Tue
Jul 17 2012 1:00pm

This is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman

This is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman

315 Park Avenue South is exactly halfway between my apartment and the Tor offices. For nearly two decades I’ve watched an anonymous group of painters create 150 foot movie poster murals on the side of the building.

I’ve always wondered how they construct the image and what it might look like from up close while it’s being put together. It’s one of the only places where advertising is still painted — it’s an original work and it changes up about once every six weeks. I even joked that one day I would sit outside the building all day and wait for the crew to come out.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to resort to stalking. As luck would have it, I ran into Dan Cohen, one of the principle painters at Art FX Murals, at the Illustration Master Class, who was able to fill me in on the process of how one paints a huge Batman (or a huge anything) on the side of a building.

So, with in-progress pictures, let’s make a Batman.

This is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman

It turns out it’s constructed pretty much the same way murals have been done since the middle ages. A life-sized rendition of the artwork is broken down into a simple outline. This is called the cartoon and is, in fact, where the modern use of the word “cartoon” comes from. Holes are punched through the outline to form a dotted stencil that is then gone over with a charcoal pounce. By the end, they have the wall mapped out with the most basic shapes and proportions in place.

This is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman

The oil-based paint is then mixed to match the larger portions of the painting, leaving the subtle blending and mixing to be handled ala prima on the wall. Each painter has a print-out of the design strapped to their arm, like a mini shield, that they use as a guide as they flesh out the details.

This is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman

It took four guys about five days of sunrise-to-sunset painting to complete The Dark Knight Rises. They were battling direct sunlight during a particulary nasty New York City heatwave. (High humidity and temperatures approaching 100 degrees.) Still, when we talked to Dan at the foot of the building (in the only bit of shade he was going to get all day) he shared a boyish excitement at the idea of painting Batman. He said, “I love painting sci-fi/superhero/fantasy. Particularly wild lighting effects, intricate technical gadgets, and portraits. When I get a face just right its a great feeling. I also love painting CGI animals — like for Pixar or Disney — they present an interesting challenge.” 

This is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman

The wall is repainted at a remarkable pace about every six-eight weeks. I asked Dan if he ever regrets painting over pieces, “After so many years it doesn’t affect me anymore. Plus, it’s a great way to get over the preciousness of my work! I do have favorites: Clash of the Titans, Inception, Wrath of the Titans, Terminator, Iron Man, Transformers, Spider-Man 2, to name a few.”

This is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman

The process is clearly physically taxing but there seems to be real joy in being able to work so loosely and so large. At the distance the viewer is seeing the work, the giant brush strokes all tighten up, making the image look crystal clear. Still, Dan says that portraits do require special attention and are reserved for the lead painters on the crew. I asked Dan who he has painted most often and it was, as I had guessed, Johnny Depp. (Did I mention that I have been obsessed with watching this wall over the past two decades? Cripes, Alice in Wonderland looked like a lot of work.)

This is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman

As I went by each day to take pictures people would stop and chat — I was amazed how many of them seemed to have been watching the wall change over the years and noticing the anonymous guys up on the rigging painting it. In an age where nearly all of signage is done through digital applications, it’s a pleasure to see artisans at work.

More pictures of the painting in progress:

This is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman

This is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman

This is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman

This is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman

This is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman

This is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman

 

Dan Cohen

This is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman

This is How You Paint a 150 Foot Tall Batman


Irene Gallo is the Art Director of Tor Books.

50 comments
Chin Bawambi
1. bawambi
This is an only in NY moment. Glad you captured it so well.

Thanks,

Bawambi
Kate Nepveu
2. katenepveu
That is ridiculously awesome. Thank you so much.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
3. Lisamarie
This is amazing! Thank you for posting!
AwesomeAud
4. AwesomeAud
I gotta ask - How often do they scrape off the many coats of paint that would accumulate?

If it changes every 6 to 8 weeks, that's about 6 or 7 times a year. If they have to put a white base coat down every time, that's a minimum 12 to 14 coats of paint per year! If you let that accumulate for two decades, the side of the building would fall off from the shear weight of it!
Tricia Irish
5. Tektonica
Thank you, Irene! I watched those in awe myself for the decade I lived in the city. I couldn't imagine how much work it was! That was great!
AwesomeAud
6. cat York
Thanks for posting. So cool. I LOVE his paint splattered shoes. One of the street artists in my old neighborhood does the same thing for her sidewalk pastels. Smaller scale, of course. Maps out a grid and colors the squares systematically. Artists with ubertechnical minds.
AwesomeAud
7. runningtodd13
I think it would be interesting to see a collected book of all of the posters that have been painted on this wall over the years, as well as about the people who do the painting and the whole design/painting process.
Ben HM3
8. BenHM3
Sorry to say, but not "only in NY." There's a couple of 'em in Chicago, one is a burned-out building who's sole raison d'etre is it's west-facing, 100' tall wall, regularly painted with similar content. One time was a Bud ad that featured detail waaaaaay below the threashold of legibility of the in-bound drivers on the "Congress" Expressway. (I prefer the older name.) I always wondered if that detail was "cheated" or not.
Irene Gallo
9. Irene
Not sorry at all! In fact, I shoudl have mentioned in the artcle, Dan flys back and forth between the west coast and NY -- when he's not painting here, he's painting there. Still, there aren’t many places that do it.
Melissa Ann Singer
10. masinger
Watching this sign change is one of my favorite things as well. The painters are amazing. I can still see the Inception wall in my mind.

When I see that a new picture is going up, I make sure I have errands that take me that way every day so I can monitor the progress.
AwesomeAud
11. Paul Kiesche
So very cool. Thanks for sharing!
AwesomeAud
12. ToLo
GREAT post, Irene!
AwesomeAud
13. sfBCMatthew
We have one down here on 34th Street and 8th Avenue which changes often although it is mostly mainstream advertising and not movie related (Budweiser, H&M, etc.) It is an amazing process. Here's a great short film about the process: UP THERE
Deana Whitney
14. Braid_Tug
That's really Cool! Think the fire is my favorite part.
In Dallas we get posters that big, but never rotating paintings. The building paintings we have, have been the same for years
Del C
15. del
I'm surprised it's still an artisanal job, and no company has come out with a sort of big bubble jet printer, a gondola with spray guns running up and down it.
AwesomeAud
16. Tim C
Irene, What a great piece! I've been a weekday fan of the giant murals at 23rd St for years now -- my office is on Park Ave South, 12th floor, just a few blocks down. I too take lots of pictures of the process & final versions. Have made a hard-cover book. Check it out at
http://www.blurb.com/my/book/detail/2610253 . More pix at
http://www.flickr.com/photos/timconnor/sets/72157623765893105/. Finally, as a result of your clear-as-a-bell reporting, I understand how they get it done. Thanks. I'm going back to read some more of what you write about. Tim
lake sidey
17. lakesidey
@Irene: Thanks. Consider my mind officially blown.

@4AwesomeAud: "...the side of the building would fall off from the shear weight of it"

I dunno whether the pun was intended, but as an engineer I laughed out loud...shear stresses ftw (I hated them back in college, mind you!)

~lakesidey
Irene Gallo
18. Irene
Tim, that's amazing! I met Dan a year ago. We've spent the past year waiting for just the movie to come up, but I certainly remember tons of the ones you shot. Thanks so much for the links!
AwesomeAud
19. Will L
INCREDIBLE!

What a great post + photos!

And here I thought my Mom was nuts doing grids for some of the things she sketched...
AwesomeAud
20. PJD
Really cool. I'd love to see a time-lapse movie of that being painted.
AwesomeAud
21. Tim E.
I was Dan's roommate a number of years ago. Super sweet guy, and such an inspiring career. If you're ever in Portland, check out the murals visible from Oaks Bottom, very beautiful work.
AwesomeAud
22. Jeanny
I want to do that. I always admired these artists. Never worked on a painting that big It would be amazing. Sigh.
AwesomeAud
23. Dan Cohen
Thanks everyone! Its great to know people take an interest in what we do. We do have a timelapse of the Terminator Salvation mural we did a few years ago:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0x2uU89g3c

Thanks to Irene for taking time to write this!
AwesomeAud
24. sadie-jane nunis
Holy Smokes batman! this is amazing!!! my friend sent this link over to me and i take my hat off!! wish we had something like this in singapore...
AwesomeAud
25. mf
Doh! Still don't get it ... if Dan uses a ‘cartoon’ (yes, I understand the term and the practise) … how does he make a ‘life-size’ i.e. 150', paper cartoon (yep ... in sections no doubt) From an art perspective … it would be an amazing skill to get all the bits in the right place without first being able to spread the entire thing out on some sort of surface to check it out first. So my question: was there a computer enlargement used or are we looking at ‘Genius’ level visual intelligence and ability?
AwesomeAud
26. Beau Lim
Woah, this is gorgeous and I believe a lot of effort for the artist to finish this great work. I hope I could be there to watch the whole progress.
Jackey Hankard-Brodie
28. jmh0303
It's nice to see that some things are still done with the human hand, eye and brain and not just with computers. Kudos to these amazing artists.
AwesomeAud
29. Simon Bollinger
Thanks Irene, for making me lose yet another argument with my wife. She thought these were painted and I told her they looked too perfect to be painted. ("They must use some kind of peeling stencil-thingy"). Sigh.
AwesomeAud
30. Pernilla
This trade must NEVER die. What an inspiration. Keep it up - literally!
AwesomeAud
31. Dan Cohen
MF,
To help you (and anyone else) get some clarity on the process:

When we get the original artwork from the client, we blow up the image to scale (0.5":1') then grid it out so that each rectangle in the grid is scaled to 4' x 9'. We then draw on our 'roadmap' delineating all the shifts in value and color. The end result is like a topographical map. Then, using an opaque projector, we project each row (4'H x width of wall) on long lengths of butcher paper, on which we perforate holes wherever the lines were drawn. Each pattern is 4' x the length of the wall. Then we head up the wall, unroll each pattern (being careful to align everything correctly), and pounce charcoal on the perforations. The charcoal passes through the holes, and voila', perfect scaled pattern!
AwesomeAud
33. CNW
Truely amazing! I hope this never dies out.
Thank you for sharing your story; great pics!
Ian Tregillis
34. ITregillis
This is mind-blowingly cool. WOW.

Dan@32, thank you for the extra explanation!
AwesomeAud
35. Marjolein van Leeuwen
WOW! I am really really impressed! TNX for sharing with us. Haven't seen this yet in Europe. You wanna come to Rotterdam for your first European version?
AwesomeAud
36. mf
Wow – that’s a massive amount of effort … in prep and in execution! Not to mention coordination … hope you get Buckets of money for your work! & thanks for explaining the process Dan.
AwesomeAud
37. Jeanette
Dan it is incredible! You are very talented :-) I'm glad that I was able to witness the process!
AwesomeAud
38. Dan Cohen
Marjolein@35: Would LOVE to do this in Europe!
AwesomeAud
39. yournameinthegame
What about this picture:
AwesomeAud
40. Hmm
The paintcan says bull..

That means,.. this is FAAAAKE
AwesomeAud
41. FredB
That picture in Rotterdam has nothing to do with painting. It's just a giant poster. Nothing like the real thing...
AwesomeAud
42. Neil A Jaworski
Great piece. Reminded me of this great Cleopatra photo from 1963. The more things change, the more they stay the same....

http://www.flickr.com/photos/40957062@N00/492077444/
AwesomeAud
43. Deuceman
Stunning work. Thanks for sharing your incredible talent with us Dan.
AwesomeAud
44. MaríaL
AWESOME work
AwesomeAud
45. Enamay de blanche
Flipping fantastic!!! Is is the producers of the movie that commissions you dan? Great works of art...well done
AwesomeAud
46. gary glenn
I'm sure you know of Kent Twitchell in California...(Los Angeles Mural Conservatory) responsible for many famous work's of art...we went to the same school together here in Lansing, Michigan.....was glad when he moved to Cali, so I wouldn't have to compete with him !! hahahaha
Irene Gallo
47. Irene
And, poof, it’s gone. As of 6:00 this evening, this is what the wall looks like. Thanks again, Dan. All of us in the area will keep watching!

AwesomeAud
48. Meatyard
You want timelapse? Here you go. My buddy lives at 21st and Park facing the wall and has been recording them putting up their pieces. Enjoy.

https://vimeo.com/album/1861991

I'm sure he'll be posting here later.
AwesomeAud
49. Randy Rothstein
Fantastic article -- thanks Irene! So I'm Meatyard's friend with the timelapses. Here's a direct link to Batman:

https://vimeo.com/album/1861991/video/44668640

Great to see a bunch of locals who have been equally fascinated watching this happen over the years! Keep up the great work Dan!!
Irene Gallo
50. Irene
Randy, that's amazing! Incredible - Did you see TimC's (@16) photos as well? I wonder how many others have been watching these guys.

Thanks for posting!
RANDY ROTHSTEIN
51. RROTH
Thx Irene! And I did see TimC's (@16) pics and they are great -- nice work Tim!
AwesomeAud
52. BATMAN
VERY VERY NICE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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