True Fiction Magazine
The San Francisco-based theatrical improv company, True Fiction Magazine, improvises feature-length stage shows rooted in a firm "pulp" tradition. To help in the promotion of their shows, I have – over the last ten years or so – created a number of mailers and postcards using a complex Photoshop illustration technique. Herein is a brief description of how these images are created, as well as a gallery of the hard-boiled results.
For the last ten years, I have had the periodic job of producing posters and mailers for the internationally-renowned, San Francisc-based theatrical improv company True Fiction Magazine. As their name implies, TFM’s stories often stem from a "pulp" sensibility. As such, these promotional images are usually constructed in the vein of the hard-boiled pulp magazines of the 30s.
All of these images begin as a photograph. Some images – for Halloween or New Year’s Eve shows, for example – need to have a particular feel, or specific imagery. But for most images, we simply try to think of a scenario that’s visually interesting, pulpy in feel (which usually means "threatening"), often with a humorous touch, and ideally something that begs the question "what happens next?" (Or, in the case of the image at the top of this page: "what happened before?")
The final image is simply a heavily manipulated photo, so once we have an image in mind we stage a photo shoot using the relevant members of the company. If possible – as in the case of the first and third images above – we shoot the photo in a real location, to ease post-production. In most cases, though, the photos serve simply to yield images of the actors.
Because the intended scenario is often impossible to shoot "for real," a lot of run-of-the-mill digital compositing tricks are used. For example, to create an image of a guy hanging from the edge of a building, at the mercy of a spike-heeled femme fatale, we shot the actor hanging from a platform in a theater, along with an actress’ leg.
The background of the actor plate was removed using Photoshop. To create a new background, I built a simple 3D city-scape using form*Z and ElectricImage. The photo of the actor was then composited into the 3D scene with some simple Photoshop layering. Because the final goal is not photorealism, the compositing job does not have to be finely crafted. Eliminating fringes and seams, matching lighting, and many other difficult compositing tasks simply aren’t necessary.
Once the composite is complete, I process the image in Photoshop to produce the final image. In this case, the woman’s legs were composited in from a separate shot.
During the shoot, it’s not always possible to tell what will work best in the final image, so we tend to shoot lots of varied takes. When reviewing the results, there’s almost always one that is obviously the "right" image.
The final processing requires a fair amount of resolution. As such, the foreground and background actors were shot separately for this image, so as to get a larger, higher-res view of the background singers.
Though I usually work at a resolution that suits the final printing needs, because these images are largely big areas of flat color, they scale upwards very readily, making it simple to re-purpose them to different print sizes and media.
If you you’re travelling to the San Francisco Bay Area, do yourself a favor and find out if True Fiction will be performing during your stay. You won’t be disappointed! To learn more about them, check out their web site.