Do you have a favorite filmmaker? If so, what lengths are you willing to go to prove your fandom? Start a Subreddit? A bit of cosplay, maybe?
How about spending countless hours drafting skillfully detailed drawings of every character to ever appear in their movies?
That’s what Hong Kong-based illustrator Stephen Case has been doing for the past couple months—creating a unique collection of beautiful illustrations that capture the likeness of each and every Coen brothers character…all 700 or so of them.
Case says he was drawn to Joel and Ethan Coen's movies because of their captivating character work.
“It’s their attention to detail,” he told Civilized. “They put a lot of character into their characters. Sometimes it's amped up to the verge of caricature itself, but mostly it's simply richness.”
Ed Tom Bell from 'No Country for Old Men'
So how does someone wrap their head around a project this big? Well, to start, Case has broken it down mathematically.
“If I can do one per day, it'll take me two years,” he said. “five per week will take three years. I'm not making that kind of progress at this stage so either I have to ramp it up or accept that it's going to take longer.”
He added that he’d much “prefer to ramp it up.”
To most, that might seem like a crazy amount of work. And, admittedly, it’s a pretty bonkers idea to begin with—one which he claims wasn’t really his.
“It started when I was talking to an artist friend of mine, Harvey Chan, who told me about this project that he'd always wanted to work on,” said Case. “When he said it, I told him he shouldn't have because I'd steal it. He replied, maybe we can collaborate on it.”
Thus far, Chan hasn’t contributed to the project, but Case says that “he's fine with me going ahead with it.”
Verna from 'Miller's Crossing'
Currently based in Hong Kong, Case began his illustration career in his native Australia, where he worked as a “cadet” for The Sydney Morning Herald. A position he described as doing “menial work” for four days a week, which he would follow with one day at art school. Over time, he began slipping in a few small cartoons and illustrations in the paper and taking freelance assignments on the side, which led to a life-long personal and professional passion for illustration.
Case has always enjoyed drawing. He cites Mad magazine as an early example, highlighting the work of caricaturist Mort Drucker in particular, an artist known for his detailed and exaggerated movie parodies.
Anton Chigurh from 'No Country for Old Men'
Like Drucker, Case’s drawings not only capture the likeness of the actors, but also invoke the personalities of the characters and the tone of the films as well. When Case draws Walter from ‘The Big Lebowski,’ he isn’t just doing a caricature of John Goodman, he’s recreating the whole character through his use of expressions, exaggerated features and color.
“My aim is to draw the character first and the actor second. Of course, I want it to be recognizable, but I try to use expressions that represent the character as well as colors that reflect them and also try to capture the atmosphere of the film.”
Because the Coens regularly reuse actors, Case will often find himself drawing the same person over and over again as they move between characters.
“I'm in the process of drawing John Turturro four different ways,” he said. “It's not just [how he] changes over time it's also the different characters he plays.”
“For The Jesus, he is massively flamboyant and excited, whereas for Barton [Fink] he's mostly flatlining. It's interesting to try to capture the actor in different ways but it also makes you aware of the range they have.”
Jesus Quintana from 'The Big Lebowski'
Being notorious genre-hoppers, the Coens have something for everyone in their extensive filmography. The flip-side of that, though, is that even the most dogmatic fan will usually have one or two movies in the brothers' oeuvre that they don’t particularly care for (‘Burn After Reading,’ anyone?).
This isn’t a problem for Case, who says that he either “likes or loves,” pretty well all of their films. After some prompting, he did single out ‘Raising Arizona’ as his least favorite, but added that working from a film he enjoys less “doesn’t make the characters less interesting to draw.”
H.I. McDunnough from 'Raising Arizona'
Going forward, Case says it is actually some of the more minor characters he’s most excited about tackling—like the former CEO in 'The Hudsucker Proxy,' whom Case calls “amazing,” despite the fact he only briefly appears onscreen for a few minutes before jumping to his death in the first act of the movie.
“They make such rich films and their minor characters are often more interesting to draw than the major players—or at least as interesting.”
He added that there is really no way of predicting characters will be easier to do, and which will be hard.
“There's no pattern to it. Sometimes I think someone will be easy to draw and find them difficult, other times I think someone will be hard and they practically draw themselves.”
Carlotta Valdez from 'Hail, Caesar!'
While Case primarily works digitally because it's “much faster," he begins each drawing by doing a pencil sketch on paper. He then scans that into photoshop, where he’ll proceed to “work it up.”
“I start by making a mess and then try to pull it back to something recognizable while still, hopefully, keeping it fresh.”
As for an order in which to do them, Case says that he started without really having one, but recently he has decided on a sort of semi-chronological order, but leaving a large chunk of 'The Big Lebowski' for the end, since it's his favorite. He says he wants to “save the best 'till last” as he continues to improve.
Llewyn Davis from 'Inside Llewyn Davis'
Case has made some serious headway since beginning this project a few months ago, and it has been catching the eye of art galleries and media outlets across the globe. There may even be a book somewhere down the line. For now, though, the best place to follow the project is on his Patreon page. He also regularly uploads works to the project's Twitter.
Even as the work begins gaining traction online, there remains two people he has yet to hear from—The Coens themselves.
“I'd like them to know I'm doing it,” he said, “and hopefully give me their blessing.”