Our latest interview is with none other that RiffTrax's graphic designer/artist, Jason Martin, or Jason Martian as he's known on Twitter. I personally am excited about this one because it covers the topic of graphic design and the history of RiffTrax artwork.
RiffWiki: First off, give us a little intro to who you are, your career and basically what it is you do for a living?
Jason Martin: Well… after crash landing on earth… haha ok, seriously, I’ve been working as a professional graphic artist for a long time now. I knew as a kid that I either wanted to be a musician or a visual artist and I just had more of a knack for drawing so I went that route.
My first paying job was drawing orthodontic equipment but my first regular gig was creating illustrations for various clothing lines… T-Shirt art. I partnered up with my brother for a while and did a bunch of work in LA for the film and music industries, promotional stuff mostly. We got taken advantage of a lot and we really learned how to take ourselves seriously as professionals during that period.
I’ve done a lot of various things since. Production art and illustration for a company producing various products for pro sports and universities, Web design and illustration during the Dot-Com bubble and page layout, marketing and design for the real estate industry. My work for RiffTrax has been the most fun though. I create all of the art for each release, the poster, banners and web graphics. I also create the DVD covers and DVD menus etc. I basically create all of the visual elements people see for RiffTrax with very few exceptions. I’ve been working with them creating all of their stuff for eight years now.
RW: Were you a big fan of MST3K before becoming aware of and eventually working for RiffTrax?
JM: Oh yeah, I remember watching it as a kid and loving it. I think as I got older I wasn’t as fond of the in-between sketches as much. Some people really love those parts but to me RiffTrax is the best part of MST3K re-lived. I’m glad I get to be a part of it.
RW: How did come to being the artist for RiffTrax come about? Was that something you sought or did it happen organically? JM: I just got lucky really. I knew someone already working with them so when their original artist JP left, I was approached because they knew I was someone who could step in quickly and handle the job.
RW: So take us through what you do to get to a really kick-ass piece of art that is worthy of being a poster graphic for a full length RiffTrax entry?
JM: Step one is watch the movie, which can be a real chore at times because it’s usually without their funny commentary. I take notes and get screen grabs that will be used as reference while. The screen grabs get used for other things too but I’m mostly looking for great facial expressions from the actors/characters.
The next thing I do is create sketches to get an idea of how I want the poster to look. After that my process varies. Sometimes I start with the title, other times I start with the main character(s). Sometimes I just start painting something I like and figure out how best to use it later. I think the best posters come from the brainstorm sketches though. It helps with the visual balance of a finished piece.
There are different styles for the different types of releases now too. The MP3 releases for the more mainstream films tend to be more design oriented, utilizing silhouettes etc. For those I do a bunch of sketches looking at photo reference and use both Photoshop and Illustrator to create vector graphics for them.
JM: JP, the original artist for RiffTrax created the whole “Bobble-Head” thing. I thought it was great and had a lot of fun making my own jokes in those posters. They were funny. Somewhere along the line someone decided that the posters were a little too “slapstick” in their humor and wanted to change that up. There were a lot of voices with different opinions as to which direction to change them so it was difficult.
RW: There's been a bit of an evolution of the style of the poster graphics over the years. Round about 2011 things started getting more illustrated and less Photoshop-esque. How did that happen?
I think the first series of posters that were different were my cartoon illustration posters. I thought that they had a well-established look previously that worked great for RiffTrax so why change it. Why fix what isn’t broken if you will, but I was more than happy to have my illustrations be featured in the art. After a bit it was decided that that was not the look they wanted so it was back to the drawing board. We tried various approaches. Photo-montages with Disembaudio as the main character, then he was pulled from the posters. The next evolution was the more design oriented posters.I think the first poster I created utilizing digital painting was The Bride and the Beast. I wanted to mimic the old classic posters. I was pretty rusty! Looking back at it, it wasn’t that great but then again the movie posters of the period weren’t that great either so I guess it worked in its own way. Of course the more you do something the better you get. I had to go back to school in my brain and dig through memories of all those traditional painting classes again. I used the original movie poster by Brian Bysouth for my reference for The Sword and the Sorcerer which really helped. Look to the masters! I also started using the color picker on my reference photos while painting which added elements of color that really liven up the pieces. There are blues and greens etc. that add so much more dimension to skin tone. So my illustration is featured once again on the posters and while they are more time consuming and labor intensive, I’m happy.
RW: What would you say are your top three favorite RiffTrax poster graphics you've made and why?
JM: Of the early “bobble” ones I would definitely say Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. There were others I really liked too. Highlander, LOTR 2&3… it was just fun adding my own humor to each release. Have to plug the poster for Star Trek (2009) as well because I’m in it haha…
I liked my cartoon poster for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and of the more design based posters probably the Dr. Who posters. I do create several versions sometimes and my favorite isn’t always the one chosen for the official release.
My best work by far though (in my own opinion) is my more recent digitally painted posters. Of those I don’t know if I could pick a favorite either but I definitely like some more than others. The Incredible 2 Headed Transplant was really fun and painting Basil Rathbone in for The Magic Sword was fun as well.
RW: You got any side project happening you'd like to tell us about?
JM: I pick up side work from time to time as long as I don’t think it will interfere with my work for RiffTrax. I created a series of posters recently for UC Berkeley’s Sociology department. I’ve also been working at getting into illustrating children’s books. I think that would be a dream come true.
RW: We're gonna have you make some picks for us. What would you say are your top three favorite full length RiffTrax entries?
JM: OH MAN! So many good ones! I loved The Hunger Games, The Guy from Harlem and the Harry Potter riffs. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with guest Neil Patrick Harris stands out to me as well. That one was really funny!
RW: And if you could get Mike, Kevin and Bill to riff any movie of your choosing, no questions asked, what would you have them do?
JM: Well, they’ve already done The Hunger Games so… perhaps 50 Shades of Grey. hahaha… I haven’t read the book or seen the film but it just seems ripe for ridicule and humor to me.
RW: Jason, thanks so much again for talking to us today. If there's anything you wanna say or you wanna direct people to a place to view your graphical masterpieces, the floor is yours!
JM: Thank you! I often wonder if my work is being seen and appreciated.
I try to keep up a practice of creating Daily Doodles along with other art and post them on my social media feeds. I also post sketches and process images of some of the RiffTrax posters and when there are alternate versions of the posters I post those too, a peek behind the curtain if you will. I’ve got links to all of them (Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Facebook…) on my website www.jasonmartian.com Thanks again!