Sketchy Details: A conversation with illustrator Livio Ramondelli

Trevor Hogg chats with illustrator Livio Ramondelli about his Transformers work as well as his love for comic books and movies…

“I’m originally from Pennsylvania, I moved to California to get my Masters and have been out here ever since,” states Illustrator Livio Ramondelli who comes from a family more involved with medicine and finance than the arts. “I was fortunate to attend The Academy [of Art University] which was a terrific experience. The faculty comes from day jobs at Pixar, [and] ILM so you’re learning from working professionals about the current needs of the industry. In particular, a teacher Anthony Cristov, who is an art director at Pixar, taught me some essential tools for camera angles and composition; I’m very indebted to him.” Questioned as to his definition for a great illustration, Romandelli answers, “I’m always struck by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns cover of Batman’s silhouette leaping past the lightning bolt. Personally, I get moved by images of stark design like that just as much as I do detailed and atmospheric paintings, like Alex Ross’ work. The image of Superman alone among the dead at the end of Kingdom Come is striking.” The American artist is always trying to improve himself. “I would say the constant challenge is always striving to get better. It can be both rewarding and insanely frustrating to look back at work you did only recently and see things you do better now. It means you’ve progressed but then you grow to regret some of your earlier pieces.”

“They’re very useful,” remarks Livio Ramondelli when discussing webcomic collectives and trade shows. “If you’re a freelancer artist looking to work in comics it’s almost essential that you attend Comic-Con or conventions in general. The sheer number of eyes that will see your work and the connections that you can make at the shows help you immensely. It gets your work and name out there in a way that just shooting out emails cannot.” As for his career ambitions, Ramondelli says, “I’d like to continue to work on great projects that excite me. I would love for there to eventually be a row of trade paperbacks of series that I’ve worked on and am proud of.” Moving from comic books to the big screen is another dream for the native of Pennsylvania who is involved with the Transformers: Autocracy series. “I was already working for IDW on a series called Transformers: Chaos when the current editor Andy Schmidt asked if I’d be interested in doing another one series; when he mentioned that [original Transformers writer] Flint Dille and [Blizzard Creative Director] Chris Metzen were writing it, I couldn’t wait to begin.” He believes, “Autocracy is the best looking Transformers work I’ve done to date. I learned a lot on my first series Chaos. I’ve tried to improve across the board from shot designs to the colouring/lighting.”

“On Autocracy, I can complete a chapter, which is 8 full colour pages, every two weeks on a pretty comfortable schedule,” reveals Livio Ramondelli. “I’ve gotten used to that pace and enjoy it. Black and white drawings do tend to go quicker, although there are certain elements like a starry sky or fire that are far quicker to do in the colouring stage.” A combination of traditional and digital methods are used to create the illustrations. “Everything I do is first drawn with pencil on paper. I like the shading and the roughness of real lead on real paper. After that, I scan it in and go to work colouring it digitally. I’ve found that I don’t like my lineart as much if I draw it in the computer. I like mix of real lead and clean computer colours to give it that contrast.” Some computer software programs have proven to be indispensable creative tools. “Definitely, I enjoy traditional painting a lot, but Photoshop opens a whole new world of experimenting with a far greater speed and less risk than one can do with regular paint; it can be a Pandora’s Box as well, though. Unlimited options can mean it’s hard to sometimes decide on a single visual idea. It’s a constant learning curve.”

“My favourite comic of all-time is The Dark Knight Returns,” states Livio Ramondelli. “But some of my other favourites are The Killing Joke, Watchmen, Preacher, and Y: The Last Man. My favourite comic book movies are The Dark Knight [2008], X2 [2003], and Spider-Man 2 [2004]. For an awesome Transfomers story, The Last Stand of the Wreckers is where you want to look.” Ramondelli has been greatly influenced by comics and movies. “I’m especially inspired by visual directors like Ridley Scott [Prometheus] and David Fincher [The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo], and the way they compose shots and design scenes. I’m always trying to get better at creating moody environments. My love for comics is always pushing me to do my best work, to think of it in terms of how the work will stand up in the years to come. I’d like to do more self-contained stories that can sit on a shelf as a complete read.” The illustrator has also help to design video games for WildStorm. “I was able to do some concepts for a couple action-adventure games, and that was a lot of fun. I enjoy thinking up concepts for environments. I’d love to get a chance to do it for a live-action movie at some point.”

Livio Ramondelli Gallery: A Personal Tour…

Vader on Hoth

“The goal here was to create a cinematic image for a moment that ‘Could have been’ in The Empire Strikes Back [1980]; essentially, showing the action of Vader striding across a battlefield toward the Rebel Base. I wanted to convey his power and his force of will; that with all the carnage around him he is simply fearless. It’s always important for me to get a sense of environment and atmosphere into my paintings, hence showing the Snowtroopers escaping across the Walker’s leg.”

Boba Fett

“This was meant to be a classic ‘film noir’ style shot of Star Wars‘ infamous bounty hunter.”

Autocracy 1 Cover

“This cover is meant to serve as an almost propaganda style image, showing the currently-corrupt Autobot regime and the fact that the future Optimus Prime, now Orion Pax, is a jaded and disheartened enforcer of such ideals.”

Autocracy 3 Cover

“Continuing our theme of playing with Iconography, the idea of the noble Autobots being reflected in Soundwave’s chest, the Decepticon logo falling squarely and subtly over Orion Pax., hinting that at this time, he isn’t representing the nobility that he soon will…as Optimus Prime.”

Daredevil vs. Ninja

“This was a commissioned piece. One of my rare times drawing Daredevil; I tried to do a bit of an homage to Frank Miller and Lynn Varley’s great story Elektra Lives Again, showing ninjas and snow, two of their staples.”

Mr. Freeze

“One of my favorite comic characters [and] a truly tragic villain; based on the amazing Batman: The Animated Series episode Heart of Ice, in which Mr. Freeze mourns his lost wife.”

DC Universe Online – Gotham

“Concept art done during my time working on the DC Universe Game, this was meant to be a moody shot of Gotham that suggests a larger world beyond the borders of the image.”


“A basic shot of one of the Decepticon’s biggest threats. This was good practice for my Chaos series, where Galvatron was the central villain.”

Apocalypse Rising

“I wanted to show the sheer sense of scale that Marvel’s villain Apocalypse has; his sort of immortal and immense nature. The idea here is that he’s rising up from hibernation, and annihilating a village of nomads that had been living, unknowingly, above him.”


“A basic concept art style painting based on the film, trying to go for a type of environmental shot that didn’t appear in the movie, but looks like it could have.”

Desert Ship Graveyard Arena Concept
“With this piece, I wanted to design an arena that had been forged out of crashed ships, essentially, a scavenged world.”

World War II Hanger Concept
“This was a design concept meant to look functional, as if the technology could have existed to build such a space in World War 2.”

Many thanks to Livio Ramondelli for taking the time for this interview and for supplying the images in the article; be sure to visit him at his website, Deviant Art, and Twitter.

Transformation: Livio Ramondelli talks about The Transformers: Monstrosity

Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.