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It’s been a long time in the making, but I’ve finished my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Re-Imagined poster!
And here it is.

From the first photoshoot (Raphael) to the last shoot (Splinter) it officially took me 27 months to photograph everyone. But there is a long explanation behind why it took me so long to complete this project.
So go grab yourself something to drink, maybe a slice of pizza, and get ready for my extremely detailed story behind this project, why I created it, and what went into putting something like this together.

Oh! but if you’re just here to pre-order you copy of this poster, you can do that right now..

You’re going to need to jump over to my online store here: http://www.johnremus.com/store
$30 for a 20in by 30in Glossy full-color print on heavy photo paper, shipped to you. Payable through Paypal.

Otherwise, click past the break to read on!!


 

Heroes in a half shell! TURTLE POWER!

I was obsessed, as most young boys were at the time, with Ninja Turtles growing up. My parents and family bought me TMNT toys for birthdays and Christmases several years in a row. I had the bed sheets, the comforter, a mirror (still on the wall back home), the action figures.. I even went as a different Ninja Turtle three Halloweens in a row.
Had I been told that I could STILL be a Ninja Turtle when I got older I would have never believed you.

So, how did this all start..
Several of you may have already read my blog a while back about the first phase of this project, located HERE.
However a lot of things changed since I wrote that blog, including changes in the two models that I was supposed to shoot after that write-up as well as the addition of seven new characters!

The Beginning

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My original inspiration for this project goes back to the 2009 movie Ninja Assassin with the Korean pop star Rain as the main character. Rain got into incredible shape for the role and the imagery in the promo material and movie posters was this dark, gritty, hard-light imagery. It was badass. I love movie posters though so I’m biased. Honestly if I could shoot one thing the rest of my life it would be movie posters. The film itself is a typical bloody ninja film, but you have to respect the level of dedication Rain had to his fitness regimen for the role.

It was during a talk with my friend Katie, who made a joke that “You should do a Ninja Turtles shoot!” when I was talking about something Ninja Turtles related.. It wasn’t until two days later when I was driving home, that I realized this was my chance to finally do the Ninja Assassin inspired shoot I had wanted to do since the year before.
I thought “If I take the mutant element out of it… but keep colors and weapons appropriate, people will ‘get it'”

I immediately knew who I wanted for each character, too.
It was a given that I would be Leonardo – he was my favorite and it’s my project. haha!
I talked to my friend Beau about being Raph. Raphael always relied on physical strength, and had a bad attitude. Beau would be perfect to step into that character.
For Mikey my buddy Mike was a given. Physically smaller than the rest of us his look along with his personality was a perfect fit for the youngest of the brothers.
Donatello was tricky. I wanted  someone physically taller than me, but also in amazing shape for the role of Donny, the brother I always considered the stoic calmer brother. I eventually ended up shooting Chase for the character. At 6’4″ he was two inches taller than me, and in great physical shape as well. His look was perfect.

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Setting up and getting lighting dialed for Beau’s shoot.
Beau was up first, I would go next after everything was set, then all he and TJ had to do was push a button.

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After finishing. It was 11pm at this point, we’re hungry and had been doing pushups, curls, pullups, and legups in between each set of photos.
It was time to go eat!

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A couple months later is when I shot Mike at his apartment in Hollywood for his character.

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Some homemade props.

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Knocking out some images with Chase, for the final brother and what I thought was the last addition to this project!

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And just over 12 months after my shoot of Me and Beau (Leo and Raph) THIS was the result. The four brothers re-imagined as humans.

I was extremely pleased with how it turned out. And quite a few people on Facebook/Twitter/etc purchased prints of this version right here.

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A test print of the final poster. Not bad, a few adjustments to be made before printing any larger.

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But then the questions of “Who’s next?” started rolling in…

The original plan was, honestly, just the brothers. I knew I could complete the four of us on a very limited (read: No) budget, and that it would look great done simply. I knew that the other characters would be more complicated. Their looks would be very specific. Their props and costumes would be much more complicated, and no-budget projects typically can be hard to find people to collaborate on.

“Are you going to do April!? What about Casey Jones? Splinter? Shredder??!!”

I knew exactly how I wanted each character to look. This project is very dear to me, like I said, and immediately had ideas in mind for all the other characters.
But I knew they’d be complicated to complete.

Rounding out the cast:

Splinter: I immediately knew who I’d want to shoot for Splinter. Jesse Elksrunning. A model whose portfolio I randomly stumbled across several years before when I first moved to SoCal. He’d be perfect. There simply isn’t another model that would work. But I didn’t even know if he’d work with me on this.
I wouldn’t end up returning to the character of Splinter for months… (so I’ll circle back to that shortly)

Casey Jones & April O’Neil: These two.. the “couple”. The Vigilante and the Reporter. I knew these two were going to be tricky as they both had complicated costumes. My first thought for Casey Jones was my buddy Joe, out in Orlando. I even made a comment to him at one point about “start training and get in shape for this project.”

I even left this note on Joe’s Facebook page:

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That was two days after shooting Chase, and finishing the Four Brothers photo. But I ultimately figured it wouldn’t work out because of distance (Joe is in Florida) and that I’d have to find someone local. I eventually booked two models here in SoCal for these two characters… who both stopped responding to me when I tried to finally lock down a date to shoot.

It was January 2013, last year, when I started really trying to get the additional characters moving on this… But it was slow-going.
The models that had agreed to be Casey and April stopped responding to me. And I still had no idea who I’d use for Shredder. And the guy I wanted for Splinter I wasn’t even sure still lived in the US.

It was not looking good.

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Kane: the perfect Shredder

A couple months later, mid-Spring, when I was also in the middle of trying to move from San Diego back to Los Angeles, I got a random email from Kane Sumabat. Kane’s a fitness trainer and body builder from Canada who was going to be in California and wanted to do a fitness shoot with me. As soon as I looked up Kane’s portfolio though I KNEW I had to ask this guy about being part of my project – and hope to god that he didn’t think I was crazy, weird, or both.

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This is one of the images from Kane’s instagram that I thought “Awesome, with his hair pulled up and his build, he would be amazing as Shredder.”

Turned out that Kane is a fan of comics, was totally down to be part of the project, and is just an awesome guy all around.

After Kane said he’d be happy to be part of my project I knew I had to come up with some absolutely badass props! Fortunately my friend Rhiannon is a metalsmith on the side having worked alongside her father over the years. She mostly just does small projects now as she has a different full-time job these days. BUT she’s amazing and was able to make me props in her spare time within the two-week short-notice time frame that I gave her.

“Sure John, can you send me drawing/sizes?”  “No problem… I can do those right now!”
That was pretty much our exchange when I first asked about her making Shredders blades.

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This is what I quickly drew out and sent Rhiannon. I was actually in Florida at the time at Joe’s apartment, I had flown out to shoot the Le Mans race and spend my birthday with friends in Orlando.

What Rhiannon made was awesome. 

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This was the first image Rhi sent me one afternoon saying “How’s this?”. I’m 90% sure I responded with something like “Holy shit that’s amazing!!”

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The shin plates she knocked out a few days later, along with the other pieces. She kept them rough looking since I asked them to look like scrap metal.

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Once I was back on the west coast, and up in the Bay Area a couple weeks later, it was time to pick up the pieces from Rhiannon, and get the rest of the things to make this shoot work..
I couldn’t thank her enough. I was just so pleased with her work and willingness to do it. She laughed and said it was no problem and also fun because it’s unlike anything she ever made before.

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Then it was time for a few errands with TJ for some additional items…
I have no idea what size yoga pants to get for Kane.

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That night consisted of gluing the straps/etc onto the metal pieces. Since this character came together very short notice I just needed everything to work enough for the photo. It didn’t have to be 100% perfect..

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The next morning, test fit.
This would actually look pretty cool in all black, too…

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Getting Kane strapped up with the shin plates

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The arm gauntlets were trickier. They were heavy, of course, so we ended up using tape to make sure they wouldn’t move at all.

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Trying some different poses.
What was incredibly impressive about Kane’s physique is that he barely needs to flex because he’s simply that defined.

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Had to get a ridiculous group shot afterward. TJ, Kane, and myself (long since back to my normal size/build since my TMNT photoshoot was a while ago).

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Kane. The Shredder.

Kane’s shoot was now the 5th character I completed.


 

It’s Go Time.

At this point I now had the hardest character of all photographed and fully edited. Shredder. The leader of the Foot. I was positive I wouldn’t find an insanely fit asian model that would pass for the character AND be believable. Kane proved me absolutely wrong after that random referral from another fitness model. So, thank you Rae-Ann for connecting me with Kane!

Time to line up everyone else. 

At this point I had pretty much convinced Joe to be Casey Jones. During my trip to Florida in March I took a few portraits of Joe for fun, which ended up serving as a kind of proof-of-concept that I could photograph him and make him look good and that the final product would turn out well.

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Joe was officially on board for Casey Jones!

Perfect! My 6’3″ Italian buddy would be an amazing street vigilante for this project. I had told him “You already got the hair. Get your arms and chest back” when we talked about him getting in shape. Joe was a lifeguard in Florida during college with me and Beau, and I know the kind of build Joe is capable of amassing. “Get your arms and chest back..” I said. “If I’m doing this I’m getting my six pack back, too.” “Awesome, if you do that, then we’ll do the 80’s cut-off-shirt version of Casey!”
And honestly, Joe was not in bad shape, rather just not at his peak since he has a 9-5 like most people do.
So Joe started training. And he had five months before the scheduled shoot date in August that summer.

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I had to also consider who I was going to use for April O’Neil. After taking a long look at options for the character herself (Redhead vs. Brunette) because there are different variations of April, I decided that my best bet would be the brunette version. And I also decided I needed a girl who was fit and in-shape for it. April would have to match everyone else in this project and a soft/delicate looking model wouldn’t fit with the overall theme. Plus I had a better chance of finding a really fit brunette than a really fit redhead

Good thing I know several of the Budweiser Girls and promo models ;)

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Cheyanne. Absolutely gorgeous. In shape. Has curves. Brunette. AND, mostly importantly, she thought the concept sounded fun and was down to do it. We met working for Pabst Blue Ribbon in Vegas, she was modeling and I was doing video that weekend. We stayed in touch and I was lucky that she was down to join as the most well-known female character in the TMNT universe. She asked for some time to build a bit of muscle back, which also gave me time to plan out her wardrobe – though I already had some idea of the variation of the famous yellow/white outfit I wanted for her.

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The Foot was going to be tricky to figure out how to shoot. I toyed with a few different ideas. Ultimately I liked the concept drawing Dave Rapoza did of The Foot… and knew I had to figure out a way to make it work with my concept – because I didn’t want anyone’s face completely covered…

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Aaron, Kenneth, and Jake were going to step in as Foot Soldiers for this project.
While Kenneth and Jake were fairly easy to get on board with this project, it was Aaron’s story of joining that was the funniest… I go into detail about his shoot below.

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The street-thugs-turned-mutants Bebop & Rocksteady were going to be very tricky. I knew the look I what I wanted for these two characters. They’re originally men before becoming a Rhino and Warthog in the cartoon series after being mutated by Krang and The Shredder. However I was basically changing them back into humans for this project, and doing a bit of  a twist of my own.

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Paul is a friend of mine from high school, who I also hadn’t seen since high school. But we kept in touch loosely online as most of us do. He posted this photo to Facebook one night when I was still trying to figure out who I could use for Bebop:

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Paul was only sharing some of his regimen and I made a joke about it… and immediately after I said something like “No! Wait! Keep lifting!! I need a Bebop!” as soon as I realized his look and build would work great. A conversation in the following days and Paul was down to help me out and join the lineup of characters as Bebop.

The character of Rocksteady was going to be harder. I knew I wanted my buddy Andre for this role from the the first moment I considered adding the character. I knew I wanted a black dude with mass, shredded or not didn’t matter. I needed intimidating SIZE. But Andre was touring with STOMP at the time and I had no idea when he was in town…
Fast forward to when I started talking shoot dates with Paul for Bebop and I reached out to Andre online, taking a chance. Long story short, not only was Andre going to be back in the Bay Area in August but he was totally down to step in as Rocksteady!

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I honestly wasn’t too sure what Andre’s build was going to be like. But I knew it’d be awesome either way when August rolled around.

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The character Karai isn’t very well known to those who only remember the live action films from when we were kids… She’s the leader of the Foot Clan, second in command to the Shredder. In the current TMNT universe, the tv series, she’s also the daughter of Splinter before he was mutated into a rat.

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Personally I thought the 2008 TMNT animated movie version of Karai was badass. She was leading The Foot after the death of the Shredder in Secret of the Ooze (this movie was the followup to that timeline) and she was awesome.
This was also a chance to try and add the second most well known female character from TMNT to this project… AND WHO DOESN’T LOVE A FIT ASIAN GIRL?! Right?

Unfortunately after talking to several models, them agreeing to shoot, and then having them all cancel on me I decided to cut this character entirely.
Karai is kind of the yang to Leonardo’s yin. She considered him an equal and respected him for his skill. So I put the problem of casting her this way to several people who asked: “what kind of girl do you need?” they would ask. And I would say “She has to look like she can fight my character and not-die… not exactly win either, but definitely not die..”

Oh well. No hot asian fitness model in this project. Sorry everyone.

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Edit: Five days after writing this blog I ended up shooting Gloria as Karai! As you guys see on the poster preview at the top of this post, the final version reflects all the characters I originally planned.

I did, however, go through several models when I was trying to lock down this character. The first girl I spoke with was a fitness competitor and interested in doing it. However she canceled two weeks before the shoot. Gloria volunteered and eventually we made the shoot happen. But I’ll go into detail about that below.

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Now if the Four Brothers are considered “the most important” part of this project, then this character would arguably be tied for second-most-important part alongside the Shredder.. and that’s the father figure and sensei to the “boys”… Master Splinter.

And there was always, only, one choice for Splinter throughout this entire process. No joke. From the start of this project I always knew that if I were to continue shooting the other characters then I needed to have Jesse Elksrunning as the wise master sensei.

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Come on. Jesse is PERFECT. And I didn’t even know the guy… 

So.. I wrote Jesse to see 1: If he was in the US, and hopefully California. 2: If he was even interested. I would have been crushed if he wasn’t.
I didn’t hear back.
But I did more searching online to try and find another way to contact him. A little bit of work and I was able to another email address, different from my last attempt. I reached out, explained the whole project, explained the part I hoped he’d step in for, and broke down the timeline I was trying to follow with everyone’s shoots.
And Jesse got back to me!

He was down!

Jesse said he’d be glad to join the project and step into the roll of Master Splinter, and that the late-August timeline worked great with his schedule. So we’d work out logistics at a later date since he now lived out in Denver, but we would make it happen.

Boom. Done. All the characters were lined up.

Now it was going to be a waiting game since it was still May/June and the shoots wouldn’t start until August. 


 

The shoots begin!

 

The Foot and The Vigilante

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First of the remaining shoots was Aaron as a member of The Foot. 

Aaron is another one of my old lifeguard buddies – what can I say, my lifeguard group of friends were all in-shape good-looking dudes, hahahaha!

Aaron asked about joining the project in May when Joe and I were at his wedding. Aaron got married last year, and Joe (Casey Jones) and I attended. The day afterward was a big beach party/bbq day with friends and family – kind of a second reception for everyone to talk more.
During that beach day Joe and I were talking about the upcoming TMNT shoots that I had, along with Joe’s shoot that was now only about two months away. Joe had already been eating a very strict diet and seriously amped up his workouts to bulk for his character. It was in that conversation that Aaron cut in…
“Can I be in the projectttt…”
“What?”
“Can I be in the project? I wanna be in it. You don’t even have to show my face, I can be completely covered. I just wanted to be in it. You’re in it. Beau’s in it. Joe’s in it. You guys all look awesome. I want to be in it so I can say ‘See! That’s me! I did something!'”

At this point Joe and I were kinda laughing, because if you know Aaron then you can picture exactly how he’d be asking that (laughing, but serious). I responded with “Sure man! Lean back out, I know you can. I’ll shoot you the same weekend I shoot Joe when I come back in August for the (Lifeguard) Reunion trip we’re all doing.
“Ok! Awesome! After my honeymoon my diet is going to be on point!”

Fast forward to August and my trip to Florida.

I had big week-long reunion trip with all my lifeguard friends in beginning of August. I used that opportunity to shoot Aaron and Joe for their characters the day before our big trip officially started – that way diets-be-damned we could have all the fun we wanted.

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My first day in Orlando I ran some errands and picked up supplies for the shoots the next day. Also did a bit of painting late that night

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Joe and I also got a gym session in that night, too. Tomorrow was the big shoot day, and culmination of many months of strict training and dieting for Joe.

It was incredible to see the hard work Joe put in to becoming this character as a favor to me.
But, if you want to hear a great training story.. listen to this…

I made plans to shoot Aaron early in the morning – before his evening shift at work. Beau (Raphael) also flew into Orlando that morning and I picked him up before Aaron’s shoot.
After picking up Beau from the Orlando International I told him this story about Aaron:
Aaron hadn’t started training for his shoot after his wedding. He kinda forgot or didn’t really think I was serious about shooting him until ONE MONTH before my trip when I texted him asking if he was still down and going to be ready. His response? “Yeah man! My diet is on point and I’ll be ready.”
Cue the “OH SHIT JOHN WAS SERIOUS” reaction from Aaron, apparently, followed by a month solid of grilled chicken and veggies and working his ass off.
The night before Aaron and Joe’s shoots, I went to Aaron’s bar with Joe for dinner.
Joe looked at the menu and said “John, what am I allowed to eat?” “You??!! A salad. Your shoot is tomorrow afternoon!” I responded.
Aaron walked up to see if we were ready to order. “You guys know what you want?”
“Aaron, what can I get.. I have my shoot tomorrow, too..”
Aaron looked Joe directly in the eyes, and then walked away.
He went to the end of the bar, opened a small fridge below the counter and then slid a tupperware box down to Joe. Joe opened it and was immediately disappointed. I started laughing.

It was plain grilled chicken.

“Is he serious?” Joe asked. “Yeah man” I said, laughing. “Aaron said he didn’t think I was serious about shooting (him) til I texted him four weeks ago. I bet you anything this is all he’s been eating..”
Aaron walked back over.
“Is this what you’ve been eating?” Joe asked. “Oh yeah man.. it SUCKS. When John sent me that message I thought ‘OH FUCK! I HAVEN’T DONE ANYTHING!’ So I told him I’d be ready and I’ve eaten nothing but, like, chicken and steamed vegetables. It’s horrible when I go out with (my wife) Danielle and she orders a steak and fully-loaded potato and I have to eat grilled chicken and steamed vegetables…”
“WELL, I’MMMM gonna order tacos” I rubbed in, interrupting.
Joe shot me a dirty look.
“Hey man, I did MY shoot last summer..” I added.

So here we are now the next morning, and Aaron is heading to Joe’s place to shoot, and I’m laughing with Beau telling him that story above.

“Dude, I haven’t eaten, have you?”
“No.”
“Ok, let’s stop at Panera on the way back. I better call Aaron and see what he wants… I know he’ll be hungry…”
I called Aaron.
“Hey man! Beau and I are stopping at Panera, you want anything for after your shoot since you can finally eat?”
“Oh god, YES. A GIANT chocolate chip cookie (it’s 8:45am by the way)….. AND AN ENTIRE LOAF OF BREAD.”
“Hahaha! No prob.”
“Wait! Just kidding about the bread… serious about the cookie, though.”

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Aaron looked great, too. I never doubted him. He was able to cut weight and bulk up a bit in a very short amount of time for this shoot. His wife Danielle said he was “lookin goooooood” from all the training when I talked briefly online with them a few weeks prior. So I told her “You’re welcome.” hahaha

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Had to get a quick group shot in for fun!

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And that cookie was delicious he said. Aaron also bought a giant Reese’s peanut butter cup on his drive over, too.
He ate that right after the cookie.

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That evening it was time to photograph Joe as Casey Jones, the street vigilante and friend to the Turtles.

I was stoked for Joe’s shoot. Seriously. I knew how much work Joe put in to get ready for this. And it really meant a lot. And this image above is honestly everything I could have hoped to accomplish with Joe. Not only did he consider small details – like asking several days prior to shoot if he should stop shaving so he’d have some stubble. But Joe had the foresight to call me months prior to his shoot to ask if he “could” cut his hair or if I would prefer him to let it grow for the shoot. I asked him to leave it and he said “No problem. I’ll wait. That’s why I asked.”

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Casey was going to be one of the harder characters to re-create. I knew that from the start. In addition to having several very specific props, there was the issue of the hockey mask. And it’s not just a standard hockey mask, it’s a Casey Jones Hockey Mask and not something you can simply go pick up at the store. I ended up ordering one online from a guy that hand-makes them overseas. No joke. this thing is custom with leather head straps and everything. I brought it out to Joe in May so he could keep around the house for inspiration during his strict regimen.

By that evening when Joe’s shoot finally rolled around we had a large group of our lifeguard friends around to hang out. It was an awesome evening. Me, Joe, Beau, Aaron, and our friend Amanda (who was stuck watching us all geek out on this project while cracking jokes and taking photos).

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I’m sure all I’m doing here is laughing about whatever we’re joking about with everyone. But I was looking forward to this entire outfit we had assembled with all the props.
I brought my old steel-toe work boots out for Joe, and here I’m taping the knees to give a bit of emphasis on his joints. Scroll back to the final image and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

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And Joe got into incredible shape for the part. Even though his character’s costume covered a significant part of his build, it still showed through in the final images.

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Getting a little help from Beau (Raph) trimming that jersey

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Dialing in lights for shooting

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This was probably a break at some point to adjust his arm wrap, etc.

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Reviewing shots. Have to make sure we got it before we call it a night. Joe goofing off, but look at how much size he put on his arms! Damnnnn son!

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HAD to do the shot with the crazy wig… straight-up 80s cartoon Casey right there!

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Also, since Joe had eye bands of the brothers from work (he does work with Nickelodeon, among other companies), him and Beau (Raph) recreated this image from the cartoon, which most people will recognize.

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And the silly group shot with all of us, taken by Amanda.

Afterward it was time to eat.
We went and got pizza.

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The Reporter

After returning from my trip to Florida I was going to be shooting Cheyanne as April O’Neil.
I was looking forward to this shoot since I now had seven male characters photographed, the halfway point, and was getting more exciting to see how the overall project was looking. Plus Cheyanne is super hot and was going to look amazing – let’s be honest.

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And she really did.

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Cheyanne posted this shot from the gym, tagging me in it asking “is this lean enough John?” after she had spent a couple weeks cutting/leaning for her shoot. I said it was perfect. I didn’t want her shredded, but I wanted her looking fit.

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In the months leading up to the shoot I got ahold of my friend Joyce, or for people who know import models, former model Joyce Lex, and reached out about white boots for Cheyanne to shoot in. Joyce had several different styles, and sent this pic that most-matched what I was looking for. Perfect. Joyce said “come pick them up whenever you need!”

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I went shopping with Cheyanne to find the style outfit I was looking for. I knew I wanted shorts/boots, and rolled-sleeves with a long sleeved shirt, tied off at her mid section. Very specific look and a very specific twist on the classic yellow jumpsuit from the 80s cartoons.
I knew it would be sexier without being over the top, and I knew Cheyanne would rock it.
I also knew we’d be better off buying white clothes and dyeing them.

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So, that’s how I spent two hours that Sunday night… dyeing clothes in a bucket in the living room.

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But how perfect is this?!
I wanted super-bright, vibrant yellow. That’s exactly what I got.

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Had to track down a white leather belt. Only $8. Nice!

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Belt works great!

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And the shoot day arrives!
I think Cheyanne and I spent about as much time catching up on life as we did shooting. But she looked great, we tried several different poses from serious to more casual. Also a couple that could be paired with Joe as Casey Jones for a side by side type shot. Unfortunately they’re on different coasts or it would have been fun to do a couple shots with them together.

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But as a duo they still both looked incredible. I do wish I could have at least one of them interacting directly though.

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After the shoot it was time for lunch. Cheyanne and I got In-N-Out… and I texted Joe this photo. His response was something like “Damn you! In-N-Out (which he’s never had and wants to try) AND company of a beautiful model?!” … I think I responded with something like “Sorry dude! Head over and I’ll buy you lunch, too”

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The Street Thugs

About two weeks after Cheyanne’s shoot I traveled to the Bay Area for an extended work trip that would include my shoots for Bebop & Rocksteady.

First up would be Andre as the street thug Rocksteady. Originally Rocksteady was the shorter white guy.. But for some reason I really saw him as the taller black guy for this project, and wanted Andre for the roll.

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It took trying a few different things, but creating this shot was a bit harder than you might think. But we nailed it.

Andre is simply a fun-loving and friendly guy, so to get him to look pissed and give some serious attitude to the camera for multiple shots was hard – mostly because me, Andre, and TJ have known each other 12 years and it had been several years since we’d last seen each other. We were laughing and joking during setup and prep, and when it came time to shoot we were still having too much fun.

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One thing we had a lot for this shoot was props and weapons, some real, some fake.
A last minute addition that morning on our way to get coffee was the machete. TJ and I got coffee right by a hardware store, which was having a sale. $5 for a machete? TJ bought it simply just because. And we used it in the shoot. Totally worth it.

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Andre, waiting for some direction as I’m getting dialed and ready to shoot.
In talking to Andre he said he had been cutting weight for the shoot, but when I mentioned he can be big and overall size was what I was thinking he reversed him plan and put on 15 lbs in the weeks leading up rather than trying to slim too much, this way he would look bigger size-wise.

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Checking exposures and hot spots. I shot every person tethered so I can see final images large, immediately.

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The shotgun and rounds are legit. My buddy Tyson is ex-military and when I posted online I needed guns for a photoshoot he texted me immediately with “what do you need?”

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I have a bunch of random sketches like this from various talks with the different models.
Andre had said he grew out his beard and hoped that didn’t affect the image. I said don’t worry, we’ll tie it down like this or something..

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That machete worked all too well in the shoot.

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Here’s a better angle of what I was seeing in camera.
Andre’s size here is definitely more intimidating

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Quick group shot of TJ, Andre and myself.
We all met back in high school. TJ and I worked for Nickelodeon and Andre worked for Scooby Doo. We were all performers at a theme park home in the SF Bay Area.

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And the lunch of champions afterward – In N Out burger..
TJ and I ended up getting this for lunch after several of our photoshoots for this project – he helped on half of them.

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Paul was an awesome Bebop for this series.
It’s hard enough trying to find someone who’s down to take the roll of a warthog in a project, but Paul was completely willing to step in and it worked out amazing!

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Bebop’s costume was going to be one of the most difficult to assemble, other than Shredder, because it was a few very random – very specific – pieces.
The easiest part was the bright red Converse he wears. I found this totally rockin pair on sale at the Converse outlet while shopping with my friend Steph AND they were in my size – which is awesome because I would totally rock these after the photoshoot.
The vest. The vest was going to be the worst part of all. WHERE THE HELL WOULD I FIND THE VEST.
I went to probably 10 different stores and thrift shops trying to find something that would work. Well, one evening after running a bunch of other errands for these shoots I stopped at Salvation Army to see if they had a jacket that would work. I realized a women’s faux-leather jacket would be EXACTLY the kind of tacky I need for this character.
And wouldn’t you know it… I found a tacky faux-leather bright-red women’s jacket with a collar that I knew would work.

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It was a lot of fun laughing with Paul and getting him geared up for his shoot.
I cut the sleeves off that jacket, used chains to simulate a belt, and TJ and I were even able to find a spiked-bracelet that morning when we were running a few errands before the shoot.

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This is such a badass shot that I didn’t see until today while writing this blog. I had no idea TJ snapped this one, but it’s awesome.
Paul was totally rockin’ the attitude for his character too.

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Checking my computer screen off to my right between shots.

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We were doing several small variations of a particular pose. Paul would be paired up with Andre in the final shot. So as you can see, he’s cheated a bit to his right (camera left) since Andre was posed the opposite way.

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Ultimately toward the end of the shoot is when I saw the pose I wanted. Paul randomly adjusted his shades on his forehead and I realized that having his right arm up balanced out his pose. It also showed off his arms and strength, too. So we took several of those and it’s what I ended up selecting for the final shot.

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Had to do the attitude shot at the end of the shoot that afternoon, too. Then it was time to grab a bite and catch up with Paul on the last 10 years. Haha!

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 The Ninjas

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The second of the three Foot Clan members I was going to be shooting for this project was Jake.
I’ve known Jake for about 8 years now – he’s a Muay Thai fighter and trainer. So, he really can kick your ass. He and Kenneth (who I’ll get to shortly) were actually the first two people I thought of for Foot Clan soldiers in this project as they’re both fighters.

Jake was down to do it and just needed to know when I’d be in town to work around his training schedule.

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The night before I had to make more Foot logo’d sashes to use. Fortunately my dad paints and there was plenty of stuff all over the house for me to use.

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Unfortunately I don’t have any of behind the scenes from Jake’s shoot since it was just him and I for this. TJ was working that morning and couldn’t make it over to help with the BTS stuff.

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Jake and I after finishing. The pose I wanted was very simple and serious to be opposite Aaron’s stance. So we didn’t need to shoot all that long.

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Quiet afternoon as I passed the time until Kenneth’s shoot.
So, it was a perfect opportunity to start Jake’s cutout and get working on adding him to the mix. I knew that both Andre and Paul’s shoots from that same week were going to take a lot more work due to the complexity of their outfits compared to Jake and Kenneth’s minimal outfits.

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Kenneth’s shoot was later that same evening. So, I was able to keep everything set up, which made things much easier and quicker.

A former fighter himself, Kenneth was down to step into a Foot Soldier roll when I first asked him about it. He also managed to find some weapons to bring, too. Haha! Awesome.

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We tried a few various poses and then were ready to call his shoot done. The Foot really had the easiest shoots out of everyone when I think about it.

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Jumped in their with Kenneth for a quick shot, too, before we left to meet some friends for dinner nearby.

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 The Master

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Jesse Elksrunning. Master Splinter. Truly the most perfect model for this part.

As I had mentioned at the beginning of this writeup I had always wanted Jesse for this role in the project. Years ago I had seen this image (below, left) from Jesse’s portfolio and knew that with his build, his long hair, and his beard, that people would “get it” as soon as they saw him. You also might recognize Jesse from all the billboards, box covers, etc from Medal of Honor

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So the character of Splinter wasn’t going to be difficult – it actually was going to be one of the easiest. But it required the only person I felt would fit the role, and at the time I first thought of this project I had never spoken with Jesse.

Fast forward to Spring 2013 and I was able to get ahold of Jesse. He was interested in joining, thought the idea seemed cool, and said he needed a good reason to get back to SoCal and visit people here as it was. As a thank for you being a part of the project I bought Jesse’s ticket from Denver to LA so we could shoot on a weekend that worked with his schedule. TJ came down to SoCal to help with the final photoshoot and also to meet Jesse as well.

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So after picking up Jesse from the airport we planned to knock out his shoot first thing. That way he could enjoy the weekend with his local friends. Plus he’d been on a pretty strict diet and workout routine for several months and I knew a vacation and eating whatever you want is something several of the characters in this project were looking forward to after all their shoots.
In this photo here I’m explaining the past shoots, showing Jesse what I’ve finished so far and how everyone has been looking. I also explained some of how this project came together.

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Jesse, dressed up and gettin ready for his close up. haha!

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This is back at my old apartment.
Anytime I had to shoot I had to flip couches/etc in our living room to set up. It worked though. This is the standard light setup I used on all 13 characters in five different locations at ten different times.

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We tried a series of different poses. But I thought the stoic all-knowing kind of pose would likely be best.
For the final shot we cut down the walking stick a bit more from what you see above, and moved Jesse’s hands/arm placement. In addition to his hair and beard being key, his fitness was equally important to both the shot and his character. And I wanted that as part of the image, too.

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Shoot is done! Had to get the Behind the Scenes shot for immediate Facebook upload!

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Anddd the goofball photo of all of us afterward! I don’t have a beard so I borrowed Jesse’s hair! And I think TJ is doing his rat impression…

Now I have a brief story to share on Jesse. And I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing with everyone…

It truly was an honor to work with Jesse on this project. As I said a couple times already, I was familiar with his work and have been since 2008 when I moved to LA. I always thought “THAT is an incredible look, I would love to shoot with this guy one day..”
When I first reached out and that email never got to Jesse I was bummed. Not only did I think he may not have been interested, but also was worried I wouldn’t have the guy I knew would be perfect for this character..
I have been told by many people that Jesse’s character of Splinter is by far their favorite of any image from all 13 characters.

But after we shot Jesse’s photo, TJ, me, and Jesse all went to lunch and Jesse shared with us this story.

He told us that when I reached out to him around May/June, approximately three months or so before the shoot, that my letter was perfectly timed. Jesse said that I happened to contact him at a time when things just weren’t going great. He said he’d been in Denver for a while, mostly focused on working (he helps and works with special needs kids). He said that with all the stress and work and other things in life that he hadn’t been able to do any modeling. He went on to say that this took a toll on his desire for fitness, that in turn affects your health, and then you overall mental well being.
We’ve all been there. In those funks. They can be hard to snap yourself out of.

“Your email saved me.” Jesse said. “It was a goal to work toward. An excuse to push me to get myself back into shape. And something to be part of and look forward to.”

I was in shock. TJ was sitting with us, dead silent, and I think he stopped eating briefly as he listened.
Here I am, thrilled to work with a man whose work I’ve admired for a long time and just excited that he’s part of a project that many might consider geeky. And that same gentlemen is sitting across from me telling me that my project helped pull him out of a rut and find his focus for those several months.

I didn’t know if I should say Thank You or just hug him. Jesse, I wanted to give you a hug right then, man. But I didn’t think it appropriate.

Jesse then went on to talk about how it was great to get back in shape with this goal in mind, how his body bounced back quicker than he thought. He’d been doing new workout routines, dieting, and heavy lifting. Jesse put on 20lbs of muscle over his old photos/fitness level. Truly incredible. And if you compare the final shots  of Jesse from my shoot to his modeling photos from several years ago you can certainly tell in the size of his arms, shoulders and torso.

After lunch that day TJ and I took Jesse out to LA and dropped him at his buddies place for a weekend with his friends. I’m pretty sure afterward, when talking to TJ on the drive home, TJ said something like “So… that story.. wow.”

Jesse and I have remained in touch, too, as this project has come along and I’m very glad to be able to say I know him. I get a lot of compliments on his look and have heard many times that Jesse is most clearly the best choice of any character.

But I knew that from the beginning. And I’m glad it worked out.

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The Lieutenant

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Second in command to The Shredder is Karai, leader of the Foot Clan and all around bad-ass.

Now those who watch the current cartoon series will be familiar with her. She was also a character in the old cartoon series, as well as the 2008 movie “TMNT”. It was that (animated) movie version of her that’s my particular favorite.
Karai was always at odds with Leo. It was both a respect thing since she respected him as a leader and warrior, and also an infatuation depending on what you want to read in various storylines. I described Karai to people I spoke with about my needs for the look of this character as “she could fight me and not die”. Because while they fought a lot in the cartoon series, they were near equal in skill. And in various episodes Karai had assisted the Turtles as an ally and others she was an enemy, but always valued honor. Basically a pretty cool and dynamic character. hahaha!

I had went through four possible girls for this character. The first girl was the first person I asked, and she agreed. But after waiting 3 months or so for her to “get leaned out and be ready” she canceled on me a week before we were supposed to shoot.
Gloria was the second girl I spoke with. She’s a fitness competitor and had just recently competed at the point in time we spoke. We originally talked about a timeframe to shoot and planned on that. However, life happens and I didn’t end up shooting with Gloria in the planned timeframe.
There were two other girls I briefly considered after Gloria’s original shoot didn’t work with her new scheduling/etc. But ultimately I didn’t go with either of the other two models.

Fast forward to July of this year…
I decided to cut that character completely and call the poster done. On Facebook that same afternoon I jokingly commented to Gloria “Hey, if you’re in shape right now we can add you next week..”. This was on a Thursday afternoon. Gloria responded immediately with “I can do Monday.”
So. Monday it was.

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Karai’s character is typically pretty covered up, as most of the characters. So I had to figure out a way to show off Gloria’s physique while still keeping it believable enough – enough for a phtooshoot anyway I suppose. haha!

I talked to Gloria and asked how fit she was at the moment. Any fitness competitor will point out that in the off season they’re rarely leaned out.

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Turns out Gloria was still looking amazing! She had definition enough that she was still fit, but wasn’t as shredded as she’s been in the past. But this look would actually work well I thought. There would be enough shadow detail with the lighting setup that I was using that things would all work well. Plus she had long hair, which I wanted, and curves, which I also wanted for this shoot.

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The day before our shoot I sent Gloria one of my super awesome drawings to show her what I had in mind….
You’re impressed. I know.

 

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Swords. I ran into a massive problem with swords.
Because the shoot was so last minute I only had a couple days to try and find something for props. Unfortunately after asking several friends it turned out that no one had swords this time around for me to borrow. The morning of the shoot, however, I ran to the mall and stopped by the knife store. They had these practice wooden katanas that I knew I would be able to make work perfectly for what I needed.
I bought two for under $30. One to be held and one to put on her back.

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So, that Monday I headed to Gloria’s to shoot at her place. We probably spent about an hour or so shooting. Honestly most of it was trying to get just the right amount of wind to blow her hair. Gloria has great long hair and I wanted to show that off for her shoot a long with a long red tattered headband  she was wearing.

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And of course afterward we had to get a Leo vs. Karai photo! hahaha!

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The next day I spent most of the afternoon editing the final shot of Gloria and getting her added in the main image. Masking out her hair was the hardest part – it always is.

I’m glad that things ended up working out with Gloria and getting her added though! Not only does having a second female in the lineup help, but it really rounds out the 7-on-7 balance of Heroes-vs-Villains both with the space on the poster and of course simple numbers.


 

 

The Poster

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So here it is again.

The culmination of several years of planning, incredibly selective model choices for characters, even a couple re-casts for certain people.

When this started it was just supposed to be the Four Brothers. And while I had thought ahead to “Wow, it’d be cool to do a bunch of characters..” I never actually saw it happening.

I want to say Thank You to everyone who was a part of this. 

There are three additional people who were key to this project.
TJ is my oldest friend and has helped me on many of my biggest projects over the years. He was on set for half these photoshoots taking Behind the Scenes photos and video, helping with props, etc. Hell, after getting lighting dialed with Beau’s shoot (Raphael) it was TJ that manned the camera for my photos to push the shutter release and let me know what photos were sharp/etc.
Rhiannon is my friend and metalsmith who made the blades for Kane (Shredder) on short notice and they looked incredible. I wouldn’t have been able to complete his character without them.
And Katie, my friend who casually joked about me doing a TMNT project one day that I laughingly responded with “I can’t do something with turtles, that’d look ridiculous..”

I was amazed at how serious everyone took their characters for this project. Many of the different models followed strict diets and workout routines to get in shape by the dates I asked them to be ready. It was both very cool and extremely flattering to hear and see all the work that people put into this. Just to be part of my project.

I don’t know if I’m going to do a followup to this poster. But there are certainly additional characters I would love to add and already have ideas for. If I do decide to do a followup poster/project it will include Keno, Karai, probably Venus, Baxter Stockman, Tokka, Rahzar, Ratking, and hopefully Krang. But we’ll see.

With a project that means so much to me I couldn’t be much happier with how it all turned out. I did originally envision compositing backgrounds into each half of the poster. But ultimately I found the colored backdrops to work better for the characters.

Thank you to all of you who spent the time to read about this and see what went in to creating such a project. 
Next up I will be doing an X-Men shoot, possibly a Sailor Moon project with my friend Kelly Eden, and I may start a Disney Heroes: Men project later on.

 

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Thanks again for reading.
I hope you enjoyed everything!

 

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