Scott Wills contacted me recently and was kind enough to set me straight on the artwork I purchased and the process behind doing backgrounds on Samurai Jack. As much as I wanted to keep this stuff to myself, I thought somebody else might be able to benefit from this info too. Especially considering the time and effort put into this detail breakdown.
The paintings that you bought are "production backgrounds" painted at Rough Draft in Korea. They were not painted by me or any of the other artists that worked on the color keys for Samurai Jack.
Let me explain the basic "color key" process on Samurai.
PICKING THE COLOR KEYS
I go over the storyboard and background drawings (layouts) with Genndy and pick which shots will need a color key. We discuss the mood and any color ideas (if any) that Genndy had in mind. On average we would do about 30 keys per 22 minute episode (some episodes got over 50).
PAINTING THE COLOR KEYS
A full sized (12 field) production background is about 11 X 13 inches. The color keys are painted much smaller, about 4.5 X 6 inches. The idea is to do small quick paintings that will later be painted full size, tighter and with more detail overseas. Often we would pick too many keys to paint in the time allotted so we would have to paint even smaller rougher keys we called "comps" (about 2 X 4 inches). In addition we would also paint a few full sized "Finals" to demonstrate the final technique.
Many episodes would also require special "how to" instructions to demonstrate a certain technique or theory.
The keys are not intended to be used as the final production BG that you would see on screen.
MATCH TO LIST
Since not every shot gets a color key a "match to" list is created to explain which key to use as reference for what shot.
Shot 1 - Key 1
Shot 2 - match key 1
Shot 3 - match key 1
Shot 4 - match key 1
Shot 5 - Key 5
Shot 6 - match key 5
and so on.
For "The Woolies" (episode 4) Jenny and I painted 41 keys, 7 comps and 4 finals in about 3 weeks. Jenny actually painted the "comp" for the BG you bought, not the "final".
Unfortunately by the time we produced Samurai Jack most of the good BG painters that had worked on Ren & Stimpy at Rough Draft Korea were gone. Many shows were being painted digitally with sterile and cold results. It was very difficult to get much quality at all. Often when we got the "work print" back from Korea I would be shocked to see the scanned keys and even comps on screen! They didn't even bother to paint many of the final backgrounds. But incredibly they would repaint some of the finals we sent them! You wanted to tear your hair out, that's TV animation for you.
There you have it! This definitely cleared up a few things for me, and was so great to hear directly from the source. Very cool of Scott to put such a detailed message together. And the icing on the cake? He sent some gorgeous examples of his work (plus one of Jenny's)!
So cool, not only to see the stunning finals and comps, but also to see the "how to" note!
Thanks very much Scott! Made my week!