James Bond, Dr No – Part 1

Back in 2018 I had started to make a concerted effort to paint larger pieces. I’d mostly been creating smaller paintings due partly to my lack of experience resulting in a nervousness to working larger but also the need to create work for sale meant working smaller I could produce more quicker. I knew I hoped to expand on the film scene pieces I was creating and wanted to dabble in the film art posters that are very popular.

This work is from a serious of posts from my Patreon back in 2018 and I’ve split up this particular group into two parts. The first part I chat a bit more openly about referencing and my plans for the piece and the second part is less chat as I get on with painting.

Photoshop rough

4th September 2018

The successful criminal brain is always superior. It has to be.

Some of you will no doubt recognise this character straight away but I’m not going to talk about the Bond films in general in this post but rather about using reference shots. I’ve talked about this subject before and it is something that I feel hampers a lot of artists and especially those who create fan art, the lack of understanding of the reference. All art tutors will tell you that you need to understand the structure and form of what you are looking at before you can capture it on paper. The classic High School art class will have you endlessly drawing and shading a sphere or apple to help you understand that you need to convey that it is a three dimensional item. The use of photography or screen grabs as reference for art is a tool only and shouldn’t be used as a single point of reference especially if you don’t understand what you are looking at.

I often see fan art online where I can instantly spot which well known image they’ve used as reference for their piece. But often there is a element missing or something that just doesn’t translate well to having been drawn exactly as the photograph showed. If you read my post last week about altering a hand on a photograph because the angle would look odd if I drew it as supplied then you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Copying a photograph means that you need to imagine how the subject actually looks in three dimensions in order to understand why it looks that way in the photograph. Often there will be highlights, shadows or strange marks that look odd unless you understand what you are looking at. I’ve shown you examples before where I make up a reference board of a character from a film, often a few major photographs will be used for the basis of the piece but having as much reference as possible is preferable. Knowing how someones hair looks viewed from behind will often explain why it looks a certain way from in front but if you use one source of information you may be successful in rendering it well enough but won’t necessarily understand why.

My next painting will be on the theme of Dr No the first James Bond film from 1962. The villain of the film is Dr Julius No who you don’t see for a large amount of the movie and when you do he doesn’t do much more than sit still and calmly look menacing. Most of the pictures you can find of the character online are of the same pose and most of the fan art you find is all based on those same photographs. At the end of the film he attacks 007 and becomes quite animated for the first time but you’ll be hard pressed to find any decent reference for this scene as it all takes place at distance form the viewer or when up close the action blurs any chance of good reference photography. For myself I enjoy the challenge to create a piece of art that I hope most people will look at and assume there must be a great piece of reference photography somewhere that I used. I hope a lot of people and especially other artists look at my art and think ‘where did he find that great reference pic’.

Deciphering the information of what something should look like is a great way to understand exactly what the photographs are showing you. A good example in this case is that Dr No has metal hands. No I’m not sure why either? He seems like a brilliant scientist so after his horrific injury you would have thought he might have come up with a better solution than the mostly useless metal hands but I’m guessing back in 1962 the bad guy having black metal hands was a villainous design choice. Anyway, the main problem when looking at photographs of his hands is that you really can’t make out what you are looking at. Apart from the fact they are black which doesn’t help you never get a good close up of them apart from when he meets his demise in a manner that was really asking for him to have taken the time to come up with something better than metal hands. So even knowing that I will paint his hands black and lose a lot of detail anyway I still feel it is worthwhile to study the pictures you can find of them and then decipher that into something you feel could actually work. I know a lot of people would argue it is a waste of time but especially if you don’t see this information in the final art but the point is is that I will understand it better and in doing so make it easier for myself to paint.

The digital rough I did of Dr No has helped me understand more than his hands in this instance. As I said he spends a lot of the film looking quite calm and the shots of him angry are blurred or from a distance so I needed to work on changing his expression while in an action pose. Apart from working out his hands I also wanted to look closer at his radiation suit which covers his clothes that you see in other scenes of the film. I could easily ‘fudge’ the detail of that when painting it but it makes more sense to understand it and in some cases even ignore the details I’ve found. For instance underneath the plastic style covering you can half make out a zipper which has been left undone at his arm, no doubt it helped the actor move better and you can hardly see it, especially not in the film, but should I paint that in? Personally I don’t think so as it would make no sense. I have to admit I enjoy this visual detective work and I think if you are an artist who looks purely at one good photograph for your reference then you are missing a vital part of the process and learning how to strengthen your work.

Tracing paper pencils

September 5th 2018

Don’t worry. I’m not supposed to be here, either.

James Bond films have been around longer than I have so obviously I grew up with them and more specifically I grew up with the Roger Moore films, the earlier films with Connery and Lazenby followed behind. Bond films come in for a mauling these days and I offer no defence of them. They are a product of their time, time which has moved on and changed. Dr No was released in 1962 and was the film adaption of the 1958 book by Ian Fleming which wasn’t the first in the Bond series but was picked due to legal wrangles and the relative cheap production costs. The film of course spawned a franchise that rumbles on to this day. Just like Doctor Who the main character changes as the years roll by and the actor decides to move on or is forcibly changed so we’ve had six actors in the film franchise as the British spy with a licence to kill.

The first Bond and to many the best was Sean Connery who at 31 was cast as Bond in Dr No and went on to star in a further six films as the character. I’m not going to attempt to analyse Connery’s version of the character or offer any morale thoughts on the actions of 007 in Dr No other than to say that if it wasn’t for Connery’s obvious charm and on screen allure we could have easily been watching a murderous anti-hero kill and rape his way through a mission sanctioned by the evil British Empire. Anyway, aside from Connery one of the stand out moments and a piece of cinematic history is the arrival of Ursula Andress as Honey Ryder in her white bikini on the mysterious and deadly island of Crab Key. Apart from some fine supporting actors the film also introduced as to SPECTRE and the start of a long line of bad guys for Bond to tackle in the form of criminal scientist Dr Julius No. A half Chinese half German played by Canadian actor Joseph Wiseman. Wiseman’s casting and make up add another mark against the film for many but there would be worse cases of cultural misappropriation to come from Bond in the future and the actor does a fine job of playing the part.

Photoshop tonal practice

I’ve still got a few elements to work out for this as most likely I will be making another movie style poster with the final image. But in terms of what I’m going to be painting then with these pencils done I’m ready to transfer the image onto my watercolour board. Often the pencils can look a bit odd as I don’t add any tone so occasionally for my own piece of mind I will quickly add tone in photoshop to an element to check that I’ve caught the look I was after. In this case after scanning in the pencils I wasn’t clear on my likeness of Connery so to hold back the fears I spent five minutes in Photoshop proving to myself that all was fine. Next I need to transfer the pencils and figure out the design for the poster as it will determine what colour the circle that frames the two characters should be.

September 6th 2018

I can assure you, my intentions are strictly honorable.

A lot of today was spent designing the first few drafts of what will be my Dr No film poster. I’d always known from the opening titles of the film that I wanted to use the graphic style in the animation sequence by Maurice Binder and Trevor Bond as part of the design. Quite a few other artists and poster creators have used this idea too when creating their own version but it is too good an element to pass on and apart from it actually being in the film it also helps with the feel of the kind of design work from the early 60s when the movie was released. As you can see from the YouTube video above the titles include that iconic Bond theme with the animation before moving onto a calypso with what would become a recurring motive for the opening titles of silhouette dancers that as the franchise continued would slowly find themselves without clothes.

Title sequence graphics

I took a pile of screen grabs for inspiration and to keep an eye on the colour combinations. Knowing that I would be using the circular motif I added the large framing circle that holds the two characters and from the beginning I thought I’d make this a light apple green colour which I’m pleased to see works well with the design I’ve come up with.

I’ve created two versions with the same design but with a big difference in the second. If possible, if I have the time, I want to paint three of the ladies from the film and add them into the poster. Although there are more female characters in the film these are the three that fans would call ‘Bond Girls’ as they’ve had the attention of James himself if you know what I mean. I’ve used photographs for the time being and I will just paint these photos exactly as they are in monotone to be coloured in photoshop in the style you see. This is all very time allowing and I do hope I can manage as at the moment it is my preferred version of the design.

The design may alter after the painting has been created and I see it in place but I think it will be pretty close to how I have it now.