Beyond the Bare Bones with Tom Gilliland: Creating the Red Dragoon Life-Sized Bust

Being an artist is a life-long endeavor, and keeping a learning mindset is a crucial component to achieving any level of mastery. Even if you’re already a professional, a willingness to continue to learn and experiment is essential for evolution and growth.

Tom Gilliland, creator of Court of the Dead and CCO of Sideshow, is one such master artist who continues to challenge himself. Tom has created several life-sized busts as art and character studies to push the limits of his skills. As you will learn in the interview below, sometimes you have to break out of your tried-and-true artistic habits to accomplish grander goals.

Was the Red Dragoon created from a pre-existing character design, or designed as he was created?

Tom Gilliland: “There was no existing design for the Red Dragoon. He was not only created onthe fly, but also by a team of artists. I worked with Nathan Mansfield on the sculpt and Greg Mowry on the costume design. Nathan and I have been around the monster block with each other many times, so I largely let him create a stoic soldier/undead portrait without much direction other than ‘consider a more mummified dry undead’ look.

Greg Mowry is an ardent military uniform historian with a vast array of designer knowledge, so he and I collaborated to bring about a Napoleonic-like Carbineer/ Cuirassier cavalry man look. We worked with Matt Black on the sculpt team to create all the armor and helmet embellishments. Once Greg and I had arrived at the type of soldier, I let him go to work using his tremendously clever fabrication skills to create the armor, while we used a purchased helmet to build the Underworld design on. Both Casey Love and I worked on the paint. Casey tackled the portrait and I focused on the armor and fabric detailing.”

What different techniques did you use on the Red Dragoon, as opposed to other life-sized busts, like Relic Ravlatch or Colonel Tatterburn?

Tom Gilliland: “The Dragoon is more similar to Tatterburn than Ravlatch. Tatterburn began as more of a ‘soldier of the Underworld’ – but the morphed into a full-fledged character. The Dragoon guard remained in the ‘soldier box,’ which was nice, as I felt the world needed this to balance out the more crazy representations. This version of the project was done on a resin-sculpted bust, and all the armor main were done in resin-coated cardboard. The details were all sculpted, and were applied in layers to build out the effect, and conceal its humble cardboard origin.”

This piece went through several revisions with facial hair and no facial hair. What was the final decision, and why?

Tom Gilliland: “I’ve come to accept that members of the team feel that, to add a giant handlebar mustache is some sort of fasttrack to a guaranteed an approval from me. In this case, it lends an ‘artifact history’ feel to the piece, which plays to the sense of antiquity that the Underworld is preserving from the Mortal Realm.”

What kind of references did you use to achieve such a realistically ‘dead’ look? It’s unique compared with other Court of the Dead pieces, which have a more magical rotting appearance.

Tom Gilliland: “This character is part of what we consider the mourner populace to look like in the Underworld. In this fantastical world, we still need a sense of regular people. Since so much of the Underworld is composed of shades, echoes, and outright pieces of the Mortal Realm, it made design sense to balance the more fantastical characters of the high Court with an equally considered but somewhat more subdued mourner look. So, it’s safe to say the more unusual you look or the furthest from common mortal you become, the greater your presence in the Underworld.”

Whatever your inspiration, never surrender to the demons of commonality, or the angels of ennui.

Rise, Conquer, Art!

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