The following article is about an artist named Robert O’Brien, whom most of know as “Kung Fu Bob”. Well, of course he is called that due to his great passion for Asian cinema. But Bob does more with that passion than just enjoying the films, channeling that energy into creating works of art (which take up a good portion of the walls in my home).I’ve known Bob, not personally, but through the Web for a few years via Facebook and movie forums. During this time we’ve chatted a great deal about films and martial arts. But the reason I decided to focus on him for this article, is all about his skills with paint and general artistry. I wanted to showcase his ability at capturing the spirit of genre movies that I love, as colorful, frame-worthy pieces of artwork.
It was clearly time to ask Kung Fu Bob about his “Top 10 Films That Inspired His Art Work”. Perhaps surprisingly, his film list isn’t limited to, nor even primarily, movies from the kung fu genre. It turns out that like me, he is an all-around movie buff, with interests ranging across many genres.So check out Bob’s top10 inspirational films. But before that, here’s some of his art work hanging on my (ninja hideaway) wall.
P.S. Bob’s art work can also be found on DVD and Blu-Ray covers from Shout! Factory/Scream Factory (They will all be mine!), Timeless Media Group, Elektrocity, and Midori Impuls, book covers for Unearthed Films, Strider Nolan Media, the novels of Scott Blasingame, T-Shirt designs, websites, and many other places. I will list the films he has created covers for at the end of the article.
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Robert O’Brien – aka Kung Fu Bob:
10 Films That Inspires Art
I’m an artist, and I got my nick-name “Kung Fu Bob” because of my love of Asian action cinema. Besides film I like reading, nature, practicing martial arts, and being with my family.
Yes, I’m a huge movie nut, and films have had a tremendous influence on me artistically. But I have to point out that my biggest influence, before anything else, was definitely my Mom. When I was four or five, I remember bringing a Disney coloring book to her that depicted an underwater treasure, and asking “How do I color water?” She showed me how you could put a little of one color, then go over it with a different color and create a third. That was pure magic and I was delighted! My entire life changed at that moment as I saw the first of endless possibilities that art and creativity offered. Thanks Mom!
Top 10 –
1. King Kong (1933)
– This film still thrills me as much now as it did when I first saw it. Monkeys, apes, and reptiles were always my favorite animals at the zoo. This had the biggest and baddest versions of those creatures, plus adventure, scares and romance. The fact that one man- the Stop-Motion Animation pioneer Willis H. O’Brien had created not only Kong, but all of the dinosaurs and Skull Island itself as miniatures on a tabletop was (and still is) one of the most amazing things I’d ever discovered. Plus, as a kid, I was excited to learn “He has the same name as us!”This film set my little mind and fertile imagination reeling. From the day I first saw the film I started drawing Kong and dinosaurs all the time with crayons on construction paper. My Dad had explained the basics of how stop-motion animation worked, but when my parents got me the book From The Land Beyond Beyond: The Films of Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen (1977) by Jeff Rovin, I was able to learn tons of fascinating details about the art. That’s when I decided I might want to be a stop-motion animator. –
2. Frankenstein (1931)
– I loved all of the Universal horror films- my favorites were THE WOLF MAN (1941) and THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954)- but this particular one played an important role in my “art education and inspiration”. When I was very young I loved watching monster, horror, science fiction and fantasy films, but would often suffer from bad dreams.My Dad found a magazine called Famous Monsters of Filmland that showed Boris Karloff being made up as Frankenstein’s Monster in step-by-step photos. He showed me, and explained that there were people that worked on films- in this case the incredible Jack Pierce- who would create “special effects make-up”. Seeing behind the curtain helped rid me of the nightmares, and opened my eyes to yet another exciting branch of the art world. –
3. The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)
– I ate up all of the 1950’s sci-fi films, and was also crazy about stuff like THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953), 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH (1957), THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958), and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949). But I think that out of all the films that Ray Harryhausen created stop-motion effects for, this was the one that left the most powerful impression. I was five and a half years old when I saw it at the drive-in on an enormous screen.The “monsters” seemed to actually be alive, with feelings and thoughts. They weren’t just mindless rampaging creatures, but instead, seemed to be actual living beings. Ray had picked this skill up from his mentor Willis H. O’Brien who had managed to do the same thing for the sympathetic King Kong. I believe that this planted the seed for me of trying to tell a character’s story when drawing, as opposed to just creating an image. –
4. Godzilla’s Revenge (1969)
– aka. All Monsters Attack; Minya: Son of Godzilla) This film is about a bullied little kid that travels to an island inhabited by a virtual menagerie of monsters, and befriends Godzilla’s son. Since I was a nerdy kid that liked nothing more than to read, draw, and imagine worlds where superheroes battled aliens and dinosaurs, this seemed like the ideal vacation spot to me.I had no interest (nor skills) in sports, and was definitely not popular with the other kids. Oh how I wanted to visit Monster Island! Seeing such a variety of different creatures all in one movie was truly TV paradise for a young monster lover, and I would try to think up and draw other beasties that might also live there. Hmmm… perhaps a career as a monster-suit actor would be in my future? –
5. Star Wars: A New Hope (1977)
– When this came out it was a huge game-changer. So many things that are taken for granted in science fiction cinema now, were first introduced here. Slang like “droids”, the “used” look of the spaceships, dogfight-like outer space battles between laser-firing fighters, and experiencing multiple planets, alien races and languages all in one story! John Dykstra, Stuart Freeborn, Ralph McQuarrie and Rick Baker were among the effects artists that this film introduced me to.I was always a voracious reader and wanted to learn everything I could about this film. This led to me borrowing the July, 1977 issue of American Cinematographer from the library so I could read the article “Miniature and Mechanical Special Effects” by Dykstra. At the time I was only eight and a half, and almost everything in the article was beyond my comprehension.First I attempted to read it several times with the assistance of a dictionary, and studied all of the photos intently. Finally I asked my father (one of the smartest and coolest people on Earth) if he could explain it to me. After glancing at the first paragraph he laughed and said “I’m not even sure what a lot of this stuff means. It’s talking about very technical equipment and special effects processes. I don’t think this is really meant for someone your age son.” “Please Dad?” So I sat next to him while he read it aloud to me, figuring out and explaining what he could to me in terms I understood. This is how I started learning about motion-controlled cameras, miniature effects photography, the integration of mechanized elements into prosthetic creatures, and much more. My scope of interest in different art and effects fields grew enormously because of this movie. –
6. Alien (1979)
– After seeing so many different movie aliens as I grew up, knowing that this film was actually calledALIEN and that no photos of the creature were released had me dying of anticipation. Would it look like the lizard monster Gorn from STAR TREK? Or maybe like the extraterrestrials in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE 3RD KIND? How about like Chewbacca from STAR WARS? Nothing could have prepared me for the xenophobe that Swiss artist H.R. Giger had created for the film. And the fact that they showed it morph through different life cycles and appearances throughout the film? This was a long way from seeing Mothra go from a larval worm to a giant moth. In fact, this was so startlingly original and realistic that it forever changed the way I would think about creating a fictional creature.The second we got home from seeing the film on opening night, I began drawing it. My parents asked “How can you draw it? You didn’t really see it clearly in the movie.” But I drew what I could remember. In addition to the shocking creature effects were the film’s stunning sets, ships, landscapes, costumes and production design, courtesy of artists like Moebius and Ron Cobb. I had always liked drawing characters, but not environments, which I found boring. But as I studied every photo in the ALIEN Movie Novel Photo Book (which was basically over a 1,000 color photos along with the dialogue) I realized how important these elements were to telling a story through art. –
7. Altered States (1980)
– The combination of Ken Russell’s powerful direction, and psychedelic opticals with staggeringly realistic and original prosthetics took me to places I‘d never dreamed. Soon I was reading Paddy Chayefsky’s book and asking my parents a million questions like “ What does a ‘physiological pathway to our earlier consciousnesses’ mean?” –
8. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
– Though I had helped my Mom paint holiday ceramics since I was very young, and of course had fun with Play-Doh, I never had any real interest in sculpting. That is, until I saw this movie. Rick Baker’s work in this film (and pretty much everything he’s ever done) mesmerized me. As my Dad drove us home after the film I knew that drawings on paper just weren’t going to cut it anymore. I had to create something you could hold, and look at from different directions. I had to bring some of my imagination into the “real world”… into three dimensional life. The second I got home I took my little sister’s Play-Doh and sculpted a life-size, mid-transformation extended hand as I’d seen in the film. It slipped over my real hand, and despite the less-than-ideal material and my lack of sculpting experience, I was surprised at what I was able to accomplish.After bugging my parents to take me to the craft store for plasticine I began sculpting non-stop. First I experimented with sculpting clay features onto a ceramic skull base. Then, remembering what I’d read in Fangoria magazine about FX guys using it for “slime/drool”, I asked my Mom if she knew what K-Y Jelly was, and where to get it! My poor Mother was a bit taken aback to have her 12 year old son ask for such an item. But after explaining why, she was kind enough to buy some for me. I began to sculpt miniature busts of different creatures and characters. I would paint them with model paints, attach craft fur as hair, and adorn them with appropriate slime and gore. I even got Mom to teach me to sew so I could replicate the clothing for my critters. My shelves filled up with miniature likenesses of the FUNHOUSE creature, the various looks of FRIDAY THE 13th’s Jason Voorhees, Mad Max, Gremlins, werewolves, and zombies. The one two punch of this film and THE HOWLING (1981), featuring the incredible work of Rob Bottin, led me to start experimenting in make-up effects.Soon I was creating bullet holes, missing fingers, and zombie makeup on anyone that was willing to sit still. My supply shelf was stocked with plenty of Karo syrup, clay and liquid latex. But after seeing Bottin’s work in THE THING (1982) I would soon need to restock. Now I was eying a career in make-up effects work. Being a special make-up FX artist became my newest goal. –
9. The Dark Crystal (1982)
– A month after seeing ALIEN I was enjoying THE MUPPET MOVIE in the theater. A vastly different kind of effects film, but no less influential. I had grown up with the Muppets, with Sesame Street beginning it’s broadcast right before I turned one. so between that and seeing them in various guest appearances, they were always a part of my life. Seeing Kermit The Frog, suddenly out from behind the ever-present puppeteer-hiding wall, seemingly riding a bicycle out in the open was (believe it or not) a magical special effect at the time. But a few years later THE DARK CRYSTAL took the artistry and puppeteer skills of Jim Henson, Frank Oz and company to a whole other level. Artist Brian Froud designed the looks of the creatures, and his book World of The Dark Crystal became my new favorite thing to stare at for hours. Now I began to think that writing and directing would go well with FX artistry. That way I could create and have control over a complete vision. –
10. Enter The Dragon (1973)
– I saw this film as a young teen, and other than some stuff in Elvis, James Bond and Chuck Norris films, it was my first real exposure to a very different kind of art. The martial arts. My life completely changed as a result of viewing this film. By week’s end I had found and purchased a pair of nunchaku at a flea market and began teaching myself by watching the VHS of Bruce Lee’s action in slow-motion. Soon I was looking for every one of “The Little Dragon’s” films, and…martial arts classes to take. Soon I began training in earnest, and also trying to get my hands on every kung fu, karate and samurai film I could. Before long I was a Sonny Chiba fanatic, became a super fan of the Lone Wolf and Cub films, and was getting acquainted with Jackie Chan, Yuen Biao and Sammo Hung. All this led not only to training, but to my becoming more serious about photography, and capturing images of martial arts practitioners in action. –
– Of course there are many other people that I haven’t mentioned who’s work has strongly effected and inspired my development as an artist. These include, but are not limited to, the artwork of Frank Frazetta, Bernie Wrightson, and Richard Corben, Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley, the writings of Stephen King, Clive Barker, Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert E. Howard, Stan Lee, E.C. Horror comics, the effects work of Dick Smith, Stan Winston, Tom Savini, the films of Lau Kar-Leung, Stanley Kubrick, George A. Romero, David Cronenberg, Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Akira Kurosawa, Francis Ford Coppola and many others. I can’t imagine who I’d be without my parents generosity in purchasing me an endless amount of supplies, and their never-ending enthusiasm and encouragement. And without my wife’s love, monumental support, belief in me, and on-the-mark constructive criticism, I’d probably have given up pursuing my art long ago. My thanks and love to these precious people, and also to all my friends and the people that have supported my work for all these years. You people rock! –
If you would you like to receive e-mail notifications when I announce NEW art pieces, please contact me at: email@example.com Here is my blog address where you can see and buy my art: www.shaolinchamber36.com/kungfubobsart
The checkout system for the blog can occasionally get a little troublesome. Sometimes only allowing you to order one item at a time. (sigh) My official website is currently under construction. But in the meantime, please feel free to go to the blog to check out the pictures and info on the artwork. Then you can order directly from me. You can also purchase some of my work on eBay from seller Nunchakubeast.
Thanks again James!
Hey, thanks for the write up Bob. It’s a good read, and gives we fans, friends, and collectors of your work, a glimpse inside your mind and the cinematic inspirations for your art. I have now added a few films to my wish/must-see list.
A new website is in the making for Bob, and info will be updated here to let everyone know where to go once it’s launched.
Don’t be left out. Go buy some art from Kung Fu Bob! They are a great addition to man-caves, dojos, kwoons, death-trap filled underground temples, ninja lairs, and movie rooms.
List of Movies with Kung Fu Bobs art work as of this date posted
CEO/Webmaster of soreelflix.com. The Name Is James and I love Film ranging from Silent 20's to highly CGI Blockbusters of today. Westerns, Horror, world film, basically anything that peaks my interest I own it But Asian Films are what I Prize the most and Half of My collection Consists of Asian Films. Thanks to the Film 5 Deadly Venoms
I Hail From The US, Maryland Is where The Ninja Studies and views the Scrolls of Film That Shine on his 46" Screen. I own a sword, I can do a thousand upside down situps, and I randomly disappear in smoke when I'm not writing movie news and or reviews.