On the eve of both projects release, we talked to Pardee about getting to see a Mecha-Bunny he designed in IMAX, whether he’s jealous of all the attention Directors get, and also his Charlie Sheen Tiger Hats. Yes, seriously:
MTV Geek: Let’s talk Sucker Punch! What exactly was your role on the film – or rather, the lead-up to the film?
Alex Pardee: My role on the film was basically “The Luckiest Artist In The World.” Seriously. The surrealism of the whole experience has yet to hit me, but the ride has been so much fun that I couldn’t label my role as anything else. In reality though, my creative role was varied, and it seemed to snowball from smaller to larger as the movie developed.
I got hired on originally to create the logo and the first piece of promotional artwork for the film back in 2009 when they announced the film. Then a few months later, after the film had been in pre-production, I got a call from Zack to see if I wanted to take a shot at designing the katana that the main character, BabyDoll, uses in her action scenes. I had never designed weapons before but there was NO way I was going to turn it down. So I agreed to take a “stab” at it.
Zack and I are fans of taking existing ideas and pushing them, so the challenge was taking a traditional katana design and make it unique. So aside from redesigning the handle, and the tsuba (the metal part on the base of the blade), I had the idea of creating a graphic to engrave on the entire length of the blade that would basically TELL the story of the film through symbols and artwork, which was definitely not traditional, as katanas usually have some small engravings on them, but never on the whole blade.
So before I knew it, I was working with a blacksmith and a prop master and these master engravers and actually designed and BUILT a sword from scratch! The sword turned out great so Zack asked me to do a gun, and a couple of small background props, and then all of a sudden I was helping design a big burlesque stage set piece that was like 50 feet tall and designing little signature art pieces that were scattered throughout the world (like the bunny face on the big MECH from the poster). It was crazy. It still IS crazy.
Then once post-production started I got called back in to help create a lot of new illustrated marketing materials for the film to showcase at the San Diego Comic Con in 2010, which only continued the surreal experience.
Geek: I can imagine… Okay, let’s take a big step back: How’d you get in touch with Zack Snyder in the first place?
AP: I had met Zack early in 2009 when I created a “Watchmen” painting & print for the 2009 New York Comic Con and we had formed a quick friendship and mutual respect of each other’s crafts. I am a big fan of his films (say what you want to about remakes, but I challenge you to find a more incredible 10 minutes of film than the beginning of Zack’s “Dawn Of The Dead” remake), so to get his friendship and support from him and his whole “Cruel & Unusual” Team (his production company) meant a lot to me. But we didn’t work together right off the bat. A few months later, I showed Zack a poster that I had created for an alternate marketing campaign for Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” and because of that piece, he hired me on to create some initial promotional artwork for “Sucker Punch”
Unlike anything Zack had directed prior to this film, “Sucker Punch” didn’t have any pre-existing material, it was all written by Zack and his friend Steve Shibuya. When I got hired on there was a handful of really cool concept art but they decided to officially announce the film at the 2009 San Diego comic con, which was about 2 weeks away from when I got hired on. And movie itself was going to be a gigantic mixture of all these different fantasy worlds and battles, and monsters, and guns, and so forth, so it was extremely ambitious and overwhelming, but in an inspiring way.
So my job was to take all of these elements that Zack had described to me, take some of the existing concept art, take the story, create some cool lettering and mash it all together to see how we can represent ALL of those cool elements in ONE image that would be the first image shown to represent the movie. The pressure was CRAZY. But Zack trusted me to do it, and this is the image I came up with, and the whole team loved it and we ran with it.
Geek: You’ve worked on a lot of different projects, but this definitely seems like the biggest – how does the scale of Sucker Punch compare to what you’ve tackled before?
AP: Yah this is HUGE. It’s the largest project I’ve worked on in terms of scope and ambition, but luckily it never FELT large while I was doing it. I mean, there was this huge production team of artists and painters and prop builders working up on the set in Vancouver where they shot it, but meanwhile I was working back at home in California in my little studio, holed up by myself, and working on all of this stuff through email and photos and Skype. I was literally scribbling ideas on napkins, scanning them and then getting a phone call from Zack saying “yah that is exactly what I was thinking, run with it!”
It wasn’t until later on in the production when I got to up to Vancouver to the set when the actual scope of the project hit me. It was AWESOME. Walking on set and seeing these props and huge sets come to life was incredible. Had I allowed myself to FEEL that scope ahead of time, there would have been so much pressure it may have been harder to be so free in my creativity. But the best thing about working with Zack Snyder is that he completely trusts his creative crew, including me, so he just set me free and let me go, and not feeling that pressure helped so much with the production on my end.
Geek: Let’s talk about your process a bit. I’ve seen you’ve done watercolors, inks… How did you approach the art for this film in particular?
AP: A lot of work that I create for commercial jobs I do a mixture of traditional methods, like pencil sketches, watercolor and inks, as well as a some digital methods as well. The reason I do this is because compositing drawings together and coloring them digitally allows for easier editing and changes, which was something I learned very early on, when I was asked to change a whole painting and I basically had to start over from scratch. So I usually create a bunch of different components, like a full black and white drawing, and multiple water color plates and then mash them all together digitally in Photoshop so that I can manipulate them easier.
Sucker Punch was no different in that aspect. But where my Sucker Punch work WAS different, was the simple fact that I had NEVER drawn GIRLS or GUNS before, and that is basically ALL that I had to draw for this project! It was so scary at first but I love a good challenge, especially one that I am forced to learn from. So I let myself be scared for about 2 minutes, and then I jumped right into it. I had to study like thousands of pictures of girls, and buying guns and ammo magazines that I had no idea what I was looking at. But allowing myself to embrace that challenge helped a lot, and I am really happy with everything that came out of it.
Geek: And there’s the book, The Art of Sucker Punch, which is why we’re chatting, natch. Tell us what we get in the book; how much of your process do we get to see?
AP: The Art Of Sucker Punch book is beautiful. But I can BARELY take credit for the amount of beauty inside of it. There is so much amazing concept art from the whole team that it really has to be seen to be appreciated. I mean, the film itself has about 5 completely different fantasy worlds in it, and all of those worlds got fully realized regardless of how much screen time is spent on them. So this book offers a look at all of the cool environments and landscapes that the characters get to play around in, in the film. And Titan did an amazing job with the design of the book.
Also the book is filled with portraits and behind-the-scenes photos of a lot of the characters taken by CLAY ENOS, who did all of the portrait photography for Watchmen, too. Clay’s photos are beautiful. While we were working on set I would watch him be so enamored by like, a blank section of a wall. And he would start photographing it. I would ask him what he was doing and he would tell me to look closer, and point out these textures in the walls that, unless you were staring at them, you would never notice. Then he would show me the photo and it would look like a whole landscape to another world. It was cool. Clay is brilliant.
And then yes, on top of all that I have a bunch of fun art featured in there, and there are even some stuff that was never released, like some of my early sketches, the whole stage design, and a couple of variations of the characters that we changed up in the end. And the whole art from the sword’s blade is featured in there too.
Geek: In film, a lot of the credit for design goes to the Director. Are you ever reading things about the movie, and saying, “But… Hey! I came up with that!”
AP: Absolutely not. And I don’t think the Director would ever say that either, if the question was reversed! Zack’s entire crew worked together, and what was so impressive to watch was that they all RECOGNIZED that they worked together. To use the old comparison, they were a well-oiled machine, and I think a lot of that credit goes to Zack, because he leads by example. He’s a team player and a respectable leader, and so everyone working with him just continued that mindset.
Also, as I said before, my role was “The Lucky Guy” because I have lucked out and been publicly praised for my work on the film because of the fact that I am publicly accessible and talk a LOT about what I’m working on, but the fact is that I was just lucky enough to play a role in this whole big insane fantasy. It’s still a cool as hell feeling to see that Bunny-Mech fly through the air on an IMAX screen though. Damn.
Geek: Since you do mostly behind the scenes work, is it validating to get a book out there like this one? Do you leave it on your coffee table, and casually mention to people, “Oh that? Yeah, that’s my art from the film.”
AP: I don’t know if I take it to the extreme of putting it on my coffee table and bragging, but of COURSE I’m proud of it! The best part about any kind of creative passion is that there is usually a tangible product of your creativity. There’s a trophy, like this book, or like the movie. There is something that is left behind to let people enjoy while you move on to create something new.
Geek: Have you seen the film yet? Or at least clips? What’s it like to see your designs moving, and on the big screen?
AP: Yes, I have seen the film both in its earliest stages as well as its near-final completion and I seriously can’t describe the exhilarating feelings that came over me when I saw my stuff on the big screen for the first time, so I’m not even going to try. Unless “feeling like my insides were doing cartwheels in a pool full of celebratory exploding sharks” is an ok description?
Geek: Hmmm… I’m going to allow it. Okay, is there one design in particular that you can’t wait for people to see?
AP: Because Baby Doll’s sword and gun were completely created by me, from start to finish, I can’t wait for like, my Mom and Dad, or my friends to see its close up in slow motion. That’s gonna be cool.
Geek: Anything get nixed from the final product that you’re bummed people won’t get to see (until the inevitable director’s cut)?
AP: Nah, everything that made the final cut is exactly how the movie should be. It’s amazing.
Geek: Quick left turn: briefly, can you tell us about your Charlie Sheen tiger hats?
AP: I love random humor and visual nonsense, and sometimes pop culture and “memes” and media stories inspire me to just have fun with art. I became fascinated by the Charlie Sheen story immediately, as everyone else in the country did, simply because of its absurdity. But more so than Charlie himself, I was amazed by the phenomenon that surrounded it. Simply put, a week ago, if I drew a picture of Charlie Sheet with a bloody tiger-hat, it would JUST be looked at as complete nonsense. But by Sheen saying a few silly lines in an interview, he turned something that meant absolutely nothing into something that was ICONIC! That is an incredible form of influence. Charlie Sheen had literally got millions of people’s attention simply by acting weird.
Within 24 hours, almost our entire country forgot about everything else that was going on in the world because we all secretly wanted to sadistically watch this guy go out in public and possibly crash and burn in a train wreck. That was both absurd and fascinating to me that it happened so quickly. So, even though I, too was on the sidelines watching for a train wreck, I felt a creative urge to jump on that train alongside of him for a moment. So I created the “Tiger Blood” piece for no other reason than because it was fun.
And then the power of the internet took hold and that, coupled with the fact that my fanbase likes to have fun, I put up a cut-out version of the TigerBlood-Hat up to download and apply it to your photos and share the pictures and then all of a sudden everyone was sending me all these photos of them wearing decapitated Tiger Heads and pics of their cats with it and Star Wars characters and it was so fun.
And then the power of the internet really shined because Charlie DID end up seeing this piece and he loved it! So it led to me actually creating a brand new exclusive piece for his new personal ustream show, “Charlie’s Korner” and he debuted it on his broadcast this last Tuesday. Yes, it’s been a very surreal week. Actually, it’s been a very surreal TWO YEARS!
Geek: What’s a weirder experience, seeing your designs for Sucker Punch come to life, or the ridiculous art you designed actually end up on Sheen’s internet talk show?
AP: They are both equally weird experiences I think, except opposite ends of the spectrum. With Sucker Punch, I knew if I worked hard, the reward would be seeing it, so I had all of this drive and then the anticipation of seeing it and then freaking out. With the Charlie Sheen thing, it happened literally within 36 hours so there was NO preparing for it, I simply woke up, drew something, and then the ghosts on the internet helped me bypass the media infiltrate Sheen’s Korner! They are both awesome experiences.
Geek: What else is coming up for you?
AP: Right this moment?? I need a sandwich, and my nose is bleeding for some reason so I might take care of that in a few minutes. But aside from that, I’m preparing for the release of Sucker Punch (have you seen those huge billboards?! So crazy), I am continuing to work on and expand ZEROFRIENDS, the art and apparel company that I own and art direct, as well as work on some more personal film projects, and I have a huge new art gallery show opening up in October at Gallery 1988 in LA alongside one of my favorite artists, SKINNER.
Oh and my video collaborator Stephen Reedy (http://www.stephenreedy.com/) and I are about to direct a new music video for DREDG & Dan The Automator next week so that should be fun. And maybe the following week Charlie Sheen and I will throw around the baseball and talk about Major League 3!
Watch the trailer for “Sucker Punch” at MTV.com Movies: