All posts for the month June, 2014

wagon400x270Professor Marvel’s Wagon Art.

The Wizard of Oz has so many memorable moments. One of them has always been when Dorothy happens upon Professor Marvel’s wagon with it’s lavish claims and old-world charm.

As a kid, that wagon was mysterious and a little scary, but it anticipated adventures to come. I wanted that art in some way, but short of building and painting a wagon, how do I do it? I decided that in addition to his painted wagon, the good professor probably had a couple banners to post at the local fairs and carnivals he attended. So, I decided to replicate the wagon art as a banner. Staying true to the original was the main goal, but I did deviate a bit. I wanted the banner to look like it had lived out in the real world for a while, so I added in some staining and weathering. But I kept it subtle and closer to the edges to not obscure the main art.

Sylvester300x300I first gathered reference material. Unfortunately, I didn’t find anything other than what we see in the film. But, by patching together the different shots in the film, I had enough reference to make a complete banner. One aspect of projects like this is the fun of unexpected discoveries. Because I’m scrutinizing an object so closely and gathering and comparing reference material, I often see things I never noticed before. The picture at the left was the first. This is the scene right after Dorothy leaves the Professor to head home. The storm is coming and the Professor is telling his horse, Sylvester, it looks like a whopper, “…to speak in the vernacular of the peasantry.” This was possibly the very first scene shot with the wagon, because the art appears unfinished. Compare it to the finished wagon above. “The Crowned Heads of Europe” is outlined, but not yet filled in. And the text for “Acclaimed by” and “…Juggling and Sleight of Hand” are lacking their white outlines. The scene goes by so quickly that it’s not surprising the producer’s thought no one would notice the unfinished art. Certainly before home video arrived decades later, it would take a very observant backwagon250x289filmgoer to catch this. And I found more. I had never noticed this fun, scroll-cut design towards the back of the wagon as seen to the right. Finally, the back of the wagon revealed another surprise. We all know the Professor landed in (and left) Oz by balloon. Well, the back of the wagon gives us a hint of that by adding “Balloon Exhibitionist” to the Professor’s many claims. balloon217x400This piece of art is shown briefly in the scene where Toto is helping himself to the Professor’s dinner. It is directly to the left side of the entrance to the wagon. While I’m sure others have noticed that, it was a first for me.

So, references gathered and analyzed, I began. I had to first correct the perspective out of the film frames to get an accurate representation of the flat art. I also had to decide how to handle items that were dimensional on the wagon, such as the overhanging roof. I kept the roof design as a framing element because I think it adds quite a bit and mirrors the curve of the type. I removed all traces of the actual planks on the wagon side since I couldn’t see them being duplicated on a banner any more than someone duplicating art from a brick wall adding in a brick pattern. I wanted my Photoshop file to be large, so I would have the option of printing it in various sizes. No actual fonts could be used for the lettering because it is so distinctive, so everything was drawn by hand. This also allowed me to have a rougher edge to better duplicate the look of painted art. Once the design was complete, I started weathering it down. I wanted the letters to have a texture to them like the wind and rain had taken a toll. But, it needed to be subtle enough so it wouldn’t be noticeable from a distance. It still needed to look like the art from the film.

stain400x260So, to the right you can see how this was accomplished. Once the design was complete, I created a custom brush in Photoshop that painted a dust-like pattern. I used that to selectively erase bits of the design to create the weathered texture. I also collected samples of water-damaged historical documents to duplicate the stains. A recent customer purchased this banner and emailed me once she received it. She loved the banner but was requesting a replacement because this one seemed to have been damaged in the mail. She was also confused how the banner could have gotten wet and stained, but the mailing tube was pristine. I thanked her for verifying that my Photoshop staining looked authentic and then explained. She replied that she had not looked closely enough at the photo when ordering and was embarrassed. She remained a satisfied customer. And, finally, here is the completed banner.

MarvelBanner400x221Banners are available for purchase through the Metropolis store at Just click the Etsy button below.


With a little helptbpolaroid from a Mythbuster.

I grew up loving Monty Python. I still do! So, naturally, when members of the Python troupe ventured into other projects, I followed right along. So, when Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits was released in 1981, I was there. Loved the film – even the off-beat ending. And, as someone who was soon to begin a career in graphic design, I really wanted a copy of the map of the universe from the film. 26 years later, I decided to make my own. And I received some help from a surprising source.

My interest in this map was rekindled in 2001. I’d been a fan of movie props for some time and frequented a couple web forums devoted to the subject. A board member announced his plan to recreate the map. It looked promising and took quite a while. When it was finally complete, it’s price tag was beyond my meager budget. But, I was inspired. I began collecting all the reference material I could find. In 2007, I began making my own map. But first, some background info.

randall“You see, to be quite frank Kevin, the fabric of the universe is far from perfect. It was a bit of a botch job you see. We only had seven days to make it. And that’s where this comes in. This is the only map of all the holes. Well why repair them? Why not use ’em to get stinking rich?”
– Randall, self-appointed leader of the time bandits

There were at least two different versions of this map created for the film. The map used during filming and handled by the actors exhibits different detailing and color than the map seen during the credits sequences. My map would replicate the prop used during filming. My personal theory on the different props goes like this. They created the map for filming and it took quite a beating. They may have had multiple versions there too as that’s generally the practice in case a prop is damaged or lost. After filming wrapped, they needed a map for the credits sequence. They rolled out the film map and realized it was not in the best shape. So, at that point they created a new map. It’s a very close match but not exact. Another big giveaway that they are different props is that the map seen during the film only has the clock panels on the left side. See the photo above from the famous Polaroid scene. However, the map seen during the credits has clock panels on both sides as seen below in a shot from the end credits. Note that the map is slightly cropped at the top and bottom in this shot.

creditsmapsmallOne source I found stated that the maps were created by Terry Gilliam himself. Given his talent at art and animation, this is not surprising. Gilliam created the animation sequences in Monty Python. It is believed that after filming, Gilliam kept one map and his production partner (and former Beatle) George Harrison took the other. It appears that the filming map went to Harrison while Gilliam kept the newer map used for the credits sequence. I have no idea what media or materials were used on the original map, but I’d love to find out some day.

I decided my map would have clock panels on both sides. I hoped to sell some prints of these when completed and thought having the clocks on both sides would give the most options to buyers. I began recreating the map in Photoshop. I spent about two months on the project. I kept finding details on the original that I missed. The Photoshop file was becoming enormous. Because I needed to keep elements separated for ease of future editing, the file ballooned to 188 layers with an overall file size of 1.72GB!

tbmapsmallOnce the file was complete, I had a print vendor produce a sample on canvas material. It looked impressive! You can see subtle differences in positioning of objects and colors by comparing my map on the right to the credits-sequence map above. In particular, note the color differences of the triangular graphic at the upper right. I had hoped to sell a handful of maps to help me justify all the hours spent. But, I knew if I never sold a single map I still had mine, which was the main goal. Another concern with selling maps is that, by that time, there had been two fellow fans who had made and sold replica maps. I worried that everyone who wanted one had already purchased one of the earlier versions.

By far the largest web forum for movie props is the Replica Prop Forum (the RPF). I had been a member for years. This forum is vast and its membership includes the casual fan right up to guys building props for the movies. You will see things on the RPF you won’t see anywhere else. It’s just an amazing place to be. And, they have a “For Sale” forum. So, I posted the map and received a handful of orders right away. Soon after, I received an order and an email from a fellow RPF member named Adam Savage.

“These maps are amazing. Just gorgeous! I own four of these.”
– Adam Savage, Mythbusters

mythbusters250x57Now, this part is embarrassing (and I’ve never mentioned this to Adam), but when Adam contacted me I only knew of him from postings I saw on the RPF. I just don’t watch much TV and I had no idea I was emailing the co-host of Mythbusters. And, to his credit, Adam never mentioned the show or came across as anything but a fellow Time Bandits fan. Adam said he loved the map and he had ordered two for himself. He then informed me that he had assisted in the creation of an earlier fan-made map – the very map that inspired me to start mine. That original map went through several rounds of improvements as better source material was found. Adam created some of the graphics for it (specifically the clock panels) and had been obsessed with the map since he saw the film. Adam asked if I’d be open to some constructive criticism. He recommended some color tweaks, more variance in the style of the clocks and also some random variance in the map’s background color. This added some depth to the map. When Adam saw a proof of the changes, he ordered two more. Once he received them, he proclaimed my version to be the very best he’d seen. Shortly after that, I discovered Mythbusters and became a huge fan of Adam. And, if you want to see the level of Adam’s obsessive attention to detail, watch this Fantastic YouTube Clip

scifimag! was selling maps to numerous fellow fans who were also industry insiders. I sold maps to guys who were FX artists at ILM and Pixar in California and Weta Digital in New Zealand. I sold a map to Mike Liebhold with an intriguing mailing address at the “Institute for the Future.” I contacted Mike about his job and we discussed the map at some length. Mike’s good friend and associate David Pescovitz is a co-editor of – one of the most heavily-trafficked blogs in the world. David saw Mike’s map and was compelled to post it on boingboing. He also included extracts from our emails in the article. That generated more orders!

“I gasped when I saw it. It’s stunning!”
– David Pescovitz, Co-editor – Boing Boing

I was next contacted by one of the biggest movie-geek sites around, They featured the map in their Christmas gift guide for 2007. Finally, I was contacted by Sci-Fi Magazine and the map was featured in a small blurb in their February 2008 issue. So, basically, it was a hit! Over the first few months, I made several rounds of revisions. Some were things I’d missed and others were feedback from fellow fans. I believe this is the most detailed and accurate replica yet created.


TBCloseupComp02smallMaps are available at the Metropolis store at Just click the etsy button below. Maps measure 40 inches by 24.5 inches and are printed on a matte-surface, fine-art canvas with a high-end giclee printer. Both the ink and canvas are archival for decades under most display conditions. The finest details of the digital file are duplicated as can be seen in the close-up to the left. Maps are shipped via USPS and rolled in a sturdy mailing tube.

The final image from JackDoor“The Shining”.

The Shining has been called a classic of modern horror. Everyone knows the tale of Jack Nicholson slowly and painfully going mad while spending an isolated winter with his wife and young son as caretakers of the Overlook Hotel. But the terror that unfolds is brought home to us in a more personal, visceral theme. The film, as others have noted, is basically the tale of a man who hates his family. And the lengths he is willing to go to rid himself of them. When you strip away all the trappings, that central theme is still haunting.

I’m a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick. 2001 is a visual feast I never tire of. Clockwork Orange is at times horrific and mesmerizing. And The Shining is a beautiful case study on insanity. I watch the film at least once a year and have since it was released. Kubrick altered Stephen King’s novel considerably. Not just set pieces or plotting. Kubrick changed the entire tone of the piece. He threw in elements just to add to the layers of questions that make you wonder after each viewing. None more intriguing than the final, iconic image at the end of the film with Jack amidst fellow revelers at a July 4th Ball in 1921. That final image harkens back to Mr. Grady’s statement to Jack that he has always been the caretaker.


I have recreated this image with a composite of screen shots from the HD version of the film. I have colorized each layer in the image at the left to show the various elements. As the film zoomed in on the final image, screen shots were taken to always get the best quality from each portion of the zoom. Each separate image was blended into the others to create a seamless, complete, hi-res image. I first tried printing the file to a true photograph, but the small details didn’t reproduce sharply. Plus, it’s nearly impossible these days to find a source that can produce true black and white photo prints. All digital photo printers produce prints on color paper with red, green and blue layers. So while the print may look grayscale when you receive it, over time one of the three color layers will fade faster than the other two and your print will take on a distinct, annoying color tint. So, the next avenue I explored was the world of offset printing. I found a vendor who could produce short run, hi-res printing with black ink only. So, these prints will not fade or discolor over time. The thick paper stock has a lustre finish.

Here’s the final picture. ShiningPicThey measure 8″ x 10″ and they include a 1/8″ white border. They are available for purchase through the Metropolis store at Just click the Etsy button below.