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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.

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.