Provenance

Seal Surreal

Heretofore unused artwork which, on close consideration, I believe to have been (at least in some small part) influenced by Peter Saville’s “Flesh+Blood” cover for Roxy Music. At least that’s how I explain its provenance.

Flesh and Blood

Although the beasties themselves originated in this little cesspool from a very early work:

Allée Des Phoques

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Moth

Last Summer I had the pleasure to work with ethereal Montreal-based troubadors Black Legary to create their debut album cover. It was one of those projects with the magic mix of mutual flexibility and shared vision, and resulted in a graphic suite with quite a satisfying eyefeel.

Jacket Cover Revised

The pale proboscis-mask began life in a notebook somewhere, and I developed it into a model at some stage purely for kicks. In and of itself it was a form which seems strong enough to have caught the client’s eye, and the rest of the concept grew from there.

These are a few of the early iterations that were mooted. Early on it was agreed that technological elements would be balanced with the primordial (“Silurian Memorii” is the album title), and gritty darkness would be countered  with light of some sort. It was a lot of fun playing with the reflective properties of the primordial pool, but ultimately these fancies were greatly restrained, and the main light sources would be the “dawn” backdrop and the interior light of the headgear itself. “Silurian” is a geological term, but as an epoch that frames some of the earliest life I felt a reference to biology wouldn’t go astray.

The moth is an animal which occupies a strange place in culture, I think. It is both cute and grotesque: its furriness makes it tactile, but this is immediately juxtaposed with the inherent alienness of the insectivora, resulting in a wee contradiction of a beast. The above renders were explorations into ways of having the moth form be the vessel for the light element of the image. The client had a brainwave at this stage and asked if I’d seen “Clash of the Titans”, and if I remembered the gilded little owl. “You mean Bubo” I said, and a final look for the moth element was thereby settled on.

POSTER INSERT - MOTH - Revised

For the back cover I wanted to continue the theme of the front:  I’ve always liked the holistic satisfaction of pursuing a theme down through all the little information deliveries such as track list and lyrics etc., and I felt there was potential for a wraparound concept.

The idea was to have the information suspended in the landscape, almost like a readout display of some sort. I felt it was a nice way to frame the geological and biological elements from the front cover while delivering information in a striking way. The design that was ultimately settled on largely eschewed the “floating in situ” information block and instead incorporated the horizon line of the scene into a loose grid. The vertical track list is reminiscent of a graph, so I felt it still retained a little science-fiction-ality.

PRP 12 Label 12-L001-A5 - Vinyl Puck Labels

Inner Sleeve

Above are both the simple design settled on for the vinyl pucks and the inner sleeve liner notes. I felt all elements needed to be quite simple now – any fussiness or noisiness would detract from the lushness of the cover imagery. Below are the pages of the digital booklet, which expand on the cover imagery using different lighting setups. Believe it or not, this is the most pages I’ve had to balance type layout over: I’m not sure I have the natural constitution necessary to handle much more text in one go…

Finally, it was felt that there was potential for more graphic content in the form of a foldout poster, so I set about coming up with some imagery to use. haeckel4_colour1

Ernst Haeckl’s “Kunstformen Der Natur” has an endless supply of gorgeous renderings of various life – forms which I thought suited the theme of the project.  I added some architecture and, with judicious use of lighting, ended up with some visually arresting imagery with just the right amount of mystery to it. In the end I think it was felt to be a bit much, and the poster design we went with was a rendering variant on the cover.

poster-haeckel

 

 

Buzz

ZBrush Document4

Makin1

Buzz. WIP. Continuing a strange obsession with monkeys, and combining it with a bit of classic sci-fi aesthetic. I think he’s got some sort of ESP / telekinetic power – there will be filaments in the domes which can light up when he’s channeling energy through that glove. Left is me working out the geometry of the helmet. I can’t get into the habit of sketching with this software – I always seem to have to rely on the geometry to know where I am. I think this is because I rely on UVs quite a bit as I work – for “noise” and surface details. There are workflows (Allegorithmic) which allow you to leave a large proportion of this work for the texturing stage, but I think that, overall, ZB just seems to be faster.

References from Google images. “Bone Clones” are also a good source of reference, as they document their skeletal assemblies with some nice clear pictures. On the right is a rejected design for the regulator. Those curves didn’t seem to be going anywhere, so I went with a boxier look in the end.

Nigh

DoréAn old model which I thought would be fun to run through the Keyshot mill to see what came out. The original is by Doré (below), and although this interpretation doesn’t really add much it certainly was fun to work on.Gustave Doré - Grim Reaper

Face Ballet

old-man-head12

Okay, I’ve denied it for a long time but now I’ll come straight out and admit it: Not only is a well-designed zombie face a beautiful thing, it is a very difficult balance to achieve. Why? well, when you’re designing  and executing something from scratch you can build in some harmonies and keep these maintained as you go. With what is essentially a rotting head you’re trying to add easily-legible corruption to an object (a face) which possesses the most balanced values you could possibly think up. Its no exaggeration to say that the mind will process the faintest discernible twitch of the zygomatic minor: How, then, do you design the absence of an entire half-face to be harmonious in corruption? The aesthetics are confusing but, from Lon Chaney to Rick Baker, evidence abounds in the backlog of cinema, comics and games that such a thing is possible.

I built this fancy boy around a previously modelled skull and shrink-wrapped it (below). Only then did I decide on how to alter the form. I now have a dissectable face which could well come in handy later on.

genius3

 

Woody Notes

Wood demon 4

The fun involved in the eventual render more than made up for a lot of the initial hair pulling. It was more difficult than I thought to achieve the specific texture that I was after. I went through many different types of alphas and depth maps – beginning with tree bark and working my way through different types of cracking concrete and rock. The end result wasn’t the dramatic “shatter” effect I was going for, but something a little more organic. Some textures simply don’t go with certain forms, and this guy screams wood and bark. The problem with using depth maps to texture is that they will have an inherent directionality to their information – one that you might spend more time adapting to the topography of your model than if you just went in and carved it out with a brush. As usual, the key is a degree of moderation; to find a juicy alpha or depth map and then integrate it judiciously. Yes, the face is a rancor.

 

 

wood-demon-hdri

Wood demon Light Test

Designing The Gulper

And finally some decent renders of the Gulper. I wanted to make a gracile, panther-like form here. The tail betrays the design’s ultimate roots in the rod-puppet used by Gillis and Woodruff for the “beast” in Alien3 – one of my favourite creature designs in cinema. This beastie is, however, more of a pest than an actual menace. It walks on its knuckles like an ape, and I imagine it’s quite a scrambler.

Some of the prep sketches have a simian quality to them which faded in the eventual design, but I feel could be regained through animation. There are some bird-like feet in there, and also some proportional weirdnesses I’d like to have explored further. I’m always curious as to how certain avenues would have turned out.

aminals_e919c0_6420395

When it came to secondary forms I already had a scheme in mind, but was delighted to find The Red Eyed Crocodile Skink for reference. Superficially similar to the crocodilians, this little lizard has scutes with more character to them – more of a profile. They are simple, elegant forms which lend themselves to adaptation. I had some depth maps I wanted to use for the skin texture, so I wasn’t going to I ended up only using the overall pattern of the scutes, and blunted them down to give a smoother profile.

D-Maps

When it was time for “tertiary forms” I used these depth maps I made from a gumroad frog scan a while back. Using depth maps for skin texture is not as simple as slapping them on a mesh, though; to use them correctly requires morph targets, layers and careful masking. Different depth map alphas will have varying contrasts and their borders will therefore have different depths. Not only do depth maps have to correspond topologically with each other; the information they contain has to seamlessly line up. Also this information must logically correspond with its placement on the mesh (finer, shallower wrinkles and scutes on thinner skin).

The colour scheme of any model will always have a malleable relationship with the sculpt, in that both carry information in different ways. A wild, detailed paint job will obliterate a detailed sculpt, for instance. Conversely, a simple diffuse texture done well can really complement a sculpt. Finally. a simple sculpt can really be enhanced by a brave, well-executed colour scheme. I chose a colour scheme that was halfway there – very subtle where the sculpt had something to say, and a little variety where the secondary forms weren’t doing much.

And that’s about it for now. I want to write about optimising a mesh like this for real time rendering, and more about design – specifically the distribution of information around the form (even composition in general), but this one seems to be an elusive subject – there isn’t really a lot that’s readily available, even beyond the paywall.

 

The Story Of The Eye

Returning to Physics -based rendering Having been away “real time” rendering for a little while now, I decided to use a more complicated eye than the “textured ball” method I’ve been using for some time. Eyes are clearly pretty important to a character, and the basic asset can be recycled as the need arises, so its a worthwhile endeavour to commit a few hours to coming up with something that can breathe a little more life into a face.

Cutting to the chase, Rather that straight-up sculpt an iris from scratch (which would still be relatively easy to do by sculpting with radial symmetry on), I decided to texture the model and use the colour information to deform accordingly.

Screen-Edited Eye

Having quickly UVed my model in ZB, I incorporated a web-acquired iris image in Photoshop. There is the tricky question of iris size to contend with here – there was a bit of painting involved to get the desired pupil diameter (this is not for a human character). But aside from this, after a few colour-and-level-adjustment layers and masks I exported two files: a straight-up diffuse texture and a carefully-adjusted greyscale image to be used as a deforming “mask”.

ZBrush Document

I imported this second image as an alpha and then after a “mask by alpha” I first blurred the mask and then “deformation>inflate”-ed it to get a little gentle topographical relief. I re-masked with the same alpha and deformed again to get a little more definition.

EyeAnimation

And that’s pretty much it – all you need for this is two models: a) The body of the eye with the iris and b) a “sclerotic orb” and convex cornea to give the iris that defracted look. A few tweaks of the materials in your renderer should give you some pretty powerful results.

What I like about this approach is its simplicity: You’re ultimately using an easily-acquired image file to deform a very simple shape.