Thought I would share some of my process in creating the Flying over the Brooklyn Bridge scene with Mental Canvasand Potion Design, for the NYU Hassenfeld City Explorer interactive children’s game installation. (Click the link at the bottom of this post to see a video of the final animated game.)

To give you a sense of the scale, here is a photo of a child playing the game on site:

photo credit: Potion Design

The game, one of eight installed in a wall-sized screen at the NYU Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital, is part of the City Explorer concept, giving hospital-confined children the ability to visit key sites in NYC, and manipulate them using special powers. It was an eight-month labor of love – mixed with quite a bit of sweat too – creating the illustrations for these different scenes. For the Flying scene, Potion teamed up with Mental Canvas, creators of that awesome program that lets you draw dimensionally directly into a tablet, intuitively, like you would draw on a page.

Once we decided that the flying scene would be over the Brooklyn Bridge, the next step was to storyboard out what that kind of journey might look like. I knew that I wanted to start off at the famous Ice Cream Factory, since that’s where I always stop when visiting Brooklyn Bridge Park. Here is the initial storyboard:

And the overview of the flight:

Armed with the initial storyboard, designer Sydney Shea of Mental Canvas did this pencil test over the bridge:


Looks like fun, but we realized that we were not taking enough advantage of the skyline views and multiple bridges over the East River – after all, if you had the ability to fly, wouldn’t you want at least one sweeping view of the whole shebang? And so Steph Goralnick, Potion creative lead, used this map to add a large soaring circle: under the Brooklyn Bridge, over the river, past the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, and past Jane’s carousel, up and over the Brooklyn Bridge to the downtown Manhattan skyline:

And then the decision was made to end the journey by flying up to the top of One World Trade.

Again because, wouldn’t you? :)

Once we’d decided on this expanded flight plan as our route, I spent a glorious sunny day drawing on and around the Brooklyn Bridge, to get a better sense of what those sweeping views would feel like, and how I’d draw them into the Mental Canvas program. Even when my work will be fully digital, I like to start with pen on paper- this allows my intuitive design and emotion to lead me, and then that becomes my point of departure, once I’m drawing on the Surface Pro or Wacom. What a wonderful time I had making these drawings – sometimes on days like this I have to pinch myself, because I feel so lucky that this is what I do for a living.

First view, the Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory (sadly, I read that it’s leaving that sweet little location soon.)

Then a drawing of the River Cafe, as I knew we’d be flying past it on the first leg of our flight.

Walking over the bridge, looking down at Brooklyn Bridge park and the carousel.

A bit farther across the bridge, seeing more of the East River, with the carousel still in sight.

The entrance to the bridge. I had a great spot to draw this from, by the Brooklyn side archways. I had to keep taking breaks to let the tourists jump in front of me to take their selfies.

View of the “other” two bridges and the carousel, along with the sunbathers in Brooklyn Bridge Park.

Once I’d drawn from the top of the bridge, I drew a few panoramics – one of the river with the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridge, with the park and carousel in front of it; and the other (at the top of this post) a view of the Manhattan skyline with the Brooklyn Bridge. I kept somewhat of a distance in these drawings, as I wanted that sweeping overall view that I imagined I’d get if my secret childhood dream of flying had actually come true. (Click on the drawings if you want a larger view.)

Once I had the drawings created and the storyline in place, the next step was to start working directly in Mental Canvas. What I love about this program is that you can draw right into it, placing your drawings and moving them around in dimension without lots of coding or Z-type numbers. Just, draw, like I’ve been doing for years. I laid in some of the drawings and created an initial screen shot storyboard to send to Sydney, who worked back and forth with me as I drew the scene, getting all of this down and working smoothly for our flight path.

I had a super fun time drawing all of the people on the Brooklyn Bridge – the deadline was tight, and I sat in my studio for several all night sessions drawing on the Surface, playing CDs of classical piano music on my old 90’s boom box, and amusing myself by adding all of types of people to the bridge – the full diversity of NYC, plus the goofy fun gestures of the tourists. I included people on bicycles, walking, jogging, protesting, dancing, hula hooping, jump roping, walking dogs, throwing frisbees, playing instruments, taking selfies, posing for wedding pictures, making business deals, moving from one borough to another, pushing strollers, etc., etc. I even put myself on the bridge – if you look closely in the video (linked at bottom) you’ll see an artist making a painting. :)

Here are some screen shots of the crowd:

I remember that I really got into the freckles on the little boy, for some reason. What can I say, it was 3 in the morning.

The little spotted dog running as well as the balloon colors in the back allude to the icons of the Hassenfeld children’s hospital. The musicians are from a memory of New Orleans street performers. I love when old drawings make their way into new ones.

Once the Mental Canvas scene was complete, the next step was to make the illustrations of the avatars flying through, that the children playing the game would embody. Here’s the first pencil test of two avatars, a kid with booster packs and a flying taxi cab. (Because, well, of course.)

Here are the final avatars, drawn digitally:

Super Girl

Rocket Boy

The Robot

New York Pigeons

The Flying Taxi

I also drew a bunch of additional “extras” for the Avatars to fly past, like balloons and kites. Steph asked me to create these extras, to help give the players that feeling of flight. Not all of them made it into the scene, but I think the balloons and things really add a lot of fun to the final game.

The flying pig definitely made it into the scene, and was a private joke for someone at Hassenfeld, besides being super cute. And then there was the setting sun, to make the whole journey feel extra romantic.

I enjoyed working with Sydney Shea of Mental Canvas as well as, of course, Steph Goralnick and the rest of the awesome team at Potion Design. What an amazing project!

To see the animated video of the final game, Flying over the Brooklyn Bridge,


I’ll be posting some more behind the scenes of other locations we did for the game in the coming weeks.

NJ Web Design: Media Climb