The Human Experience…

My son

First of all, he’s fine.

I’m talking about my barely 2 year-old son who had a seizure barely 48 hours ago while we were traveling to Las Vegas to the yearly basketball tournament that I’ve been going to for the last 15+ years.

What I’d like to talk about are the human beings that went above and beyond their job descriptions to allow my family to have one of the most memorable experiences of our lives for all of the right reasons.

But first the most frightening experience that I’ve encountered in my life so far…

We had barely arrived to Vegas after a 4 hour drive after having lunch with my dad at his hotel in Rialto and checked into the Mirage Hotel & Casino. While getting out of the car, my wife noticed that my son was hot, and when I touched the back of his head, I remember pulling my hand away and thinking, “Oh, that’s hot!”. So we decided to check-in, grab dinner quickly, then get some children’s Advil from the CVS across the street.

My usually active son was a bit lackadaisical, seemingly from the long car ride, and to be honest we could all use a break from chasing him everywhere we go. So as we unpacked and got prepared for dinner, we noticed he fell asleep again in the stroller, and we continued on our way down to the Carnegie Delicatessen. 

Carnegie Deli’s Famous Pastrami
Minutes before the incident

This is the scene where time gets warped, and I’m writing this now before my memory escapes me. We ordered and sat down in the middle of the restaurant, where I had noticed it was very cold – I didn’t think to bring a jacket to the desert, but even for me it was difficult not to feel uncomfortable. My son who was still asleep in the stroller continued to do so, and I know I wanted to quickly eat and take his dinner to go. It’s rare for out family at this point to have a quiet meal that’s not spread out over ourselves and the floor.

However since I was cold, I suggested to my wife to put his jacket on his lap. Just a few minutes afterwards, he stirred awake and became fussy, refusing to eat more than a few bites, and just wanted to be held by his mother and look out at the lights from the casino machines. She obliged and my daughter and I continued to have our peaceful meal over the next few minutes. 

Then all of a sudden, my wife yells, “Hey, I think he’s having a seizure!” and I turn around and say, “Wha-?” but before I finish that word, my wife thrusts him into my arms where I can feel the his tiny body pulsating and shaking out of anybody’s control. 

“It’s ok, it’s ok, daddy’s here, it’s ok,” I calmly keep repeating to him, and as I struggle to take off his jacket, a middle aged brunette woman with glasses calmly extends her arms and tells me that her son has had this happen and proceeds to soak napkins in ice water and place them over his forehead while I do so on the back of his neck. The staff also provides more towels soaked in cold water to place on him, and as I feel the pulsation slow, I start to calm down inside.

However, we were not quite in the clear. As the Mirage staff EMT arrived to assist and we were discussing whether or not to call the paramedics, the seizure started again and we laid him on his side on the red cushioned seats. As I kept talking to him, asking him to look at me, squeeze my finger, and watched his breathing, these thoughts cycle through my mind:

Is he breathing? Ok, I see his stomach moving and his lips aren’t getting blue. Is he breathing?

Why are the whites of his eyes yellowing? Why can’t he squeeze my fingers? Why isn’t he looking at me?

Is this the last time I’m going to see him? Are the photos on my camera the last ones that I have?

He’s closing his eyes, is that good or do I smack him to make sure he stays conscious? Ok, they’re open again but they don’t seem to be responsive.

This can’t be it, this can’t be it…

Then a slight look and whimper comes out of his as he peers over at me, still on his left side. I can see his tongue peering out through his teeth being clenched by his teeth. I see that it’s causing him enough pain to look at me and sign for some kind of help. I stick my thumb and forefinger into where his molars would be (he only has 1) and try to pry his jaw open. And this is where I find out later that normally people should avoid putting fingers into the mouth of someone having a seizure since the jaw muscles are so strong that people have had their fingers severed. I get it now as I fail to pry a 2 year-old’s jaw open, even a little bit. I do get his tongue pushed back in just enough for his jaw to clench shut again, though.

While this is happening, I try not to look at my wife because I know she could be hysterical which wouldn’t help me keep my cool. I shoot a glance over at my 4.5 year old daughter and she’s still calmly at our table eating or coloring. I also hear some of the staff yelling, “Pack them some food for the hospital,” and then the Manager tells us that the paramedics have arrived. 

A young blonde man and a older, taller man with a hat came to take over and calmly explain how common this is. They proceed to inject a muscle relaxer, Versed, to calm the seizure and the older man told me how his son used to have seizures and talked me through what to expect and what they need to do. I’m instructed to lie on the gurney with my son on my stomach, then we’re strapped in and moved through the casino and into the ambulance.

As we’re getting carted off, I see my wife is still standing but full of tears. I have to throw her the keys to the car for them to follow us and this is where her account of the excellent treatment from the Carnegie Delicatessen’s staff began. She tells me that one of the managers, Marc, grabbed all of our belongings and the meals they had packed, and walked her all the way to our car (which was a far walk) and even offered to drive her to the hospital. My wife declined, but later on I’ill find out firsthand how extremely fortunate we were to have those staff members to be on our lookout.

Back inside the ambulance, I remember thinking, “This is not the way I wanted to experience my first ambulance ride.” It was cold and stark, however the two gentlemen quickly turned on the heater. My nerves had started to come out as my adrenaline wore off, and we were also exposed to the rain (in Vegas?) as we were being placed inside the back of the ambulance. My knees were shivering and I could see that my son had also starting to shiver, which I initially mistook for another seizure. As I and the 2 EMT men start to head out, however, my son did start that unmistakeable rhythmic bouncing sensation again and is given another .25ml of Versed to calm his muscles. I was also handed an oxygen mask to hold over his nose to ensure that he was getting more than enough oxygen on our way towards the hospital.

They calmly explain that they wanted to start an IV to get some fluids back into my son to rehydrate him and lower his temperature. Finding my son’s vein inside the back of a bouncing ambulance proved to be a difficult task, but it also showed me that he was going to be ok. See, the first attempt on his right arm didn’t work out so the second attempt was put into his right hand. Although that was initially successful, the turbulence on the road lead to another unsuccessful attempt to start an IV, and I could see blood spurt out as the needle was knocked away. Now on the approach to the third and semi-successful attempt on the left arm, I notice my son trying to kick off the taller man with the hat with his legs. I see this and hold his knees down, but I’m also happy that he’s responding to this painful process. The man with the hat then apologizes profusely for the many attempts, and I tell him, “Don’t worry, you do whatever you have to do,” and his response was,”I know, but no parent likes to see their child in pain.”

By this point we’ve made it to the hospital and we’re taken out of the ambulance and rolled into the Sunrise Children’s Hospital. Waiting for us was  Dr. Vergara and six or seven nurses lined up around a hospital bed as we start to get off the gurney. The younger blonde EMT man proceeds to explain the details of the incident from the Carnegie, recall the dosage of medication given to my son, and also explain the multiple attempts to start an IV line. Of course, the nurses promptly put in IV lines in both arms again to my son’s dismay, and also take his height, weight, and temperature which was 104ºF when we arrived. At this point he had opened his eyes and looked at me and the surrounding nurses, but more importantly he had started to cry, which gave me a sigh of relief as I knew we were over the hump.

Recovering at the Sunrise Children’s Hospital

At this point I turn around and see that my wife and daughter had arrived. I notice she isn’t frantic and I tell her he’s going to be fine. Then Dr. Vergara explains how seizures come about, how common they are especially among children until about age 7, and the next steps that involved looking at his blood work to verify the possible origins of his seizure.

She explains that the actual temperature is not the culprit behind the onset of a seizure, but rather the rapid increase or decrease in the body temperature that causes the brain to “reset” the body, as she put it. Thinking back now, my wife and I suspect the coldness of the A/C that was blasting onto him while he was asleep followed up by my wife’s warm body temperature as she was holding him was probably the cause of the seizure (and we are not blaming anyone, merely analyzing the situation).

We’re placed into a regular room now at the children’s hospital and waiting for my son to take in two IV units. He’s in and out of sleep, and once he noticed his mother, he started to cry and fuss around a little bit, bending some of the IV lines that are in him and setting off the machines. After he calmed down we held his hand out to keep his arms straight as my wife lays with him, putting one of her arms under his head, the way he normally makes her do when they go to bed at night, and we stay there as my daughter enjoyed her extended TV time. During the five hours that we were there, he was given 2 popsicles to lower his temperature and increase his fluid intake. This is also where my wife recalled her harrowing moments as well as mention the name Marc several times to me.

Back at the Mirage, I’m fine!

What I did not expect happened that evening as we were making our way back to our room. After dinner my wife and I wanted to stop by the Carnegie to thank the manager and I was hoping to meet Marc. Instead we were greeted by Sanja, the Assistant Manager, who was at the point of tears with utter jubilation as she saw that we were doing ok. Then I noticed our server was also working just behind her and we walked over to her to thank her. Carrie (sp?) immediately burst into tears as well, and yelled “Oh my god, I’m getting goosebumps!” with her slight southern twang and they both proceeded to tell us how worried their entire staff was for the whole day! Sanja kept insisting on sending food and drinks up with us, asking us if there was anything we needed at the hotel. She then promised to have our breakfast ready for us the following morning. When I got the chance to talk to Marc later, he also told me that he was looking at every stroller that passed by throughout the day to see if it was us because they were so worried about our well-being.

Sanja and Carrie

As 10 PM was approaching, Sanja kept telling me that she had to contact Marc, the General Manager of the Food and Beverage department to tell him the great news. I find out later that Marc shuts off his work phone at 10p. As soon as we reached our room I heard our room phone ring, and I’m greeted by that unmistakeable New York friendly accent and cadence from Marc, and we proceed to share an intimate conversation. I thanked him for looking out for my wife and daughter as I’m being carted away into the ambulance. He shares with me the tales of his second son who was born prematurely and the months he spent every night after work at the NICU at the very same hospital we were taken to. He tells me how bad he felt that something like that could happen to a family on vacation. He tells me how amazed he was at how my daughter handled the situation. He congratulates me on keeping my composure during a very difficult and scary moment. I hear his voice breaking and I can see how that frightening moment had taken him back to those days in the NICU where he wasn’t sure what was going to happen to his son – whether or not he’d see him the next day or get the chance to hold him in his palm after work. That same son is now 16 years old and a thriving golf pro, while his first son is a soccer stud who went to college and grad school on scholarships. I’ve worked in the hospitality industry for over 8 years, and to see that kind of above-and-beyond service (which isn’t over yet) was truly impressive to me.


I finally got to meet Marc over breakfast the following morning, even though it was his one day off. I first saw Sanja with an ear-to-ear grin as she spots my son. Then I felt a big hand squeeze my shoulders behind me as he scoops up my son to hold him. We continue to talk and sit down to share a meal, when all of sudden a bouquet of sunflowers landed by my daughter and 2 large bags of toys were presented to them. My daughter was a bit overwhelmed and startled by the attention and starts to cry a little, however I can’t help but enjoy this touching moment. Marc also presents me with a bottle of 2002 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut Champagne from his own personal collection. He said he was saving it for something special, and that this was the perfect moment.

We continued to talk about our lives and what brought us here that day. I learned about his extraordinary life as a hard working man raising two boys on his own. I could hear the proud father in him talk about his athletically-gifted sons whose talents were unmistakably inherited. We talked about the hospitality industry and how he had come out of an early retirement to become the person to inject the “human” aspect of service back into a growing staff of data driven millennials (my words, not his). I had also heard from Carrie, several times, how wonderful the upper management had become due to Marc’s influence. 

I know these things happen to high rollers in casinos on a regular basis. But this type of special treatment stemming from an unfortunate incident was unexpectedly beautiful and a moment my family and I will never forget. We’ve made new friends and every time I go to Las Vegas, I intend to stop by and say hi with my family. Although our vacation began with a horrifying moment, Marc and his staff were able to create the most human experience that our family will never forget, and we will only remember this trip for the right reasons.

Thank you again Marc, Sanja, Carrie, and to the unknown woman who initially helped me out. You helped us remember only the positive things that happened on this trip!

Marc and my kids
Marc and my kids


My family with some new friends

Red Engine Studios: Intro to Character Design


Towards the end of my classes at Gnomon, I asked my instructor Eric Ryan for suggestions on other workshops or academies that were available for me to explore. Of the few in the LA area, including CGMA, CDA, TAG3Kicks, he suggested Red Engine Studios in Downtown LA since he was planning to teach Creature Design in the summer term. I took his suggestion and visited the studio prior to enrolling into the class and decided to attend their 10-week workshops.

Introduction to Character Design class was one of the classes I signed up for that was taught by Steve Jung, who also turned out to be one of the founders of Red Engine Studios. His impressive list of work includes Thor, Transformers 2, Tron, Batteship, and Avengers. Since I had just finished up my Gnomon Class, I went into the class with a sense of confidence; however I soon found out how far I was from becoming a Concept Design Artist.

Before sharing my 10-week experience, I wanted to share my thoughts about Steve. He was soft-spoken in his demeanor, but was very cordial and easy to approach between breaks or at the end of class. He studied at Pasadena Art Center and graduated early to avoid having a large burden of student debt. How was it possible to graduate early when I’ve heard that it’s almost impossible to graduate in 4 years? He looked up his instructor’s class syllabus and completed the entire semester’s assignment prior to the first day of class, then demanded that the administrators allow him to skip ahead to the next class. He worked around the clock, literally sleeping on campus (even in the classroom between classes), to complete all of the assignments early. I found this extremely profound, since I’ve heard many stories about the grueling nature of Art Center, so from day one, Steve had earned my attention and my respect.

Week 1: We were given the task of drawing a basic head shape and lighting it in three different ways – from the top, side, and below. Steve’s basic one-hour demo and lecture included this seemingly simple illustration:


I found it pretty astonishing that you can teach, draw, and and field questions at the same time. Although this was a basic stylized drawing of a head, the upcoming demos over the upcoming weeks were truly impressive. Here was my take on the assignment:


I started with the top lighting version (on the left) – which took me about three days. I had a few different versions and had scrapped quite a few drawings since I wasn’t happy with them. I was studying my face in the mirror and pausing Battlestar Galactica (a show I got addicted to on Netflix) since there were many scenes with direct top-lighting on the actors. The bottom lit head on the right was an inverted version of the top lit head, which saved me some time, but thinking back now I should have done it from scratch for practice.

Immediately Steve knew that I had duplicated the left half of the face and flipped it over to the right side. Faces aren’t 100% symmetrical and when you make them perfectly symmetrical, it’s noticeable (at least to him). The side-lit head was not as successful since there were areas of shadow and highlight missing or inaccurate. I realized that painting from scratch (without an exact photographic reference) as Steve had suggested that we do, had exposed my weaknesses.

Steve also noted to make my shadow areas darker and add highlights in the appropriate areas to add pop and emphasis to the face.

Week 2: Although I missed this class, I had to work on a few renderings of a few different materials. Steve posted the demo onto the class blog:


Typically I find these types of assignments less-than-exciting, but I still learned a few things:


I used to do a lot of these exercises when I first began airbrushing, so I felt confident with these renderings. However Steve pointed out a few flaws with the glass renderings (the objects in the middle column); the edges of glass are usually more bevelled, so there needs to be a thicker line along the edges as well as brighter highlights.

Week 3: This was our first character assignment and Steve completed a basic leather-clad character demo in what I thought was a wtf-short-amount-of-time (less than an hour?):


He made a few thumbnails prior to the character demo:


Again, this was done in a matter of minutes which was mind-boggling to me at the time. He instructed us to create a few skeletal stick figure drawings, find a design language and repeat those shapes throughout the figure, and then break up shapes with different values (white, gray, and black). We were supposed to look for interesting shapes, instead of lines, and also keep an eye on the negative space (the blank areas surrounding the figure). Also he stressed the use of odd numbers of shapes/patterns/designs since those are more interesting than even, symmetric features.

Here is my first take (warning: it’s awful):


It’s pretty bad, and I can’t believe I’m posting this, but what’s worse is that I thought at one point that it was okay! Here are a few thumbnails and silhouettes I drew, which were equally embarrassing:



Just bad, bad, and bad. Steve was actually pretty nice about it, thinking back on it now. His main criticism was that I had not considered shapes over patterns. The hand proportions were too large, and the top of the arm further away from us was too big. The weight of the character should be resting on one leg with one of the knees locked or else the character stance seems too relaxed and thus looks weak. The chest should point upwards to depict a heroic character. Once again my darks needed to be darker and my light areas need more specular highlights. Here is Steve’s quick paintover illustrating his points:


Not only was I finding out how weak my drawing skills were, but I was also coming to the realization that I was a bad designer.

Week 4: I missed this class due to a pre-planned trip to Palm Springs, but was still able to complete the assignment since we used the Red Engine Studios’ class blog to keep connected to the class. That week Steve demo’d a knight in shining armor:


I really wished I had seen his demo and heard his lecture, because once again I made some terrible knight characters:




WTF … the first one looks like Boba Fett’s grandfather, the second one looks like some chicken suit, and the last one that I thought was the most ‘successful’ out of the bunch, has a strange mix of sci-fi and fantasy. Again, I thought these were actually okay at the time which is the sad part.

Steve’s comments mirrored his last crit – shapes over patterns! I had to keep focussing on big, medium, and small shapes throughout the design of the character. When I painted the third knight I remember adding those cut lines throughout the character just because I thought it was ‘cool’; I hadn’t thought about any reason for their being there. Steve again drew my attention to these basic design rules that I had never formally learned.

Week 5: This week we dove into creating a character with color. Steve was also allowing the use of photo textures, and I was excited to finally use photographic references since I had a very large library of photographs to choose from. Steve’s demo was even more impressive (albeit Tron- inspired) and mind-numbingly quick:


Steve used a several new techniques that I had yet to try; warping textures, flipping the character’s silhouette horizontally back and forth to ensure there weren’t any anatomical issues, using different blend modes in the layers to overlay the photo textures, using clipping masks to paint inside the silhouette, and on and on and on.

Here were my attempts (once again, nothing that I’m very proud of):



I chose some photos I had from a recent trip to Korea and Paris to use for the background plate. Prior to working on these I brushed up on my figure drawing using model poses from fashion blogs, including The Sartorialist:


While doing these studies certainly helped, there were still some issues with the pose and the anatomical structure in my paintings. Steve also pointed out that my costume design was too plain and simple – there wasn’t anything interesting to draw the eyes into the character. He stressed pushing and pulling the silhouette to achieve more interest. He also cautioned my use of  photographs without painting over them extensively; it could be a slippery slope towards mediocrity if I didn’t learn early on to limit my use of them. His paintover stressed these points:


I have to admit at this point in the class, I was getting very worried about my career choice. This was the first time I felt that I couldn’t draw – something I was told by many that I was great at. I also came to realization that I didn’t know how to design – another fact that surprised me since I felt that I had a high regard for design.

Week 6: This week we were diving into a genre that I wasn’t very familiar with: Steampunk. Apparently this genre involves characters from a post-apocalyptic, western world powered by steam engine technology. What? Steve’s demo helped illustrate these ideas:


Since I was unfamiliar with this genre, I spent a lot of time researching this theme and looking at steam engine train designs. I came up with this sniper-style character:


I tried to keep the painting looser and focused on the design elements. Steve commended my design of the wheel, but wanted more details in that area to show how it would actually work. He thought the shapes of the tubing were too uniform and needed to be more fluid. He also pointed out that the width of the fingers were similar to the widths of the other pipes in the gun.

Steve’s paintover:


He wanted me to have fun with the story of the character as well to push the design elements – maybe this character had to wear a giant mask because the steam engine that drives his leg pollutes too much…whatever. Go with it and make the character interesting.

Week 7: Our assignment for this week involved designing a mech-suit. Again, Steve did an amazing demo in a little over an hour:


For our assignment he wanted us to design a mech-suit that performed a mundane task as its function as opposed to the typical military application. Since I’m a photography enthusiast, I chose a photographer as my power-suited character:


And here are a few thumbs that I worked off of:


Since Steve had stressed the idea of pushing the envelope, I went all out on the silhouette of this character by arming him with tons of photographic gear I wished I had. In this case, however, Steve explained that the design did not meet the function. As a power-suit, the accessories should be able to be folded into the suit at certain points as opposed to being stuck on all over the place. The design was far too chaotic and the functional parts needed to be better integrated into the body. He did liked the design of the legs that had the tripod attachments, though.

Week 8: For the next two weeks, we were given the choice to redesign an existing character from any source. I decided on using my favorite comic character from my childhood – Calvin & Hobbes. I decided not to use Calvin himself, but one of his imaginary characters, Spaceman Spiff. I pulled up images to use as references:


I developed a few thumbnails with these references:


Not the greatest work here again, but I chose the third pose to get me started and ended up with this for my first go-around:


Steve suggested that I needed to use more realistic colors – a term he used was to make the colors look like they ‘weren’t taken straight out of the tube’. The hues needed to be altered by mixing colors together colors rather than adjusting the color saturation sliders. The background needed more contrast as well and the use of textures in this case was necessary to sell the painting. Steve once again illustrated this with his paintover:


I enjoyed working on this assignment since this was a character reminiscent of my childhood, so I went back and re-worked Spaceman Spiff with Steve’s suggestions:


I addressed the contrast issue by using the Overlay Blend mode and using a darker shade to emphasize the darker areas. Other major parts that were addressed were the feet which needed to be in the proper perspective. I also added more details and smaller shapes in the boots as well as the belt. I finished the gun and tightened up the overall painting, fixed the stance, and added the ship in the background.

Steve saw the improvements and added a few more details in his paintover:


Steve still wanted more contrast to draw the eyes into the painting. He also showed me how to mix the blue costume colors with the colors of the surrounding environment to add more realism to the scene. The head also needed to be tilted slightly so that the it didn’t feel disconnected from the body.

Take three:


I really pushed the dark levels to increase the contrast level to make the scene more eye-catchy. The gun was straightened out slightly and the colors were mixed in with the surrounding environment. The blue parts of the environment also received a healthy wash of orange to fit better into the scene. I added some mist and smoke coming out of the gun to make the scene seem more dynamic.

At the time I was very satisfied and proud of this piece. Alongside Spaceman Spiff’s development, I addressed the issues with the Steampunk Sniper character:


I exposed the arm to show more mechanical elements of the character. Also the mask was given a bigger upgrade, the piping in the gun varied in more places, and the engine and wheel were further developed to create a more plausible character.

Steve saw the improvements and pointed out the parts that didn’t quite work. The black part of the engine that looked like the front of the steam engine was not working – it looked like I had cut and pasted an image of a steam engine (which I admittedly did). The perspective of the wheel axis was slightly off, the gun piping could still use more variation, and the colors still felt as if they weren’t blending in with the background and foreground.

Take three:


I re-worked the engine component of the wheel to make it seem more convincing and addressed the issues with the wheel. I also a few more elements to the wheel after doing more research from my reference images.

I never received a final critique from Steve on what came to be my best work at the time, but I can see now the things I could work on to improve these two characters. The poses could be much better, and the structure of the anatomy could also be improved greatly.

Thinking back on my experience, I was probably in over my head going into this class with just one other digital painting class under my belt. However, I’ve found out that getting out of my comfort zone has helped me improve exponentially, and I’ve only yet begun.

The Gnomon Experience


Since I’ve committed myself to becoming a digital artist in the field of Entertainment Design, I found out quickly that the Gnomon School of Visual Effects was the place that was recommended by a few friends in the industry. I signed up for an Introduction to Maya class at the beginning of 2012 to learn how to use the highly complex 3d modeling suite that is commonly used in the movie and videogame industry. I also supplemented my digital art education by enrolling into the Introduction to Digital Painting with Eric Ryan. It turned out that my experience from the Digital Painting class opened up possibilities in that field that reflected my career goals as well as played to my strengths since I had a background in traditional art.

Since then I’ve decided to stick to 2D digital art using Photoshop even though it seems that everyone was trying to learn 3D with Maya. Maya is such a production machine that I soon realized that you simply cannot learn the entire program in a given amount of time. You have to decide on which part you want to specialize in (i.e. modeling, texture, lighting, animation, keyframing, setting up IK’s, rendering, etc.) to be an effective asset to any company.

In the Introduction to Digital Painting class, Eric Ryan pushed all of the students with the amount of homework assignments and the usual critiques (also known as ‘crits’) that followed. I picked up my first Wacom Intuos4 tablet (I had a Graphire tablet gifted to me that I used before), and off I went without having any experience actually using it. I felt pretty well-versed at Photoshop at the time since I’ve used the program since version 6 or 7, and being an avid photographer-hobbyist I was very familiar with its interface. Looking back, however, I realized now that I really didn’t know how to paint in it at all, let alone create anything from scratch.

Typically, the class structure is as follows: Eric does an hour demo of what our homework assignment will be, then fields questions and answers, then crits the student work and does a ‘paintover’ (which is exactly as it sounds – he takes your homework, brings it into photoshop, and paints over areas that needs attention) for the remainder of the class.

Week 1: Our assignment is to copy a photo of an alien head sculpture by Craig Mullins, a creature designer in the entertainment industry:


I spent a lot of hours getting familiar with my Intuos4, and came up with this:


I used about 6-7 separate layers and painted like I was painting in real life; the mid tones, shadows, and highlights were kept on separate layers, and few other layers for the texture and details. I got a decent crit from Eric, and in comparison to the other students in the class, I felt that I was in the upper tier in terms of skill level and having the eye to see values and tones between the light and dark areas. The major criticism from this piece was that the values were a bit close together and that there were no sharp, crisp, contrasty areas.

Week 2: Copy a more complex scene in black and white by seeing the proportions and negative space between all the different elements in the still life scene:


My version:


I soon found out what carpal tunnel feels like! I realized my drawing skills had lapsed since I usually traced over paintings that were to be airbrushed. I hadn’t drawn anything for a long time since I felt that there was no need to because of the availability of digital tools like cameras and scanners. I spent a few days on this assignment, and my wrists and forearms were screaming with pain.

Eric pointed out the inaccuracies in the proportions but also gave me a ‘good take’ on the scene. Again the lack of contrast between the dark and light areas was pointed out. My airbrushing brain was still telling me not to go too dark since in real life, you can’t ‘undo’ that action. But it’s photoshop and I needed to push that in the digital realm.

Week 4: Since I missed week 3, our next assignment was to do a color rendering of a screencap from any movie we liked, but it had to have interesting lighting. I chose a screencap from a short film called Reverie by photographer Vincent Laforet:


I spent about 4 days on this project (looking back now, I wasn’t nearly as efficient around Photshop as I am now):


Eric gave me a pretty positive review, once again emphasizing to darken my darks to boost up the contrast. To sharpen my drawing skills, I tried not to look at the source material as often and did not measure it with the ruler tool in Photoshop. That may be the reason my rendition isn’t as accurate to the original, but the proportions of the model are good enough that I think my version can stand up on its own.

Week 5: An animal portrait. I’ve done a few in the past, but never digitally, and since I just got a puppy at the end of January, Toffee was my subject:


Looking back, I can’t believe she was that small! Anyhow, my take:


I tried using some of the 3D brushes in Photoshop CS6 to render the fur. Eric pointed out to warm up the tones in the shirt by adding more reds, add more convincing fur details, and to darken the areas around the ear, neck, and body to create more ‘turn’ in the shape. I took those notes and did another take on Toffee:


Week 6: Paint a few color compositions of environments in different times of the day. Since I had a gigabytes of photographs in my own collection, I had plenty to choose from:




The left side are the photographs, and the right are my renditions. Eric pointed out to differentiate the warmer and cooler tones, watch out for over-saturation of the red sky, and to darken the foreground elements.

Week 7: Copy a painting from any of the Great Masters of painting from the Renaissance Era. Since Eric did a demo using Adolphe Bouguereau’s painting, I decided to try it myself:


I spent more than 4 days working on this rendering of Bouguereau’s ‘Lost Pleiad’. I felt confident in my rendering capabilities with this version, however Eric pointed out to desaturate the background and add more green tones in the shadows to neutralize the pinks in the skin.

For the last 2 weeks, we had the freedom to do a final project on whatever topic interested us. That actually cause more anxiety, as I found out that I get extremely nervous when given a blank canvas to stare at.

Ironically that’s exactly what ended up inspiring me to paint my final project: a modern take on Norman Rockwell’s ‘Artist Facing Blank Canvas’:


To update the painting, I added elements of my digital art supplies to replace the paints and canvas from Rockwell’s time – my Macbook Pro, Wacom Intuos4 tablet, 27″ Thunderbolt Display, and my Drobo external drives. I shot a few photographs of my office nook where I do all of my digital artwork to get me to a starting point:


I realized this composition was too flat, and I took another shot where added a few more personal elements to the scene:




My first rendition came out like this:


Since the beginning of the class, my speed had improved and I was able to paint this scene in about a day and a half. I also was proud of the elements I had created in this scene to spark interest to the viewers’ eyes; the pen pointing at my puppy, where there is also a red book pointing down towards her head to direct the eyes there. Then there were personal elements of mine such as the camera lens and the airbrush tool above my head in the nook area. The Drobo drives are also angles in such a way that the lines from the Drobos implicity points towards the puppy, who is also staring curiously at me.

Eric did a final paintover our final project, and there were a few areas he said that I could improve on in the painting:


The white screen caused too much contrast that drew too much attention away from the focal points of the painting. The head proportions were a bit off, and he wanted a few more elements on the desk. I took his crit and ran with it in my final version:


I added a screenshot of my actual screen to put into the monitor.


I fixed the proportions of my head, added the screenshot into the monitor, and also added more reflections into the black borders of the monitor and the Drobo drive covers. I didn’t add any elements to the desk since there really aren’t any other items spread over my real desk. Still, I felt that this was a successful painting and was extremely excited with my progress.

Next stop – Red Engine Studios

Going Di-gi-tal, Di-gi-tal…


As I’ve fully committed myself to pursuing a career in art, I’ve decided to pursue the field of Entertainment Design which would require an expertise with digital tools. That’s not to say there was anything wrong with trying to sell my airbrush artwork individually, but for me it seemed to be a long shot that would requires several years of pounding the pavement and knocking on doors so-to-speak.

After graduating UCLA I desperately wanted to go to Art Center and try my hand at design – maybe product or its renown transportation design program. Just graduating UCLA, however, I didn’t have the funds nor did I feel the absolute confidence that I could repay the six-figure loans after graduating Art Center.

In the back of my mind I wanted to do something in the videogame field – up to that point I had spent countless hours enjoying the interactive nature of the many immersive worlds brought to me by the original Atari, NES, Genesis, Gameboy, TurboGrafx, N64, and my all-time favorite, the Sega Dreamcast. I noticed that I began to critique the lacking features and the art styles of the games. But in 2003, I had no preparation to pursue that field after UCLA, although USC and UCI had barely began offering undergraduate and graduate programs for videogame design starting in 2004.

Fast-forward 9 years, after taking the road less traveled and building a life with a career in the family business as a hotelier, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something. I’ve been told several times to use my talents to pursue a different career that was more fulfilling from friends and even family, but for 8+ years I kept ignoring that itch, drowning those thoughts with the preconception that eventually owning and running my own hotel business could lead me into a very fruitful life where I could disregard those notions with the promise of fairly stable wealth.

In 2007-2008 the bottom fell out of the economy, and the hospitality industry went into a tailspin. Needless to say those feelings of security quickly vanished and my father and I had to hustle to keep our heads above water. As the family business waned, tensions were higher between the parents and I, and I can’t blame them since their retirement was tied to the success of the hotel. To make a long story short, things wrapped up nicely a few years later and I have them to thank for the years of work-experience and the life I’ve been able to establish and sustain until this day (working as a onsite General Manager at a roadside hotel in the Inland Empire will expose you to a lot of things, for better or for worse…).

Back to the point – I was somewhat apprehensive about going digital. If you’ve seen some of the concept designers’ work, they are equally amazing and daunting thinking about how they can get from point A to Z. After taking a digital painting class with Eric Ryan at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects and currently finishing up classes with Steve Jung, Anthony Jones, and Aaron Limonick at Red Engine Studios, I’ve come to realize how important the fundamentals in traditional art are to any artist and designer, digital tools or not. The years of airbrushing have not been wasted as I had once worried about, and the more recent dabble into photography have also been a great supplement to my understanding of how the world is observed.

I will share with you all of the terrible drawings I’ve made from the beginning and the realization that although I may be good at rendering (i.e. copying), presently I may be a bad designer thus far (which, hopefully with more practice I can only get better).

But I think I’ve found my way and taken the first steps to something exciting.

I’m posing my digital work progress here. Individual postings to follow for each of the pieces.

*image copyrighted to Sulmo Kim

Joyce & Charles Wedding/Birthday Portrait


A few years ago, Joyce’s sister was getting married and she had asked me to paint a portrait for her and her future brother-in-law. Due to a few unforeseen circumstances and being that I was still working full-time, I was unable to get that project started in time.

Now that Joyce is soon approaching her wedding day, she commissioned me to paint her a wedding portrait that she could present to her fiance, Charles, as a surprise birthday gift as soon as they return from their Hawaiian wedding. I was more than honored to take on the task because I think Joyce gets why this is important; she wants something that she and her husband can look at for years to come.

I decided to create another Timelapse Video combined with footage I shot of my art studio, unmasking the finished art piece, and – my favorite part – the final reveal to Joyce.

-Sulmo Kim |

Captured Emotions

joyce-charles-portrait-007webI’ve known Mo for over a decade and over the years I’ve had the privilege to see some of his work. More recently, I saw his airbrush paintings of wedding portraits he had done for some of our friends (including his own).

When it came time to decide on a wedding/birthday gift for my fiance, the idea of asking Mo to create one of his timeless pieces was on the top of my list. Mo is truly talented and his ability to capture every fine detail and human emotion through the airbrush is amazing.

I gave Mo one of my favorite pictures of me and my fiance. It was one of those candid shots I thought would look sweet in a black and white painting. I was confident that Mo would do great work but I was in complete and utter awe when he revealed the final product. The painting looked like a replica of the actual picture, yet more beautiful and personal. He was somehow able to add so much depth to the picture. His attention to every tiny detail like how the sun reflected off our faces and my reflection in my fiance’s sunglasses was mind blowing.  

I am so excited to give the painting to my fiance and have it hanging in our place. Knowing that it was done by a dear friend will make it that much more special when we look at it everyday for the rest of our lives. Thanks Mo! – Joyce

Harrison & Annie’s Wedding Portrait

I was fortunate enough to be one of the groomsmen for Harrison Long’s wedding. He’s been a close friend of mine since we were in junior high, and his father, Gary, was even the officiant for my wedding. Harrison had started his own Harrison Long Photography a few years ago and spent his own precious time to shoot my engagement photos for my wedding without hesitation, and surprised my then fiance and I with our sign-in books filled with those photos.

I was honored to produce his wedding slideshow, and I knew I had to do something really special for his wedding portrait. Rather than take the same approach from my other paintings – editing a source image and rendering faithfully to that image – I made a portrait inside of another painting.

Harrison has an affinity for urban landscapes and graffiti, an interest we shared growing up. I also knew that he wanted to secretly hop trains and hitchhike across the country, that one of his favorite color is green, and that he loves Polaroids. I took that information and using a book he gifted me, Graffiti World: Street Art from Five Continents by Nicholas Ganz, I was inspired to create something … different, but I had a good feeling that they would like what I made.

The Reveal

I wanted to capture their reaction when I revealed their painting. Although the iPhone’s image quality was subpar due to the dimness outside of the restaurant, it still managed to capture their emotions from nervous anticipation to their elation with the final outcome.

-Sulmo Kim |

Timeless Memento

dsc_7978-edit“We were absolutely stunned when our piece by Sulmo was unveiled to us! The theme fit us so well and the work was so beautiful and detailed.  Our faces looked just like the photo!  It is hanging in our foyer now and everyone who sees it comments on how precise all of the details are.  It is more than just a portrait because Sulmo captured us and our spirit through his work.  It is a gorgeous piece that will be a timeless memento of an important time in our life.  We appreciate all of the thought and tireless work it took to create it!” – Annie

“The painting is amazing and we’re in pretty much awe of your skills. I’ve seen your work over the years and am familiar with your style and ability, but I was still pretty blown away by what you did.  I’ve always been impressed by what you do and your talents to capture detail, but it was different seeing our own faces on canvas. I think my initial feeling was shock at how much you were able to capture us. I’ve seen your portraiture work a lot, but it was really different this time seeing our faces on that canvas. It personalizes it to an even greater degree having your photo on canvas. There’s something very personal about canvas. It humanizes a photo more to see it painted on canvas. Out of all the work you’ve done, I’m really impressed by this piece. Maybe I’m biased because it’s us, but I think I’d feel this way if I saw this from an outside perspective. The way you drew in personal elements to incorporate personality lends the painting a lot of depth. Everything from color choice to background train elements to graf to the details of the date, it all gives direction and reinforces a lot of subtly and personality within the painting. The Polaroid is a pretty sweet touch because it’s like a picture within a picture. Honestly, I think this is some of your best work yet. I’m impressed!” – Harrison