While I was straightening up the studio for the “virtual tour” I took the opportunity to tackle a few drawers that seem to fill mysteriously with various odds and ends, stray sketches and things like that. I came across a bunch of roughs for a job dating back over 3 years ago now that I thought would make for an interesting study. This job doesn’t qualify as a “Freelance Nightmare”, but it does serve to demonstrate why it’s always a good idea to establish payment stages with any job… especially ones for new clients you do not know or have a relationship with. Some jobs seem to trigger a red alert in your head, and you know it’s one where you need to get some money up front. This wasn’t one of those, but it ended up where I was reliant on the client to do the right thing and pay me for the time I had put in to a project that went nowhere.
Several years ago I got a call from an art director at Disney Design, a division of the Disney empire that works on all kinds of projects from merchandising to packaging to promotional materials for the Mouse. He wanted me to do a series of caricatures of the rock group Aerosmith for a line of merchandise they were putting together. In Disneyworld’s MGM theme park, there is a ride called the “Rockin’ Roller Coaster”, and like most Disney rides it isn’t just a ride but involves a theme and storyline. The coaster is entirely indoors in the dark, and the cars are made to look like a limousine. When you stand in line, you go by a “recording studio” that uses a huge screen to make is seem like the band Aerosmith is behind the mixing board, talking with you. To make a long story short, they invite the crowd to their concert, which is on the other side of L.A. and starts in just a few minutes. They have a very fast limo waiting for the riders. You get in the cars and listen to Aerosmith music while you are tossed around like a straw in the wind. A fun ride.
Like most Disney rides, you don’t just exit the ride after you are done. Oh, no… Disney is too smart for that. After nearly every ride at Disneyworld, the exit opens into a gift shop full of ride-related merchandise that you have to walk entirely through to get back outside. In this case the shop is full of Aerosmith and other rock and roll stuff. I bet you didn’t know you can buy a set of drumsticks or guitar picks with “Walt Disney World” logos on them while at the theme parks, did you? Disney Design wanted to create some caricature related merchandise of the band. There would be shirts, keychains, magnets and who knows what else made with the images. Sounded like fun, and it’s hard to imagine a more caricature-able group than Aerosmith.
There was one caveat, however. Apparently Aeorsmith, and in particular Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, are notoriously picky about images of themselves. Uh, oh… red alert! They would be reviewing the images personally and I’d need to make them happy. Having celebrities review their own caricatures for approval never has a positive outcome, but I had a go of it anyway. Here are the sketches of each. I didn’t spend much time on them as they were the first round:
I was pretty nice to them, especially to Perry and Tyler, two of rock’s most, uh, unique looking people. In fact, I didn’t care much for the Tyler one, but I went for glamorous and figured I’d be redoing it anyway.
The art director at Disney kept telling me they had submitted the drawing to the band but hadn’t gotten any feedback yet. He said they are always very slow about that kind of thing. I’ll say they are… two years went by! Turns out Tyler hated everything about the idea and especially my artwork, and nixed the whole thing. I had not made any provisions about getting paid for the initial sketches, and Disney had decided to abandon the project but didn’t bother to get back to me. Eventually we agreed on a fee for the pencils. It wasn’t much, but I didn’t spend much time on it so I was okay with the end result.
There are two morals to the story: One, always have some stipulation in an agreement for a fee after the pencil stage so in case the project falls apart you have a clear cut amount of payment to expect. Two, if you are contracted to draw some pampered, vain, aging rock stars who will be approving their own images, start out by savaging them brutally so in case the project falls apart you at least have the satisfaction of knowing you ripped them a new one and they saw it before it all came crashing down.
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