Every now and then, I like to focus on game covers here on this site. I started with a series of articles in Swedish that I never finished (there will be a second part though), and I recently wondered why the classic C64 and Amiga covers aren’t part of the evergreen poster culture (also in Swedish).
Now the time has come to start writing about how some of my favourite game covers actually were created, and how I found these things out.
This is an English translation of an original post in Swedish.
Cinemaware is a much-loved game developer and producer. Founded in 1985, the company quickly made a name for itself by focusing on amazing graphics and a storytelling style that felt more like a feature film than a computer game. Hence the name.
Cinemawares first game is one of its most known – and also most appreciated. Defender of the Crown was released in 1986, and I’ve already spent a considerable amount of time going through its historical accuracies (in Swedish).
The cover for the Amiga and C64 versions is as much of a classic as it is dated from a gender perspective, but the story of its creation has been a mystery. Well, at least until I spent a considerable amount of time and effort finding out more about it.
Let’s start from the beginning…
Cinemaware folded in 1991, but the company was somewhat resurrected in 2000 when Lars Fuhrken-Batista bought all the rights and started a new company with the same name. Cinemaware of today are owned by eGames, so I naturally started by approaching the new company.
Who drew the picture of the two duelling knights and the passive damsel in distress?
The answer was as short as it was unexpected:
You know, we are seeking this artist as well – but it’s been nearly 30 years [since] this was designed! We do know the company that created it was Peter Green design, out of Los Angeles…maybe you [will] have luck tracking him down!
It was obvious that they had no idea. Since Peter Green Design still exists and seems to be run by the same people, I contacted them and patiently awaited their reply.
And while I waited, I started going through all the materials I had access to. There’s no mention of a cover artist in any database, manual or in the illustration itself, but in a small corner of the web I managed to find a portfolio by Randy McDonald, where Defender of the Crown (and Cinemawares three following games) are listed under Print Design & Production.
Could he be the illustrator?
I decided to contact him, but didn’t get a reply straight away. Thankfully, I managed to unearth a few other ways of contacting him and tried again.
During this time, Peter Green Design replied in a short e-mail that went straight to the point:
His name is Ezra Tucker. He has become quite a renowned illustrator over the years and I believe you can find him on the Internet easily.
Ezra Tucker is actually someone that even I have heard of. After some searching I found his portfolio website Eztratucker.com. Ezra has created illustrations for Star Wars books and a whole bunch of other stuff.
In order to be sure I contacted Ezra Tucker to get some answers.
At the same time, Randy McDonald broke the silence and complicated things further by giving me detailed and contradictory facts:
No, I was not the illustrator. The illustrator’s name, for all except ”King of Chicago,” was Greg Winter. He lived in Pasadena, California, and was an extremely talented young artist. Since you wrote to me, I’ve tried to locate him on the internet, but can find no current trace of his whereabouts. There is a Greg Winter who is an illustrator and who lives in the U.K., but I wrote to him, and, alas, it is not the same Greg Winter.
So, Randy McDonald did not illustrate the covers, but was rather in charge of ”art direction, design, and production” for the first four games. If anyone knows how things happened, it has to be him.
Randy spends his days in a remote cabin in Tennessee, doing freelance graphics work.
We sent long e-mails back and forth to one another during a couple of days, and in them he gave me a detailed insight into how he created the cover that – together with outstanding sound and graphics – would make Defender of the Crown, Cinemawares first game, into its most ported one.
Peter Greene or I would do a sketch of generally what we wanted for each cover. I went to Western Costume in Hollywood, which for many decades was the giant in the costume industry there, and rented costumes for the types of ”look” we had settled on for each cover. We hired models and brought them into Peter’s large photo studio, where we set them up in the costumes I had rented, posed as closely as possible to the way we wanted them to be illustrated.
An amusing anecdote is that for ”Defender of the Crown,” we posed the model in the armor sitting astride a large plastic garbage can that was packed full with all kinds of scrap paper to give it roughly the shape of a horse, all of it up on a coarse wooden work table so we could take photos looking somewhat up at him. Then the female model draped across him and we put them into action, taking a lot of photos. The same trash can was used for the other guy on horseback. Greg Winter used the model photos we chose as a guide to illustrate from, and he added all the landscape or other background information.
McDonald turned out to be extremely helpful, and even contacted Greg Winter in the UK, who has illustrated several blockbuster concepts such as the Batman and Bourne movies. Unfortunately, it was the wrong Greg Winter.
Thankfully, Randy McDonald had extensive information regarding the three games released after Defender of the Crown – S.D.I., The King of Chicago and Sinbad and the Throne of the Falcon. He was also the creator of Cinemawares logotype (interestingly enough, all of his prototypes had the same angled effect used in the CinemaScope logotype).
Since a lot of his work contained real people and not only illustrations, it made sense to use him and other staff as models.
I happened to be the model holding the Tommy gun for that cover. I believe that Peter Greene took photos of some alleys and the car, but he may have found stock photo sources for some of it.
I worked on only what’s on my portfolio site, including the press kit cover that shows people sitting in a theatre with the big ”Cinemaware” logo on the screen. I also designed that logo. That cover is also a photo composite, and I’m afraid that I’m in that, too, as the guy offering the girl some popcorn…
And in the middle of our interesting mail conversations, Ezra Tucker showed up and gave me a few answers to my questions. Ezra is a man of few words, but what he wrote was enough to shatter my entire investigation.
Did you illustrate the cover art for Defender of the Crown, C64 and Amiga versions? From the look of your portfolio, I can’t really tell.
YES, I DID!
Did you do some other cover art for Cinemaware as well?
NO, I DID NOT!
These answers changed everything. Peter Green Design, the enlisted agency, claimed that Ezra Tucker was the illustrator. Ezra Tucker also claimed that he was the illustrator. The production manager Randy McDonald claimed that a Greg Winter was the illustrator, but nobody has managed to find him yet.
So where do these facts leave us?
It’s fairly obvious how the covers were created, thanks to McDonalds’ detailed accounts. His recollections ring true, as he even found an address book containing Greg Winters’ old telephone number and studio address. There was no mention of Ezra Tucker in it either.
Randy McDonald clearly remembers that he worked with Greg Winter when all the three covers were illustrated. He even says that he visited Winters’ home studio at least once, and saw him create an early sketch with the two horse-mounted knights.
But he also admits that Green Design may have let Ezra Tucker recreate Greg Winters’ early work. Randy McDonald wouldn’t be aware of such an event, but during our conversations he seemed interested in finding out the truth behind who actually was holding the brush.
Ezra Tucker never mentions Defender of the Crown, Cinemaware or Peter Green Design in his portfolio.
I don’t think that his overall style resembles the cover either, even though I must admit that the horses’ wild expressions can be seen in several of his other works. It should also be noted that he’s undoubtedly very talented, and that his skill set is varied.
The big question is why he hasn’t included Defender of the Crown in his portfolio. Tucker is a renowned illustrator who has worked for Walt Disney and Universal Studios. He has won several awards and his work can be found in museum exhibitions and Fortune 500 collections. Maybe he doesn’t own the rights to show this particular creation?
Or maybe he doesn’t want to show a piece of work that he’s only touched up, and therefore hasn’t created from scratch. I make a point of asking him once more which reference material he has been using, seeing as I know that he’s a busy man who likes to give short answers:
All from scratch! Beginning to end! Used models for reference.
So … what became of Greg Winters illustration? And who is (or was) Greg Winter?
Since I was lucky enough to run into Randy McDonald, it doesn’t really matter who the real illustrator was. Instead, Randy has given me detailed information on the posing, and he has also sent me unique pictures from the first photo sessions – pictures that have never been published previously on the Internet.
The reason for the low quality is because the original image was taken in the 6×6 centimeter Hasselblad mid-format, which means that it’s a transparent diapositive. McDonald had to take a photograph of it with his own camera, as he didn’t have access to a suitable scanner adapter. So unlike the image below, the original is both in high resolution and without any artefacts.
This really took some digging, and it’s a minor miracle, but I do have two of the very early test shots we did for Defender [of the Crown]. The setup in the enclosed photos was not working because both the models felt they were in imminent danger of falling to the concrete floor, which is why we then got a considerably bigger table, and instead of using the rickety ”director’s chair” thing they were sitting on in the two enclosed photos, we devised the big ”stuffed plastic trash can” rig [, which I mentioned earlier].
The early picture above resembles the finished illustration a lot. The cover is mirrored, but the helmet-bearing and axe-wielding knight looks almost exactly the same. The female models neck, hair and front leg are also details that the illustrator has captured.
I personally love discovering hidden pictures like these. They’re really a piece of computer game history.
A recurring problem in the game industry is that it’s hard to pinpoint individuals in processes that are based on the work by several people. Randy McDonald kept telling me this on many occasions:
Ultimately, the only credit worth giving is ”Peter Green Design,” because that’s the company that did it. For about a year, I was an integral part of that system, but never lose sight of the fact that it’s a system.
My journey was long and quite complicated, but despite not having found Greg Winter I still feel that it has been completed. It seems highly probable that Ezra Tucker created the cover for Defender of the Crown, but that the reference materials given to him were originally meant for Greg Winter. Greg’s original illustrations were never used and are probably buried in a filing cabinet somewhere.
Whoever Greg Winter is, he seems to be the sole illustrator of the covers for S.D.I. and Sinbad and the Throne of the Falcon (and perhaps even more). If you have any more information, you’re more than welcome to contact me.
My next step is to give Cinemaware a call and explain the chain of events, and to ask them who actually owns the rights to the cover that I’ve been investigating for two weeks. Perhaps we can get them to print some new posters from their games.
We’ll just have to see what they answer.
EDIT: Since this was written, Cinemaware has given me an answer regarding posters of the cover art for Defender of the Crown:
This is truly great detective work! We have also been in touch with Peter Green Design and we might be doing new covers in the future! Meanwhile, we will repost your link in our site and Facebook page so everyone can read it!
PS: We own all the rights to the imagery and IP to these covers and images! We are planning to run brand-new posters!
Translated by Toby Lee