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Evolution of a GOBLIN (part 1)

August 5, 2007

Redcap & Goblins

It was the first image completed (and is one of the designs I am most proud of) in Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide – and it was brought to life by the magic team of movie FX wizards at Phil Tippett’s studio – the Spiderwick goblins. Or Diabolus vulgaris from the family Adentidae, as Arthur identified them in his Guide to the fantastical world.

But how did I arrive at a new design for a creature that has been rendered countless times in books, movies, games and toys?

I’d like to share some of the thinking that went into it as it exemplifies the philosophy I used when designing many of the creatures in the world of The Spiderwick Chronicles. My hope is only to inspire others to think out-of-the-box in keeping fantasy alive, fresh, and evolving through exciting design.

Part 1 – Goblins of my childhood

I know I was introduced to goblins and fairies at a very young age through fairy tales read to me by my mom, like those of the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang. But one of the first images of a goblin that stuck in my mind was David Trampier’s pen & ink illustration for 1980’s Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (something I’ve already reminisced about in previous posts). In fact, I still have a drawing I copied from that book when I was 12 years old.

DAT’s Goblin

The D&D goblins were impish and combat attired. My guess is that they, like many of the D&D humanoids, were inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s world of Middle Earth. Yet, C.S. Lewis also mentions goblin-like creatures of the night in his Narnia books…though they may be more demon-like when one looks deeper into Lewis’ thinking behind those stories.

Froud’s Goblins

Even movies of that time, like Legend and Labyrinth, have goblins that are similar in nature – the latter, of course, were designed by the faerie mastermind Brian Froud. Brian’s goblins are more silly and humorous grotesques, possibly inspired by gargoyles that adorn many of the churches and ancient buildings in England. Or, perhaps, the British grand master of fey illustration, Arthur Rackham, inspired him.

Goblin Market

In most cases, even in images earlier than these examples, designs were built upon a small, ugly humanoid (usually green) creature whose motivations run from no-good mischief to malicious intent. Even the Green Goblin in the Spiderman comics pretty much falls into this category – and he was really just a maligned human.

BOOKS: The Monster Manual (part 3)

July 19, 2007

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Like I said before, both the original AD&D Monster Manual and the 1994’s Monstrous Manual had a tremendous impact on me both as an artist and a creator of books.

After binging out on D&D, at 13 I spent an entire summer making my own Monster Manual, which was more a field guide full of fantastical creatures from a strange island called “Gondwanaland” (after the ancient super-continent). But instead of giving statistics and game points, I wrote about natural habits, habitats, and even created scientific names for my menagerie.

I never forgot about that idea of a fantastical field guide from a naturalist’s point-of-view and that passion went into every image that I did for Spiderwick’s Field Guide – which was full of goblins, trolls, ogres and faeries – very much like the Monster Manuals.

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I still love the Tolkien-inspired world of Dungeons & Dragons. And, even though I don’t do any illustrative work for the game anymore, I still doodle out some of my favorite monsters just like I did back in 1981.

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BOOKS: The Monster Manual (part 2)

July 15, 2007

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The AD&D Monstrous Manual (MM) was my second monstrous assignment for TSR. I had just handed in the artwork for my first job, Dragon Mountain, and received a call from the MM editor Tim Beach.

It was 1992, I had just graduated from college, and was living with my parents. My younger brother, Adam, and my good friend Mike, had encouraged me to submit stuff to TSR and the Monstrous Manual was a dream-come-true project for me.

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Adam and Mike had encouraged me because they had seen the drawings I had been doing in my sketchbook for the past year of Beholders, Shambling Mounds and Mind Flayers – some of which had been in my initial submission to TSR. So when Tim called me to see my interpretation on their classic creatures I simply just sent him my sketchbook.

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At that point, he wanted me to illustrate the WHOLE book – over 300 illustrations! But the deadline was so tight there was no way I could do it, so we decided on half (which was still over 100 drawings!)

I had no money (I was still waiting for my payment from Dragon Mountain). So I used leftover school supplies consisting of pencils, Berol Prismacolor markers, and pastel pencils all rendered on laser paper. You read that right. Crappy, crummy, thin-n-flimsy laser bond paper. Of course, it works well for blending the alcohol ink for the markers, but it hardly will stand the test of time.

You can see some of my favorite finished images in the ART/GAMING section of the site. In the meantime, here are some snapshots of the sketchbook that I sent to Tim.

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BOOKS: The Monster Manual (part 1.2)

July 9, 2007

I realized that many readers may no longer have the aforementioned AD&D Monster Manual, don’t remember the art, or simply have never seen it. So, just to give an idea of how groovy it was, here are a few scans of some of my fav images from this book by artist David A. Trampier.

Hill GiantLizardmanSalamanderFire Giant
…of course, these images are © TSR/WotC/Hasbro.

It was a surreal moment for me to be able to get the opportunity to render some of these classic monsters for 1994’s Monstrous Manual, but I’ll yammer about that in the next post.

BOOKS: The Monster Manual (part 1)

July 6, 2007

As a maker of books, I am a collector of books. Actually I am a collector of many things as you will soon see in future posts.I want to share books that have affected me in some way: either by art, story or otherwise. My hope is that it will inspire other young creative minds like me or, at least, give a clue to my influences.

After the last post, I thought of focusing on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But I think I will save that one for later and, instead, hop to another book that had a tremendous impact on me: the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.

First let me tell you that I did not own this book until about 10 years ago when I bought a used copy at a flea market in Brooklyn – its true. So how could this book have such an impact on me?

It is 1981, and a game craze has swept the nation. Next to the Rubik’s Cube and Atari 2600, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D for short) has all types of people rolling dice and casting spells before it recedes to a crowd of brainy intellectuals and geeky nerds. I am in 7th grade, and I fall under that latter category.

I attend Murray Middle School (we called it Murray Mental) and I still look like I am 9 years old even though I am 12. At this point in my life I love to draw, and have done so since I was very young – but so too have other kids, so I don’t think I am doing anything out of the ordinary.

One of my good pals, Rob, has all things D&D.

I have the basic boxed set – and that I have to share that with my younger brother and sister. Rob has all the hardcover books, even the Cthulhu version of Deities & Demigods.

I have notebook paper to create my characters on. Rob has pre-printed “official D&D player sheets”.

I have one adventure, “The Keep on the Borderlands”, that came with the boxed set, Rob has every adventure module you can think of and the little lead miniatures to boot.

But my favorite thing of all that Rob owned was the Monster Manual – an encyclopedia of all the D&D monsters. Immediately I loved the simple, high-school-student-folder-doodle pen & ink drawings of David Sutherland, Erol Otus and, (my fav of the bunch) David Trampier (or DAT, as he signed his art).

AD&D Monster Manual

Trampier’s woodcut-like, tattoo-inspired graphic renditions of goblins, dragon turtles, lizard men and giants just blew me away. And I wanted to draw just like him. So I used a tried-n-true technique that all grade schoolers know, and asked, “Hey Rob, can I borrow this book tonight and bring it back to you tomorrow?”

Sure enough, he was cool about letting me take the sacred tome home where I meticulously copied as many of the images as I could before returning it. He also let me borrow it so that I could use the schools art dept. opaque projector to copy some of my favorites. In a time before copy machines, scanners and jpegs, this was the only way I could get a copy of some of these cool images for my own library. And I loved these drawings so much. I still have them to this day.

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To say that this had an impact on my art and career would be an understatement. Next, I’ll ponder on just how much of an impact it truly had…

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Sophia Marie

June 29, 2007

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Sometimes I wonder why it is I am so driven to do what I do.

I decided I wanted to write and draw stories for children my senior year in high school. My art teacher, Tom Wetzl, gave me a one-on-one assignment of my choosing for my portfolio. I chose to re-imagine and re-illustrate Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Re-reading the book had me hooked in ways it had never done before. I saw a deeper working to the words and pictures and tried to find allegories in it that I could relate to. Almost the way we try to associate to the meanings of lyrics in our favorite songs. I ended up re-reading all of my childhood favorites, House at Pooh Corner, The Lorax, Where the Wild Things Are, etc, and KNEW this is what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Anyways, I finished art school, worked for Dungeons & Dragons and bunch of other fantasy projects that were rich and rewarding to me. And all the while, I tried to sell my children’s book ideas to publishers.

Finally I was successful at doing it, and a logjam of ideas and concepts for stories (some that had been in my head since I was very young – especially one about a certain fantastical field guide) began to flow out of me. Every day, I feel like there is never enough time to tell all the stories and create all the books I want to in my life. But I never really asked myself why I HAD to do this.

There were so many directions I could have taken my art – right after receiving my degree, I tried submitting caricature and editorial work to all major magazines. I did fine arty modernism paintings in college and hung around a lot of local art galleries curious as to how one made a living as a painter. I even came pretty close to becoming a puppet builder for Jim Henson’s company. But somehow, I really only wanted to do books for kids. Why?

I suppose because I felt that if I had something to say, I wanted to say it to the younger generation and the families that surrounded them. I kept my childlike wellspring free of the clogs of cynicism and the muck of reality – no matter what Angela and I were experiencing in the world around us. I felt that was my job, my duty, to tell children to keep imagining, keep dreaming, and keep going on adventures of fun.

My idea wellspring is still very full and very unclogged. But last month, my daughter Sophia was born, and something got in my waters of inspiration that had not been there before – something that made me even more excited about doing what is that I do.

I can’t quite put my finger on it at the moment, I am still basking in the amazement and joy of this event, but I think that all the time and energy I have put into entertaining and inspiring other kids (and kids at heart) has come back in the form of a baby of my own so that I can relive and recharge my childhood as Ang and I experience the world again through her eyes. What a grand adventure this will be.

Never Abandon Imagination Tony DiTerlizzi: Never abandon imagination.

Imagination is a world of possibility that exists within each of us. It is what makes us uniquely human. It is our creative fingerprint that touches and influences the world around us. Imagination is essential to art and science; to innovation and prosperity. It gives us hope, calls us to action and leads to change.

Whether it’s fairies, dragons, robots or aliens, all of my children’s book characters are siblings born of my imagination – an imagination strengthened through years of encouragement from family, teachers and friends. While so many others abandoned it during their transition from childhood to adulthood, I fiercely held onto mine, hoping for a day when I could share it to inspire the next generation of dreamers. Innovators. World changers.

Imagination empowers us to envision and create a reality of what could be. We must hold it dear, foster it and never abandon it.