Sunday Mailbag- Finding Reference?

November 5th, 2017 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Whenever I need to browse the internet for a reference I worry that any photo that comes up has been and is being used by a hundred other artists. We’re all referencing the same 2004 Prius or photo of Johnny Carson! So I try to find videos for my reference material so I can pause the subject in a way that is hopefully different from everyone else’s reference photo. Do you ever run into this? You must reference a TON when putting together a parody.

A: Everybody uses the web to search for reference these days, so it’s common to be working from the same pool of images as reference and to see the same photos over and over. That said, I am never concerned with if someone else has used the same reference photo because every artist will interpret that photo differently, and you will never end up with the same results. I am much more concerned with finding references that give me a good example of an atypical expression or “look” that is immediately identifiable with the subject. If a hundred other caricaturists have used that same photo, cié la vie.

As for video, I often do screen caps from either movie trailers or TV shows and put together a folder of pics of the various actors in character when I do a parody for MAD. These are MUCH better for reference because most pics you see on the web or wherever are posed in both angle and expression, loaded with makeup, and in some cases digitally touched up. Pictures of celebrities in major magazines are practically worthless for those reasons. The best magazines for reference, when I used to get magazines for reference, are the trashy tabloids like OK or In Touch, that feature paparazzi photos. Those are raw and unstaged pics that have the best chance of capturing the subject as they really look, not as they look under staged lighting with a pound of makeup on and after someone went to town on them in PhotoShop. Videos capture them moving around and with real life (sort of) expressions. You see and notice things about the subjects that still, staged photos don’t show you.

Videos also allow me an almost infinite amount of choice as to which expression or look I want to capture as well as different angles. Actors from films and TV shows have certain “looks” or expressions that are a key part of the characters they are playing, and I want to get examples of those looks so I can get them right in the parody. I also play the show or loop the various trailers on my computer when I am drawing the parody so I see them in action as I am working… that helps me get their characters right.

Thanks to Corbett Vanoni 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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