Thursday, January 29, 2015

Keep the Aquatics Flying part II: Taking Risks, Then Failing

(The last piece from JP Targete's creature design class at Gnomon)

      This was the last piece from JP's creature design class over at Gnomon. I almost didn't post it. Then I remembered the purpose of the blog was to track my development every shitty step of the way. So not that this piece is a complete failure, but it just fell very short of what it could have been. Rather than toy with it, noodling over it here and there, I decided to just cut it off and move on. Sometimes when working on personal pieces it's the right thing to do, the lessons learned can still be applied and executed on whatever comes next. 

 (The project was very open in regards to design criteria, the result was a pretty exploratory thumbnail phase. The aim was to try and reach in different directions with each iteration while maintaining a similar mood.)

     Above is the original thumbnail sheet. This branched off of the visual development for the Landria character posted previously. Instead of picking one out of such a wide range of thumbnails, I split the character into two and developed them side by side. Which may explain some of the shortcomings. It could have been better if I focused the time and energy into just one of them. All things considered, it was a very challenging creature with lots of light sources, material changes and movement. It was a little over my head in regards to rendering but turned out to be very educational. As is the case with most things, a lot of growth comes from rough terrain. 

 (The disappointment in all it's disappointing glory. Look at it, flying all disappointmently.)

     A lot of energy was lost during the render process, at the same time a lot of the flaws I overlooked in the sketch were exposed ten fold as the render progressed. Since this piece, I've developed a much more extensive checklist of design and technical principles. The checklist is pulled up during schedule review times that are now much longer than before. A quick minute or two doesn't cut it. A good 10 minutes, blurring eyes, away from the desk and checklist in had. Doing this will slowly bring a lot of the issues out of hiding.
     One major issue with this creature: way to busy. There is almost no rest. Too many materials, light sources, too many fins and too many wings. A busier design can work but it needs a lot of finesse to pull off. There wasn't much iteration on this design and if there was I'm sure a lot of the excess would have been addressed. The cost of rushing a piece without having a concrete work flow established.

(The notes featured above are just the tip of the iceberg and are written in much nicer language than what I hear in my head.)

     So just a quick (er) post this time. I'm considering posting some things in mid-development as it may be interesting to see things come together in a "live" sort of way. The idea of opening up the iterative phase to feedback on here could be interesting as well. 
     There are new works and other opportunities for better execution during the render phase. As discouraged about this piece, there are plenty of new pieces in the works that are encouraging. This month has been about getting back to a more rigorous visual development phase before rendering. The the idea is to merge what I learned last Fall with designs that are much more thorough. So hopefully sooner than later there will be plenty of stubborn beasts, homeless aliens, flying hot rods, and disgruntled mechanics populating the blog.

I'm going to go breathe somewhere else now. 

An inspirational message from Danny Glover....
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Friday, January 9, 2015

Consider the Vulture Part II of II: Final Render

(A banner of the final render, changes are subtle from the last one. Adjustments to the form, material definition and edge fidelity help create some depth.)

     Below are the final stages of this creatures render. This piece took a step further in merging a presentation that focuses on rendering while still includes some simple but effective call outs. The goal is to be able to quickly knock out a somewhat detailed rendered "scene" and still have time for an extensive call out sheet like the ones completed for my Phantom Tollbooth project. 

     (The final render, she will soon have a partner in crime. Another fun challenge in design to characters in relation to each other. Plan to have that up in a week or so.)

      The final render, with most pieces it is like whack-a-mole with areas that could use improvement. At some point you have to cut the losses and move on, implementing lessons learned into the next one. In a studio setting I would include notes or talk to the 3D artists with some ideas for additional design elements. Often times I can root the lacking areas to indecision. Often times feeling like something could be better and changing your mind too many times can leave things muddy. The best solution for my tendency is my checklist of design and technical principles. If I am feeling fickle, the list will sometimes say "leave it alone!". As the old saying goes, the enemy of good is better. 

(A collection of quick call outs and story notes help bring the character to life. The call outs are a bit too stiff and lost some of the early sketch energy. This was due to rushing the clean up. Some patience would have allowed them to develop without killing the acceleration of the initial strokes.)

    Once the base form is down on the main view, I usually take breaks from building up the concept to move around to some rough call out sketches. Before detailing the main form, sketching views from the side and back help build an overall understanding of the anatomy which helps identify necessary changes to account for limb clearance, weighting and the imagined anatomy. Sometimes these sketches look like animation rigs (or stick figures), straight to the point to understand where things sit in space. In this case the secondary limbs could have been designed better and were a bit rushed. Playing with a gradient on the atmospheric depth and pushing the form a little helped connect it to the body better than the previous render, but it still feels a little tacked on. 

(A few renders showing the tip of the iceberg for design language and intentional eye guides in the pose and composition. The colors represent different design language elements and on the right the dots represent potential points of deflection, guiding the eye back to the creature. Framing could have been a little stronger, with more cohesive environment elements giving a better sense of context.)

      For the final render I experimented with some photo blends in and depth effects. I am not entirely happy with the outcome but some valuable lessons were learned from the attempts. Obscuring the right foot with a foreground object was more of a composition decision. As a concept it is better to keep the foot visible, which explains the absence in the production ready version. However, for the main render it really propped up the detailing on the limbs and tool closest. The high contrast in focus and detail really places the character in space while giving more value and illusion of detail to that area of the creature. It is not the most effective use of the technique but it helped my understanding for a more impact application in the future. Great artists really wield this tool in magical ways, James Gurney does masterful work with these kind of effects. My work is a crayon drawing in comparison.

(Some snapshots at the piece in progress. It can be a good or bad sign if from far the changes seem subtle. If things are working, that means the foundation is strong, if things aren't working you have water damage. So studying masters and also photography helps train the eye.)

     That will do for now as things are ramping up again and  I'm getting back to working on some exciting things as well as revamping the main portfolio site. This means increasingly shorter and tolerable blog posts. Remember, Danny Glover was never actually too old for any of this shit.

- Artist Referenced -
James Gurney -

Friday, January 2, 2015

Keep the Aquatics Flying Part I of II: More Gnomon Creature Work

(Close up of Landria, inter-dimensional being that kind of creeps people out but is still cool to hang out with.)

      The first post of 2015! Still catching up on stuff from 2014. This is another look at some of the work from the creature class at Gnomon. Throughout the class I jumped around as far as reference goes, but early on I knew I wanted to tackle some aquatic inspired creatures. The reality is they allowed me to make some mistakes now to spare me trouble later.

     Once again Pav Kovacic was able to boil things down. He pointed out my tendency to design ugly, knobby, disgruntled looking creatures. This is somewhat intentional, as part of my overall design goal is to try and bring some appeal to traditionally off putting designs; develop empathy in unexpected places. However, a good designer can't get tunnel vision and I need to be able to show I can tackle more elegant, beautiful designs. The render above is a half step in that direction. The image below on the other hand, is an example of the scumbags I have a tendency to design.

 (Another attempt at re-thinking the eye-less creature approach. It roams the beaches, chain smoking, pushing over tourists and looking for his drug of choice. The drug is conveniently found on a particular species of washed up jelly fish. I really like this character and plan to revisit the concept based of some feedback from JP Targete.)

      These are a couple of the first sketches for the class. They are unrelated to the concepts below, but they show a little bit of where my head was at and how it progressed by the end of the class. It also shows how taking a step back and consciously push against instincts can sometimes be a good thing. There is some solid progress in the local value variation, rhythm and range. The form is a little clearly defined but could still use some improvement. The creatures are a little more graceful, elegant and aloof. All aspects that are key to the character description and purpose in the narrative.

 (The second pass on more advanced thumbnails for Landria. I made sure to explore some other approaches with the bird and bone inspired designs. The floating head design actually worked well with the aquatic design, but it was too busy for the overall idea and it made the character feel less empathetic. It was important to really walk that tight rope of being able to empathize with the character and also have it right on the edge of being alien.)

     The character description and narrative context was given by JP. It was our job to develop the characters and the world. The character I worked on was Landria, a god-like character of sorts who serves as savior to a humanity facing impending doom. Her special ability allowed her to spawn creatures by request, her only limits being the imaginations of those requesting. When reading the character description I had a strong sense of the ideas I wanted to tackle. For the most part my thoughts on the characters are embedded in the images so I will refrain from repeating it here.

     These iterations were actually spawned from a previous sheet that I will post in part II. The original sheet had a little too many crazy iterations. The result was the overall presentation feeling a little unfocused. The solution in this case, was splitting the sheet and developing two different creatures alongside each other, but going in two different directions.

(As I wind down, I have a layer with some notes supporting design elements to keep me from straying off track during final polish. The simple break downs also help catch other areas that can be changed to support the foundation of the design. The expanding rings are reminders for time management, with ring #1 being the area of render priority. That way the eye is pulled to the face in the level of detail alone.)

      Instead of showing the concept in landmark stages I thought it might be helpful to look at some tools used during the last 10-15% of rendering. A big part of what I learned is understanding the time needed for the last stages of polish. The render above is just a quick idea of what I use to maintain fundamentals late in the production. Making sure the S Curves are organic, the forms guide the eye and that I am sustaining a consistent design language. There were a few simple languages I was developing and layering in order to try and deliver a more sophisticated language. I feel like I was close but ultimately fell short of the target. The plating on the chest and entire bottom half are a bit lacking and would of liked an consistent design strength throughout the creature. The post stiffened a bit as I rendered and could have used a little more gesture and energy.

(The flowers on the ground were a last second addition. I really like the idea of the creature radiate such a powerful life force that vegetation rapidly grows with in a certain range. It supports the character's role but also provides a potentially impressive visual effect or touching story moment.)

     This is the render at it's current state. I may do a quick pass of tweaks before it goes on the revamped portfolio site. At the moment the saturation may be a bit blown out. I did want to push the use of bolder colors but it may be a bit too much. Sometimes the subtle changes in a monitors display can make a significant difference. In studios there can be some level of consistency, but when working from home it is important to review work on multiple monitors. This includes sending it over to a smartphone to look at it and shooting some WIPs to fellow artists for their input. Making sure others are seeing the work as it should be is key, it can make a difference on whether a concept connects or not.

     When getting input from other artists I'm looking for things that are in my blind spot but also seeing if their critique lines up with some issues that are nagging at me. Sometimes they confirm issues while other times they just let it be known I am making mountains out of mole hills. It is good to prioritize the issues and not flood someone with questions. When sending work out for critique it's good to find people who you know will be blunt without being a dick, but also people who have a sense of your overarching goals. On occasion it is good to find a forum somewhere and throw some raw meat to the wolves.

(Final render with some story notes and a quick head call out. The title bar at the bottom feature a list of adjectives I write down before sketching. It helps frame the visuals with out being constricting. This is a technique I learned from Scott Campbell during a lecture at GDC. Writing these lists and short stories have been powerful tools for concept work.)

     Time was tight and with double the creatures to deliver time ran out. I would have liked to include a composition like the one above along side a separate sheet detailing the back view as well as some feature call outs. The compensation was sketching out a quick front view of the head. The head is probably the most complex form in the concept and a call out here would save a lot of wrestling with form during the sculpting phase. It could also inform the rest of the undefined areas as the form language is consistent through out the body.

    On top of the call outs there are plenty of story and function notes. These are not only for the context of the character, but sometimes this information can help flesh out the character for the 3D phase. I am not experienced enough to point to a mountain of evidence, but I am beginning to feel that even notes unrelated to defining form help during the sculpting phase. It can help inspire an approach to sculpting tools, expression in the cuts and direct the improvisation of the forms translated into 3D. Sculptors much better than myself do it with such ease that they can add completely new elements that improve the concept while still making it seem like it is still a direct interpretation of the 2D image.

     That does it for this post, as usual pardon spelling errors and grammar crimes. I am gearing back up after the holidays so I will do my best to keep posting, but they will be much more concise, which is probably a good thing. There are a few more posts reviewing older work. After that the posts will be more of a live diary of current work that isn't NDA. Hopefully by spring one of the two personal projects will be ready for a sneak peek. 

This weeks referenced artist:
Scott Campbell -