Having graced the pages of such titles as Dynamite’s Zorro, Dark Horse’s Tales of the Fear Agent, BOOM!'s Left On Mission and Image’s 24Seven and Sorrow, the pulp stylings of Francesco Francavilla are known to many comics readers. Thousands of comics readers. Possibly even tens of thousands of comics readers.
This past Wednesday, in the span of just a few seconds, Francavilla’s artwork became known to over 30 million television viewers. The emerging artist’s talents were on display for the legion of American Idol fans, in a cross-promotional commercial for the FOX juggernaut and Ford Motor Company.
In the commercial, which aired as a segment within the episode itself, American Idol contestants dressed in variously goth and alt-rock-esque fashions and split into two groups - one driving a Ford sedan and another in an SUV -- chase each other through city streets while singing a version of “Tainted Love,” made famous in the 1980s by Soft Cell. The live action scenes are intercut with shots of a young man at a drafting table, drawing the action on paper. The artwork, created by Francavilla, occasionally becomes animated, depicting not just the Ford vehicles in action, but also the “Idols” operating giant attack robots and other such imagery. The video concludes with the “Idols” - who were in the story created by the illustrator - busting into his “real life” studio and stealing his brush.
CBR News spoke with the US-based Francesco Francavilla about the American Idol/Ford project, and what else he has coming up.
CBR: Tell us how you came to be involved with American Idol.
FRANCAVILLA: The agency that produces all of these videos for Ford and Idol wanted to do a commercial with a comic book concept. I was contacted by the producer of the video, who told me that since the folks at the agency were fans of my work, they wanted to involve me on the art part of the project. I’m actually a big fan of the show, so I was very excited to get this opportunity.
How did this all work -- did you get a look at the video footage as a cue for what to draw, or did you draw your portions first for the live action crew to match up later?
A bit of both, actually. The producer and director sent initial location shots and a rough storyline of what they had planned for the video, and I came up with a rough layout of panels and pages that incorporated all of the elements they had planned to make sure we were all in sync. After I developed the initial art, we went through a series of revisions throughout the shooting and editing process to make sure the live action and art elements worked together.
How much freedom were you given with this assignment? It seems like the director had pretty specific ideas in mind -- did you primarily work to bring those ideas to life? Were you at all involved in the design of the characters?
The producer, art director, and director gave me a high level view of what they were looking for, but I had quite a bit of creative freedom. We had several brainstorm meetings to finalize all the ideas before I got to work on the art. Since the characters in the video are based on real people, I worked with the stylist and makeup artist on the final look for all the characters, which was really cool. They sent me initial photos and sketches of all the wardrobe and makeup for each character and then I made some post-production tweaks to make sure I captured the final look successfully.
What kind of turn around and deadlines were you working under for this project?
Well as anybody who watches the show knows, each week a contestant gets eliminated. So I had no idea which contestants I would be drawing until after the previous week’s elimination show. I had done some pre-work, but most of the art was produced in couple of very intense days. We also did some changes post-production to make sure that the live action and the artwork flowed together smoothly.
The video contains some animation -- was that handled by the producers or were you also tasked with creating each frame of the action?
Actually, the animated sequences weren’t in the original plan. That was something I decided to add in my rough layout stage. The video team really loved the idea and asked me to animate several of the panels. Given the really tight deadline, that put a lot more on my plate, but I guess I brought that on myself! I really enjoyed doing all of that though and was very happy that they gave me the chance to do some more animated stuff, since that’s something I used to do quite a bit back in the day.
Given “Tainted Love’s” status as an '80s hit, the chase aspect and the back-and-forth between animation and live action, many viewers would surely be reminded of A-Ha's classic "Take On Me" music video. Was that clip ever brought up in the creation of this commercial?
No, it wasn’t brought up because the original concept didn’t involve animation, but I did go check out that video while I was coming up with initial concepts. That video was almost completely animated while this video had much more emphasis on live action. After realizing I’d only have about two days to get the majority of the work done, I decided to go with a completely different approach to the animation sequences.
What comic books have you got out right now and what's coming up the near future?
Probably the most high profile comic project I’m working on right now is Zorro with Matt Wagner. I think issue #3 of that series is coming out pretty soon. Then there’s Tales of the Starlight Drive-In, an anthology I participated in along with lots of other artists, with stories written by Mike San Giacomo, which should be out sometime in June from Image.
I am also really excited that the trade paperback for Sorrow, also from Image, will be on shelves soon. Sorrow is a creator-owned horror series that I worked on along with co-writers Seth Peck and Rick Remender. It’s truly twisted and scary! And, last but not least, I’m going to be drawing a story for Image’s Frazetta Comics line that should be on shelves in August. It’ll be a one-shot Dracula-Meets-The-Wolfman story written by Steve Niles. How cool is that?