INTERVIEW: SHH! Talks to Illustrator Tim Bradstreet!

Superhero Hype! had a chance to talk to award-winning illustrator Tim Bradstreet about the new artwork he created for The Punisher movie, his current and upcoming projects, and much more.

What do you think about Punisher director Jonathan Hensleigh and his wife Gale Anne Hurd?

Jeez, what can you say? Jonathan is a no-nonsense guy who’s been around and has tons of experience on film sets. This is one of those cases where it doesn’t matter that the guy has not directed a big budget film before Punisher. He knows what he wants and he brings good people in around him to help accomplish it. He’s very passionate as well. Throw that together with the fact that he’s one hell of a writer and that’s the recipe for any good director. Honestly, after I read the script and we talked on the phone, I knew this property was in the right hands. I’m thinking how cool it would be to see him direct his Terminal Man script over at Disney. Hensleigh is the real deal. As for Gale Anne Hurd I can only say I wish I could have worked with her in some capacity on the project. Terminator, Aliens? Need I go on? She’s a juggernaught. The fact that her name is on those posters I designed is just complete fantasy territory.

How difficult/easy was it to work with Lions Gate on the Punisher promotional material? How many pieces did you create and how did you and the studio decide on the final five?

Actually there are 8 total pieces as of now and there still may be more design work ahead. I ended up doing an alternate version of one of the first five teasers and then suddenly about two weeks ago they hired me to do the official US release one-sheet posters. Certainly there were times when it was difficult. Having to please at least three different camps can make anyone’s life hell. LGF, Marvel, and Thomas Jane, who had likeness approval. It’s a balancing act inside a commercial art job. Lot’s of micro management. I’ll tell you, every time a design I loved was rejected it sucked. But I just sat back and reminded myself what it was I was doing. It may not make sense to me but that doesn’t matter. My job is to please the client. If I can please myself at the same time it’s a bonus. It was tough at first because there was no real art direction. They were leaving it up to me and so it was a couple 3-4 weeks before we hit the right note. After that it was just a lot of tweaking of elements to make everyone happy and of course, these guys are making a movie in Florida so approvals don’t come back from the top overnight. Thank goodness we got an early start because I had to do all that and stay on schedule with my monthly cover jobs at the same time. I ended up doing at least 22 different designs with each of those having between 5 and 15 alternate versions. Out of those 22 odd designs there ended up being 6 different teaser illustrations and 2 theatrical poster designs. A total of 8 official promotional paintings or photo compositions. It’s funny, after we hit on the illustration that was to become the teaser and it was scrutinized left, right, forward and backwards, the rest came pretty easily and we started to really pick up speed. Somewhere along the line I figured out a look and style for everything that hit the nail on the head for everyone. Once that hurdle was cleared it was smooth sailing. I learned a lot about doing this kind of work. Not just the work itself but managing my time and working on several things at once. That’s something I’ve never been good at. All in all it was a experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.

Any hints as to what further Punisher movie promo images we can expect?

Well they’re all just Thomas Jane as the Punisher looking badder than hell. The idea was to take the style I employ with my Punisher covers but apply it to Jane. Creating a nice bridge for the comics fans to see Tom as the Punisher in a style that they are comfortable seeing. I think it’s a really cool idea. When I threw the notion at Ari Arad early last year I didn’t think he was going to go that direction. But he saw that there was something to it and gave me a shot. I’ve always thought it would be cool to see an artist that is known for drawing or defining a certain character get a shot at being brought in when the property is turned to film. I just never thought it would be me. I’m pretty jazzed about the whole thing because I feel that Hensleigh and Jane have made a wonderful film and I’m pleased and proud to be associated with it.

What are your thoughts on the Punisher film from 1989, and were there any points in that film that you felt connected with the character of the Punisher?

I’ve kind of avoided that film since it came out. It just seems to me at the time that it was a 3rd rate attempt. I’ve picked up snippets of it here and there on cable over the years and it’s never impressed me enough to REALLY watch it. When I heard Dolph Lundgren was cast in it I just sensed that it would be crap. He didn’t impress me as the right actor for the part and it went hand in hand that if the production had cast him, the film would end up being straight to video quality. And it did go straight to video didn’t it? Subsequently I had no interest in seeing it. I know about the no-skull thing and I thought that was lame as well. Having seen bits of it I thought the darkness of the film and the overall lighting was in tune with the mood and the character. That is about the only positive I can come up with. Which is a pretty unfair opinion since I haven’t even bothered to sit and watch the whole thing. But a man has got to have his standards.

How did you get into drawing?

Influence and inspiration. I would see certain things and feel compelled to draw them. Not unlike certain characters in “Close Encounters” felt compelled to draw, sculpt, or paint the image of Devil’s Tower. Although in my case I don’t think it was due to alien intervention. When I was real young it was cars and dinosaurs, then army men having battles and monsters. Then I saw Star Trek, Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and The Prisoner. That’s when I really started drawing a lot more. I was hugely into science fiction and fantasy. That led to me getting into comics. I started collecting anything I could get my hands on. That’s about the time I started to draw superheroes. It wasn’t long after that I got serious about my artwork. As I grew older my tastes evolved and I started to become hugely influenced by movies of all kinds. Directors and Cinematographers like Sergio Leone, David Lean, Orson Wells, John Ford, William Wyler, Conrad Hall, Chris Menges, and Stanley Kubrick became my new teachers. I’ve always loved the widescreen canvass. I gravitated towards the art of film. Going from cartoons to comics to a photo-real, cinematic style was just a natural progression for me based on those influences.

What is your process when creating a new piece? What materials and medium do you use? How much photo reference? How long does it take for you to finish a piece?

Most covers happen in a week if I’m not rushed by a deadline too much. About 80 to 90% of most of my covers are photo referenced. The characters always are. There is a lot of re-interpretation going on though. I use the photo as a base. I like to take at least a day to compose a cover in photoshop. Meaning I look at all my shots and options and pick the best suited to be used for the cover. Then I reference other elements. There is a lot involved. Referencing, scanning, compositing, designing, re-touching. And that’s just the photo-rough stage. Once I have my composition worked out I print out the photo-rough and begin penciling over it on a light box. I like to take a day to pencil. Then the work is inked. That can take a day, sometimes 2. Then it has to be painted and that can take up to two to three days. 90% of all the covers I’m doing now are being painted digitally. But I want to get back to more hand painted stuff here real soon. I like having a painted original.

What attracts you to illustrating The Punisher?

Well, I once said that when I got offered the Punisher I thought, “Hmmm, Iconic character, black leather, skulls and lots of guns. This is like a match made in heaven.” The character just appealed to all of my sensibilities. I didn’t really want to do superheroes at that point and Joe Quesada was giving me practically carte blanch on my interpretation of the character. I would have been a fool to have passed that up. Even after 4 or 5 years on the title I still love it because it’s the kind of character I’ve always wanted to draw. He’s equal parts, The Man With No Name, The Road Warrior, and Gladiator. He’s iconic. That kind of character attracts me the most.

What inspired you to do the cover of the first issue “Welcome Back, Frank” in that way?

It was the best shot in the bunch of stuff I’d shot. I wanted him in a skull T-shirt and black leather pants. I wanted him to BE real. I got very lucky when I was casting models for the part. Tom O’Brian is damn near the perfect model. That face is just carved out of stone. That shot of him on the cover was just me screwing around with different poses during the photo shoot. The minute I saw my prints I new that was the one. The rest of the cover grew around it. I wanted to really play up that skull icon so I experimented with putting skulls on all of the covers. As many ways you can think to do a skull and have it fit with the composition and design. In that shot I wanted it looming over and around him symbolizing death. There was a lot of symbolism on the un-edited version of that cover. Originally in the crosshairs was a syringe which symbolized he was targeting evil. The skull then symbolized what you can expect if you decide to take that road. Marvel had me remove the syringe. They didn’t want anyone to misinterpret the meaning. I was kind of hacked off about that at the time but it was the right decision.

Have you ever considered drawing the interiors of Punisher? Any word on the mini-series that you’re supposed to be doing all the interiors for as well?

Certainly. From the moment it started again as a regular series after “Welcome Back Frank”. I was talking seriously about it with (then) editor Stuart Moore. Before we could work out all the details he left Marvel. Then the idea went on hold because at that point I didn’t really have an editor. I got busy and moved on. Then when the series started fresh again I began talking Axel Alonso about it. We got very excited about the idea and paired me up with Bruce Jones to write. The plan was to get the series out by the time the film opened. But Bruce’s father fell ill and he had to deal with that. It soon became apparent that we weren’t going to get it off the ground. Bruce needed time and time was in short supply. We still plan to do it but it will be a while. I’m tied up now with other things until the end of the year. I’m actually kind of glad it didn’t happen because I don’t think I’d have had the time to do both that and the poster designs for Marvel/Lion’s Gate. I promise though, there will be interiors.

Have you ever thought about doing covers/interiors of other characters besides the Punisher?

Again, certainly. The one character I’d go through hell to do would be Deathlok Aside from that I’ve been on and off with doing another issue of Hellblazer for over 2 years. It’s like a conspiracy now that every time I plan to do an issue it falls through for one reason or another. The writer’s dad is ill, the writer I want to work with is leaving the book, my schedule rears it’s ugly head and I can’t commit. Really, I want to do interiors, but it appears the stars will have to align in some mystical fashion for that to happen. I’d like to work on both Hellblazer and Punisher for obvious reasons. There are a lot of other characters I’d consider. Any way you look at it the project would have to be special. There are heavy logistics involved with me doing a story. I shoot every panel. It’s like putting on a play but with locations. I have to cast parts, schedule the shoots, light it, wardrobe it, photograph it, and do it on a very small budget. Normally it’s a one or two man operation. Very difficult.

Do you think the mainstream comic industry needs a boost in creative undertakings?

Definitely. It’s only my opinion but most of the stuff I see on the shelves is just crap. I think there are only a handful of books that are honestly living up to and going beyond the medium. I’d really love to be an art director or editor at a small company. I’d do like 2 to 6 books a month and hire the best talent in the industry (and also outside it) to do them. I’d be placing calls to a lot of my friends. That would be fun. There are a lot of writers I know that I’d love to bring to comics. I’d really like to be in charge of how the books look, from hiring the best artists to create them to conceptualizing the graphic design of the product. Also letting artists weigh in creatively on how their work is presented. Making it a more collaborative process. That would definitely help.

What titles do you read on a regular basis?

Most of them are not so regular. Hellboy (and related titles), League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Criminal Macabre. Anything by P. Craig Russell, Joe Kubert, Richard Corben, Moebius, Gary Gianni, Mignola, Dave McKean, Phil Hale, Love Alex Maleev, and I’m really liking what Ben Templesmith is doing. And of course Hellblazer and The Punisher, If I like the art I buy it.

What are some of your favorite bands and TV programs you like for background noise while working (or while not working)?

I spend 90% of my time in the studio (which is in my house). When I’m working I mostly listen to music now, sometimes I’m more in the mood for film, and occasionally TV is the choice (depending on what’s on). Musically, soundtrack scores have taken a hefty lead over anything else when it comes to setting the mood. I’ve got a pretty massive collection of scores since I began collecting them when I was about 15. So it’s everything from cool old stuff like Ben Hur (Miklos Rosza) to current stuff that I dig like – Master and Commander, Last Samurai, The Passion of the Christ, House of Sand and Fog, to rare stuff like Tangerine Dream’s score to “The Keep” – and everything in between. Well, not EVERYTHING, but you get the idea. When I’m in the mood for something with more teeth I crank up the Tool, A Perfect Circle, Henry Rollins, Monster Magnet, Black Sabbath (original line-up), maybe some Priest. When it’s not music, I jam a DVD into the G-4 and enjoy some flat screen cinema. Something good like “The Mission”, “2001”, or “Miller’s Crossing”. Blade Runner is something I never get tired of. Background inspirato is all important.

What are some of your favorite films?

Started that list on the last answer, but here are a few more. Lawrence of Arabia, The Devil’s Backbone, Last of The Mohicans, Once Upon A Time In The West, The Limey, Paths Of Glory, Titus, Unforgiven, The Big Lebowski, The French Connection, The Duelists, The Road Warrior…. Seriously, this list could extend for pages.

What are your future plans and what else is in the works?

Right now I plan to take a small break but who am I kidding? Stuff in the current pipeline are – Working on a 3-D animated film in Italy for 6 months starting in May. Continuing on with my monthlies, Hellblazer and Punisher. I’m doing some promo poster designs for Activision’s new Vampire video game. Some other film work, mainly conceptual (can’t really be more specific than that). That’s about all I can handle for now. When I get back from Italy I’ve got a lot of cool stuff in the works.

Do you have any any tips for aspiring artists?

The best piece of advise I can offer is work hard at your craft. If you feel you have a talent and you honestly have a passion for what you do, then work as hard as you can at it and commit yourself to it fully. You will find that it will pay off in surprising ways. The only way you can get better is by working, whether your getting paid or not. You get better with every piece. Every piece you do – you will learn something. It’s mandatory for mistakes to be thought of as a positive. It’s all part of the process. It works like this. Set a goal. Work your ass off. Reach that goal. Set another one, and so on. Dedication pays off. Trust me.

We would like to thank Tim Bradstreet for taking time out of his schedule to speak with us. Be sure to check out his official website for more artwork and project updates!

Source: Superhero Hype!