Sunday Mailbag

August 8th, 2010 | Posted in MAD Magazine

Q: When you’re doing a piece for MAD, where do you get your reference material? Does the movie company send you a variety of production stills? Do you just do an image search online?

A: That process has changed a lot over the years, even in the relatively short time I have been with the magazine.

Back in the old days when MAD sold close to (and once over) 2 million copies of each issue movie studios actually lobbied MAD to do a parody of their films. Not with bribe money of course, but by by sending them the press kits and even inviting their writers/artists to a film’s premiere. Getting your film featured in MAD was great publicity and was considered an honor, even though MAD typically ripped it apart. A film’s “press kit” had 8″ x 10″ glossy production photos, placards, cast photos and other goodies. Theaters would place these items in shadowbox displays for the films they were showing… of course these were also the days when there was one film showing on one screen in a theater. That was before my time. Nowadays movie studios go out of their way to make sure as little of their film’s details are known prior to the release, especially the big blockbusters. They tightly control the release of images and story plot. Certainly they don’t care if they are parodied in MAD, and don’t actively seek to be satirized by them. So, we are on our own as far as getting images for the artwork on a movie parody.

I’ve got an interesting story about those movie press kits. Back in 1999 I wrote and drew a sample movie parody specifically to show to MAD art director Sam Viviano, who was going to be a guest speaker at a mini-convention for the National Caricaturists Network. The movie I chose to do was “Godzilla”, the pretty awful 1998 remake starring Matthew Broderick. I found Broderick a challenge to draw because he had this ageless sort of baby face and there didn’t seem to be a lot of really good recent reference pictures of him at the time. I did an internet search on him and ended up on an eBay auction for the original press kit for “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”. He was of course a lot younger in those pictures, but beggars can’t be choosers. Looking through the scans of the pictures in the auction the images looked awfully familiar to me, so I dug through my old copies of MAD until I found the issue with the Mort Drucker drawn parody of that film. Sure enough, each picture in the press kit could be matched up to individual panels that Mort had drawn in the parody. It was pretty instructive (and cool) to be looking at what was obviously the very reference that Mort was looking at when he did that parody artwork. Clearly the press kit for “Ferris” was the primary source of reference he used.

Back when I first started with MAD in 2000, they sent me a pile of printed out photo references one of the interns or art staffers put together along with the boards and script. After a while they stopped doing that and I was totally on my own finding reference. I use a variety of sources… if the film is already out in theaters I of course go to the film and pay attention in the places that I know I’ll be drawing panels for. I sometimes take a sketchbook and doodle notes and quick impressions. I do internet image searches for each individual cast member and put together a page of reference for each character with a variety of angles and (hopefully) expressions. I try to get as many references of them in character from the actual film as I can, but that is usually limited to a few official publicity stills that are shown over and over on articles about the movie. I’ll also use pictures of cast members from other recent films or just from paparazzi shots I find online. Sometimes I’ll rent a DVD of a film an actor might have recently been in and do a few image captures from it.

One great resource are the online trailers for films. These usually consist of very short bursts of imagery and some quick dialogue that I can do screen captures of. Sometimes I get some decent reference of the actors but mostly these are good for getting images of environments, costumes and other details. I’ll put together several pages of these stills for key scenes that I can refer to for those kinds of elements. Most films these days have multiple trailers with different scenes and images in each… teaser trailers, full trailers, alternate trailers. Very useful.

Thanks to Ed Placencia for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!

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