Ahhh Valentines day…the perfect day to say I love you with the gift of crabs. Which is why I made this for my wife. Only this is better than real crabs because it doesn’t make you itch. And rather than being a very small organic parasite made from living things, this is just a piece of art. Made of paper, and colored with Prismacolor markers and colored pencils. Also, there’s a little paint splatter in there somewhere to keep things interesting. Which is what I try to do on days like today.
This caricature of Peter Falk was an exploration of how far you can push character exaggeration and still maintain a likeness. The design was created for a game that would have had a mature rating, so it was important to maintain a certain level of seriousness with his character even though the overall direction for the Character Design on the project was heavily stylized, bordering on cartoony. This concept was a good example of when working both traditionally and digitally can bring a level of creativity to your work that it could be difficult to achieve with one method alone. I started working with pencil to block out some of Mr. Falk’s more prominent features, going more photo-realistic than exaggerated. Once I was at a point where my sketch captured enough of his likeness, I scanned it in and started liquefying in Photoshop to try different combinations of exaggerated features. After settling on the basic form, I blocked out the core values in greyscale, while throwing layers of texture on at regular intervals to maintain the gritty technique. Color came in at the very end, primarily due to the limited range of saturation, and was accomplished with a few overlay layers painted with splatter brushes and smearing to help give the color depth. Peter Falk doesn’t have hair like this, but my grandfather did – so I leveled up Mr. Falk’s hair a bit and paid a little Homage to the Colonel in the process.
This is a costuming concept for a character named Grommash in WoW. He’s going through a mid-life barbarian phase, so the design needed to sell a vibe of chaotic and violent energy. Rendering choices go a long way when selling vibe, so I stuck with a sketchier rendering technique using ink splatters and un-blended cross-hatching with this concept. Also, I generally like to take the under-drawing of an illustration to this level of detail and contrast before picking up paint, it gives you the option to let some of that sketchy pencil work show through in your final product. Which in turn helps to keep digital art looking more like traditional media. His belt buckle doubles as a bottle opener, Grommash is popular at Orc parties.
This concept was an exploration to see how far I could push the Gnome in World of Warcraft while maintaining the style of the game and the vibe of the original model. The process of creating this concept was a little different than my usual approach given that It started as a screenshot of the existing model rather than a digital/pencil sketch. Photoshop has a ton of awesome push/pull features that allow you to quickly adjust proportions on a sketch or screenshot which I used extensively to get started with this painting. Smudge allows you to work directly on your canvas, but tends to get blurry very quickly so I use Filter>Liquify which can be a bit slower (and opens up in a new window),but it maintains all of your detail much better than Smudge. After establishing a good basic form, I darkened everything down, layered on some texture (detailed in earlier posts) and got to work. All the painting was done with a combination of Oil and Smudge brushes, the crosshatching is a Colored Pencil brush brought in at the very end to accentuate hard edges. On a final note, even though this started out as a little 4X4 inch 72 DPI screenshot – I wanted the final product to look like a painting, not a paint-over of a screenshot. Building up value from dark to light and adding things like obvious brush strokes at the base of his neck go a long way to support that painterly style.
Blizzcon 2013 is over and I can now show some of the work I’ve done on new WoW player characters! This is a concept for the Dwarven Female. Dwarves, Vikings, and anything generally Celtic in nature hold a special Scotch soaked place in my heart so both the male and female Dwarves were labors of love for me. This concept was created digitally in Photoshop. I used an overly bright rim light on this image to exaggerate the style that we’re infusing into the player models. The older models and textures are very soft and lack hard edges, so we’re making an effort to strategically call out hard edges in the model with detail in the texture to make everything look more sculpted. Adding this lighting in the concept helps keep that idea in your head when you go into modelling and texturing.
This is the sculpt I made of the character Swidhelm. It was created using a plasticine based clay available in most art and craft stores called Super Sculpey. Super Sculpey is a beige/pink, semi-translucent clay. I prefer to work with a neutral grey, opaque clay for sculpture - so I created my own mix using one block of regular Super Sculpey mixed with one block of White Sculpey, and half of a block of Black Sculpey. Mixing this clay by hand is like massaging a rock and can lead to tendonitis at an early age, so I suggest using a pasta rolling machine to do the heavy lifting. The technique for mixing is as follows - layer the Super Sculpey (pink), white Sculpey, and black Sculpey, then feed it through the machine, fold, rinse and repeat and you’ll have a nice chunk of shiny new grey Sculpey in no time. I’m currently drafting a tutorial of this process for my Facebook page and will be posting it in the near future.
Past the clay creation process, the important things to take into consideration when sculpting are depth, symmetry, and exaggeration. Depth because it’s easy to be timid with clay and not build up form as much as you should. Lean towards over-building your forms, it’s easier to subtract than add. Symmetry is extremely important because it’s a fundamental cue for us as humans to discern beauty within the human form. If you want to convey an attribute in your character that embodies something other than “attractive”, lean towards an asymmetrical design. And finally, exaggeration - this is the most important aspect when establishing a visual style. It’s easy to draw an angular form into a character design and much harder to sculpt one in. Look at your sketch and make clear purposeful decisions about where you’re going to add style and exaggeration. Exaggeration is successful when partnered with subtlety, know when to push and when to hold back.
This promotional illustration titled Swidhelm was created as a character design for a sequel to a game called ‘The Bard’s Tale’. The character Swidhelm is a blind, gluttonous, traveling salesman who rides in the back of an amphibious cart which is pulled/rowed by his frail, deaf brother. Swidhelm yells out directions to his brother who can’t hear them…and profit ensues. I was tasked with “come up with a traveling salesman” and I wanted to add visual gags and create a unique vision - more than a dude traveling with his wares - by adding depth to the character such as the relationship with his brother. We were working in the Unreal Engine to create a stylized look using more photo-realistic than painterly textures. This illustration was painted in Photoshop, with rust, wood, and rock textures overlayed for surface detail. Usually I strive for a more painterly look, where after layering on textures, I’ll go back over everything and blend out the gritty details so the rendering looks more like oil paint. In this case, because we were developing a more photo-realistic texturing approach, I left that gritty surface on the finished product and didn’t paint much on top of that layer other than the brightest highlights. Deciding how much of that texture to leave on your finished product can be a major factor in your overall style. While exploring new techniques to establish a visual direction for Swidhelm, I sculpted the head and chest, to be 3D scanned and used as source for the in game model. Try not to stare at his nipples, he may be blind … but he knows…
About 6 years ago I had the opportunity to create a series of Comic Book covers for World of Warcraft; Ashbringer. Comic book illustration has always been a dream of mine, so this was one of those, “drop everything and get on it.” kind of moments for me. Late in the game it was looking a little too digital, so I took some pictures of a gessoed canvas I had set up for another project and layered them into this image in a few key places. That and some chunky highlights with faked shadows helped bring back that traditional vibe. Nothing like late game panic to drive an illustration home:)
You can’t make digital art with a pencil, so no matter how technically challenged you are, you eventually find a way to transfer those lessons learned from unforgiving pencil and paper - to unforgiving Wacom and pen. Getting realistic textures into digital art is important for a hand painted feel, so mixing traditional and digital techniques whenever possible is a bonus. The textures on this guy were blocked out in Photoshop, then layered with hand painted acrylic textures to add depth, and finally finished in Photoshop. Also, a benefit of referencing existing art - I originally created this concept for the Nerubians in ‘Wrath of the Lich King’. We decided to go in a different direction, so I held onto the concept and dusted it off when it came time for the Mantid in ‘Mists of Pandaria’. While most of the design veered away from this overall direction, the overlapping stomach plates were one of my favorite parts and eventually showed back up on the Mantid. His pecs also got much larger, but that’s mainly because the Mantid work out.
Traditional media, I can’t say enough about how much better I am (especially digitally) from the lessons I’ve learned after trudging through the world without ctrl+Z. Alex Horley www.alexhorleyart.com is gracing the WoW art team with his presence and knowledge for the next few weeks, teaching traditional painting classes. His re-iteration of the importance of a solid grasp of traditional technique and media made me want to dig up some of my old stuff that I walked away from feeling like I made it over a plateau. This was painted (2004) with water color and finished with colored pencil. Aside from technique, I also learned that cats apparently enjoy tea…or coffee… or maybe vodka. It’s hard to tell what’s in that cup.