Anatomy Of A Skully—the story behind the APMAs trophy

August 18 2014, 4:40 PM EDT By Christopher Benton

JASON GOAD, Illustrator •

When Chris gave me the sketches and mood boards,at first I had this pre-conceived idea of what an award should look like, and because the skull concept pitched wasn't along those lines, I was having difficulty getting hooked in the beginning. But I like a challenge and sometimes that means working outside of your comfort zone and your own sensibilities.

I set out to draw my interpretation of the direction I was given. It should be noted that considering this was an alternative music awards it made sense that the award shouldn’t look similar to other awards. My first versions from February were extremely literal and pretty close to how the final award ended up turning out, but as happens sometimes when you are designing, because it's not "there" you mistakenly think maybe it's all wrong and go on these crazy tangents and dead ends only to come right back to where you started.

One such tangent that actually worked out in the end in a different way happened during one of our brainstorming sessions when I mentioned that one of my Valkyrie characters would make a great award/sculpture. So after I got off the phone, I did a couple sketches just to help people visualize what was in my head. The Valkyrie was well-received, although it was pointed out that it would end up looking similar to an Emmy, especially being metal-plated.

But even though "Val," as I was calling her, didn't make it as the final award design, it worked out because she was utilized in a lot of different ways, including the huge stage backdrops, T-shirts and posters. To me, Val was a rocked-out version of a classic opera singer wearing a Valkyrie outfit. It's kind of cool because, even typing at my computer, I can look at my art desk right now and see my original ink drawing of her and am still amazed that she ended up as a huge visual element behind some great musicians like Ice-T and Billy Corgan.

From there, we considered developing the idea of going with a biomechanical look. Coming from years of doing tattoo flash, I was familiar with biomechanical art. Also being obsessed with Alien movies growing up, I was pretty well versed in H.R. Giger’s work, but as I started doing sketches in that direction, I kept falling into a Terminator-looking metal skull rut. (Also, at one point during one of Chris and I's chats, I had this image of a Devastator/Constructicon-like robot (from Transformers) composed of different musical instruments pop into my head—a "Band Bot" as we started referring to him.) It was fun to just get it out of my head and onto a piece of paper, but in the end, it was too far out-there and wouldn't read very well as a metallic-plated sculpture anyway. Stuff like this is what I love about the creative process and something that people never really see—all the different directions an initial idea can go through during the brainstorming portion.

After all these creative tangents and redirections, Mike Shea and Josh sort of and expressed that they thought we were pretty close with the first sketch way back in the beginning, so we set out to tweak that design and moved toward the final award design. [At this point, Mike was also motivated back to the skull idea because he loved the thought of calling it a Skully, a term he coined in a late-night e-mail to me. —Chris Benton]

After a few more changes, It was weird when Chris finally said, "I think we got it!" Honestly, I didn't believe him because it was very sudden, kind of like falling asleep on a long ride and someone waking you up with, "Okay, we're here." Once we nailed down the design, I had to produce what are called "turnarounds.” Basically, you are showing an object from every angle and then handing that off to the sculptor to produce the final award, and even then things might still change based on the sculptors' sensibilities and what he knows will work as a real object. Every once and awhile, I would receive updates from Chris showing me pictures of the sculptor's progress, and it was great watching it go from a flat pencil drawing in my sketchbook to an actual 3-D object with shadows and dimension.

Skully keeps getting compared to the Punisher skull. How would you respond to that comparison?
I can totally see that, and growing up as a kid obsessed with comics, I can also see how something as iconic as the Punisher skull has managed to subliminally bore its way into my brain and by consequence, my art. As far as similarities, I think it's kind of like how there are different versions of the bat symbol, but any kind of graphic version of a bat is going to make people think of Batman. I ran into that problem working on a Dracula-themed vehicle for Hot Wheels a few years ago, when every bat silhouette I drew just ended up looking like a variation of the bat symbol. That's a testament to the greatness and purity of their symbols: No matter how much you change a simplified graphic version of a skull, it's going to always be compared to the Punisher skull. Them's the breaks, kid.