The Art of Celebration: Sean Burke Discusses His Winning T-Shirt Design

This Chosen One brought real balance to the Force!

Earlier this year, Lucasfilm held a contest for its employees to design a Star Wars-themed T-shirt that would be featured at the Celebration event in Anaheim. What they ended up going with was pretty cool — several generations of Star Wars heroes, starships, and locations squeezed into a galactic delta, the ultimate power in the universe. spoke with contest winner Sean Burke, a former intern in the Lucasfilm Art Department, who discussed the challenges of creating his design and the inspiration he received from iconic Star Wars imagery. What is your background as an artist?

Sean Burke: Originally I was a Fine Arts major at Connecticut College, and then after studying Fine Arts for a while I decided I wanted to specialize in something a little more practical. I got really into concept art, and ended up leaving Connecticut College to come to California and studied at four or five different schools here, just taking as many classes as I could and diving into the concept art world. Right now, I’m still learning and I’m actually still in school while I’m working here, but I’m trying to soak up as much concept art knowledge and experience as possible.

Winning Celebration T-shirt design

Burke’s design is a three-dimensional galaxy that includes locations, characters, and ships. What inspired your concept design for the Celebration T-shirts?

Sean Burke: Definitely an artist called Scott Willis, who worked on the original Clone Wars back in the day. He has this really awesome dynamic style where he uses simple shapes and really nice colors. If you look at the original Clone Wars, you can kind of see that really cool style he had with Genndy Tartakovsky (Clone Wars creator), and I think that’s definitely where it was inspired from. Can you tell us more about the process in creating your design, and how you came to your final product? 

Sean Burke: I started out by looking at old iconic Star Wars imagery, which is where I came across the image of Luke holding his lightsaber up inside a large triangle. That was the basis of the design, I knew I wanted to have a strong triangular composition. So I started trying to break the characters and iconic sets down into simple shapes and arrange them within a triangle. After landing on a composition that I was happy with, I started to block in the shapes with muted colors. I wanted to give the design a spontaneous feeling so I didn’t spend too much time refining the edges. I thought the sketchy look helped make the design more exciting.

Concept sketch by Sean Burke

Burke’s concept sketch: the universe and the Force is taking shape. What was the most difficult aspect of it?

Sean Burke: The most difficult aspect of creating the design was interpreting the characters in the simple style. I wanted them to be recognizable even though they were so simplified. So I started by thinking about what it was that made each character iconic. For some you could immediately recognize them from their silhouettes (R2-D2, C-3P0, Chopper, Yoda), while others had iconic shapes inside their silhouettes (Leia’s buns, Chewie’s shoulder strap). The more difficult ones were Luke and Han, who I chose to distinguish by using posing and props in addition to their costuming — Luke has his lightsaber and Han has his pistol. After blocking in the characters, I added simplified versions of Endor, Cloud City, and Jabba’s Palace in the background to add more interest and color to the design. The sets were much easier to simplify as most of the worlds that were created have strong shape language that are easy to recognize. For example, Cloud City — which is instantly recognizable — has a large saucer shape on top of a thin tower.

After stepping back and looking at the design overall, I wanted a strong triangular composition much like the original inspiration. So I did a final pass, tweaking the colors and positions of the background shapes to lead the eye back toward the focal points, which were the characters themselves. Were you more influenced by the Star Wars prequels or the original trilogy?

Sean Burke: I grew up watching the prequels first, actually. Right now I’m only 22, and the prequels came out right at about where I remember my first movies. So I kind of remember the young Anakin Skywalker podracing was like the coolest thing in the world when I was a kid. I don’t think I even I knew that the movies after that had come out before. Because I was so young I didn’t realize the quality was different, and they all looked real to me.

Still, there’s something that’s just a lot more nostalgic and kind of real about the original films. I think nowadays I like the original films more even though I grew up watching the prequels, but it’s hard to decide since they both have things that I really like. What does it mean for you as an artist to win a contest like this? 

Sean Burke: As I was an intern at the time the contest came around, I felt like I had to give it a shot, never thinking my design would win it.  And then on my last day as an intern, I was shocked to hear the design had won! So it was a good reminder to never pass up an opportunity to get your art out there and enjoy it win or lose because you never know what will happen.

Sean Galusha is a content writer with Lucasfilm. Check out all of his latest posts at @seanmgalusha, where you can chronicle his wisdom about sports, Hot Pockets, and all things geeky. Follow at your own risk. 

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