Charlie Wen - Guardians of the Galaxy Analysis

Charlie Wen is one of my favorite film concept artists, and Guardians of the Galaxy one of my favorite Marvel films.  I'm also trying to nail down a crowd scene keyframe painting in an urban environment.  Time to do some research!

The painting

The painting

The first thing that strikes me with this image is how he has simultaneously posed his main characters like bad-asses, and made it feel like there is life and movement in the image.  It's cool how he's put Starlord and Rocket basically on a flat stage, and yet there is tremendous depth!

Look at the shape design as well.  Lots of verticals, but also diagonals leading into the center of the image.  Rocket's gun, Starlords right leg, the curves of the awnings and that circular portal - they all add a rhythm to the horizontal stage and the vertical buildings.

The guy in the upper left is super daring for me.  He's pointed off camera and he's framed by himself, and yet he doesn't distract from the subject.  I think the fact that his darks key into the shadows on the wall help integrate him as an element...also, the contrast of that section is very low.

Oh - speaking of those wall shadows - look how they are design elements that don't make ANY sense based on the lighting on the foreground characters. - I buy that they are coming from something offscreen left, but why does it point right to Quinn's foot and then stop?  He's not casting it, but that's what it looks like!

2 value read.

2 value read.

Although the brights are super-bright and make this feel high key, the 2-value read tells a different story - this is actually a dark painting.  The "frame within a frame" is clearly visible, as is the fact he's used bands of light to add depth.

3 values

3 values

Here we get a strong sense that Starlord is more important than Rocket....as is that sphere he's carrying.  Almost no brights in the background at all, it's all on that stage, bringing our heroes forward.

4 value read

4 value read

As is often the case, 4 values pretty much gives us the complete painting.  Notice that even here, the dude in the upper left is still almost completely unnoticeable.  Rocket is also standing out more from the background, but still doesn't pop like Quinn.

Starlord!

Starlord!

Quinn is definitely the highest rendered thing in this painting, and even he is pretty blocky.  Highlights have been used to carve out the shapes of his form  Different areas are separated by either rimlights or extreme shadows, making him almost a drawing.  I love the use of colour and texture splatters on his coat to add interest.  Check out the warm bounce light on his boots, and the VERY warm shadow edges on the ground.

Rocket.

Rocket.

Same kind of thing going on for Rocket, but he's a lot more in shadow, and there is a lot less detail on his costume.  Still some cool bounce light, and his gun is basically just defined by black and then rimlights.  There's some interesting reds in his fur, but very little real "fur" rendering.

This is a pretty cool micro-composition, and goes a long way to adding to that sense of "place" and activity in the painting.  It's just shapes, silhouettes and colour, with some unifying texture on top.

Midground characters

Midground characters

The midground characters on the other side are almost as loose.  Notice they can be reduced to dark-light-dark-light-dark shapes, and the final 'dark' one makes Starlord's jacket pop out.  I love the guy on the steps....yes, I like loose stuff :)

Background peeps.

Background peeps.

Speaking of loose, check out these folks!  Again, dark-light-dark-light, and just there purely as suggestive forms....way more effective than using a blur to simulate camera focal length in this particular style of painting.

Learnings:

  • You can have a flat stage with a lot of depth, as long as you are conscious of using colour, tone and form to overlay each other and recede into the background.
  • Bounce light is killer
  • Your shadows don't have to make sense, as long as they make your composition work.
  • In the far background, less is almost always more.
  • Don't be afraid to put your brightest bright on the ground to make your characters pop.  Highest contrast should be around your subject, but doesn't have to be contained within it.

 

Thanks for reading, I really appreciate it!  I hope this was interesting and/or helpful :)