Saturday, September 12, 2009

Disney Magic in All Shapes and Symbols

This is an interview that I did with Rustin Jessen, creator of some amazing Disney letterpress pieces. Read to find out how the process works and what he has in store for his project! Also, if you are interested in his work, make sure to take advantage of his D23 Expo Discount that ends when floor closes on Sunday September 13th.

Is it difficult to make the posters?

Well, I don't know that I can call it difficult since putting them together is actually pretty simple. I can absolutely say that it's time consuming... which I guess makes it kind of difficult for someone with a very short attention span (like me). I'm so easily distracted, that really the hardest part is buckling down and getting some focus to set all the type.

What is the process?

It all starts with gathering subject imagery. As you can imagine, finding good photos of Sleeping Beauty Castle is no problem at all, so that was a happy thing for my first try at this. I work from several different subject photos. On the castle I had a few publicity photos and several I had taken myself.

The creation process is all digital at this point. I open up a new Adobe Illustrator document and set my art-board up.

At this point I decide how big the final print will be, and decide the scale of the typography. This step is important since the letters and ligatures of the typeface will essentially be your paint. It's like pixels on a screen, or a stipple technique to painting. Too small and the elements will blob together into visual mush, too large and the image has no definition. So this step is a lot of trial and error. I literally would set a few roof lines in one size, print it, tape it too a wall and step back to check it out. If it didn't look right I'd scrap the whole thing and start again.

To take it one step further, I only wanted to use one color in the print so I needed to convey different textures, colors, and distances with white-space. For example, on the castle print you'll notice the roof sections are smaller and much tighter than the brickwork. And closer elements have more white space than elements that are further away. It was my little experiment and it seemed to work... at least I liked it. :-)

Once all the decisions are made and I've set my 'palette', I get to work setting each letter and ligature of the facade. Each and every character in the print is set individually. It's a lot of back and forth, clicking, rotating, resizing, scrolling, wash, rinse & repeat. Most characters are set, and re-set multiple times until I feel like they are fitting together just right, and I go over the whole image I'm creating inch-by-inch setting it all in place. The fun part comes where there is a distinctive architectural element that needs to be created. I had a great time putting together the spires, and all the unique lines in the roof of the castle. Strangely, my favorite little bits to create on this one were the squirrel gargoyles on the lower brick work of the castle.

Once I'm done with the artwork, we move into the real world.

The process of printing I've always wanted to use for this is called letterpress. It's essentially pressing paper into a plate, or blocks, with raised characters. It's a very physical form of printing that takes a tangible bite out of the paper. You can actually feel the impression where the raised characters pressed into the paper. There's really nothing that matches the feel of a letterpress print.

So for me, I need to take my digital artwork and have a letterpress plate made. Thankfully there are services out there who make plates. I supply my artwork to them, and in a few short weeks they return a metal plate with a perfect reverse image of my artwork in raised relief.

I was happy to be connected with a fantastic letterpress shop in Denver, CO who I've worked with to produce my prints. They've been fantastic. They are artists unto themselves. Letterpress is a craft mastered over years of experience, and I'm happy to have some of the best working on my stuff.

Really, from there, it's in the hands of my capable printer. We trade info and proofs, set the perfect depth and ink color, and he goes off and running to print the full run of posters.

What made you interested in doing this?

I'm a Disney fan to my core. I was fortunate enough to work as a Cast Member with what is now Disney Creative Entertainment and learn from some of the most amazing creative minds in the world. It was in my time with Disney I developed a love for typography. Disney properties are so rich with typography of every style and from every era. Next time you're in the parks, pay attention to the signage. It's really beautiful. You can thank the amazing folks in the art departments and sign shops in all the areas around the world. They do beautiful work.

Anyway, so I became a huge typography fan but it wasn't something I got to talk about often. I used to find little projects where I could go a bit crazy with typography (like my son's baby party invitation). At some point I ran across a wonderfully inspiring project on Veer called Type City. It’s just a great example of what a talented artist can do with interesting shapes. In this case, the shapes happened to be part of a well-designed typeface.

Greatly inspired by what veer did I started a project of my own bringing together two great loves of my creative life. Typography & Disney.

Where do you get your ideas for your creations?

Simple, I do the stuff I love to look at. And who makes better eye candy than Disney Imagineers :-)

What do you have in store for your Magic in Type series?

There are a few more Disney attractions in the works. (See a preview of one below) I'm also experimenting a bit with smaller pieces featuring some Disney & Muppets characters.

How many hours of work go into making one of these pictures?

It's really hard to say. All told somewhere near 200 full hours to create it, and another several to actually run the prints.

Any other thoughts/comments?

What would you like to see? I'm very interested in what people want to see come out of this series. I've had suggestions of doing other attractions like Spaceship Earth and The Mad Hatters Tea Party (or Teacups if you prefer). I've had others suggest doing reproductions of attraction posters. It's always interesting to hear what people come up with.

Anyone can feel free to find me on Twitter (@rustin) or contact me through my site at and let me know what they think.

Also, don't forget that we're running a huge sale during the D23 Expo. 50% off every poster if you use the coupon code "D23" at checkout. That'll run until the expo show floor closes on Sunday.

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