A Commission that Begins Where Everything Ends

Black Hole Art Commission

Latest commission –and boy what a challenge it was!

Rich Evirs is the co-host of the widely popular podcast The Drunken Taoist, along with his friend Daniele Bolelli. If you’re into podcasts then chances are you’re already a big fan of them –and if you aren’t into podcasts but want some suggestions, this one is highly HIGHLY recommended due to its wide variety of content and irreverent humor (the orgasm-counting gnome is an all-time favorite of mine). A couple of weeks ago, when I made a public solicitation for art commissions via Twitter, Rich approached me because he had this idea of being portray as Doctor Reinhardt from Disney’s 1979 movie The Black Hole.

Now, for those of you younger Coppertops reading this who’ve never watched the film –or even heard of it for that matter– there is a good reason for it: In the late 1970’s, when movie studios were turning green with envy at the tremendously unexpected success of a little space opera called Star Wars (I presume you’ve at least heard of THAT one?) they were rushing as fast as they could to emulate Twentieth Century Fox in bringing to the movie theaters all those cool spaceships, aliens and robots the audience was obviously were hungering for –this after decades of Hollywood disregarding the Sci-Fi genre as B-movie fodder…

The Walt Disney studio didn’t want to be left out of the money wagon, so their proposal for the new Sci-Fi revival was… The Black Hole.

Promotional poster
The Crystal Palace

Now, there are a lot of really good things to be found in this under-appreciated movie for any self-respecting Sci-Fi lover: The production design is top-notch, like everything Disney puts its stamp on –Peter Ellenshaw’s idea for the giant ship Cygnus (where most of the action takes place) was to take inspiration on turn-of-the-century Architecture, so the spaceship looks a lot like the London’s Crystal Palace from 1851; the special effects were sufficiently cutting-edge despite the many limitations of the era; John Barry’s musical score is drop-dead gorgeous and creates a captivating and ominous atmosphere; and finally, the movie counted with enough stars on the cast to ensure solid performances: Maximilian Schell as Dr. Hans Reinhardt –the genius obsessed with unlocking the ultimate secret in nature (traversing through a black hole), Anthony Perkins as the naive Dr. Alex Durant, and Ernest Bornigne as the mischievous Harry Booth –Roddy McDowall and Slim Pickens were the unaccredited voices for the lovable robots V.I.N.CENT and B.O.B.

Yep, Disney sure had all the right ingredients for a true gourmet meal… but they ended up serving a hamburger with star-dusted dressing instead.

You see, the Mouse Factory fell into the #1 trap of most modern Sci-Films: thinking the story is meant to serve the special effects, instead of the other way around. They also chose to finish the film with a very bold (albeit ambiguous) climax which left many moviegoers scratching their heads. As a result the movie flopped in the box office, but that hasn’t stopped it from acquiring a status as a cult film among many devout fans –yours truly included.

Which is why I eagerly jumped at the opportunity to bring Rich’s fantasy into fruition. A task which proved particularly harder than usual because finding good reference images of the Cygnus’s command deck wasn’t easy, and *a lot* of guesswork had to be implemented to create the scene I had in my head.

As always, I tried new things and experimented a lot while making this illustrations. I spared NO expenses with the details, especially because during the middle of the process I tried a lot of combinations of how to pose Rich next to Maximilian, the iconic robotic minion –although Rich gave me carte blanche with the concept, he requested me to use the photo below for the pose of his Reinhardt alter ego; he told me it’s an old Civil War photo he found, and that the officer looks almost like a past reincarnation of him.

Rich Evirs, in another life…
Rich Evirs today
My pencil sketch of Rich, which I pasted on the image (notice I screwed up the eyes, because the “evil smirk” should force the LEFT eye to squint, instead of the right one. But that’s what Autodesk Sketchbook editing tools are for)

I also fell into a few unfortunate snags along the way. I love Autodesk Sketchbook because of how flexible and powerful it is, despite the constrains of using it on an Android tablet, but I really wish the Autodesk guys made something to improve the features of the selection tool, particularly when using the ‘magic lasso’; many a times I choose to use the magic lasso to select just one portion of the image (like the central figure for example) so I can work on a different layer on top in case I mess it up or decide to change anything, but THEN when I’m pleased with the result and decide to ‘merge’ the layers, some nasty and unexpected results tend to happen at the edges of the figures, especially if I’m using some of the ‘fancier’ filters like Hard Light or Sub-exposure Lineal, which forced me to ‘correct’ a few of these pixelated artifacts by going either ‘softening the edges’ with a soft eraser, or coloring over them with a tiny low-opacity brush using adjacent colors (apologies for the ‘nerdy’ rant, but if any artist out there has any tips on how to avoid these problems, I’d greatly appreciate if you let me know!)

In any case, all the MANY hours and hard work was worth the trouble, because Rich was very pleased with the end result. As am I 🙂

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