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Behind the Scenes with Lucasfilm’s Star Wars Illustrator

Lucasfilm illustrator Brian Rood tells us about what it’s like to illustrate a cover for Time Magazine, how he’s blended digital and traditional media in his artwork, and what his digital workflow is like with Astropad.

A design of various Star Wars characters including Luke Skywalker, C3PO, R2-D2, Rey, and Darth Vader in the background.

You recently illustrated the special edition Star Wars cover for Time Magazine. What was that like? 

A time magazine cover announcing the 40 years of Star Ware.

I’ve been freelancing for Lucasfilm and the Star Wars franchise for the past 15 years. Over the past four years, I’ve been extremely busy creating artwork for the Star Wars storybook projects and working on multiple jobs directly for Lucasfilm Licensing.

The storybook project is composed of roughly 80 or more illustrations per film. It’s one of the most comprehensive retellings of all the main films to date. The books can be found everywhere in dozens of formats, ranging from 300-page hardcovers to the classic read-along books for young readers.

When Time Magazine approached me about doing their Special Edition Star Wars 40th Anniversary cover, I was thrilled. They came to me with the concept of portraying the original 1977 Luke Skywalker from A New Hope alongside Rey from the upcoming film, The Last Jedi. We acknowledged that everybody’s favorite bad guy would be a big part of this illustration, and I also wanted to bridge the generations with the Droids from the original and new trilogies.

It was a big honor to create a new piece of Star Wars art for a publication as iconic as Time Magazine. I’m so thankful that I’ve been able to devote a large portion of my career to creating artwork for one of my all time favorite film franchises.

Kyle Ren and Storm Troopers in battle.

What’s a typical studio day like for you? 

I spend the first hour or two every morning with coffee and Astropad. I like to do some illustrating at my kitchen table or outside on a nice day before I buckle down in the studio.

I typically spend 12+ hours a day between the digital studio and the traditional paint studio. I love Astropad because instead of being tethered to my studio, I can sit on my couch with my iPad Pro and paint in Photoshop. Astropad lets me harness the power of my main iMac studio computer, which has been amazing in allowing me to get out of the office and still be productive. It’s great to watch some TV with the family while simultaneously getting a bit of work done.

Last night, my kids were decorating the Christmas tree, but I still had a bunch of work to get done. So I brought out the iPad Pro and I was sitting on the couch, having family time while working on a deadline. Astropad has become an integral part of every single day.

An office where Star Wars designs are being worked on.
A design of many Star Wars characters and and famous battle scenes.

How do you blend traditional and digital mediums? 

My studio literally has two sides to it: I’ve got the big messy side where I throw paint, and then I have the side that stays clean with my iMac, my iPad Pro, Cintiq graphics tablet, and a 44” Giclee printer.

A designer drawing the helmet of Kylo Ren.

I spent 15 years painting traditionally before I ever dove into the digital realm. Working digitally allows me to get my work done much faster, but I really like to keep elements of traditional painting in all of my pieces.

I love working digitally, but I still like to finalize my artwork with traditional mediums. So I’ve been printing off my work using museum-grade Giclee papers and archival inks, then finishing it with traditional mediums, such as airbrush, acrylics, watercolor, or colored pencils. I’m able to incorporate my traditional art in every piece I create digitally.

For example, I did about 50% of the Time Magazine cover in Photoshop with the use of Astropad. At a certain point, it’s time to put down the digital tools and pick up the brushes. So I printed it out on my large format studio printer and then finished it up with acrylic details, watercolor washes, texturing mediums and colored pencils. Then I scanned it back in, and color-corrected utilizing my iMac, Astropad and Photoshop. Once I had a high-resolution, color-corrected image, it was ready to send into Time Magazine.

I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of integrating traditional painting with modern technology. It has unleashed unlimited creative freedom for me. You never stop learning as an artist, and the right set of tools makes any job easier and more enjoyable. Apps like Astropad accessing the power of your main computer merged with the intuitiveness of the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil is a perfect marriage. A lightweight, comfortable, and powerful graphics tablet.

Princess Leia pulls a hood on top of her head.
Yoda sits on a log.

See more of Brian Rood’s portfolio on his website and follow him on Twitter and Instagram @broodone, or on Facebook at Official Brian Rood Art.