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Artists Alley: Tom Whalen brings RoboCop come to life in a brand new way

By Elizabeth Rayne

"He’s not a guy, he's a machine!" RoboCop artist Tom Whalen is also a machine.

Usually, videos in our Artists Alley series go down like this: an artist is equipped with a sketchpad and the necessary pencils and pens to bring a character to life as we watch, mesmerized. Tom Whalen, on the other hand, does sketch his characters first — but then he really fleshes them out digitally. For a cyborg cop, that's certainly appropriate.

Whalen is a poster, pin and packaging artist with a can't-miss graphic style who has worked for Mondo, Disney Marvel, Lucasfilm and more. His latest collab is packaging for the Power Rangers Lightning collection, and there are some of us (ahem) who are kind of obsessed with packaging.

The artist always starts with a pencil sketch that he crops and scans into Adobe Illustrator. He traces and fills out the main shapes in RoboCop's profile with a certain pen tool that anyone who illustrates digitally either loves or hates — because it's definitely not for impatient people — but Whalen has obviously mastered it to the point that he's made it second nature.

Comic books were Whalen's gateway into art. He would spend weekends at his grandma's candy store reading them (and probably getting a sugar rush while at it). While he thought he was going to get into the sequential art of comics by the time he went to art school, his professor opened his eyes to other applications for his bold aesthetic.

If you asked Whalen how he figures out his color palettes, he doesn't. It's all trial and error. He keeps the CMYK window next to his main canvas like most people keep a best friend on speed dial.

What are some of Whalen's favorite projects? Undoubtedly the Disney posters he's done. Even though he tends to work in geometric shapes, there is still an amazing amount of detail in these, from the castle reflected in the Evil Queen's cloak from Snow White to the boat and crocodiles in The Rescuers to the unlikely mix of aliens Hawaiian blossoms in Lilo and Stitch.

Is Whalen going to dare turn RoboCop's armor purple? Watch to find out!

This article was contributed to by Elizabeth Rayne.