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The Force Is Strong with Orlando Arocena

By Charles Purdy

We’re fans of Orlando Arocena’s phenomenal work in Adobe Illustrator CC. And he’s a fan of the Star Wars film saga. 

Orlando remembers his first exposure to Star Wars, in 1977. “It was one of the first movies I saw in a theater, when I was about five years old. My older brother took me to the movies, and when we got there it was Star Wars—and I was excited about that,” he recalls. “He left me there with two large popcorns and two large Cokes, and he was like, ‘Don’t move from here. I have a hot date, and then I’ll come back for you.’ So unfortunately he missed out, but I think I saw Star Wars about four times that day.”

Orlando says he’s especially fond of this illustration, called The Dark Side. “It’s kind of a surrealistic ‘Pop-Deco’ take on Darth Vader and his relationship with the Emperor. I wanted to make it very dynamic and vibrant—I wanted to make the viewer do a double take, whether because of how I used the words for the mouth or how the Emperor’s throne builds up the shape within Vader’s mask.” Click on the arrows to view a closeup of the Emperor and Alejandro’s vector lines.

In advance of a major Star Wars–themed art exhibit, at the Hero Festival in Marseille, France (November 7 and 8, with a second showing December 3 through 15), Orlando shared some of his popular Star Wars tribute images with us, as well as giving us a first look at some new Star Wars work. 

The exhibit—which includes work by Orlando and dozens of artists from around the world—is a joint production of Le Café Pixel Gallery, the Poster Posse, Acme Archives, and Lucas Film, as well as the city of Marseille and others, as excitement about the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens builds.

Illustration of General Grievous, by Orlando Arocena.
Vector lines in illustrations of General Grievous, by Orlando Arocena

“I’m a big fan of Grievous,” says Orlando. “He’s a good example of what happens to an individual when you let society make a hole in your spirit.” 

Orlando says he finds Star Wars appealing in part because of the creativity that’s evident in the films. But his admiration for the series goes deeper than that. “In part, Star Wars gets me because of everything it says—not just the creativity but also the philosophy that’s part of it,” he says. “The whole yin-yang of the Dark Side and the Force…. I think that as an audience we gravitate toward that. It’s not only entertaining but also motivating.”

This image is called Family. Click on the arrows to see a closeup and to marvel at the intricate vector lines.

Not only a Star Wars fan, Orlando is also an Illustrator fan. “Seriously, Adobe Illustrator is my favorite video game of all time,” he says, adding that he generally approaches his illustrations in one of two ways: “Often, I start off directly sketching in Illustrator after I’ve pulled all my visual resources and references together—that’s one of the beautiful things about Adobe Illustrator, the ability to plot out or embed visual references off to the side. From there, I’ll just start contouring and building up shapes…and that could be anything from pulling an oval vector shape and immediately having a gradient fill that I can manipulate within a spectrum, or just starting from the dynamic of how the gradient fills up that space.”

Orlando says that his youth—in the Bronx in the 1980s—was influenced by Star Wars and hip-hop. Thus, his vector tribute series for May the Fourth was born.

Orlando’s other process is a more traditional or “old-school” technique of sketching on paper, scanning it in, and then replotting the sketch. “But I usually prefer to jump right into an illustration,” he says. “That way, I’m caught up in the spontaneity and excitement of watching a sketch evolve.”

Orlando says his Adversaries series demonstrates “yin-yang/good-evil—and how these two characters or sometimes three characters had a long relationship in the Star Wars universe...with unexpected results.” Click on the arrows to see sketches and vector lines.

Illustration of Star Wars characters Yoda, Han Solo, and Chewbacca, by Orlando Arocena
Illustration of Luke Skywalker, by Orlando Arocena

Many of the above illustrations, all part of Orlando’s Adversaries series, are having their public debut at the November 2015 Hero Festival in Marseille, France—and on this page.

Illustration of gay Star Wars storm troopers, by Orlando Arocena

Orlando made this image to celebrate the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of allowing same-sex couples to marry. On his Behance page, he added, “Congratulations to all you troopers who never gave up!” 

Orlando is also especially fond of this Star Wars–James Bond mashup. 

Which of these Star Wars tribute illustrations is your favorite? Share your thoughts in the Comments section. And do not miss more work by Orlando Arocena, on his Behance page.