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Glasgow, United Kingdom
An illustrator and games artist living and working in Scotland. I have various hobbies: coding, travel, art and games; and I enjoy writing about them.

11 December 2012

Jon Hodgson Interview: Part 1

I've always tried to follow the idea that each image has a massive stack of reference used - not simply in the coarse sense of "photos I copied", but in terms of a lot of reading, a lot of understanding about what you're drawing and why it looks the way it does.
Not long ago an extremely talented illustrator and a great art director Jon Hodgson agreed to do an e-mail interview with me.
Thus far Jon has made over 200 pieces of card art for collectable card games, solo illustrated 15 books with 30 plus illustrations each for Warhammer Historical, has provided cover art for some 30 gaming books as well as numerous pieces of packaging art, made illustrations for the biggest roleplaying game in the world - Dungeons and Dragons, as well as for some of the smallest. At one point he was a story boarder for the children's animated show Bob the Builder
 Needless to say, I was excited and anxious to tap into that well of experience and talent.

Without further ado, here's the transcript of the first part of the interview. More parts will be posted as the replies appear in my inbox. Unfortunately, due to health issues Jon won't be able to reply for a while, thus I hope to treat you with the next part of the interview after the holidays. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

A: The images from The One Ring section on your website have a great sense of place to them. They feel very authentic. Can you tell me how you achieved this quality, and perhaps some of the inspirations behind these works?

Jon: It is very gratifying to hear you say these pieces have a sense of place.  This is something I really strive for in my work.  This drive tracks back to the purpose of these illustrations, which have the implicit purpose of making the viewer feel like they are in some senses "there".  Whilst of course this is in many ways a cheap magician's trick, that's the business we're in.  And it's a trick I enjoy watching myself!

I'll probably talk in circles a little bit about this topic to pin down the route to achieving this.  First up I'm always still learning.  I've been full time for getting on for 15 years now, and I probably feel I know less truths about making images than I did in year one.  I believe that a few years back I reached a place with my work where the day to day scramble to pay the bills was somewhat alleviated.  Of course that never goes away completely, but you do get to a point where finding clients takes up less time.  With a solid client base to draw from there's less self promo to be doing.  Which in turn let's you focus a little more closely on what you paint and what you want to paint.

To find answers to the questions about what I wanted to do, I looked to what I like to look at myself, what inspires me, what I'd like viewers of my work to feel or think about.  The escapism inherent in fantasy art, and the solidity of place in Tolkien's writing were both big influences on the need for these pieces to convey that feeling.

There are a lot of roads into this for me: I've always obsessed about light and location, not that it necessarily comes out as the most obvious feature of my work.  This is something that I think prior to beginning the One Ring work I was beginning to think about more closely.

Getting the chance to illustrate Middle-earth, a defining presence in my interests since childhood, really kicked a lot of things into stark focus for me.  As well as looking inward to find some answers to what I wanted to do, I also constantly look around me.  I had found a general feeling of uneasiness with the dominant way of doing things in the fantasy art field.  I had been working for the biggest clients, but wasn't satisfied on a personal level with the work that it was necessary to produce.  Growing up in the UK, and never really being into US comics I found a lot of the US comic tropes needed an uneasy fit.  It took a very long time to pin down why I wasn't happy, and these are well paid, prestigious jobs, so one is always wary of being too critical of the hand that feeds.  However to be happy in my work, and thereby make the best work I knew I needed to follow a different star for a while, if that makes sense?  

So getting a chance to make these wide open, landscape based pieces that showed the "where" rather than being dominated by the "who" was highly fortuitous.

Equally living where I do, in the heart of Scotland, and being lucky enough to have a pretty epic view from my home it is no surprise that stuff needed to come out.

So that covers something of the drive to make pieces like this.  How I actually went about it is probably more difficult to talk about.  The easiest things to say are about technical issues.  Making sure you're describing a place with the illusion of 3 dimensions.  A level of internal consistency that suspends disbelief.  This is very important - "realism" is a complete red herring, but internal consistency is very important.  There are some simple devices at work like loads of overlapping so that we want to enter into the scene and look around, lots of implied detail in the areas which are not key focal points: This is a careful balancing act of giving enough to engage, but limiting the supply of information in other areas so that we want more.

Other entry points to imparting a sense of place were the use of 3D modelling software - so many of the buildings and locations were simply constructed in 3 dimensions, so that I could try out a lot of different view points to find the best one.  This I find a highly useful tool that provokes a lot of questions - where are we as the viewer?  What do different view point of a scene bring to it in terms of the look of the final piece and the usefulness of it.  For example, a really brooding atmospheric shot will have different framing than one that is all about showing the layout of an iconic location.  In general on The One Ring we've tried to balance these two things.

Which leads into another part of the topic - the utility of a given illustration.  Within a gaming manual illustrations can serve any number of purposes, often more than one.  With something like Middle-earth it seemed worthwhile to create a lot of illustrations that showed locations in a "useful" way, so that the players in the game could share a collective idea of what a location might look like.  That seems really useful, adds a lot of value and offers a springboard for play.  The end users might not instantly recognise this aspect, but it is something that has to be deliberately employed on the part of the creatives involved.

When it comes to ideas of authenticity this was all about the research. I was already hugely invested in the history of the period Tolkien was drawing on - crudely put "The Dark Ages".  For me effective fantasy always has one foot in "reality" in one way or another.  So using real world cultures, clothing, buildings, and adding the smallest of twists to make them fantastical was the way to go when showing Middle-earth.  I've always tried to follow the idea that each image has a massive stack of reference used - not simply in the coarse sense of "photos I copied", but in terms of a lot of reading, a lot of understanding about what you're drawing and why it looks the way it does.

Huge thanks to Jon for writing such an elaborate and indepth reply. Hope to hear from him soon!


6 December 2012

Motorcycle Diaries: Scotland 2012

This blog post is long overdue. I apologise for that and make a promise to write important posts like this without delay.

This summer was a good one. Filled with many hot days, hundreds of miles of road and roaring of motorcycles. Excitement dillusted with weeks of office work. Fun, stressful and extremely rewarding work never the less. But when work is done and dusted, and summer is almost over, it's time for adventure.

Our big adventure this year was a trip around Scotland on our 125cc motorcycles. A lot of planning went into it. The one important thing one has to remember about a 125cc motorcycle is that it is slow. Slow and doesn't have the accelleration power to climb steep hills. We of course did not know anything about this. What added to the adrenaline and excitement is that our oversized rucksacks would sway dangerously from side to side on sharp bends and would cause some serious sore backs and blisters in the future. We did not know any of that; we had a route, some points on the map, money for petrol, some food and the undying Russian motto: "Avos'!". A word that Wikipedia translates as: philosophy of behaviour or attitude in which a person ignores possible problems, dangers or hassles and, at the same time, expects a favourable outcome. And so, counting on our luck, we set off on our adventure.
Heavy rucksacks, low powered bikes and unrellenting enthusiasm for adventure.
Within a few hours of riding through the flat farmland of Angus we suddenly hit the jaw dropping sight that was Glenshee. To say that we were in awe would be an understatement. Breaks started to smoke as we screeched to a halt beside the uneven single track road. Before us, and as far the eye could see was the pale-green beauty of a Scottish glen. Harsh grey sky was above us, giving everything a fresh yet sombre feel. We stayed for a long while, and little did we know that this is only the first stop in a queue of many, many others.
The formidabble beauty of Glenshee

Abandon hope all ye who enter here.
With reluctance we left the glen behind and continued on our way. There still was a lot of road between us and our destination - Inverness. The Old Military Road took us higher and higher into the hills and we made another stop somewhere along the A939, just North of Ballater. One of the guys decided to unscrew his rele and lost a screw in the tall grass. While everyone was looking for it and cursing him playfully, I sat about half a mile away beside the road, waiting for the perfect shot. As soon as they finished with the rele and roared past me, I frantically pressed on the camera button.
The sky was so close I could almost touch it
Getting over the Cairngorm mountains took most of the evening. It turned out, quite unexpectedly, our motorbikes can't climb mountains, especially with 120kg of extra weight. As we limped up hill in first gear, reaching maximum speeds of just below 10mph, I had a moment of reflection and contemplation. My meditative state was so deep I completely forgot to take pictures. In all fairness, it was difficult enough trying not to fall off the overworked bike backwards, downhill. Speaking of downhill, coming down the other side of the Cairngorm hills was the single most terrifying and exhillirating experience of my life.

At sunset, tired, sore and hungry, we reached Inverness, but our day was far from over. We still had nowhere to stay and we got lost in the city. As tiny as Inverness is, it has a surprisingly confusing traffic system. At this point our spirit of adventure and youthful enthusiasm were swapped out to tired grumbling and having a dig at eachother for the tiniest of things. One of us even expressed his anger to nearby horses by forcefully feeding them bits of grass, as a stress relief method, we were assured.
Even the beauty of the Scottish North could not cure the tiredness
After an hour of arguing and another 30 miles of road it started to get dark and we made a decision to stay in the woods of Glen Strathfarrar. A decision which became the biggest mistake and the undoing of the entire trip. One word: midgies. If you are not a fan of millions of flying insects biting your face, arms, ears, neck and even private parts; as has been found out after a careless attempt at attending a nature call. If you are not a fan of that, stay away from Scotland. Unless of course, unlike us, you are smart, and take some form of anti midgie spray. However, we weren't. The madness of this moment is difficult to describe with words. We set up tents in record time, swearing and slapping midgies off as we went. We smoked our entire reserve of tobacco in a space of an hour. We even fashioned a DIY flame thrower from a lighter and a deodorant. At one point it really made sense to scratch your skin off and sit in the river. There were no midgies in the tents, and we were thankful for that. Still however we didn't get a wink of sleep because our entire bodies were covered in bites and itched. Nedless to say, there were no pictures taken of this agony.

The next morning we were on the road in less than 20 minutes. Riding along, running from the madness. At one point I pushed my bike to the limit of its power, doing 65mph along a tiny country road. Not, thinking, blinded by the insane itching. The race stopped near Loch Lochy. We missed every castle we wanted to photograph and rode right past Loch Ness - one of the most important locations on our "To-See" list. Our good mood was back and morale was restored earlier, in Drumnadrochit, during a large breakfast. We were full of enthusiasm and ready for new adventures. In addition we started to see the funny side of our midgie insident.

Riding along a windy road along Loch Lochy we had a great idea. We will strap a camera to one of the bikes and record our fantastic surroundings.

The sunset cought up with us at the base of Ben Nevis. This behemoth is the largest mountain most of the guys have seen. It just sat there, glistening in the sun right in front of us. We also had a chance to appreciate the monument dedicated to the British SAS troops of the second world war. I have upmost respect for these men, because you have to be a very special kind of dedicated to force yourself through the selection.

Unfortunately, however badly we wanted, we decided against climbing the mountain in the dark and wet. After many hours of standing around we decided against it. There was nowhere to leave the bikes, we were not at all dressed for climbing a mountain in the dark and everyone was pretty tired. On top of all that the midgies started to eat us alive again.

Our disappointment however was reinbursed when we came through Glen Coe. Under the grim skies the glen looked magnificant and imposing. I almost expected to be attacked by Orcs!

We stopped for a while to change into dry socks and enjoy the breathtaking beauty a while longer. Not to say we were all happy little bikers - it was bucketing it down with rain and we were wet and shivering. My leather got so soaked it resembled an overweight sponge. However the awe inducing vistas we were seeing were all worth it.

Before I conclude, a small tip for all the riders out there. Do not, under any circumstances spend 18 hours on the road in a wet and cold day. In fact, just don't do it at all. Having passed Perth we all started to fall asleep. I cannot emphasise enough how dangerous it is.

But soon it was home, hot shower, cup of hot chocolate and a warm blanket to sit under and reflect on our amazing adventure.

My apologies for not writing this earlier. This year's been hectic.


5 December 2012

Make Something Unreal Live Pitch Report

It's been a crazy couple of days. We went to London and competed against 11 other teams for the place in the final. Ultimate prize being 5 Unreal Engine 4 comercial licenses and legal support to get our studio off the ground. In monetary terms, 5 licenses would cost close to £500,000. That's half a million pounds. A sum that is completely mind boggling to someone like me, who lives on 6 grand a year income.

First impressions of London are breath taking. It's a true metropolis: people, cars, concrete mix together into an intoxicating whole. There are always places to go to, things to see and do. Everything is big, from prices to architecture. Grey concrete buildings dominate central London and even hobos can give you advice on what brothel to visit and where to get the best coke (don't ask, it's a long story).

It was a stressful time for me, because we were still one painting short. I found a solution by placing my laptop inside a cupboard in the hostel and spending a few hours hunched over inside there. This is the result:

Gotta say straight away that this is probably not my best ever painting. But that simply illustrates the importance of proper planning and preliminary sketches. When in the past thumbnails and value studies were done prior to rendering, this time round there was simply no time. Plus, it's fairly difficult to paint in a 6 man dorm. Especially when everyone is there, behind you, is stressing out as well. So what's exactly wrong with this image? A lot of things. The perspective does not work, and the background seems to be sitting on a completely different plane to the structure in the middle, which in turn is sitting on a different plane to the character in the foreground. The structure is wrong. The composition is plain and fairly boring, there isn't much interest or drama. The shapes are blurry in the background and sharp and solid on the focal structure. That creates disbalance and unnecessary contrast between the elements. The local colours are bleak and do not add anything to the image. The lighting is messed up and not much effort was put into highlights. The concept is interesting however, and that is what saves the painting. There is interest in the idea that something is glowing in between the stones, shining from the inside of the structure. This creates mystery. The colour transition between bright blues and greens to the oranges and yellows on the structure creates a pleasant contrast of tones and thus adds to the feeling of mystery. The character figure, even though stands out like a sore thumb is anatomically correct and makes use of the Windmill principle that Gurney talks about in his blog. Overall thus the painting is not an epic failure, however it's not a spectacular success either. Simply the best effort I could muster in the extremely stressful and uncomfortable conditions.

I would like to talk about the competition a little bit. The results, the four teams that made it through to the final, were quite predictable. Perhaps I am growing more cynical, but before the results came in I predicted which teams would make it in. Everything's happened as I predicted. Now I'm not saying that a huge multinational company like Epic would politicise its competition for maximum value and publicity...

In any case, we didn't make it through. However the judges loved the art direction. My art direction. And having recieved a compliment from the CEO of Epic in UK, a member of Welcome Trust and heads of various other video games studios, I'm quite chuffed. Time to stare at Syd Mead to get my ego deflated again.

30 November 2012

Thursday again

I don't really have time for  along post, so here's a quick one for you. A painting deconstructed and analyzed.

Firstly here is the painting:

And now let's go and break it down into steps.

1. Getting the assignment.

Even though this is only a university project I still work closely with my producer to create the feel and the look of the game. We needed a giant man made structure floating in the sky. The only man made thing in the whole world. Time to do some sketching!

2. Thumbnails and sketches

There are more in my sketchbook, but you gotta trust me on this one. I'll show the ones I showed to the producer.

 After some thinking we chose the last one. However the composition was all wrong and the enormous black shape that is the ground unbalanced the piece. Time for the final value sketch. The tilted (or Dutch) horizon is a conscious decision and is supposed to create a feeling of uneaze, and almost vertigo. Funny thing, I did get a millisecond flash of vertigo when I accidently flipped the image upside down later on.

2. Value Sketch

After some cropping and moving things around it was almost ready. In aesthetic terms, the lines are sharp to reflect solid, rocky structures, the aireal perspective is introduced to simulate the vast distances. Some of the tower is alsot obscured by cloud, which also adds to the sense of scale. The texture is smooth yet sharp - due to time constraints I made the concious choice to leave everything as is. The idea is the contrast between the small man and the huge structure. What is it? What awaits him when he gets there? Creating mystery in games is one of the more common player motivation techniques.

3. Colour

I'm starting to like working in black and white and then moving onto colour. There is something very easy about this. The idea that you don't need to worry about colours when creating the value sketch. That allows me to concentrate on other important aesthetic elements. So here I make another layer in Photoshop, set it to Overlay and start painting. The final result is very warm. I added two small details: the green lights and lines on the structure and the slightly blurred rock in the foreground. One helps to create mood and one further depth.

28 November 2012

The good, the bad and the ugly.

Finally finished the pre visualisation paintings for the Unreal Competition. Fun extremely fun to do and a challenge from the aesthetic point of view. How do you portray a place that is set absolutely nowhere? A surreal landscape of angular blocks and floating geometry?

Practice makes perfect, and with this one I had a chance to use a whole range of painting pipelines. The neutral environment follows closely Feng Zhu tutorials. It resembles traditional painting - one layer, one brush and off we go. This is a good way of working because it forces you to paint over mistakes and be a lot looser with paint, as if it was physical medium. The good environment follows a tutorial by Cynthia's approach from ImagineFX, I've explored and explained this topic at length in this blog post. The last painting, and imho most successful borrows from two sources - Carlos Huante and Feng Zhu. Carlos starts with a value sketch, a black and white painting of the piece. He then paints over it on a separate layer set to Overlay. Some tweaking is required because the colours and up over saturated. He then adds highlights and small details on yet another level set to Normal (or anything else depending on the situation). What I borrowed from Feng is the sky texture, which is added very subtly to add interest to the background. There is another layer with a stone texture set to Hard Light and very low opacity to add interest and texture to the ground. This trick is also borrowed from Feng Zhu.

27 November 2012

Value Sketch

My deepest apologies for not posting in a while - my schedule is as hectic as it gets. In a mad rush to pass my motorcycle test before the 18th of January, write up the project proposal, organise things for a trip to Lithuania, paint concept art for Make Something Unreal Live, pass a car test and somehow pay the bills and get more than 4 hours of sleep a night. It's a careful balancing act, which requires discipline and determination, but I'm getting there.

This value sketch is from a live demo I did for some folks. Okay, okay, I'm not good enough yet to do live demos for folks. But I did doodle it in real time on a large screen at one of the dev meetings for our Unreal Challenge group. However, everything is related, and this serves as a perfect example for concept development for my honours project.

Let's analyse.

This image depicts a hostile landscape of sharp, spikes growing from the ground. The focal point if a mysterious structure that is lit up by a bright, yet soft light. The sky is a dark colour, suggesting night time or heavy overcast. The spikes seem to be natural and made of stone. The composition is simple. The spikes frame the focal structure nicely, thus attracting the viewer's eye to it. The artist achieved the feeling of hostility by using sharp, jagged shapes for rocks. There is also a feeling of mystery, the viewer's eye is drawn to the focal point, which is considerably lighter than the rest of the composition and is framed by the rocks, as mentioned above. A sense of space is achieved by the use of aerial perspective. We know that things get lighter as they get further away from us, the features also become muted and contrast lessens. The composition conveys a feeling of solidity. When creating the piece a few references were used, mainly for the rock texture, deserted landscapes and how light reflects off stone. Reference for the sky was also used. When colouring and refining the sketch dark grey, reds and oranges will be used to create an illusion of a charred, burnt out environment. The sense of space is achieved through overlapping layers of stone. Some elements are hidden behind others, thus creating depth.

In my sketchbook I've also been exploring slavic patterns and trying to analyse them. Thus far I established that florar patterns are dominant. However more precise, geometric patterns resembling arabic culture are also present. More on that in another post (once I get to a scanner).

Thanks for reading and keep in mind that upcoming interview with Jon Hodgson!

Preview: Jon Hodgson

It's always fascinating to come close to real talent. Last summer I had the pleasure to meet with the legendary Jon Hodgson - an illustrator, fantasy artist and an art director at Cubicle 7. Himself and Dave Allsop did a Q&A session where a lot of interesting points were raised and topics discussed.

Thus far Jon has made over 200 pieces of card art for collectable card games, solo illustrated 15 books with 30 plus illustrations each for Warhammer Historical, has provided cover art for some 30 gaming books as well as numerous pieces of packaging art, made illustrations for the biggest roleplaying game in the world - Dungeons and Dragons, as well as for some of the smallest. At one point he was a story boarder for the children's animated show Bob the Builder.

Not to give too much away, but Jon has kindly agreed to participate in an e-mail interview where he will answer questions to do with authenticity in work, share his process for conducting visual research and many more. Keep an eye out for a full feature in the next few weeks!

Copyright Jon Hodgson

10 November 2012

Blade Runner Sketchbook

It ocurred to me not long ago that I gather so much material but somehow fail to find the time to upload it on here, or to actually go over it properly. My Evernote account is bursting with artists, pictures, books, interviews and journals; all relevant to what I'm doing. The usual train of thought is, "Oh that's a nice little article. I'll put it over here and look over it later". That later never comes. Or, should I say, never came until now.

No one is better in create authentic, aesthetically beautiful pieces than the industry legend, Syd Mead. He was the creative force behind a lot of designs for Blade Runner, Tron, Aliens, Johnny Mnemonic and many others. He is currently working on Elysium, a sci fi feature directed by Neill Blomkamp and due to release in 2013.

Unfortunately Mead's collection of artwork relating to his older projects is out of print now and costs over £200 used. However I did manage to dig up some gold on the wild plains of the internet in the form of a sketchbook himself and Ridley Scott produced shortly after the release of Blade Runner. I present to you, Blade Runner Sketchbook (1982), now also out of print and priced at £150, used. I also printed it out for future reference.

The sketchbook is a 95 page paperback filled with pre-production sketches by Syd Mead and Ridley Scott. Everything from the early vehicle concepts to costumes and props.

The main point of the sketchbook is to give a glimpse into the original vision of the film and show the creative obstacles Syd and Scott had to overcome. The book provides an excellent idea of what it takes to make the place seem alive and bring it from a generic sci fi setting into a world that seems completely real. Everything is designed to minute detail. Even the signs and logos in the background we take for granted in the film were designed with a specific purpose in mind.

"The entire look of the film was based on research and carefully thought out principles regarding the future of architecture, transportation, fashion and social behaviour"

In ImagineFX Issue 89 Shane Pierce (lead concept artist on Gears of War 2) supports this view by saying that a great concept piece is one where the design is really thought out. No matter what style it's in, the design shines through.

In conclusion, Blade Runner Sketchbook is a fantastic resource of inspiration and information about the process and the importance of design in concepts. The design must tell a story and not distract from the main narrative. Everything comes tightly together into one and thus creates believability and authentnicity.

9 November 2012

Critique Session 2012

Week 8 is upon us! It crept up stealthily behind us and pounced... But it's not at all that bad.

The main points I got from it is that it would be nice the result of the research I made into the Slavic art and imagery. It is an ambitious project and covers quite a wide area. It is paramount to me to meet with a lecturer every week to make sure I'm on the right track, considering how easy it is to go off on a tangent. Apart from that they it was said that my project is very interesting and everyone is keen to see where it is heading.

Not much else to say. Considering how I'm always complaining about having to balance work and university, I think I did well.

So basically in the future I will look further into Slavic peasant art: wood carving, wooden architecture, patterns etc. Then find an iconic elements which will add a sense of authentnicity to my own painting.

I will then look into Celtic art, just because Brave and The Book of Kells were awesome films. I will then do a little comparison of the two cultures.

6 November 2012

Painting Believable Flora

"The human eye sees detail on a singular focal plane. It's impossible for the eye to focus on two separate, receding planes at the same time." - Khang Le, The Skilfull Huntman (Design Studio Press, 2005).

It is possible to spend hours rendering every single leaf, blade of grass and every minute detail of tree bark. However the final result would be overhwelming to the viewer and aesthetically disturbing. Forms will mege into eachother as our mind tries to concentrate on a particular point. Cynthia (Imagine FX, Issue 88, Nov 2012) advises to start by breaking the composition into foreground, middle ground and background, using 3 distinct values. From previous posts we might remember that the farther away things get, the lighter they become. Something very close to the camera will be very dark.

Let's try this.

Once the general composition is set up it's time to start defining the general shapes with a large brush. Personally I used a textured chalk brush, just to add interesting shapes in there. One thing Khang Le talks about is that everything in nature has its own unique rhythm and follows a pattern. It is important to have a set of rules in your mind when designing organic life. This will lend believability to your designs.

Now it's time to render this out properly. Simply work down from larger shapes to smaller details. It is important to work hollistically, and not concentrate too much one one particular area of the painting. Syd Mead mentions in his Gnomon DVD that foliage can be intimidating to start painting, but once you get the hang of it, it's actually one of the most fun things to do. Turns out he is right. I cheated a little bit with a custom brush, so I really need to get back to the basics in the future. In any case, I'm fairly happy with the result.

In the more high detailed rendering I added a little bit more colour to the composition. There is a hint of blue here, a hint of red there. Together with yellow it creates a more balanced feel to the colour. It is not by all means a high resolution, HD production painting however. I'll call it pre-production.

4 November 2012

A look at Marxist Theory of Art

Even though Marx had nothing much to say about art, Marxist critics and art theorists argue that art can be understoon by understanding his teachings. The central idea to this theory, in simplest terms, is that art has a social and economic implications; and can be used to confirm or unsettle existing preconceptions where this social/economic power lies. Socialist realist painters take a positive outlook on life, painting every day life and make an accent on showing how one can help their community and shape others to be better. This was the case until the death of Stalin, when censorship was finally relaxed. After this point painters took on darker themes, such as the painting below.

The relevance of this journal is not apparent straight away, however look at this painting by an annonymous artist.

Striking colours. Soviet imagery: long coat, red band to symbolise Red (the Bolsheviks) traditional Russian hat and facial hair. Excellent narrative: the man is looking up to something. What? Implied better future? His dream? The hat and beard create an impression of a simple man, perhaps a farmer, that was caught in the war - fighting for his cause to overthrow the imperialist government. Highly relevant because it shows how setting affects character design.

So I devised an experiment to see how this character would look in a different setting. Perhaps a civil war still, but in a different time period.

This is a quick sketch I made (2hrs max) to illustrate this idea.

Keeping with the key things and elements (particularly lighting and colour) of the original painting I've came up with an original design.

To conclude, the Marxist theory revolves around the idea that art has a socioeconomic impact. I find it somehow relevant to what I'm trying to do; and I will explore further.

Peace out.

31 October 2012

Unreal Environment Sketch

Finally my Skillful Huntsman book came in the post. It is a beautiful book and very much recommended to everyone. Lots of excellent ideas and techniques. Also, it's very interesting to see the design process of some of the best people in the industry.

Anyway, right to business. Having read the skillful huntsman I've made some preliminary sketches (which I'll upload to this very post when I scan them in) and went into painting. The visual development is for the Unreal project, but is also relevant to my honours. This is a media test (custom brushes etc.) and the test of the pipeline.

The outcome if fairly pleasing to the eye, so I deem this a success.

30 October 2012

A look into the aesthetic theory

The Halloween is approaching! Unlike some, I'm not looking forward to it. This year I'm swapping the parties, copious ammount of drinking and metric fuck tons of fake blood for the fun and games that ensue when you're a customer safety steward. So this year I'll be looking forward to three and a half thousand drunk students crammed into one building.

But not to panic. Uni work is also being produced, if at a slightly slower pace; and there is just not enough hours in the day to blog. So once I get a spare moment to scan things in, look out for a giant post backdating a few weeks.

In any case, the project proposal is well under way and my Evernote account is bursting with various notes and bookmarks.

I've talked about the question of appeal in the past, and my line of inquiry lead straight to the theory of art, or the aesthetic theory. An interesting book on the subject is written by one Henry G. Hartman in 1919 and is a broad over view of the key principles.

He, for example breaks down a painting into its basic elements. The presentative elements, such as line, form and colour; and the representative elements, such as conation, mood and symbolism. Hartman also analyses various elements of painting in an attempt to find the very basic and most important one. In the book he argues that colour is less important than light, because various colours have varied psychological effects on the viewer. I find that I disagree with that arguement, because a painting without colour is nothing but a black canvas.

Presentative Aesthetic Elements

  • Color
  • Light
  • Shadow
  • Atmosphere
  • Line
  • Drawing
  • Mass
  • Space
  • Modelling
  • Proportion
  • Harmony
  • Movement
  • Rhythm
  • Texture
  • Surfaces
  • Brush-work
  • Composition
Representative Elements
  • Design
  • Figures
  • Ideation
  • Affection
  • Conation
  • Craftsmanship

More about that in the lit review.

Having identified the gaps in my skill as an artist, I'm working hard to plug them. Currently I'm following a series of Youtube tutorials by Peter Han about dynamic sketching. This is the sort of thing he gives out as homework:

My sincere apologies for the hazy phone photo. One of these days I'll invest into a home scaner.
Anyway, I bet you're bored from all this critical analysis of complex theories (wink, wink). Let's see some pictures!

As a hobby and an excuse to make some awesome art I took on the Unreal Challenge project with a group of 3rd and 4th year students in the uni. Here is a little environment sketch I did for that.

Let's analyze. The colours in this piece are quite harmonius. The lighting is harsh and strong, which would suggest stronger contrast. However there ins't much contrast in the painting. The darkest tone is maybe a 60% blue/gray. A complimentary colour to make the composition less boring could be used. The forms tend to be blurry and merge into the background. Also, there is no clear foreground, middle ground and background separation, which makes the image a little flat. However the implied feeling of a desolate, almost sterile desert is conveyed quite well.

25 October 2012

Unreal Challenge

It's amazing how beautiful colour schemes can be found in the strangest of images. Take this one for example, a thumbnail I doodled. Quite a nice, if bleak colour scheme, wouldn't you say? The swatches for photoshop are from the infamous Blue Waffle picture. Go figure :P

But back on topic. Here's a doodle I made for the unreal challenge.

22 October 2012

Material Value Study

As mentioned in the previous post. I was doing value studies of various materials. I find it helps not only my drawing and understanding of the subject, but also my painting skills are improving.

More to come tomorrow!

I don't even know what the first one looks like. I think it might've been wood but as they say in Russian, first pancake is always fucked up. I'm not sure I'm translating this properly.

Until next time. Bye!

Back from Morrocco

I've not been wasting time while I was away. Obviously with the lack of internet not a lot of research has been done, but some ideas were developed and sketches made.

I'm still stuck on the topic of originality in design. I feel like my designs are not very... appealing.

This book deals a lot with appeal and is written by an ex Disney animator Tom Bancroft. It's very interesting from the point of view of general principles of design as it talks about various methods used to make the design stronger and more appealing.

So here are some of my experiments. Again, trying to push the design further, give it more personality and appeal through the use of interesting shapes and proportion.

Moving away from the cliche; consider different styles. E.g. Soviet constructivism. Also consider attributes of the setting - cold, unhospitable etc. Ref: Lost planet, Warhammer 40,000 Imperial Guard.
It's time to look at things like Skyrim, Guild Wars and Lost Planet for inspiration on the topic of cold environments and settings. How do people dress to keep warm? How can it be made to look cool? Upon reading various "Top 10" articles about video games with snowy, icy worlds I started to ask myself, how does it affect the characters? Some art directors don't deal with it at all! Like Mario or Final Fantasy VII for example. Just look at their half nakid bodies! (Source:

I also spent quite a lot of time searching for Takashiro Kawano's art (the art director on Lost Planet) but he seems to be untraceable. However the basics are obvious from this one interview I found on Siliconera: environment disappears in hazy, white mist, stark constrasts between white and blues, strong shadows and bluzzard whiteouts. It's interesting to see the red lights on some characters, which were put there to contrast with the environment. One thing I found I hate however is the functionality in Asian design. Unlike traditional painting, which is very minimalistic and simple, their design is completely broken. Various bits of tech sticking from characters' backs with no purpose whatsoever. Feng Zhu mentioned that as long as the design has appeal we don't need to worry about functionality, but I don't believe that is true. A design has to be appealing and functional to add to the sense of immersion.

This image sums up my opinion of Japanese character design. (Source:
I'm still aware of my goal to polish up my environment drawing skills. That's pretty much what my trip to Morrocco was about. Sketching from real life. Here are some sketches. A lot more will be done later.

So just to conclude, today I had a little rant about character design and showed off my personal development sketches. Tonight I'm picking up some books on architecture and doing some texture studies. 

Cheers for reading!