was thinking, based on our conversation and some notes they’d sent. A few days later, I got an email from the AD/director who asked if I could possibly do a sketch that looked like a comics page. I knew what they were going for. If they wanted to use me, I was going to have to show that I could handle storytelling in a panel-to-panel approach.
Photo of the real Capt. Hamilton
One hour later, I’d sketched the page and sent it off. Twenty minutes after, I got a call. They loved it, but.....”could you add a little color?”
“I’ll get back to you.”
Two hours later, I’d sent them a full color rendering of the page. (I’d developed a speedy way to do this: print out the page on copy paper and paint right on it. It dries really fast, and be can scanned immediately.) They were elated.
That’s what sold them and they showed it to Anheuser Busch. The job was mine.
Photo of the real Lt. Zemisch
All we had to do now was figure out the timing and payment, etc. But they had something bigger in mind. They’d decided that they needed more paintings. Thirty of them, in fact. Yikes. So I asked when they needed them.
“But...that’s three paintings a day. With research, sketches, and sketch approval, that’s not gonna happen. I’m pretty fast, but no one’s that fast. Not in oil paint.”
“We’ll get back to you.”
They must be insane, I thought. That’s it, the job’s gone. But they called back the next day. They had a better deal. They only needed twenty-four paintings. They took away six, yet, they still only had two weeks.
“That’s two paintings a day.” But it didn’t matter, the deadline was set. I wasn’t sure how I’d do it, but I figured I just might make it, if they allowed me to send thumbnails and they’d ok each painting based on those. They were happy to hear that, and agreed. Then they mentioned the gallery shoot.
Stray shell that landed in Hamilton's dugout, but didn't detonate...
They planned to put the paintings in a gallery and shoot them at a ‘faux opening,’ with patrons wandering about, looking at them.
“Wait, wait--how big do you think these are gonna to be?”
They thought they were going to be gallery-sized scale, perhaps three feet across for each. I politely informed them it wasn’t possible to cover that much canvas in the time alloted. But thinking on my feet, to keep the job, I told them that I could paint them much smaller, then have them shot by Gamma One Conversions, who could also blow them up to whatever scale they needed for the gallery setting, printed on canvas. On camera, viewers would never be able to tell if they were original or not.
They loved that one. After conference calls, technical talk, budget clearance, and much concept discussion later, I was good-to-go. Huzza!
Signalman Brookes in his dugout...
I figured if I could find just the helmets for reference, I could freehand everything else. That proved a little difficult after calling all over the country and coming up short. I eventually found a WW1 German helmet and a doughboy helmet at a surplus store not even three miles from my studio. Figures. Should’ve called them first.
The thumbnails shown throughout the post are what I drew while looking at tons of WW1 trench reference. The art director signed off on them and I went from there. First step was to shoot reference of my model: me. I posed for every single figure in the series. I had to. There was no time to line up models.
Starting Friday, March 14th, I had to hit two paintings a day. I figured as I went along, I could adjust earlier paintings while working on the latest ones. My daily schedule was this: Up at 8 am, sketching by 9, getting ok’s by noon, shooting reference and drawing directly to canvas and getting one painting done by 6-ish. Drive to Starbucks, sit and stare over a mocha for one hour. Back to painting until midnight. Watch something until tired by 1am. Back up by 8 am.
As is usually par for the illustration course, everything goes belly-up when you most need it. My stupid email program decided to download every email I had in the dang Cloud onto my laptop. It jammed the thing up tight, while I deleted files for hours. Then my iPhone stopped working, and went into a perpetual boot-up loop. The scanner crapped out, and I burned out a photo lamp late at night while shooting. No backup.
But in the first couple of days, I managed to basically finish five paintings. I shot them and sent the images to the AD for clearance. He loved them. Minor adjustments. So far so good. I pinned those first eight pieces to the wall and started in on the second set, making good progress and staying on target.
But one week in, it all started to unravel.
First, the client had multiple changes to several of the pieces. Not bad, but time-consuming. Second, I was nearly half-way through the paintings when I started losing energy. I slowed down, finding it more difficult to stay focused, and my output dwindled.
I made all the changes, though, packed the first five paintings and shipped them to Gamma One for high rez scans, allowing just enough time for them to get the shots.
That’s when Fedex lost the package.
Next post: trying to find the package while finishing up the next set...with twelve to go.
Signalman Brookes running a message across No Man's Land