Thursday, September 17, 2009

"9" Movie Game Art

Everyone's heard by now of the new movie just out last weekend called "9," created and directed by Shane Acker and produced by Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambatov. There was originally going to be a video game based on the movie (as most animated movies have these days), but unfortunately because the publisher of it went under, the partly-completed game was scrapped, almost a year ago.

You may remember that's about when I got laid off; it's not a coincidence. One of the projects I was working on was indeed the "9" movie game, and when it was cancelled there just wasn't enough work to keep us all on staff.

Now that the movie is out, here's a bunch of the work I did on it:

Character Designs

Lead concept artist Miguel Lleras created a creature called the "Beetle Betty," which would burrow into the ground headfirst and then pop up an explosive device, like the awful "bouncing betty" anti-personnel land mine. Based on his design, I had to come up with an "upgrade" to this beast the final of which is here with reference photos for various parts:

The first thing to figure out was what the upgraded bomb would be. I had some ideas for nasty fragmentation devices and also an electrical "lightning bolt" weapon:

Then I did some design sketches for the upgraded beast with the different bomb ideas attached:

They chose the electrical device and asked for a couple of specific options for the creature shape. From these two they chose the final design above:

We also needed an upgrade for a beast called the Rat Stalker, again with heavier weaponry and a different skull design than the original. I had a body design to work from, so first I tried a bunch of different small animal skulls:

Then I tried out a series of new weapons for it to carry:

They decided to go with drills and a ferret skull, which resulted in this final art:

All the characters in 9 are assembled from various small machine parts and random tools and bits of junk, so I found a lot of reference on the Internet for all the various bits. It was fun using them as puzzle pieces to build new monsters.

Lastly, we had a Hammer Beast which needed an upgrade. I started with new head designs:

And then again started messing with several different types of weapons:

Then it dawned on me that the obvious choice to upgrade hammers was hatchets!

At the same time I worked on some different front view designs to try to give it a distinctive silhouette:

After review, here's the final approved design, with lots of reference to help the modelers with the color and textures:

Environment Designs

The world of "9" is a post-apocalyptic urban warfare zone, basically a bombed out city based in a time period somewhere between WWI and WWII. One level design I worked on was an abandoned battle line trench with a destroyed tank sitting astride it:

The player would travel through the trench and then up over the top of the tank. They could see quite a bit of the surrounding area so it all had to be figured out. After climbing over the tank, the player would wind up back under it from the other side in this area, where they'd face the level boss. You can see the tank treads are the ceiling of the room:

The next environment is inside a church bell tower. The player would have to climb the inside of the tower - the characters are only 6-8 inches tall, but the buildings are human-sized - by negotiating various paths up the walls, and by activating catwalks in various spots. I sketched in some of the catwalk paths over the actual 3D model of the tower interior:

And here's an unfinished painting I was working on to help establish the lighting mood at the base of the tower:

The last environment I did was a full level design called the War Torn Street. These show all the areas the character would be moving through from start to finish. In most cases the character would be moving from left to right:

Exterior cafe:

Interior cafe:

Out the other side of the cafe (right to left from windowsill thru the car interior):

Over the car tops from left to right:

Through a large open area featuring a destroyed War Machine - in this level you play as the character shown here called "7," played by Jennifer Connelly in the film:

Over and through another car, then past an unexploded bomb (yikes!):

Through a winding path and another car:

Then to this arena area to face the level boss:

And once you beat him, down through the last smashed car into the dry sewer pipe that leads into the Cathedral:

I should mention that all this pencil-looking stuff was done using Painter IX's pencil brush tool, which is one of my favorite digital brushes. The graytones were all done with Digital Watercolor brushes.


These are really "action boards," just used to demonstrate various gameplay elements to show the publisher, designers, modelers and animators the kind of things the character is supposed to do.

They wanted the main character to be able to use his staff to wedge into some kinds of gateways, to do a kind of gymnastic bar vault move to get over places too wide to jump across:

A longer sequence showing many things 9 could do. First he finds himself in a dark place, so he turns on a light on his staff:

He sees he has to cross a chasm, but it's dark over there; he uses a kind of crossbow to fire a lit match to the other side to light the way:

And finally loads the crossbow with a fishhook and line so he can swing across:

This world that Shane Acker created is both fun to play around in and really spooky and strange. It's too bad the game couldn't be finished, I think the story and obviously the whole CG-made nature of the world actually lend itself well to be done in video game format - much more so than a lot of other movie games. This art was actually really enjoyable to work on and was a highlight of my time at that job, even though it was related to the end of it, heh...

I haven't seen the film yet, hopefully I can go this weekend. Apparently it's doing pretty well, surprisingly well! On the project I've been working on the last few weeks, I'm doing concept art and working with a very cool storyboard artist who did a lot of work on the 9 film, working directly with Shane Acker, named RĂ©gis Camargo. Check out his blog where he's just posted a bunch of the storyboards he did for the film! He's an excellent animator, too, and has done two short films all on his own... awesome.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Design Project: Military Hovercraft, Marker

Here's the hovercraft done in a marker rendering:

Used Prismas and Copic markers over a copy made on my new printer - the inks don't smear when markered over, which is great. Hit it with a bunch of ProWhite for the splashes and highlights.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Spaceship Sketch

Here's a spaceship thing I did for fun while at a meeting.

I draw a lot of spaceships.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Design Project: Military Hovercraft

I came up with this idea about a year ago but never rendered it; it popped into my head last night so I decided to draw it. I couldn't find the rough sketches so I had to do it from memory:

I like this better than the first sketch ideas that I remember, actually. This vehicle is kind of like a hovercraft version of a jeep or HUMMV with a machine-gun mount (reminiscent of Halo's Warthog, to be sure, heh), but not a sci-fi vehicle, it's something that probably could be built with existing tech. It's powered by turbines (jet engines) like the M-1 Abrams tank, using the jet power to both move the vehicle and inflate the air cushion. The weapon mount is two Browning .50-cal on a motorized rotating mount for 360-degree field of fire. It could carry a jeep-like cargo load or 4, maybe 5 fully-equipped troops on the rear flatbed.

The US Navy has a very large version of this sort of thing, the LCAC, for landing Marines on the beach. They're pretty impressive if you ever see one, much larger than you'd expect. There's an LCAC squadron hangar on the way to San Diego, right by the I-5.

Marker-rendered version to follow soon. Also, I had an idea for a 4-wheeled armed rough-terrain vehicle at about the same time, which I actually partly built in 3D, which will be the next design project.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Design Project: Dropship

Here's the digital-marker version of the design drawing:

Yeah, that's better. Is this a perfect drawing? Of course not. I think if I turned it in to Scott Robertson, it would get a C-minus because of some technical flaws. However, it says what it needs to say, I think.

Oops, forgot to drop in some people for scale. Will update later and repost.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

What's Wrong With This Picture?

If you are an artist of any kind, especially in a professional capacity, you must get very good at playing the game "What's Wrong With This Picture." Even if you've been doing it for years, you will very often work for quite a while on an image before looking at it and saying to yourself, "there's something not quite right about this, but I don't know what." 99% of the time, your instincts are correct - there's something off and you're missing it. I'm not talking subjective things like maybe you'd rather the car be blue than red, I'm referring to structural errors like incorrect perspective or lighting, shadows in the wrong place, distortions, and subtle things like uncomfortable proportions, anatomy that isn't working... or the most deadly, the image isn't actually telling the story that you want to tell.

It's not so important with expressive fine art or personal work, but if you're making a picture or illustrating a concept that you're trying to sell, it is vitally important that you figure out what's wrong and fix it. The last thing you want is for your client to look at the picture and say "hmm, there's something wrong with this, I don't know what it is, but it makes me not want to buy it."

I thought I'd share an instance of this that I've just experienced. Here's a picture I drew last week:

I had this idea for a sci-fi "dropship" vehicle, a military troop transport that drops from space down to a planet surface loaded with troops, equipment and maybe vehicles, similar to the role of our modern Blackhawk helicopters or C-130 airplanes. The film Aliens probably has the coolest example of this kind of vehicle. So the thing has to enter an atmosphere, find a landing zone, and deliver the troops and hardware.

Now, there's nothing really egregiously wrong with the above sketch. It looks like a military spaceborne dropship. You can see the cockpit, thrusters, cargo pod, the big wings, and a couple of guys for scale. The perspective is pretty good, the linework is solid.

But when I was finished with it, I knew it wasn't right, and so I had to play WWWTP?

OK, so there's nothing intensely wrong with the drawing. The rear starboard thruster is a little off in placement, not a big deal. Hmm, the cockpit seems a little "fat" compared to what I saw in my head, is that it? Hmm... are my scale guys too small? I know I messed up the starboard wing in perspective at first (you can see the marker sketch goes out too far), but I fixed that... what the heck is wrong??

To show you, I have to show you the sheet where I was scribbling rough ideas:

Here I'm playing with the idea in my mind on a piece of scrap paper, you can see I was testing a new compass on it first. Can you see what's wrong with the first picture yet?

If not, the problem is made clear by this detail from the scribble page:

The "core" feature of this vehicle in my imagination was that the "wings" are a movable re-entry heat shield, which is closed as the ship hits the atmosphere, acting just like the tiles on the Space Shuttle, absorbing and deflecting the extreme heat of friction. Perhaps they have some ability to control the path of the ship as it slows down, via slight warping of their shape. Once the ship is near landing, the wings open up and the ship slows down with the thrusters until it lands. While it's on the ground, the wings act like armor, adding protection for the troops as they disembark.

When I looked back at this initial sketch, I realized what was wrong: I had failed to show the ship at an angle that shows off its best "look."

See, with those wings open, the ship has (in my opinion anyway) a really cool silhouette. It's got a kind of bat-wing effect, it looks sinister and menacing. If you were on the ground seeing these things coming down, it would be scary to watch the wings open like claws or jaws and spread out, with the thruster rocket exhausts looking like giant flaming teeth shooting out between them. From the front, the ship has a distinctive and interesting shape, which also (hopefully) has a psychological effect on the viewer.

In the first sketch, you see none of that. It's just not an exciting drawing, and it completely fails to show the most important aspects of the ship's function which is plainly clear in the scribble showing the different wing configurations. And really, it doesn't show the overall shape of the ship very well, you can see that the body of the ship is just kind of a blob of shapes in an uninteresting, almost rectangular outline. It is, frankly, kind of boring apart from a few details here and there. I made the deadliest mistake - I didn't tell the story that I wanted to.

Well that certainly won't do. The client isn't going to buy that - especially if another artist on the team has done a better drawing. If the client does buy it, they won't be excited about it. If I were lucky and this thing was chosen, nobody would see how it worked until it was built in 3D and put into the game or show, which might be months from now.

When it's wrong, you have to throw it out and do it over again. Which sucks. But you absolutely must be ruthless about cutting away anything that isn't right. It doesn't matter if you spent all day or all week on the image - if it's wrong, toss it and draw it again.

So I did:

MUCH better. The silhouette is now obvious. Even the core body looks better. I've kept the interesting details of the upper part of the ship. It should be pretty clear that the wings are on hinged arms that allow them to open and close. The ship looks far more menacing and even though you can see the landing gear is down and maybe it's sitting still on the ground, it still has a sense of movement and flying, because the shape just says "I'm fast and dangerous and I bite." To be absolutely sure the idea gets across, I can easily paste the detail from the scribble sketch onto this picture to plainly show the different wing configurations.

This thing would look cool in a movie scene or a video game... but you can't see that at all from the first drawing!

I learned a lot from this, I feel like I took a step that I might not have 6 months or a year ago. It may seem kind of obvious (especially to my professional colleagues), but it's still really easy to get wrapped up in technique or details and forget what you're really trying to communicate. That's exactly what I did in this case, and I'm glad I caught it. From a FAIL to a WIN!

That's why an artist has to play WWWTP constantly, at every stage of picture-making. You won't ever get the coveted "Fabulouso!" stamp on your drawing if you don't.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Design Project: Planet Exploration Vehicle

I asked my esteemed colleague Kevin (who is currently kicking my ass with his output, so I gotta catch up) to throw me out an assignment off the top of his head, and he IMed back "Planet Exploration Vehicle." So here is one of those:

I saved out many progress images in case anyone wants to see the process. I'm trying to work in something similar to the Doug Chiang way, so...

1. I started with a really rough page of thought-scribblings, going with the first shape that popped into my head, which you'll see in the middle of the page.

The first thing that came to me was "aerial automated probe for dense-atmosphere planets." I made some notes about how I thought it might work: nuclear-reactor powered, the reactor runs a jet engine and a compressor to inflate/deflate the balloon/wings, attaching small fast drone planes for flying out to gather info, other stuff like that.

2. First quick marker layout - actually I did all this digitally in Painter, so it's not really a "marker," but this is still how you do your first layouts, with a light gray 10%-30% marker to whip up a quick sketch:

3. Next, on a new layer, a cleaner version of that super rough marker:

4. Now, lay in some fairly accurate perspective guides - to do this, I added a lot of canvas to the image so I could make a horizon line and vanishing points which are very far off the "page" of this drawing.

5. Chiang does a thing where he lays in very strong clear "centerlines" of some of the important components of whatever he's drawing, so I do that here. These lines stay in the final image, but I still put them on a separate layer in case they don't work for me.

6. Time to do some inking. This is pretty straightforward, just using my "ID Pens" in Painter. I flipped the image to make sure nothing was off - something I do a lot, it's easy when you're digital. I flip 6 or 8 times during every stage of this process!

7. More inking. Adding more detail, thickening some lines.

8. Final inking. Just added some small detail here, like in the antenna dish.

9. Marker rendering. This actually took 4 passes, because the first 3 sucked. Painter's "marker" tools are not quite like real markers, so I tried a number of approaches including using the watercolor brushes instead. Eventually I saved my own marker brush variant and did some major tweaks in the Brush Creator to make it behave much more like a real marker, and finally got something that satisfied me:

You can see I put in some color swatches there to pick from. They're 10, 30, 50, 70 and 90%, just like the real-life Prisma and Copic markers I use on paper.

10: Add a background - this thing looked boring on white, so I put in a layer underneath all the art and made a dark, cloudy bg using watercolor and chalk brushes plus a special cloud brush I adapted from David Levy's Photoshop brush set.

11. Final Image. I wanted to put white highlights on with "gouache," so I had to actually knock back the 100% white of the drawing. It's harder to do this in Painter than in Photoshop because the Contrast tools don't affect pure white. Instead, I made a new layer above the grayscale work, filled it with 5% gray, set it to Multiply and then flattened it down. Then I used a "gouache" brush with pute white to drop in some overlaid highlights.

Title it, sign it, date it, it's done. So, there's a design 3/4 drawing for this PEV. The next step will be a full-color paint in the target environment and a set of orthographic drawings. This view doesn't show many details of the construction that I see in my head, nor does it explain things like how the dish antenna actually flips itself over to streamline the plane for high-speed flight. Thus it's not enough for a modeler to build it to fit the "story."

The final paint will show both high-speed (balloons deflated to wings) and this low-speed configuration, with a bottom 3/4 view showing underside details and one of the little drones flying out to investigate something.

I'm gonna wait a bit on the final paint though. I want to get more design work done on different ideas that I have.

Hope you like this thing and a look at the process.