Back to the ’80s: The Dark Crystal and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Fan Art

The two pieces of illustration I’m going to feature in this post were partly born out of my love for the amazing body of work of one Jim Henson–master puppeteer, cartoonist, inventor, screenwriter, filmmaker, and a veritable art legend. While Henson is mostly known nowadays as the creator of the Muppets and Sesame Street, his genius and influence extend far more in various forms of media. The world truly lost a precious mind when he prematurely passed away in 1990 at age 53. I highly recommend the following documentary to anybody who would like to know more about Henson and the incredible things he pioneered through his boundless creativity:

The first piece I’d like to show is my fan art of The Dark Crystal, a 1982 fantasy adventure film directed by Henson and his friend and frequent collaborator, Frank Oz. The story was written by Henson with screenplay by David Odell. All three worked on The Muppets Show, and while The Dark Crystal was marketed as a family film, it was much darker than its creators’ previous material.

’80s kids surely remember this film and those who were kids in the ’90s like myself may recognize it as a movie they used to watch on VHS or one of the weird but interesting movies occasionally shown on TV. I rewatched this sometime in January and fell in love with the exquisite characters and grand sets Henson and his crew–Jim Henson’s Creature Shop–built. The fact that the special effects in this movie (which starred no human characters) were almost purely done by hand using animatronics and puppetry is just completely mind-boggling. When you think about how movies these days get by with worlds created using CGI, they almost seem lazy when you compare them to the monumentally backbreaking work required to produce a film like The Dark Crystal.

The most magnificent creatures in this movie were the good Mystics and the evil Skeksis. My main concern while I was sketching these two was if I could replicate the intricate beauty of their designs since I felt that a lot of their “magic” was in the detail–and these creatures were some of the most detailed things I’ve ever seen onscreen, modern CGI creatures included.

Given the level of detail needed to achieve the look I wanted, it took me quite a few days to finish the pencils. There were a few more characters I would’ve wished to include but they simply won’t fit in the size of the paper I was using, so in the end I ended up drawing Jen, the main character, Kira (a gelfling lady and also Jen’s love interest), Fizzgig (Kira’s pet), Aughra (a good witch), Chamberlain (a Skeksis), and a Mystic.

Purchase this design: The Dark Crystal – Gelflings, Skeksis, and Mystics

While there’s a small community of geeks who are Dark Crystal fans, I wasn’t really counting on this design to get a sale when I uploaded it to my online store. I was surprised that not two days had passed since my upload and I already got a notification that someone purchased a sticker of my illustration. I was elated, of course, and very glad that there are still people out there who are actively looking for merchandise about the movie.

In contrast with The Dark Crystal, everyone knows who the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are because the franchise has had various incarnations in different types of media over the decades since its inception in 1984 as an indie comicbook created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Much of the mainstream popularity of TMNT was due to the smash hit animated series in the ’80s created by the animators at Murakami-Wolf-Swenson. The cartoon was produced primarily to sell action figures by Playmates Toys (and if you have those classic Playmates Toys, they cost a fortune now).

I rediscovered my childhood love for the TMNT after rewatching the 1990 movie of the same name. Not long after seeing The Dark Crystal, I was amazed to find out that the costumes for this movie was also done by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, which explained why they looked so great. The 1991 sequel was the last film to feature costumes and special effects by Henson’s company; the third film in 1993, cutting back on its budget, used different costumes, which were noticeably bad compared to the originals.

Immediately upon finishing the 1990 film, I found myself getting crazy over Turtles. I started rewatching the ’80s animated series and also began the 2012 CGI series. I remembered how I loved the ’80s cartoon as a kid and just wishing I had lots of TMNT toys (I never had a decent one, just a few knockoffs). Drawing this piece was automatic for me, and to drive the nostalgia up a notch, I made sure to draw this one as close to the original designs as possible. Figuring out which characters and elements was easy–there had to be all four turtles, April O’Neil (because this group isn’t complete without her), and, of course, pizza.

The only problem was that I realized color was as much a part of the ’80s TMNT series as any memorable character or element in it. As much as I loved black and white ink drawings, I simply could not imagine leaving this piece without colors, not being able to easily distinguish which one’s Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello through their color-coded bandanas. And so I made a hard decision to get back to doing something I hadn’t done in years–digital coloring and painting. Doubly hard to do because I had long lost my old Bamboo Wacom pen, I proceeded to color the artwork anyway in Photoshop with some help from a couple of online how-tos that I needed to learn right away. Coloring using a “flats layer” was very useful and I definitely recommend it to beginners like me who wish to start coloring inked drawings. Here’s a handy guide:

Purchase this design: Classic Leo, Donnie, Raph, Mikey, and April O’Neil – Turtle Power

It took a few days to complete the colors because of my day job but eventually I did, and I really liked the results. In fact, I was so satisfied with coloring this piece that I plan to create at least two or three more colored TMNT drawings, which I would upload on my online art stores. The next characters on my list include Splinter, Shredder, Casey Jones, and Krang, so watch out for those! šŸ™‚


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  1. Love the post. I agree. Jim Henson and Frank Oz are true masters. Practical effects is a dying art it seems. Nice fan art too! TMNT rock.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much! In general, yes, practical effects is a dying art most probably because CGI is a lot cheaper to do but not necessarily the one with the better results all the time. These new Star Wars films and Guillermo del Toro’s movies have been trying to bring them back, but there’s still so much untapped potential. I really wish a studio or a movie would take a chance on animatronics soon. I was kind of hoping it’s the next TMNT movie, to be honest, seeing as the Michael Bay CGI fest with the ugly monstrous turtles are probably over, and TMNT is bound for a reboot onscreen. Going back to what made the first movie work should be on the table. With the advances in technology, I really believe practical effects can exceed everyone’s expectations.

      Thanks for commenting! šŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • Im so glad that they use practical effects in the new Star Wars movies. Let us hope the new TNMT will be less CGI and more practical šŸ™‚

        I have great respect for Del Toro also. I had the good fortune to see him at Comic Con. He is an amazing director, storyteller and monster creator. I am so happy he won several key oscars, like best director, for The Shape of Water, giving props and credibility to the sci fi/fantasy genre !

        Liked by 1 person

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