Monday, December 20, 2010

Today's Output

Got a few things done today!

Megabus concept, toned: PS CS5
First, tone-painted the "Megabus" concept sketch from a few days ago. I did this live on my UStream channel earlier today with a small audience.

Megabus Gray: PS CS5
This is a grayscale version, just done with a Color layer filled with black. I'm not sure whether I like the color or gray one better. I think the gray one looks more "classic concept" than the other one. Either way it works okay.

Bulk Cruiser concepts: PS CS5
These ships I drew last night while UStreaming, some quick ideas for the Bulk Cruiser from the first part of the Stars' End book. It's supposed to be a freighter with some guns bolted on to it, so I wanted a blocky cargo ship vibe. These are okay, not really knocking me out but a fair place to start. Today I put in the grays after playing in Photoshop to make a big fat wide marker brush to imitate my Copic Wides.

Pleasure Cruiser concept: PS CS5
This last one is from one of the tiny little 1-inch sketches; I challenged myself to go from the blown-up rough line sketch to a tighter line and marker render in 30 minutes. It took more like 40, but still pretty decent. There's a form problem in the rendering, which I'll fix later.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Han Solo 3-View, done for now

I've gotten to here:

3-View Env #3: PS CS5
And I've decided to stop at this point, because I'm starting to zoom in on too many details, which means I will start noodling and working on this too much. These aren't supposed to be tight and the whole point is not to put too many hours into them, so I can up my output and get faster.

I think these are at the point where I could show them to an AD and they'd get it, though I think the bottom one is a little rough to show a film director.

Eventually I'm going to go to a full paint on at least the top one and maybe the middle one.

Plenty more cool scenes in the book, but I think for the rest of the night I'll work on some of the vehicles from it, maybe the gladiator droid. Comments & crits welcome as always.

New 3-Environment Progress

Here's where I'm at on the latest 3-view painting. I'm doing scenes from the Star Wars EU book Han Solo at Stars' End by Brian Daley, a book I've always liked:

3-Env #3: PS CS5
Obviously I've put a bit more time into the top one than the other two, but they're reading fairly well so far. The scenes are (top) Han and Chewie meet Rekkon at the barge landing bay, (middle) trying to escape the Data Center building, looking down from the balcony as the Espos set up a large blaster, and (bottom) Bollux tries to survive the Mark X Executioner droid as Han returns to the Stars' End arena dome. I've left the line art in at 50% as they're still pretty rough and undetailed.

I think these are going to turn into much more finished paintings once I'm done with them as quickpaints, but I'll put a couple more hours in to get them all to a reasonable state before I move on to more 3-views.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Learnin' Some 3D

Since my "draw brain" failed utterly to function yesterday, I decided to put some time into learning more 3D modeling. I can't afford Maya or 3DSMax at the moment so I'm using Blender, which is free! I did a few tutorials from the Blender site, but then I built this jet plane model from scratch, no tracing:
Jet Airliner: Blender 3D Model
Kind of like an MD-80. I think it came out pretty well, though I wouldn't call it optimized for use in a game. I know AD Damon wouldn't be impressed to know it's about 4700 polys (tris, not quads, I remember hahaha... it's 2346 faces, 2217 vertices). They'd throw it back and tell me to make it in 1500! Should be possible, I used 32-sided cylinders, can probably go to 16 for the body and 12 for the engines which would cut the polys by more than half.

I'm not worrying too much about textures right now, need to get comfortable with modeling first.

Anyway, just trying to keep up with the times and make myself more valuable as an artist. Concept people who do 3D are fairly rare, though that's changing.

Now why is there Steve Miller singing in my head...?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Improvement, yay

Here's today's 3-up environments:
3-Env 02: PS CS5
Better. I think these work a lot better. Still taking too long - about 5 hours - but I'll get faster as I get more confident. Here's what they looked like at 2.5 hours:
3-Env 02 still rough
I decided that in the top one, the light coming down on the spaceship didn't fit with the wedge-shaped docking bay entry - it wouldn't hit at that angle, the ship appears much closer to us. So I changed it to a round hatch directly above, which seems to make a little more sense.

I also thought the shapes in the underwater base buildings were boring so I repainted them. The new shapes are probably cheez but they feel better overall. Looking at that one I think I'll want to brighten up the light coming from the sea cave some, the image is pretty dim.

And keeping with yesterday's pattern I tried to bang out another vehicle sketch in an hour. Couldn't get it past line art in that time but it's pretty decent:

Megabus LA 2020: PS CS5
I'll do the quickshade on this tomorrow after the next 3-up painting I guess. Much less frustrated today, which is a good thing. Maybe I'll actually sleep well for a change.

Illustration, Iteration, Frustration

Here's a couple spaceships from this evening:
Sport Cruiser spaceships: Photoshop CS5
I'm trying to do anything and everything I can, within the limited working time I have now, to increase my output, learn new techniques and get better at painting. Been watching Feng's videos - I went through all of them, actually, over the last week - so I'm returning to following his lead and working on stuff that shows a high level of professionalism.

So after watching Feng's latest Design Cinema, I thought I'd try his suggestion of doing 3 environment paintings in the same file simultaneously, and started this:
3 environments, same file: PS CS5
I managed to get to this point in about 2.5 hours, but I've stalled out. For some reason my brain is not letting me figure out how to take these further... which is very frustrating. I'm using pretty simple forms in all of them because I want to do the technique without having to do too much design work, I want to concentrate on value, lighting, mood, atmosphere and composition instead.

They're all at about the same level of completion, but I think the middle one reads and works best. I feel like the background looks especially good on it, I did use some photo for the clouds but everything else is painted, I only laid in the clouds as a desaturated overlay onto the sky colors. The top one's okay, but the bottom one is falling apart for me. There's some simple perspective things that need fixing, which won't take long, but the whole thing just isn't working for me.

So I hit a wall. The next step is to just keep going with details, but for some reason my brain doesn't want to paint detail at a "mid" level, it wants to zoom all the way in and do really tight stuff. I have to not do that, and it's actually really difficult trying to find that middle ground. More practice I guess.

Once I realized I was getting really upset and not progressing, I said screw it and did something I know I can do, zapped out a couple of spaceships. That only took an hour! At least I can do that no problem.

I really do need to get the production painting thing down, though, or I'm not going to get the kind of work I really want to do. I guess I'll start another 3-shot tomorrow and see if I can improve.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hey, More Sketches!

While I continue my deliberate absence from Internet Social Media (so as to avoid distractions that eat my time), I'm still sketching stuff. Here's three that I finished in the last week:

Scout/Recon VTOL:
Alien Scoutship:
and Patrol Shuttle:
All done on paper with pens and markers. The first two were done by taking a couple of the tiny tiny thumbnail spaceship sketches that I did quite a while ago, which are only maybe an inch across:
(click for actual size, 72dpi)
Scaled them up to fit 8.5x11 in Photoshop. For the Scout, I grayed the drawing back to 50% and printed it out, then traced over it with 10% marker on good marker layout paper; for the Alien, I changed the drawing to a light blue line, faded it back super-light, then printed out on regular paper. From there I did more work with 10% marker and then went to the Pilot pens.

For Patrol Shuttle, I took a 10% marker and just made a bunch of random squiggles and lines on a sheet of paper. Then I took a 30% marker and went back over it, picking out shapes and lines that caught my eye. It stared looking like some kind of vehicle so I rolled with that and eventually got this.

These were fun! I'm gonna grab a few more of the tiny sketches and keep going. I've got a lot of them that I think look pretty cool.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Another Sketch

In today's sketch, looks like I'm channeling my teacher Feng Zhu; here's the Missile Corvette:

Long hood + short deck = muscle car, so "corvette" (also a coastal defense ship smaller than a frigate but larger than a cutter) seemed appropriate.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Frustration? Draw, Draw, Draw.

I've been kinda frustrated lately, artistically, creatively. I'm not doing enough of my own stuff; my comic has stalled and between my commercial work and taking care of our son (which is pretty awesome, but of course it's time-consuming) I just have been antsy and struggling in my mind.

If you're an artist, you can't struggle in your mind. You have to work it out on paper, or whatever medium you're most - or sometimes, least - comfortable with. For now, I'm going back to root, familiar things:  concept sketches on paper with pen and markers. Figure I'll share, ya?

Sci-Fi Tank:

Twin Fusion Test Ship prepares for launch:

Super Slot Racer:

All done with Hi-Tec C pens, Prisma and Copic Wide markers, white Prisma pencil and gouache for hilites. Old school style, no Photoshopping except to sharpen as they're rezzed down. All the warts are there.

Trying to do one of these every day, but practical concerns kinda make it every couple of days. Are these design genius? No, they're feeling very "student" to me, but they're a decent start. Gotta dump all the crap out of my head to get to the good stuff, it takes a while.

Monday, September 13, 2010

A Few Sketches

I've been doodling on paper when I can, thought I'd share some with you. Here's some random spaceships and image frames:

Playing with a book-cover-ish layout, plus more random:

A couple of pages of Ringworld Flycycle designs:

And finally yet another page of random spaceships (I have thousands of these):

Thursday, September 02, 2010

What Happens When I Fail

I'm a bit apprehensive about posting this, but here goes: a tale of artistic failure.

To be fair to myself, this happened in the context of my wife and I preparing for our baby's birth, the actual birth itself, and on top of all that, doing a lot of freelance work. I simply could not put in the kind of time I spent doing, say, my Steampunk Tortoise and Hare.

I'm not really broken up about failing this way under those circumstances - clearly, I had more important concerns! - but still, it's useful for an artist to confront a failure and figure out what happened.

So earlier this year, CGSociety (of which I'm a member) posted the annual InVidia NVArt contest. This year's theme was "Syd Mead: Accelerate" - with the challenge to create an illustration of some kind of vehicle or transportation system in the design style of the legendary illustrator. Now, I'm a huge Syd Mead fan, he's been a major influence on me in many ways, so to me this is seriously exciting. Even better, the contest is being judged by not only Syd Mead himself, but some other people whom I admire, including BoingBoing's Mark Frauenfelder, Lorne Lanning of Oddworld fame, and none other than the mighty Mythbusters, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman.

I am all over this contest. I am going to go nuts on it and do a really amazing piece. At least, that's what I thought at first.

So I start sketching. I had two possible ideas in mind: giant stratospheric airships and a "bus train" for  the streets of Los Angeles. Here's some of the sketches of the dirigible (I never got to develop the bus idea) (click to enlarge, as always):

For the giant dirigibles, I was trying to grok Mead's shape language. He uses pure arc curves (parts of circles) rather than accelerated curves like you see on modern cars or aircraft, and tends to juxtapose more linear and geometric "graphical" cuts and surface features.

There's a kind of "revolving carousel" thing here that cylindrical passenger and cargo pods get loaded onto, and then rotated upwards into the body of the airship. Some of the ideas have more than one carousel. The rest of it is a truly gargantuan helium gasbag containment system, with a rigid frame made of 3rd-generation composite materials.

However, another attribute of Mead's work is that for "real world" items that he's designing, he doesn't go too far off into "fantasy-land," the overall design of the object tends to be fairly prosaic in many ways. This is most evident on his yacht designs, where the shape of the vessel isn't a radical departure from existing vehicles. Some of his cars are pretty wild, but the ones you can actually build with today's tech look like todays cars, for the most part.

The first sketches I thought were a little too much in fantasy or scifi land; I felt that maybe I should tone back the design to something that looked more, well, logical in some way, something that we could build in 20 years or so. So I started working toward that.

You can see on some of these that I did sketch copies of some of Mead's designs, trying to keep them in mind as I tried various looks. Also, you can see I'm starting my composition ideas for the illustration.

In hindsight, I think going for a more real-world look was a mistake. Who knows what a stratospheric dirigible made of super-lightweight composites and fabrics would look like? Especially since my thought on their function was that they would use the world-girdling Jet Stream winds as their primary motive power. The whole point of these would be to use far less fuel to fly people all over the world; jet fuel is getting very expensive and it doesn't look like it's going to get cheaper. At some point it will be uneconomical to burn it.

To solve that potential problem, these huge airships would float along at 35,000 feet using almost no fuel at all, while specially designed planes would bring passenger and cargo modules up to them, and take them back down to local airports when the airships flew close to their destinations. So it's a crazy, exotic sci-fi solution to a problem that would most likely be better solved by trains, but hey, that's the fun of it.

So finally I settled on this last shape. Again in hindsight, this is not a very interesting shape - but then, a Zeppelin isn't all that interesting in shape either. It's just a big cigar shape with some fins. A Zeppelin's most interesting attribute is its sheer size - and my airship would be something like 50 times the size of the Hindenburg in order to have enough useful lift to carry the equivalent of 20 757s worth of containers.

Still though, this is an illustration for a design contest, not a product pitch to Boeing. Yes, a real one of these would probably have a very simple overall shape, but that doesn't make for an exciting piece of art. Thus, right from the start I'm making a mistake - really, a crucial mistake.

The pencil layout is pretty straightforward. I like the composition in general; I'm showing a view of one of these behemoths from inside the dining lounge of one flying nearby, and everything's got a nice angled rake back to the vanishing point, which is inside the image - another thing Mead does very often. There's a "scenario" happening, with people in shot enjoying dinner and the spectacular view, another Mead staple. It puts the viewer into the picture in a comfortable way.

On the value pass, I'm going for a dark frame in front to really set off the bright airship that has the sun shining on it. Pretty standard stuff.

On the first color pass, I start feeling like this is going south on me. This is a really drab color palette, but I didn't notice that right away, at least not consciously.

I got all the way to this point of detailing before my wife happened to see the piece, and pointed out that the image just looked really drab and lifeless. I decided to color it up by putting it in a "golden hour" sunset color scheme, which took several hours of trial and error with Photoshop layers and some significant changes to the shadows. This helps, but still... the subject shape is unexciting. Even the most vibrant colors won't hide that.

Still, I struggled on, trying to pull something good out of it. This is as far as I got before the deadline; it's very unfinished in terms of all the details. However, even if I finished them all and things were very polished, the extra detailing would not really help much. The ship isn't an eye-catching design, and now it's clear that the view angle is also not very exciting, either. There are a number of problems with believability in the details, like the window supports and the mountains. The high cirrus clouds are just super-quick sketches with no finish, so they look pretty poor; also, they kind of lead the eye out of the top of the image never to return, which is a big no-no. Details like that could be fixed with time, certainly, but I ran out.

Though I did submit it to the contest, this is just plain not worthy of it or of myself. I can do far better. I feel bad that this is what Syd, Adam, Jamie, Lorne and Mark saw of my work. In that context I probably shouldn't have bothered putting it in, but I felt the need to show that at least I tried. (I take some solace in knowing that Adam and Mark at least have seen some of my better stuff like the Wheaton/Scalzi/UnicornPegasusKitten painting - which, by the way, I also executed during this same 3-month period. So, my priorities were in the right order.)

So that you can see what I was up against, and why I'm calling this a major fail, here are the winners of the contest. Even the Honorable Mentions are way beyond what I've done here, far more Syd Mead-ian. I must admit I was pretty crestfallen when I looked through the entries right after I submitted mine.

Now again, this contest happened during the final 3 months of my wife's pregnancy. The deadline was a few days after the baby's due date, so I'd figured I'd spend the first 3 weeks of May finishing up and polishing the painting. However, he was born 3 weeks "early" (though still full term and perfectly healthy!), so that just didn't happen. I put maybe 20 hours total into this, when I'd planned on more like 100. So really, given all that, I'm amazed I got even this far.

We certainly didn't fail with the baby. He's the best creation I've worked on so far, and probably will ever work on. I don't really mind blowing a contest entry because he came along. :)

What have I learned from this? Design, design, design is crucial. Never forget the purpose of the final piece, as that tells you what your design needs to encompass. I lost sight of that and this is the result; a really cool design rendered sketchily would have been far better than this fairly well-rendered bad design - and in fact, the 5th place winner was just that, a fairly loose, painterly illustration of an unusual,  interesting and deceptively simple design idea.

Next time, I'll be sure to put way more time into designing my subject matter, and I won't stress about trying to nail a super-slick final piece.

Also, never plan a project around on a baby's due date. Most babies are not born on the date the doctors will tell you they'll arrive!

I hope you've found this enlightening. Comments are most welcome.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Sheer Madness for a Good Cause, with Scalzi and Wheaton!

Behold, the madness we have wrought:

Yes, that's TV's Wil Wheaton in the Infamous Clown Sweater, flying a giant unicorn-pegasus-kitten and about to attack an Orc version of SF writer John Scalzi with a spear.

This image is to inspire writers to create a story based on it, which will eventually be put into a book whose profits will benefit Lupus Alliance of America! John explains it all on his blog. I have a good friend with Lupus so I'm double-happy about the whole thing.

Here's the process, if you're interested...

John called me up and described the idea. Of course, I freaked; how could I *not* try to make it happen? So I whipped up a few pencil sketches (digital, in Painter 11):
John liked the first one, so I did a more finished sketch:
With this approved, onwards to painting! Here's the first rough color pass. I reversed the image per request from John:
Next stage, I was pretty sure I wanted volcanoes in the background, but decided to try some lightning to see if that worked:
Next, worked on the unikitten's face and a bit more on the orc:
Next, more details on kitten, orc and the INFAMOUS clown sweater:
Continuing, let's get those volcanoes in there, shall we?
Now, it's time to really try to nail the faces. I had photo reference for Wil from the Web, and John sent me some truly epic photos of himself making awesome orc faces:
Eh, still needs some work, keep going...
There we go, that's a lot more like it. Tweaking details and messing with brightness, color and saturation; the blue-gray kitten wasn't doing it for John, so he asked me to try another color. I settled on a warmer brownish look:
Almost finished, just dealing with the last bits and the background:
And there you have it. This was seriously fun, though the timing, coinciding with the somewhat early birth of our son, made getting it finished a major undertaking. Thanks John and Wil!