Yuko Shimizu
April 2011
13 Assassins
Japanese people take "new year" very seriously and are superstitious about "first" anything to predict how well the year is going to be. For example, "first dream of the year" is believed to be the best if you have dreamt of 1)Mt. Fuji 2)hawk 3)egg plant. Why egg plant? Not sure. But I am not making these up!

In this long, cold and snowy winter in New York, my work day started on January 3, Monday. Sunny. My first job of the year was to walk down to Magnolia Pictures office near my studio for the screening of an epic 2 hour + long new samurai film 13 Assassins directed by Takashi Miike, who is very popular with his horror films such as "Ichi The Killer" and "Audition". The project wa to create a poster. Now, if this 'first job of the year' would predict my 2011, then I have to say I had an amazing start of a year.

On and off for about two month, I worked with Matt Cowal, VP Marketing/Publicity of Magnolia Pictures. I have to say I had such a fun time working on this.  
The main actor of the film is Koji Yakusho, who played Miyamoto Musashi in a popular Japanese TV series in the 80s, which I was obsessed as a kid. And I get to draw him! Now, this didn't happen even  in my "first dream". My dear friend and illustrator/calligrapher Ai Tatebayashi contributed beautiful lettering for the poster design.

Find more about 13 Assassins and watch the trailer here. 13 Assassins will be released in the theaters next Friday, April 29th.
first set of sketches. They were little bit too 'art house film' approach, which would have worked if the audience was Japanese. We decided to go a bit more 'samurai action film' approach.

The second rounds. Sort of Tadanori Yokoo take on the samurai action approach. We decided to go with the right.

Although Koji Yakusho's face may not be as recognizable here in the States compared to Japan, likeness is important. I got tons of great photo references from the clients. I usually open them up on my large monitor as I draw.

Drawing in progress. paper size is about 22" x 30". Ink on watercolor paper.

then move to coloring on Photoshop. Although colors are relatively limited and simple, it took days and days of separating and adjusting the details and colors. File size can get quite big for poster jobs... I need to buy a new MacBook Pro soon...

Yes I could have done lettering myself, but I also believe in the power of pros. I asked my friend and illustrator/calligrapher Ai Tatebayashi to create those four letters for me. We discussed carefully, the direction of the lettering style, thickness of the lines, etc. She did the perfect job!!

Final poster design.

There are three posters for the film. Hope I get to see mine somewhere... if you do, please take photos for me!

Before we go, let's talk about things that gets me in the 'mood': i.e. Reference materials.
There were of course, a lot more things I had looked at, of course,  but these three are staples when I work on samurai theme. From  left, Heroes & Ghosts Japanese Prints by Kuniyoshi. I initially bought this book for my first job for Rolling Stone Magazine years ago, and have been heavily referencing since.  Center is a book of art by Kawanabe Gyosai. On the right is relatively contemporary Miyata Masayuki's papercut illustrations that accompanied Eight Dogs' Tale by writer Yamada Futaro, which was initially published on Asahi Newspaper in early 80s.
Miyata Masayuki is not well known outside of Japan, but he was a genius. I wanted to share some of the pages from this book.

Quick Fish.
Many of the jobs I do, it takes hours and hours, sometimes days and days of drawing. It was not my original intention, but during the course of close to 10 years of working, I somehow became known as an illustrator who does detailed works.
Not that I have issues with that, but maybe because of that, I don't get calls to do a lot of New York Times Op-Ed illustrations. A lot of fellow Drawgers work on them on regular basis. But I don't even recall when was the last time I worked with them. (I do work with The New York Times in other sections quite often.)

When Alexandra Zsigmond of Op-Ed called me for today's paper, it was no brainer to just do it. I was craving for: 1) quick drawing that starts and ends in half a day 2) topic that is not related to my home country of Japan, as I have been working on so many of them in recent months.
It was a fun story by Ray Holborn about that we should not feel guilty eating fish, because in a long run, it is a lot more sustainable than making your main diet meat based.
While "Japanese people eat sushi every day" is a total American myth. I can indeed eat sushi every day, or three times a day if I can, so the article was a great news.
originally, composition was horizontal. Alexandra sent me a mock dummy (left) and I made two sketches according to the shape (center) as well as one (right) that worked vertically.

They liked the vertical sketch. I drew the final around 2X the print size on watercolor paper using brush and india ink.

Then, digital manipulation of the work. Originally, I was thinking of making the water-line lighter, and add gray scale to the fish. Then after I started playing around, I decided not to do either, but just multiply the same drawings and add very slight effects.

Most of the time when I do digital manipulations, they are things you don't even notice if you only look at the final. I call them 'secret layers', not because they are secret, but because you won't even notice them. In this case, I blur-ed the water line by manipulating on the computer (right), and the left one is before the blur. Very subtle change, but this layer adds a lot of depth and movement to the image.

final piece. I made many small changes and printed out many times till I was happy with the result.

Today's NY Times. What was really cool surprise was to find my friend Jason Lee's illustration right next to mine (left). Priceless.

When I got a call of approval from Alexandra around 5:30, I decided to pack up my stuff (and my dog) and leave the studio early. Yes, I have other work to take care of, but they can wait. It was just too nice to be inside.
We walked along the Hudson River for about 40 blocks (half of the time, my dob wanted to be carried around. He is a 4 pound dog after all), and enjoyed the Someiyoshino Cherry flowers in full bloom.
Someiyoshino Cherry and Riverside Church tower

He was in happy mood that he does not need to wear sweater to walk outside.

Yae-zakura Cherry was starting to bloom too.

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Shimizu is teaching at TutorMill, an online mentoring site for students of illustration!
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