Watch Artists Hand Paint Murals for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

As we wrote back in May, not all advertisements are created equal. Colossal Media is responsible for the hand painted, photo realistic murals that you see scattered through New York City (and in cities across the country), that look more like art than ads. They are, in fact, as close to works of art as an advertisement can get, creations that are crafted with painstaking precision. You know they’re doing something right when their murals make you thirsty for a beer you don’t even like.

Whether it's bleakest February or boiling August, Colossal's artists are out there painting, oftentimes thirty or forty feet off the ground. As Colossal painter Jason Cotney told us, “In all likelihood, this shouldn’t exist. It’s not efficient and it's not practical. In the winter, we’ve had a couple of frostbite cases, we worked through the polar vortex crap and all of that. And in the summer, it’s the same thing…the heat exposure makes you feel like you’re drunk, your vision gets messed up, and you start slurring.” Yet Cotney loves his job. "We're playing with gravity all the time when we're rigging. We're up there and people don't know we're there at all, with wrenches and bolts and all kinds of heavy equipment. And I'm just completely engrossed in what I'm doing."

While the film world is dominated by teasers, trailers, Tumblrs, Twitter and TV ads, it’s somehow comforting that these same studios also still pay money to create ads that don’t wiggle like a gif or blare at you from a TV screen. Warner Bros., Disney, Comedy Central, TNT, IFC and [adult swim] have all utilized Colossal to create murals for their films and shows. No two are alike, all are arresting.

"It's an apprenticeship program, and it always has been," Cotney says. "From one person to the next, there's a lineage of teaching. So my lineage goes back, and my teacher can trace his lineage back to a guy Alphonse Mucha, who was a art nouveau artist, a really famous dude. So from him teaching someone, to that person teaching someone, passing this tradition down."

As you’ll see in our mini-documentary, which has been in the works since last December when we first began following Colossal’s artists, they’re passionate about what they do. Paramount Pictures contracted them to create three murals for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, two in Brooklyn (Williamsburg and Bushwick) and one in downtown Manhattan (Soho). The three murals are roughly 15-feet high each, with the wall at Bogart and Thames in Williamsburg, captured in the photo above, stretching 65-feet across.

This is canvas painting on a large scale. Colossal receives the art from the client and begins sketching a life-size replica of the work. In this case, they had about a week to sketch the three TMNT posters from Paramount before they had to start painting. Out on the street, they apply the sketch to the wall and rub it with charcoal dust to get an outline. Using a photo for reference, Colossal artists then fill in all the detail, which is the majority of the work, by hand and by eye. There is no paint-by-numbers schematic to follow, no easy step-by-step guide on how to turn the wall into the art they're holding in their hands. The charcoal dust gives them an outline, nothing more, of the highly detailed art they need to complete in four days. They'll test their paint on the wall, over and over again, remixing it until it's exactly right. Then they'll paint, for four or five days straight, from morning to night.

"We try to replicate photo-realism as best as we can," Cotney says. "We're always trying to get better at that. That's something that's always going to be a work in progress. Our training is every day. From the top down, there's nobody that's where they want to be. There's nobody that's 'made it' or any of that crap. We're always trying to get better."

How good can they get? We'll be looking out for their next mural to see.

Thanks to Colossal Media for letting us follow them around. Film shot by Mark Trent & Chris Talbot, produced by Audra Martin and edited by Katia Vannoy. 


Bryan Abrams

Bryan Abrams is the Editor-in-chief of The Credits. He's run the site since its launch in 2012. He lives in New York.