Wednesday, 6 October 2010

End Of The War – Creation of a Digital Painting, Part III

Clouds and Ruins
(Click here for Part I or Part II)
As the planet crumbles and chunks fall to the surface of the creature's world, I thought a good harbinger of imminent doom would be an approaching cloud of destruction, rushing toward the creature from the background impact point. I looked at a few examples of volcanic pyroclastic clouds, rather than explosions. I wanted that feeling of something rolling out of the distance inexorably, rather than suddenly. What you quickly realise, is that they're simply made up of lots and lots of small misshapen lumps grouped into larger lumps. They're all of the same general tones, light to dark in relation to whatever light source there is.

Essentially I just had to pick a medium grey colour, and draw the rough shape of the cloud. Then I went into it and created the darker areas of the larger lumps and bumps, then the lighter ones. Of course this created more of a fluffy cloud look, but it was only the first step. I then went into those larger areas, and broke their edges and interiors up into quickly suggested smaller lumps. Where the sun was closest, I brightened the general highlights with a yellowish tint. Before long, with a few minor details such as considering where it was in contact with the ocean and a roughly suggested reflection and shadow, it was complete. I then altered the hue and saturation slightly till I was happiest with how it should look in the context of the scene.

Next came the fortress ruins upon which the creature is standing. As I started to shade, I realised that I needed much more detail to work with. So I quickly sketched a more detailed version, along with the distant building. Since these were drawn physically in pen, they were only generally correct in proportion to what I already had, so after photographing them and getting them into the picture, I resized them appropriately.

I soon realised I had set myself rather a chore. There were lots of repetitive details that would each require a lot of attention. Having already established a high level of detail with the planet, I couldn't churn them out in a loose style, and so began a rather laborious task. Firstly I shaded the main 'struts' and the spheres at the top, then I began to work on the main split lines.

Split lines are an interesting thing in-and-of themselves, the importance of which was driven home quite a bit when I studied Product Design many years ago. To give a similar example, one thing you quickly learn in art or even in animation, is that even the most unskilled eye can pick up the flaws in an incorrectly drawn face or movement of a character. Why? Because every one of us is looking at other humans every day. In the mirror, in the street, on the T.V. Our brains have a natural understanding even if we are not conscious of it. That's why even the most un-artistic person can pick the difference between a good portrait and a bad one.

In an odd way, some details in everyday life (such as split lines) have taken on a similar familiarity. We are so surrounded by them in one form or another, from cars to computers, brick walls to wooden furniture, that we subconsciously associate them with the structure of objects. Things will often look more real to us because they conform to our expectations of how they fit together. So a simple split line can quickly create the feeling of a dimensional object in its own space. In most cases, just think where the light is coming from, then draw a light/white highlight along the edge mostly facing the light, and a dark/black highlight beside it to give the impression of the shadowed edge. Voila! Suddenly you have a shape divided into two or more shapes that build up to the whole, just like we're used to.

Anyway, you're probably cursing the term 'split line' after I went off on that tangent, so onto something else. Next came the cracks and weathering, to imply age and use. Again, these are simply a case of conforming to our visual expectations. If there's a big hole or gap in something, it will usually be darker than the surrounding area, because it is naturally less exposed to light. So firstly there were areas I simply darkened. Then it's just a case of thinking what direction the light is coming from, and adding light and dark highlights to the appropriate edges. In addition, think of areas where water or other fluids have perhaps gathered and leaked over time, leaving drip stains. A few simple dark lines can easily imply these, and they create a very quick visual cue to aged and used items.

When initially colouring the wall, I did it in such a way as to imply a different material. Something not quite earthly. It looks almost metalic or plastic, rather than stone-like, but is cracking, pitting and crumbling like stone. In all honesty, I'm not quite sure how well this has worked. Because it doesn't conform to expectations, it could instead just look poorly painted, as though I haven't quite managed to achieve the look of stone correctly. It is what it is, and I suppose it's for the viewer to decide if I succeeded or not.

Next came the large building or citadel. As I mentioned with the wall, I realised that I needed more detail to work from, than I had initially sketched. I quickly drew a new sketch of the building in pen, and photographed it. I was reasonably happy with the design, but I didn't like the proportions. Luckily, given the nature of the design, I was able to squash it into a wider rather than taller form. Then it was simply a case of painting it in a similar way to the walls, as described above.

What sells it most, is perhaps the reflection in the water. To achieve this, I simply duplicated the building, flipped it, and then erased the lower portions and altered the overall transparency. Then I used the finger-smudge tool (in Photoshop), dragging randomly left and right to blur the details and create the suggestion of the rippling water distorting the reflection.

In Part IV, I will discuss my original thoughts behind the image, and the final steps to completion of the warrior creature.

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