Latest Commission: The Catsorcists

The Catsorcists

This is my latest art commission for one of my best and most loyal patrons, Mark Brady, who over the years has asked me to portray his beloved cats in all sorts of fantastic scenarios –see for example Lady Snowmeow, The Ultimate Dogfight, and The Dogbusters.

For this one, Mark wanted me to paint the newest members of his cat family, Maus and Tiger.

Not only that, but Mark wanted me to portray them in one of the most iconic terror films of all time: The Exorcist.

Now I’m not much of a terror film fan myself, and I especially dislike slasher flicks –never seen one of those Saw movies, and I’m no fan of neither Jason nor Mike Myers (the undead killer I mean. Love Austin Powers!). However, I do find the subgenre of ‘supernatural’ horror movies interesting, and of those The Exorcist is definitely the best of them all.

Not only have I watched the movie several times, but I’ve also read Blatty’s original novel (well, a Spanish version I found in my dad’s library anyway) more than once. I was so impressed by the characters or Demian Karras and Lancaster Merrin, that I think it is one of the reasons why for a little while I was very interested in joining the Jesuit order during my high school years. The Jesuits are the intellectual elite of the Catholic church, and for some reason the prospect of a frugal life devoted to scholarship and religious service appealed to me –who knows, maybe I was a monk in a previous life?

I’m also extremely interested in the subject of ‘demonic possession’, and even though I renounced to my Catholic faith a long time ago, I still consider it a genuine mystery which cannot simply be explained in mere psychological terms. Perhaps these poor people are being troubled by discarnate entities; but just because an incorporeal douchebag tells you it’s the devil when you’re communicating with it, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s telling you the truth!

But getting back to the commission, Mark wanted me to recreate the iconic movie poster with Maus and Tiger standing in front of the house, looking at each other with a resolute expression of “let’s do this thing.” Immediately the first problem I encountered is that the poster’s image is in black and white, but Mark wanted me to paint his cats in full color.

Browsing the Internet for good references, I discovered that the actual scene in the movie when Merrin steps out of the taxi cab in front of the house differs somewhat from the movie poster:

As you can see, the poster’s image is over-exposed in order to show more details, and as a result of this the light shining through the upper left window –where Pazuzu-possessed Regan is waiting to have a final showdown with its old enemy– looks much more defined. An artistic decision had to be made, in order to capture the potency of the movie poster image, but using the limited color palette of the movie scene.

Another decision I made was to forgo of my usual obsession with architectural perfectionism–a vice from my previous years as a CGI renderer– and go instead with a looser strategy: due to the lack of detail in even the best reference images I could find, I realized I had to play with the shadows and darker areas of the composition in order to give the viewer just enough information to make up the rest of the building by themselves in their own mind. I also deliberately chose not to obsess with super-clean lines and restricted the use of the ruler tool to a bare minimum, in order to give my background a somewhat ‘impressionistic look’.

This approach also called for using a different sort of brush set from the ones I usually employ, like the ‘rough blocky painter’ I found in Jason Heeley’s Art Brushes which are freely available through Autodesk’s Sketchbook desktop version (this brush was really helpful to get the ‘wet look’ for the pavement in front of the house). Another brush from this set I found very useful was the ‘soft feathery buildup’, which gave me the type of ‘gritty’ mist I wanted, instead of using one of the brushes from the Pastel set, or a tweaked airbrush.

And finally, the last artistic decision I took for my background was putting an intermediate light purple color as a transition between the warm orange of the window and the cool blues defining the majority of the shapes in the composition, in order to make the image a bit less monochromatic.

Background image before the ‘catsorcists’ were added. Notice how the darker AND lighter tones are restricted to the shapes in the foreground in order to bring depth to the scene. Trying to decide the strength and blending mode for the light beaming down from the upper window took some time, until I reached an acceptable mix between the contrast of the movie poster’s image, and the actual movie scene.

[BTW, you are free to download the image above and use it as a desktop background in your computer, or as a Zoom background for your next virtual meeting]

Once the background was completed, I proceeded to work with the two protagonists, for which I already had a strong sketch which needed little tinkering.

First sketch sent to Mark for approval. As you can see, instead of having the two ‘catsorcists’ with an expression of conviction as he originally requested, I thought it would be more appealing to have the younger cat (Maus) showing a bit of anxious reservation. Perhaps this was his first rodeo with the devil, whereas Tiger’s serious countenance might indicate he’s the most experienced one, and is trying to calm down his younger associate. You see, the reason I feel this movie poster became so iconic, is because it gave the inkling of a whole narrative to the viewer, which was left intrigued to learn more. Something I wanted to emulate with the expressions of my two characters.

The second most challenging thing in this commission was not recreating the fur texture in the cats (previous commissions have given me enough experience with that) but trying to come up with the right coloring for them. Had I just extracted the colors of the reference photos Mark sent me with the color picker tool and used those, the characters would have looked superimposed and not part of the scene! At the same time, if I had completely switched the orange colors of their fur with the blue colors used in the background, I feared they would have been totally unrecognizable to their owner. After much trial and error, an ‘intermediate’ option was reached in which the warm tones of the cats’ fur were still slightly hinted at, while still being in correspondence to the ‘lighting’ conditions of my scene.

As usual, this commission proved more challenging than I had originally expected (in hindsight, maybe I could’ve experimented with the reference photos and adding filters to them on Photoshop in order to come up with the right colors for my scene) but I’ve gotta admit I’m fairly impressed with the end result, all things considered. It’s a fun image to look at, very easy to read composition-wise, and I feel it ‘tells a story’ despite being a single scene.

Let’s just hope our two ‘catsorcists’ had more luck in dealing with Pazuzu –or should that be Paws-zuzu??– than their human counterparts!

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