Thursday, April 16, 2009

DW IV - more designs

Last night I did some War Machine designs:

machine designs 1

machine designs 2

I like the stuff on the first page. The second page isn't as lively, although the image I have in mind of the large thing at the bottom is from a low angle on the battlefield and this particular design might look pretty cool as an illustration if not as a designed object.

Really, I have to remember that, like designing stuff seen in a movie, I probably only have to worry about this thing from one angle, even with the contest requirements of a concept art sheet. Designing for a video game, you need to design the whole object from all angles and think a lot about how it's going to move and act and be lit and all that. For this task I really don't have to worry about that - I just need to make a "pretty picture."

Hmf. Looks like I may be in a bit of a "shape rut" too. There are similarities between the Machine and Demon designs. I think I'll try a bit of Vyle's random brush techniques and see what happens there.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dominance War IV: Main Challenge Begin!

It's time for the Main Challenge of Dominance War IV. It's another character design/render, and this time we have 3 races to choose from with 3 classes in each race. I've looked them over and decided that I will do either a Demon Lord or a War Machine - both are supposed to be huge creatures bristling with weapons or magic or demon-whatever.

Tonight I started doing some shapes and silhouettes of Demon Lords to see what kind of ideas I could come up with:

Yep, that there's quite a pile of ugly, to be sure. I like most of these enough to go to a more detailed sketch phase, especially the ones up top. I'm the kind of weird guy who, when someone says "do a demon," I want to do something that is not human-shaped or possibly not even vaguely humanoid at all. Something really nightmarish and mind-bogglingly hideous. If there's one complaint I have about Dominance War, its that the competition really favors some particular types of humanoid characters. I like to buck trends like that... of course, it may mean that no matter how well-designed and rendered my piece is, it won't make the cut.

Anyway, I'll be continuing this work on my UStream Live Video channel most weeknights from 9-midnight and Sunday afternoons from 3-6pm Pacific Time, from now until the end of the contest, which is May 11th. Tomorrow night (Wednesday 4/15) I'll be continuing with some design work on War Machines.

Here's my official contest entry thread on CGSociety, too.

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Saturday, April 04, 2009

Trying some new techniques

I'm working on another "master copy," this time following Khang Le's demo from his CDA seminar:

This is progress after about 4 hours. You can see the original image that Khang did for his demo here. (Scroll down to the second image, you can click to enlarge.) You'll see that I'm not trying to copy it as closely as I did on my Syd Mead master copy, but I'm starting with the same subject ("giant robot factory") and composition. It's an exercise for me in 3 major areas: using some specific photo-collage and layering techniques that Khang showed us; creating convincing, realistic lighting; and finally working better with color, specifically in contrasting hue and saturation in addition to the more basic contrast of value (light and dark). Sticking with the same subject and basic layout just makes it so I can not think about those things and concentrate on what I'm trying to improve.

Normally I don't like using photo-collage, grabbing various images and pasting them together in an image to quickly generate realistic textures and design elements. It's a common concept art technique used to speed up production, yes, but I think it takes the life out of the work, makes it too obviously artificial. For me personally it really kills my enjoyment of the image-making process when I'm forced to cobble together photos like a jigsaw puzzle.

However, Khang's style of using photos changed my mind about it, because it's not used blatantly, yet it still adds a lot of texture, structure and interest to an image very quickly. Using his method I was able to come up with stuff very quickly; most of what you see here was done in only about 2 hours. Had I just straight painted it, this level of detail would have taken at least a week, most likely.

Another thing Khang did that I really liked was how he never went "backwards" down his Photoshop layers. What I mean is that any time he needed to switch painting tasks, like going from painting shadows to painting highlights, he would add a layer and do it on the new layer. He would keep adding layers, using different composite methods (Screen, Multiply, Color, Overlay etc.) to achieve the goal of the moment, then move on to yet another layer.

What many artists do is to make one basic midtone layer, then a Multiply layer for shadows and a Screen layer for highlights, and then keep going back and forth between those layers to work. Or, they will completely paint each separate section on a separate layer, making new layers for each different thing they try, so at any point they can go backwards if they don't (or more importantly the art director doesn't) like where it's going. While these are legitimate techniques, I think both ways slow you down a lot, and especially the second one makes you very cautious (at least that's what it does to me), which I think is antithetical to creativity and enjoyment.

I like that Khang's layer method keeps you always moving forward, forward, forward. You never "go back" to an old layer to paint something out, you just make a new layer (use your keyboard shortcuts! Ctrl+Alt+Shift+N or Cmd+Opt+Shift+N, for speed!) and keep going "forward" and "up." It's weird, but psychologically it really works to keep you going and flowing. Khang flattens out the image from time to time and saves it as a sequentially-numbered name (like "image_01" etc.), so he keeps that option of going back *if* the AD wants a major change, which is good. The only downside to rapid layering is that you end up with a file with dozens of unhelpfully-named "Layer 26," "Layer 19," "Layer 67," and so on. Might be a good idea to give them some kind of name so you can find stuff to change faster.

The last thing like that Khang does is he always puts in as the very top layer an Adjustment:Hue/Saturation Layer with the Saturation turned all the way down to zero. By turning it on and off, you can quickly check to see if you're maintaining your value relationships correctly, which is critical to making your composition read. Here's what my image looks like with zero saturation:

Looks like it's reading pretty well. I need a bit more of a gradient from bottom to top on the robot figure, the upper parts seem like they're reflecting more of the lower light source than they should. It's not as obvious in the color version but it's very plain here. The lighting won't look realistic if it doesn't fade naturally with distance from the source, so I will need to deal with that as I go forward.

Khang's techniques are very different from another artist whose techniques I use a lot: Ryan Church, who generally works in very few layers and flattens the image over and over again without saving as a new file. That's another way to always go forward, but I sometimes find myself getting mired in tweaking detail. I'm not as confident in painting as Ryan is... but then, he's got a good 15 years on me, probably a bit more. :) I'm better doing it that way if I've done a tight line drawing first; Khang's method allows me to start from a simple light/dark mass layout and build without a drawing, but still get interesting detail and shape in a very short time. Good to know.

Why another master copy? Baby steps. I wanted to get some experience using Khang's technique and "processing" the image-making in my brain before I start trying to apply this to some original works. Actually, I have already applied it to an illustration assignment with success, but I have to wait to show you that until the project is published.

So hey thanks Khang, if you're out there! :)

I have Dominance War IV challenge to do coming up, and I'll be painting it live on UStream again, so keep an eye on this blog or follow me on UStream, Twitter or Facebook to know the schedule.

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Dominance War IV: War General Final

He's done! Total time 9 hrs 22 min:

I'm happy with this guy. I don't really have any gripes with the final product as I usually do with other stuff - for instance, the Steampunk thing I really like a lot, but the gripe is that it's not really "finished" finished. This one here is finished and I can totally leave it behind. Cool.

Right! Well hopefully the judges will like it. Apparently there will be more of these "mini-challenges" before the main challenge, so watch this space for more updates, and if you follow my UStream channel, I'll be painting all this stuff live. The schedule will be posted on the channel as far in advance as possible. Also, I always announce when I'm going live on Twitter and Facebook.

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Dominance War IV: War General 4

Worked on it some more tonight, as the deadline is tomorrow, wanted to try to get closer:

I thought the chest armor was too bright so I knocked it back a bit. Tried to bring the face tentacles forward a bit and separate them from the rest, not sure if it's successful. I can always take it to Photoshop and lift stuff off, brighten/darken, etc.

At this point apart from the getting those tentacles to pop out, it's all frills and details from here on out. I'm probably gonna wing that stuff, just stay zoomed out and slap down chunks of paint to make decorations and medals and all that. Maybe a chain-mail pattern on the mantle around the neck on the inside...

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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Dominance War IV: War General Mini Challenge

Today's progress:

Kind of incremental. I added some armor to his chest to extend the bluish titanium colors to another part of the piece, worked on the front tentacles a bit. I will be coming back to this tonight to work for a couple more hours most likely, as it's due tomorrow.

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Dominance War IV: War General Mini Challenge 2

Today's progress on the War General:

Added color and adjusted the lighting a bit. Still quite a ways to go but I'm pretty happy with him so far.

I'll be working on this painting again this Sunday, March 1 at 12 noon Pacific Time on my UStream channel. Come watch and say hi!

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Dominance War IV: War General Mini Challenge

Once again I throw my Art Fedora into the ring for an online challenge; it's time once again for the annual Dominance War contest, which starts with a mini-challenge: portrait of a "War General." Here's the value pass where I'm at now:

First pencil sketch, on letter-size copy paper:

Then I did a trace & transfer to a piece of Bristol, to do a cleanup before scanning:

I originally wanted to do a pretty detailed pencil piece, but the time is too short to do that. Hopefully I can come back to this cleanup piece and detail it out in pencil and ink, which I'll then put up for sale.

I did all this today, it represents roughly 2 1/2 hours work. This part of the challenge is due this Monday March 2 - 9 days total - so I'm going to try to be speedpainting and shortcutting a lot, unlike the Steampunk piece.

I will be UStreaming a lot of this work live as I paint; join my Twitters or Facebook Fan Page to find out when. I will try to announce a few hours in advance!

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Steampunk Challenge - Final Submission

Hooray, I managed to get something done enough to enter as a final image!

There are a lot of things that I'm going to go back and fix in this, but I'm very happy with how it came out. I hope you like it too.

Now it's time to decompress and get away from this computer.

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Steampunk Challenge - Much better today

I got quite a lot done today:

... but it's still not really anywhere near "done," there are still some basic things that aren't completed like the full bodies of the crowd lower right, the Tortoise smoke trails, and many of the smaller (but less important) parts of the Tortoise that just aren't there at all.

Some of the things I want to put in probably aren't necessary to have it complete enough for the contest, and I can leave them out. However, I hear that the contest upload server is straining and that there's a day-long queue to even get a final image sent in, so at this point I have to assume that even if I can "finish" enough tomorrow, I won't get the image in by the deadline.

While that's a drag, I knew it was a significant possibility when I started work on the image. The contest began on Nov. 10, which was right when we started moving into our new apartment - a long drawn-out process. I didn't even start the first idea drawings until a month after that, and wasn't able to seriously start painting until after the new year. Had I not been dealing with the move and everything else, I would have been painting by Nov. 15 or 16 instead of Jan. 10!

So, if I don't make it, it's okay. Have no fear that I will still finish this image all the way out. It's the first piece I've done in a long time that I'm looking at and thinking, "hey, I really like this, it makes me happy!" I think it's going to get some attention regardless of how it fares in the contest.

Now, bedtime.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Steampunk Challenge - Frenzy at the end

Here's where I'm at now:

I've made a lot of progress but the deadline is looming and it looks like another very late night. Now I'm hearing that the CGTalk server is once again exploding and so I may not be able to upload my "final" image anyway, so all this work will be - in terms of this contest - for nothing.

It will not be for nothing in terms of getting a really cool image in my portfolio.

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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Steampunk Challenge - More Hare

Have made a lot of progress on the Hare last night and today, taking a short break to post:

Just pluggin' along, lots to do still obviously, so gotta get back to it...

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Steampunk Challenge - Hare Conditioning

Tonight's progress, worked pretty much just on the Hare:

Here's a detail zoom of it so you can see more visible progress:

I tried to work hard to not zoom in past 100%, because this thing is farther from the eye and doesn't need as much detail. I have a bad habit of zooming in to 300-400% and noodling pixel-by-pixel.

One thing I wish Painter had was the ability to open more than one window for a document, like Photoshop. When I paint in Pshop I almost always have 2 windows open, one zoomed to either 100% or to a zoom that reflects where the viewer will see the image from, and the one where I work. That way if I'm digging into a detail I can tell whether it will even be noticeable when it's done. Painter can't do that, and zooming back and forth just interrupts my workflow.

OK, bedtime. I actually should be able to work on this both during the day and evening tomorrow, so I expect to make more rapid progress.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Steampunk Challenge - Frame done (for now)

Here's where I got to tonight:

All the scrollwork and filigree for the frame is finished. Just need to paint in the portraits of Arlo and the Commodore, a couple of small touches near there, add the lettering, and then make it sepiatone. For now, I'm done working on the frame. I'm quite happy with the result tho I'd like to have done it faster.

Tomorrow, back to the rest of the image. Once again, it's due on Monday 1159 GMT, so I now have 4 days to get this done. I should be able to devote some of my daytime work hours to it tomorrow and Friday, and then Saturday I'm gonna lock myself in the office and put in 10 to 12 hours, trying to get the bulk of the rest of it done. That will leave Sunday to work at a more relaxed pace on final touches, and all day Monday to get it uploaded in case the servers are choking again.

As I mentioned, I've been painting live on UStream at night between the hours of 9pm-1am Pacific Time (tonight it was just 10:30-12), so if please drop by, hang out, watch me paint and listen to me ramble on about whatever crosses my mind. :)

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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Steampunk Challenge - Frame Continued

I'm super-tired so I'll just post today's progress, almost done with the frame:

I've been live broadcasting the painting on UStream, nights from around 9pm-1am Pacific Time, so come on by and watch if you like. I talk a lot and spin some music too. :)

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Steampunk Challenge - Extended!

Whew! CGTalk has pushed back the deadline for the Challenge, because they've had some serious server problems and people couldn't upload their art. I have another week, which means I can get this thing done without killing myself!

I spent most of today working on the frame (and watching football, which slowed me down a lot):

Oops. The black space on the right is where I mix palette colors and put reference images. Forgot to crop it off. Below is some step-by-step of the frame work...

Here's where I started. First I selected the frame edge from the rough color layer and duplicated it to a new layer. Then I desaturated it so that I could work with just values; I didn't want to get caught up in messing with color on it. I'm going to make it all sepia-toned so once the value is down I can just colorize it with the Hue/Saturation sliders:

Next I zoom in and start working on the top left picture frame, which will be a portrait of Commodore Rasmussen:

A little further along:

With this frame, I'm keeping the light source pretty much directly vertical in front. I'm not using the sun angle from the interior illustration, as I'm going for a circus poster/Currier & Ives kind of look. Also, I will use dastardly digital trickery - I will only paint the left side of this, then mirror it for the right side. Much, much time saved. I'll have to make some changes to the other side (not least painting a new portrait of Mr. Crabthwaite), but there's so much detail and painstaking work that I don't want to do it twice.

Ah, here's some trickery now. I don't have to paint both sides of the oval frame, I can duplicate and flip the one side, and erase to make it match:

Now, moving down the side a bit, here's some Ionic column action, using photo reference from Google Image Search:

From the top of the column to the base of the frame, I want to put in some more decoration. Here, I'm using Painter's wonderful ability to rotate the image on screen like turning a piece of paper (Photoshop CS4 now has this too) to make the curve sweep with the natural swing of my forearm from the elbow:

Yet more trickery - why paint a repeating detail more than once? Select, duplicate, move!

Trickery isn't perfect, however. You can see the repeated roundels don't quite sit properly, especially the ones to the far right:

So back to the paintbrush to blend them in:

Turn the image back to vertical, then paint in some more decorations, an urn and some leaves. No trickery here, just an "oil" paintbrush:

Then I add a kind of oval-shaped alcove with stonework visible. I'm going to put a little statue in here on each side - this one for a hare, the other side for a tortoise (real animals, not machinery):

The area around the upper part of the frame is blank, so I want to add some leaf/vine bas-relief, inspired by an 1860's playhouse poster I found on Google. First a quick line pass to place them:

Then I darken in the background:

Then very painstakingly I paint in all the highlights and shadows, trying to make it look not like real plants, but like a carved-stone facade:

There's no shortcut to any of this for me, it's just a lot of tiny detail work done with brushes set to 3, 2, and 1 pixel width. It's kind of like what Syd Mead does with his Windsor Newton #2 brushes on giant 20x30 illustrations. This work represents around 8 hours of time elapsed, and it's about half the work this side of the frame will need. If I hadn't been watching football, it's possible I could have done it in 5 hours or so.

More work tomorrow night; I have paying work to finish and I have to do a comic for tomorrow. Maybe if I can figure out how to do UStream I'll try to work live?

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Steampunk Challenge - Details, details

I've been working on this most of the day and though there's visible progress, I feel like I'm going nowhere. Pretty sure now that I won't have this thing to a point where it will be competitive in the Challenge by the deadline on Monday. I'll still turn in what's done, of course, but I'll still have a lot to do to finish it. Well, here's where I am:

I've started taking screen grabs at various points to show progress in more detail. In this one, I laid down some lines to show me the sun angle:

Made them on a separate layer in Screen mode, then turned the opacity way down so they're just barely visible. Then I started working on some details in the Tortoise and Arlo:

He's a cheery, florid fellow, basking in the glory of his underdog upset win:

More details on machinery and clothing:

Here he's pretty close to finished, tho there were more tweaks before I grabbed the top image:

Then I moved on to some work on the Hare, let's not leave out our villain Commodore Rasmussen:

I like how the image is going and I think it will work pretty well when it's finished. Usually about now I'm really hating the painting, but right now I think it's okay and even though it's a lot of work it will be worth it.

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Friday, January 09, 2009

Steampunk Challenge - Today so far

I've put in some time on the people in the lower right:

Here's an enlarged version so you can see it better:

I never used to have fun trying to paint realistic-ish people, because it's hard. But after doing something like 65 of them for the Sopranos video game, it's a whole lot easier. These were fun to do, coming up with some little story in my head for each one.

Unfortunately, with them painted in I can see that they're too large for where they're standing, so I will either scale them down or I'll scale up the Tortoise. Not sure which yet, still have a bit of time to figure that out.

Time to take a break, it's been a busy day...

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Steampunk Challenge - Little by little

Boy, for an unemployed guy I sure have a lot going on these last few days... but still, I've managed to make a little progress. Here's some work on the tortoise:

And then some similar work on the hare:

I'm questioning whether I'll be done with this in time, because I have some actual paying work now and much other stuff to do over the weekend, but I'm really going to try to make it. I might have to try to block out all of Sunday and Monday just to concentrate on this one... We'll see.

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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Steampunk Challenge - Painting Begins

A very fast color rough-out, all on one layer just to quickly start working toward what I see in my head:

I just wanted to have a loose place to start from, playing with a little bit of color. I really feel like I have to compress my process and run as fast as I can with it, so I'm not doing a grayscale value pass or tightening up any details on the sketch. I'm just going to try to trust myself to find that image that I see in my head with the paint, and hope it doesn't come back to bite me, heh.

Below, the same image without the pencil sketch:

So now on to the first real passes at the main components. I'm going to start with the main subject and hopefully center of attention, our hero Mr. Crabthwaite...

...and his Tortoise machine.

I'm seeing the Tortoise as having copper exterior plating on the shell, at least the top half and the head, with the darkish blue-grays and blacks of cast iron and steel for the frame, load-bearing legs and other structural details. It's going to be a fairly rough finish compared to the Hare, which will have a lot of shiny metal cladding and some painted colors on it. Our Mr. Crabthwaite built it in his backyard out of whatever he could get his hands on, with a shoe-string budget, where the Commodore had his own personal fortune and backing from other wealthy investors.

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