starbucks400x266The Currency of Battlestar Galactica.

I’m a huge fan of both the original Battlestar Galactica and the new series that debuted in 2003. So let me start off with my favorite photo relating to Galactica. Here you see Katee Sackoff (Starbuck in the new series) meeting Dirk Benedict (Starbuck in the original series) at Starbuck’s. So, literally, Starbuck meets Starbuck at Starbuck’s.

Everything about the new series was epic. It redefined what could be done with sci-fi on television. Time Magazine, The National Review, Rolling Stone and New York Newsday proclaimed it the best show on television. It was sci-fi to be sure, but it was a character-driven drama first. I really wanted prop pieces from this show. Unfortunately, the most desirable items were beyond my skills to create, but I did purchase a few nice replicas. However, the paper currency used on the show had a very intriguing design. This was something I could create. Several fellow fans began making replicas of the bills. But, much of their work was based on guesses since definitive reference material did not exist. But that was about to change.

bsgfirstbills200x304In 2008 with Galactica winding down its final season, it was announced that all the props from the show would be auctioned. The auction site posted a few photos as teasers. One of the photos was a lo-res, watermarked version of the graphic file used to print the currency (shown at a reduced size on the left). They were very small, but the absolute best starting place for recreations. So, I began. The biggest hurdle with these bills was recreating the cityscape. The best reference (right) was a start, but it was difficult to make out details. bsgbuildingsSome fans had simply substituted real cityscape photos while others tried to clean up and actually use this reference graphic. I knew the only way to do this was to build up a new file of this city piece by piece. I even toyed with the idea of building it as a 3D model, but quickly abandoned that. It would be done in Photoshop and it was, by far, the most difficult part of the bills to get right. But, once completed, the work was worth it. bsglayers212x2359It adds a lot to the replicas. To witness my level of insanity, down the right side you can see all the Photoshop layers that went into the creation of the city. This is ONLY the city as I built it in a separate file before compositing it into the bills. And here is a shot of the finished city.

bsgforumSo, my bills were complete. They were a close match to the initial graphic and I offered them for sale at the largest online prop community,bsgfirstbillsmine2 the Replica Prop Forum (the RPF). I sold a few sets and was pleased. Then, the actual prop auctions began. I realized that if I could win an auction for actual, screen-used bills, my replicas could be perfected. So, I watched every week hoping the bills wouldn’t be too expensive. But, they always were. Fans were eager to pay high prices to own a piece of this show. Then I received an email from a fellow member of the RPF. He said he had won a couple auctions for Galactica bills and was hoping to win more. He asked if I’d be interested in refining my bills with his assistance. Certainly! I asked if he could possibly send high-res scans of the bills so I could see all the details up close. He replied back that I was misunderstanding him. He was offering to actually ship the bills to me. I was stunned and readily agreed!

So, over the next few months, he would ship me one bill at a time. In case the shipment was lost or damaged, he would only lose a single bill (which was well insured both ways) instead of all three. I salvaged what I could from my original files, but basically, I was starting over. The cityscape was remarkably close. It did need some revisions based on seeing the details of the real props, but nothing too drastic. However, the color scheme was a big surprise. Either the original graphic posted by the auction house was an earlier version of the file, or it was altered during printing. But the bills I was seeing up for auction, and then in person, were quite different. Also not visible were small metallic flecks throughout the bills. Unfortunately, this was a feature I was unable to duplicate. I searched for a long time (as did others) and could not find a match for the paper with the flecks. But after months of working on every detail, the new, improved bills were complete. Shown below are my replica bills next to the actual, screen used bills. The screen-used bills are on top with my replicas below.
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The prop bills from the show were often trimmed so that details were chopped off. You can see examples of that in the originals shown here. Also, the auction house placed a small holographic sticker on the back of the 1000 note. It was not present on the bills used during the show. I sold a few more sets of bills (some to previous customers) now that they were more accurate. Then I received several requests for aged bills. The examples of screen-used bills I received had been in beautiful condition, which was great because I could really see all the details. But, many of the bills in the auctions, and used on the show, were thoroughly distressed and weathered. I too wanted some aged bills for myself, so I began experimenting with various methods. The screen-used bills were not heavily stained or torn, they simply looked well-used. I eventually settled on a four-step process to wear down the bills and give them an authentic look. And here are some samples.
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Contact me if you are interested in purchasing a set of the bills.

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Crafting the Iconic Map from The Lord of the Rings.

I have been a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien for decades. I love to immerse myself in the world of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. There is such depth and detail. The scope of the work still amazes me. One author (and later his son Christopher) working for decades to create a world complete with mythology, languages, a detailed history and rousing adventures. I really enjoy all the maps Tolkien and Christopher created for the books. I’d follow along as characters made their way across Middle Earth. Later, I would buy posters of those maps and eventually draw a few myself.

Fast-forward to December 2001. The first film of the Rings trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, hit theaters. It exceeded my expectations on many levels. And as Gandalf was walking through Bag End, what does he find? The map that started it all for me from Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The map was a key element from Bilbo Baggins’ first adventure as part of a company of dwarves seeking to win back a treasure from the ferocious dragon Smaug. The map shows a secret entrance into the lair of Smaug deep inside the Lonely Mountain. It was a great moment seeing the map in that film and I decided to create a version for myself.

The original map, as seen at the top of this page, was drawn by Tolkien himself for the first edition of The Hobbit in 1937. It depicts the mountain and surrounding features – some of which are dealt with in the book such as the spiders of Mirkwood. And, as was the dwarf custom, east is at the top rather than north. A hand at the left points to the location of the hidden door in the face of the mountain. The letters (runes) near the hand describe the size of the door and the outlined runes toward the middle represent moon letters (runes only seen when the moon shines behind them) which tell how to find the door. This map was redrawn by Daniel Reeve for The Fellowship of the Ring. Daniel initially kept true to Tolkien’s original while adding some red to the dragon, the runes and the compass points. He also aged the map to look like a one hundred sixty-one-year-old document. hobbitcloseupDirector Peter Jackson loved the map and filmed the scene with Gandalf examining it. Then he had an idea. He wanted an insert shot with a close-up of the map showing the Lonely Mountain and the dragon and asked Daniel to change those features to be more visually interesting, as seen in this shot from the film. Daniel turned in his revised map and Jackson said, “Great, now I need two different sizes.” Even though the map was never handled by anyone other than actor Ian McKellen as Gandalf, in case the prop would be seen next to an actor playing a hobbit, the map would have to appear larger to show the size difference between humans (or wizards) and hobbits. Numerous props and costumes were created in both scales and the map was no exception. Daniel’s original version of the map is still visible in the film if you look quickly. hobbitoriginalHere’s the scene from the film where Gandalf first picks up the map. The inset image is rotated and enlarged and you can clearly see the mountain is a close match to Tolkien’s original.

The revised map was the version I chose to replicate. It had the most screen time and I liked the revisions to the dragon and the mountain. But finding reference material was going to be tough. Now, obviously the new mountain and dragon can be seen in the film, but the remainder of the map is not seen clearly. So, in my usual working method, I collected all references I could find. When I’d find a new image, I would add it to a Photoshop file that became a patchwork of all references overlaid on each other. I finally had enough to see a complete map. And, the work paid off. I could see that other replicas of this map simply redrew Tolkien’s original and substituted the new mountain and dragon. hobbitcollageNot a bad idea, since those were clearly the most obvious changes. But my research proved that there were numerous other changes that were more subtle. Many items were resized and repositioned. Angles of rivers, placement of text, even the size of the compass were different. Also, the text style used had a bit more flourish than Tolkien’s original. I was determined to replicate Daniel’s version with as many of his changes as I could verify.

I created this map directly on top of my references file with several custom brushes in Photoshop. Everything needed to look as though it had been created with fine brushes or pen and ink. I used overlapping strokes with differing levels of opacity on much of the larger graphics – particularly the Lonely Mountain. I made my way through every element of the map and finally had a pristine version of the film prop as seen below. I had planned to get it printed and weather it by hand. hobbitpristine01hobbitweathered01I had a couple tests printed on heavy, fine art paper and began weathering tests. I became frustrated very quickly. I was simply not talented enough to replicate the distinct edges and varying shades of aging on the map. The weathering itself almost seemed to be part of the artwork. So, I decided to use that approach. Weathering that involved stains, streaks and dirt, I would create as separate layers of the Photoshop file. Weathering that was dimensional such as tears and fold and scratches, I would add to the map after printing. So, back to Photoshop. The weathering took about as long to create as the original map graphics. But, it was worth it. On the left you can compare the same section of the map before and after the weathering layers. The weathering patterns were now a really close match to the original. A few more test prints and color adjustments and it was complete. Below is the final map as printed. The green areas indicate material to be removed to duplicate the rips and tears on the screen-used map.
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All that remained was to add in the tears, folds and scratches seen on the original. I cut away most of the green paper with a matte knife and then used a Dremel to slowly grind away the remainder so I ended up with a worn edge rather than a nice crisp cut. I carefully made all the folds in the map and lightly sanded the edges to age them. Then I added the scratches and abrasions seen in the upper corners and on the left hand side. The final, weathered map is seen below.hobbitfinal

Maps are available for purchase through the Metropolis store at etsy.com. Just click the Etsy button below.
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The Bolivian Wanted Poster from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

Boys400x288“Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” was not typical western fare when it premiered in 1969. It has all the trappings – chases, posses, gunfights, escapes – but through it all is a light-hearted sense of humor. The tone and humor may have earned it some negative reviews at the time, but it is also a reason the film has endured. That and the incredible chemistry between veteran actor Paul Newman and newcomer Robert Redford. They are possibly the most likable western criminals depicted on film. Screenwriter William Goldman said he was telling a story about the legend of Butch and Sundance more than the true facts. So, the pair did rob banks and trains. They were driven to Bolivia by a well-organized posse. And, they did die after being cornered in San Vincente. Beyond those facts, the film charts its own course around these two larger-than-life characters.

I’ve been a fan of this film since I was a kid. It’s one of those films I can watch over and over. As I was rewatching it recently, a scene caught my eye. It’s during the montage in Bolivia when the pair decide to take up crime again. A stick of dynamite explodes open a bank safe. Sundance glances down at a bound and gagged bank guard. The guard then follows the direction of the camera and looks up on the bank wall at the wanted poster for the two guys robbing his bank. “Now that would be a cool poster to have,” I thought.

BASposterThis project presented some problems. First, the only reference material I could find was the film itself. That problem fed into the others. The top portion of the poster was never seen in the film. It would have to be recreated based on a best guess and matching the style seen at the bottom. The poster in the film is shown at an angle. It would have to be stretched and skewed to get it back to correct proportions. Finally, the poster contains a paragraph of small text that is hardly legible.

So, I made a montage of screen shots from the film and corrected the size and proportions. I first tackled the portraits. I knew if I couldn’t recreate them to my satisfaction, then the project would fail. I used several custom brushes in Photoshop to recreate what resembles a charcoal rendering. It’s my understanding that back in the day, such a rendering would not have been produced on wanted posters. The shades of gray would have required a halftone screen to convert the image into solid black dots. While this method of printing was available at the time, its use was limited to high-end productions like newspapers, magazines and commercial advertising. A real poster of the time in Bolivia would have likely shown a line-art drawing of the pair with solid black ink. But, this is a movie prop after all.

BASposter2I finished the portraits and was very pleased with the result. Now on to the text. The headlines and large text areas were not too difficult. Finally, the paragraph of text was all that was left. Even the Blu-Ray version of the film was not much help. I carefully wrote down what I thought it said. I left blanks for words that were a complete blur. I tried online translators with limited success. Then my wife mentioned that several of her co-workers were fluent in Spanish. I sent them what I had and, together, I believe we nailed it. They were able to take my text fragments and apply their knowledge to decipher the blurs. Once we had the correct words, it all made sense.

BASposter3So, you’ll forgive me if I slightly blur the text in this image at the left. But here is the finished poster. I added some subtle weathering to the background. I know if the poster were displayed inside, as seen in the film, it would have likely been pristine, but an old west wanted poster with no weathering just doesn’t look right.

These posters are available for purchase through the Metropolis store at etsy.com. Just click the Etsy button below. They are 11 inches by 17 inches and printed on textured, fine-art paper.
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