Casey Callender doesn't mind sharing that when it comes to loving movies he's a bit of a geek and always has been.
The larger-than-life characters of films and the anything-is-possible worlds they inhabit linger in his imagination and send the creative side of his brain into rocket-powered overdrive.
"I have always been a film buff," says Callender, sitting in his office at Tyler Junior College, where he teaches computer generated game and simulation development.
Callender combines his fascination with superhero, adventure, fantasy and horror genres with his talent as an illustrator and digital artist to create images that are in demand by those who crave prints immortalizing pop culture.
Studio giants Warner Brothers and Marvel Studios and video game developer Blizzard Entertainment have commissioned Callender to create art. The Hero Complex Gallery in Los Angeles displays and sells his prints, which often involve limited edition licensing.
Callender has been drawing ever since he could figure out how to hold a crayon. As a youth, he constantly was scribbling, doodling and sketching. He was captivated by the the vibrant images that seemed to leap off movie posters.
"I'm a child of the '80s. That was a fantastic era of movies and movie posters," Callender says of the oversized prints that were displayed in front of movie houses to convince potential patrons to plop down some money and come inside. "They had a way of captivating your imagination. They captured that moment of great fantasy, great adventure. They struck a sense of wonder."
By the time Callender was a teenager, technology was making digitally generated art more accessible. Learning to create and manipulate images on a computer was a breakthrough in his approach to making art.
At Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Callender earned bachelor's and master's degrees in fine art and minored in film. As a student, his work was included in exhibitions featuring digital art.
One of Callender's first successful ventures into the world of pop culture art came when one of his movie prints was accepted for an exhibition.
The print was inspired by "Jaws," the 1975 movie about a shark that was making a habit of devouring unsuspecting swimmers. It shows the desperation on the face of Police Chief Martin Brody, played by Roy Schneider, looking into the water. In the reflection of his sunglasses the shark is leaping out of the water and baring his killing-machine mouth full of razor-sharp lethal teeth.
The title of the print, "Your'e Going to Need a Bigger Boat," is the line the character utters in disbelief after seeing the shark for the first time.
Callender also has produced prints inspired by "Batman," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Ant-Man," "It," "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Blade Runner" "Robocop" and "Avengers: Age of Ultron."
Many of his prints are on view on his website, caseycallender.com, and on his facebook page.
The blog Halloween Love, which focuses on the horror genre, has high praise for Callender's work. "There is a searing intensity to the light within Casey’s work that gives each piece an almost dreamlike quality. He is capable of near photo-realistic final results but you still know you are looking at highly skilled illustrations. ... (Callender) produces art that pays tribute to movies across many genres, he doesn’t focus exclusively on the world of horror and monsters ... but when he does enter that realm, great things can happen."
Callender says he doesn't do a print unless he is inspired by the subject matter and it offers the potential of doing something visually amazing. "It starts with the fact that I am a big fan. If it doesn't interest me, I'm not going to do it. I've got to be into it."
On the Halloween Love blog, Callender shared what happens once he is inspired.
“I begin the conceptual phase, which usually involves sketching and blocking in shapes to figure out how best to create a visual flow in the poster. After that, I focus on value, working strictly in black and white while slowly moving into detail. From there, I focus on color, which tends to take the most time after which I’ll spend days refining the end results, tweaking the line quality, contrast, color etc."
Callender also is using his skills to develop the digital art technology curriculum at Tyler Junior College. He teaches students interested in digital modeling and animation.
"This (job at TJC) is the coolest thing ever. It has brought me back to my first love of art."
Ultimately Callender wants to create his own intellectual properties in the form of concepts and characters that could be developed as immersion video games, illustrated novels, film/television projects, comic books or mass-produced figures.
Callender knows all too well that it only takes the right spark of talent and creativity for the next great fantasy world and superhero to be discovered.
"The possibilities are endless," he says.