Norm Breyfogle & Arcade Fire

To be honest I don't know as much about Arcade Fire as I'd like to. My first encounter with the band was at the recent U2 concert in Adelaide as U2 use the Arcade Fire song 'Wake Up' as the last track on the pre-show tape. Wake Up is a brilliant track, very soaring and both the bands albums, Funeral and Neon Fire, are essential to anyone who likes that kind of music (and when I say that I mean damn good music). Still, I'd like to know more about them and eventually I will. Since I stopped writing about music I've become a little out of touch and not as up to date as I'd like to be. But then you stop exercising the muscles and look what happens.

Back to the post. Norm Breyfogle emailed me earlier this year saying that he was drawing Arcade Fire, again for Mojo. He offered me the end results and naturally I took him up on that offer. As with the Mojo paintings the package arrived with not just the final painting, but also full of reference material. Norm had put a lot of work into this, again showing the levels of his dedication and professionalism as there's a lot of other artists (some I even know) who cut a lot of corners when it comes to this kind of work. Mojo had emailed Norm several promotional photos, which he then printed out and sifted through, circling heads and numbering the band in the order of importance. Clearly lead singer Win Butler was the number one as he's the front man. With those photos Norm did the likenesses that you see on your left.

The next step was structure. Norm's instructions from Mojo were as follows: "(Draw) the band Arcade Fire in a post apocalyptic New York City, with the lead singer as a preacher." Clearly, due to the numbering on the prelim here, Norm had already discarded at least four previous ideas (I don't have those and I suspect that Norm might have merely thrown them out as they'd probably have been scribbles) before he settled on this one. Although this idea would also be discarded, the background remained almost intact.

The next preliminary shows the band in different poses, this is just Norm playing with the images, seeing what works, what doesn't. This isn't a highly powerful image, the secondary images are fine, however the main image of Butler, being in motion, conveys a sense of panic. Don't get me wrong, it's good, but not as good as it could and would be.

Now we're getting somewhere. This image does work better than the previous two but the figures are a bit too small. And something is missing - Butler is supposed to be a preacher.

This is pretty much the final prelim (other than the colouring). Norm has moved the characters closer to the 'camera', made them far more prominent and also given Butler his missing piece - a Bible. The background still hasn't changed that much.

I can remember Norm telling me that Mojo didn't want a full on painting this time around, but wanting something sparse, so Norm plumped for black, white and bright red. This was the final prelim, on the prelim itself the characters are pasted up yet the background is still intact. I'd be curious to know if people have spotted yet what I spotted at the time...

This is the final illo as it appears in Mojo. Before doing the final illo Norm did one more, almost full sized, prelim just to nail the detail down. Then this.

The use of the barest of colours makes for a striking image and once I saw this image I had to ask the obvious - the background. The exploding building and the juxtaposition of the planes. It's there from the first preliminary drawing meaning that Norm knew exactly what he was going to do from the start. I sent an email to Norm stating that I thought that was an official no-no to show such images in the States now, to which he replied, "Yes, exploding buildings are a bit of a no-no in pop culture here in the states, but not in Europe, apparently." It is a bit of a shame that artists in America might believe that they're not free to express themselves as fully as they might desire to, but then it is also gratifying to know that these restrictions don't extend to other countries. The exploding building might be off limits to most, but it does make for a very powerful and evocative image and fits in perfectly with the overall theme of the piece. Mojo wanted Arcade Fire in a post apocalyptic New York City and that's exactly what they got. It works for me and I suspect without that background it'd be just another drawing with a bit of colour.

Call me odd, but I can see this illo making a great, and highly controversial, cover to a single for the band...more to come very soon on this April, 2007 - Official Norm Breyfogle Month.


Norm Breyfogle said…
Just two comments:

1) the reason I didn't send you all nine or so preliminary layouts is because in the course of nailing down the laytout I cut and pasted from earlier layouts to produce a # of the later layouts.

2) The planes flying into buildings motif was requested by MOJO in their very first brief on this job.

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