There are so many talented Star Wars fans out there that create beautiful pieces of Star Wars art. However, there is a smaller number of these Star Wars artists that create consistently awesome art. One of these artists is Michael “Gorilla” Pasquale (of 800 Pound Productions) who creates illustrations of Star Wars characters with a unique perspective:
“Gorilla” is my nickname and I got it while playing basketball as a teenager. That awkward lanky time of puberty, my arms and hands shot out faster than the rest of me could catch up to. Actually improved my defense and made me a great player, but my teammates and friends would call me Gorilla because of the long arms and big hands. It never bothered me, and just stuck with me all through high school. My dad would even call me Gorilla because of the way I would walk sort of leaning forward with my arms swinging. He also called me Lurch, from Addams Family.
So the name followed me everywhere throughout my career to this very day, so when I decided to branch off and create my own studio, I thought…well what is associated with Gorillas besides bananas and Tarzan. So the term 800 pound gorilla struck a chord. It sounded great and means to dominate and pretty much let a gorilla do whatever he wants to do haha. So I thought of 800 Pound Productions, it sounded perfect and rolled off the tongue nicely.
Where are you from? and are you creating art full-time?
I was born and raised in Queens, NY where I still reside to this day. Yes, I mainly work as a freelance designer in the toys and collectibles industry and whenever I have time during the day or in-between projects I love creating fan art. The stuff I work on is mostly technical and can be monotonous, so letting loose on some character art is something I look forward to. So much more that I see myself shifting gears in my career and focusing more on these illustrated pieces now.
How long have you been a Star Wars fan?
Oh as far back as I can remember, I was actually born the same year it debuted. For some reason I’ve always had a connection to Star Wars, and pretty sure my mom had a lot to do with it, she’s also is a big fan! There was always an affinity for Star Wars, especially as a kid, had all the figures, vehicles, bed sheets, pajamas haha I even wore my Ben Cooper Yoda costume 3 years in a row for Halloween. Great times!
What is your first memory of Star Wars?
It’s all a blur, not really sure what the first memory was, but Birthdays and Christmases were the best times. I remember tearing through gifts and boxes opening up Kenner figures and cardboard playsets, and I was adamant about not losing any of the weapons and careful not to tear the vinyl capes, learned that the hard way.
The most vivid and cherished times though, are the ones I shared with my mom. Sometimes she would pick me up from school and surprise me with a new figure that I never had, she knew exactly which ones I wanted the most. Then one day she took me to see Return of the Jedi in the theater, and I was blown away! Jabba the Hutt, Jedi Luke, green lightsaber?!?!?! Both of us were on the edges of our seats the entire time, it was the greatest day ever and remains to be my favorite Episode of the Saga. Her favorite character to this day is the Gamorrean Guard 😀
What did you think of The Force Awakens?
I thought it was amazing, I think JJ Abrams did a wonderful job and the new cast was very impressive. Kylo Ren was easily my favorite of the new characters. A lot of unanswered questions left up to our imaginations, which is the best part! It creates theories and discussions and makes us creative. What happened between Ben Solo and Luke? How did Rey end up on Jakku and why is she so strong in the Force? Where are the Knights of Ren? Who the hell is Snoke?!?! All these questions generate articles and videos and paintings and illustrations that are essentially the heart of the Star Wars community and why I love it so much. So I think it did a great job in that aspect. There was a ton of nostalgia in that film, which had most of us teary eyed including myself, but seeing the Falcon fly again, Han and Leia playfully arguing, and of course seeing Luke at the end all made that kid in me smile from ear to ear!
Who is your favorite character from the film? And which is your favorite to create art of?
Luke Skywalker on both counts, without a doubt. Mark Hamill is just phenomenal, of course, not just as an actor but as a warm-hearted person who loves his profession and all of his fans. I remember I met and shook his hand at Star Wars Celebration and it was the greatest 25 seconds of my life. But even as a kid, I just instantly connected with that dreamer’s mentality of “there’s something bigger waiting for you”. The underdog who turns out to be the hero, with a lot of help from his new friends of course, but ultimately makes the sacrifices and chooses the right path. All morals of a great hero; hard work, dedication, sacrifice, believing in yourself are all things I learned early on from his character.
Luke was the first action figure I owned, and every incarnation thereafter. Something in his character design throughout the Original Trilogy was also very intriguing to me. Going from the white farm boy costume to the brown Bespin outfit, to the black Jedi Knight was so appealing to me even as a kid. And that green lightsaber was the greatest thing ever! His appearance in The Force Awakens was so intense, I was overwhelmed with childish glee, and again the character design was brilliant. Reverting back to the earth tones of tan and light grey, full beard and long hair, robotic hand, all key features in telling his story. Jedi Knight Luke is definitely my favorite version to draw, although the older Luke from TFA has sparked a lot of inspiration lately and I‘ve been having a ton of fun with that. If he goes back to black in Episode VIII, I would die a happy man! 😀
Which is your favorite Star Wars art piece(s) that you have created?
All of them! Haha, well there is one that stands out. I was working on a POV piece of Rey handing the lightsaber to Luke, I never ended up finishing it, but prior to that I drew a few sketches of TFA Luke as warm-ups and fans really took a liking to it. The POV piece seemed forced and I kinda lost interest, for some reason I kept envisioning Luke alone on a really thin rock with the waves crashing around him. Just a vision of him meditating while his cloak is whipping in the wind. It’s one of those times when you shouldn’t fight inspiration, if it’s that clear in your mind, just go with it. In the end, the fans really loved and connected to it and remains to be my most sought after piece.
When did you first start creating Star Wars art?
I was but a wee lad haha, I drew as kid all the time, even in school but mostly X-wings, TIE Fighters and the Falcon having a space battle on looseleaf paper. As a teenager, I was mostly into Marvel, DC and Image Comics characters. Spent my High School years submitting pages and pages of comic art to all those companies only to be turned away. Spent most of my adult career designing and producing action figures and didn’t really get around to Star Wars fan art until 3 or 4 years ago. Once they announced that more movies were going be made, inspiration began hitting me daily and just couldn’t help myself.
How do you usually go about creating your art? and what medium do you use? What’s your process/timeline from start to finish?
Well, like I mentioned earlier, whenever inspiration hits I just start sketching. Usually whenever a new trailer or new movie comes out, or a leaked image, or I may run across an old cartoon on YouTube, or pick up a new comic, whatever peaks my interest at the time will keep me busy on the drawing board. I actually keep a list of ideas on my desktop whenever something pops up, just in case I forget about it.
I draw and color digitally these days, it’s a lot more economical and faster than traditional, but on occasion I’ll go back to pencil and ink just to keep the rust off. I draw on a Wacom Cintiq monitor and use Sketchbook Pro to pencil and ink and then drag it into Photoshop to color and apply effects. Depends on what I’m working on, but normally without interruptions I can finish one of my colored sketch pieces in a few hours. The larger multi-character pieces might take about a day, 7 or 8 hours.
Do you have any favorite Star Wars artists or influences in your work? How did you arrive at your unique style?
I’m not sure how I developed my style, possibly a mixture of my favorite artists and just learning and taking what I admire from them. I’ve always loved and admired the concept artists for Star Wars. Joe Johnston was one of my faves from early on, Doug Chiang also sparked a lot of new creativity in me. Of course, Ralph McQuarrie has always been an inspiration since I was a little kid, the amount of work and quality that he produced is just phenomenal. The designs, scale, lighting and composition are something I try to incorporate in my own pieces. Not even close, but I try.
The character aspect I get a lot from my interest in cartoons and comic books. Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen, Jim Lee, Joe Madureira, J. Scott Campbell, Humberto Ramos and the list goes on and on. Bruce Timm has a huge impact on me and Genndy Tartakovsky as well. Samurai Jack and the Clone Wars Animated series just blew me away. Anime has played a big part as well, Ninja Scroll, Cowboy Bebop, Dragon Ball Z, Neon Genesis Evangelion to name just a few. The DC Animated films of late as well as The Legend of Korra and the new Netflix Voltron are all my favorites to gain some design inspiration.
Are you working on any other Star Wars, Force Awakens, or Rogue One art? Or have any planned for the future?
Oh definitely, I always have an idea in the back of my mind for Star Wars. Still need to do a Luke and Rey piece in the near future, you’ll see a Rebels piece that I’d like to have ready for the season 3 premiere, love that show. I’ll have a few more Rogue One, Force Awakens and actually a Clone Wars piece ready for Comikaze in late October. Some new Marvel and DC art as well, so a few surprises in store for October 🙂
How excited are you for Rogue One?
Extremely excited, possibly even more than I was for TFA! I think it’s a bold move to make a movie outside of the main storyline, but also it’s a story that needs to be told and fans want to see. The cast is really great, I already love the relationships and roles they have just from the footage and interviews shown. Seems like great chemistry all around. New Troopers are insanely cool, can’t wait to grab those figures. Seeing Vader of course is going to be a lean forward moment, Mon Mothma, Saw Gerrera, it’s all just so overwhelming. It’ll be intense and nerve-racking throughout and I can’t wait!