Thursday, June 21, 2012

'Cloud Atlas' update 2

Just a quick note - according to many sources, screenings of 'CA' were so successful that the movie's premiere in the US has been moved from December to October 26th. Only 4 months from now! That meas (I hope) we'll see some trailer soon.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Concept artist cookbook - part 3

Functionality vs. WOW-factor

Every design is up to the challenge of being unique and original, while, at the same time, being convincing, functional and believable. That's of course pretty tough as by now almost every possible idea has already been depicted somewhere in the vast sea of comic books, novels, computer games or feature films. I could describe it like that:

The cooler something looks (in other words, "wow!"-factor is high), the less functional and/or common sense it often appears. Weird shapes and alien structures will definitely look original but will they be convincing enough? Not to mention that they may be confusing for the potential viewer and that's something that producers/directors are often afraid of. Average movie-goer have no idea about design, so everything on screen should be easily identifiable, within a few seconds, even if it's an alien ship. Just look at 'Avatar' and how easily recognizable all the designs are, so even children know what they're looking at - helicopters are helicopters, only with two propellers instead of one, horses are horses, just more colorful and with two extra legs, aliens look like people only they're blue and bigger, jungle is a jungle just bigger, etc. Even if it would be the first sci-fi movie the audience have ever seen, there would be little confusion.

On the other hand, if you take a look at some really cool designs (especially in games) and take a while to analyze them, you may find out that they are, in fact, very impractical and make no sense at all. It's good to remember that most of the designs are suppose to show things that, theoretically, would be built by someone in the fictional past or fictional/possible future. So now ask yourself a question: "Why would those people (engineers, technicians, blacksmiths, whoever) create the thing that way? Would that thing work well in such or such situation?" For example, modern cars tend to be more and more aerodynamic and sleek. If you design a futuristic car to be used in a big metropolis that's really chunky and blocky, even if it looks really good, think of a good explanation. Why so sudden change in the vehicle design approach? If you design a house with strange looking doors or windows, why do they look like that? There's nothing wrong with rectangular ones as far as we know, so why yours look like movable fish scales? Unless it's suppose to be some custom job, are they really functional? The same goes for fantasy, even though it's usually more forgiving than s-f. Why would an ordinary orc, say, a cannon fodder of a huge army, wear an armor that looks like a few weeks job? He'll be probably slashed and hacked within the first few minutes of a battle, so why would anyone bother with all the carvings, paintings, golden rims, etc. As cool as it may look, it simply doesn't make any sense.

In short, although it's not an easy task, always try to match attractiveness and originality with possible functionality. That's true, that if you design for game industry, your clientele is usually aged between 15-25 and it doesn't concern itself too much with technical details as long as something looks cool enough to grab its attention. On a movie screen, on the other hand, something may show up only for a few seconds and than disappear for good before you have a chance to take a closer look. Still, that's the rule you should keep in mind if you want your designs to look not only attractive but also solid and well thought.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

'Final lap' tutorial in .PSD magazine

If you're interested in a little step-by-step tutorial, with the image 'Final lap' (here's the post and the completed image) as the outcome, you can grab the latest issue of .PSD magazine. It's a downloadable magazine featuring workshops and tutorials.

The whole process is described in 14 steps (in English), each with WIP graphics. Cheers.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Small (furry and fluffy) update

I updated slightly my portfolio and threw in a new 'studio photo'. Moments later, my cat felt (rightfully so) neglected and assumed one of his poses. It somehow didn't fit the official snapshot but hey, that's what's the blog is for, right? So, here's Ton-Ton and his affection for Wacom pillow.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Concept artist cookbook - part 2

Tools of the trade

Let's take a look at the stuff you might need for your wonderful conceptual artworks. Below there is a list of the tools I use, most of which are currently industry standards.

Pencils, pens and markers
The most common traditional media tools, easily obtainable, always reliable, the most difficult to master. However, if you can't create a great design with nothing but a pen and rely mostly on software, you're just a techie, not really an artist. Some people are awesome with digital art, know every hotkey, know how to seamlessly combine 2D with 3D, etc. but if they don't have access to their magical tools, say, they're computer is down, they're busted. Don't be one of them.

Digital art applications make certain things very easy. Powerful custom brushes, 3D cameras, amazing visual effects - all this is fine but will not replace a quick, accurate sketch. Of course, you can use Photoshop or Painter as your sketchbook but ordinary pencil and paper are just faster and more intuitive.

Pencils vary from H6> to B6>. For sketching, HB or B are just fine. Personally, I almost never use anything elese than a simple mechanical pencil that allows me to be quick and detailed but you can use whatever works for you. You can also use pens, e.g. 0.3 or 0.5mm, either by themselves or to track your initial pencil sketch. Markers can be used for blocking shadows or to emphasize strong silouette. Markers from Copic company are popular among many artists and my personal choice as well, but any kind will do. Don't switch to markers unless you know what you're doing and how to use them properly. If you don't, you can quickly ruin a good sketch and, of course, you can't erase the marker. If you're afraid to mess things up but want to add some values in a marker "style", you can always do it later in Photoshop or Painter. Or first scan your sketch to have a digital back-up (just in case) and then use markers.

Adobe Photoshop
Industry standard and the most popular 2D software out there. The best remedy for almost anything, from retouching holiday photographs taken by your granny, to creating complex digital paintings. You can get a free version (called Photoshop Elements) when buying some hardware, like a scanner. If you can't afford the latest version, don't worry - for concept design and even for detailed matte paintings, you don't need more than just a few standard tools that can be found in almost all versions of PS (from PS7 upwards).

Corel Painter
Another popular 2D application, designed to imitate natural brushes in a digital world. Very comfortable for quick digital concepts, have some great brushes and you can easily rotate the canvas just like a real page. It's also perfect for those with more artistic approach (although the latest installment of Photoshop offers similar "panterly" features). Painter is often used together with PS, as both applications can exchange the .psd files (together with layers). It's not absolutely necessary in your arsenal but it's definitely good to have it. Alternative include e.g. Gimp, ArtRage or Sai.

3D application
There are many popular packages out there, like Maya, 3ds Max, XSI, Cinema 4D, modo or even freeware, but very powerful, Blender. Nowadays, it doesn't matter anymore, especially for concept art, as apart from some high-end proprietary features, they are all pretty much comparable. For artists, it's really just a matter pf personal choice. Whatever your choice may be, make sure you learn the software well (for concepts - mostly modeling and quick rendering) and keep trying different techiques. Most of the 3D packages are very complex and it's hard to become an expert in any of them but you have to be able to model anything you might need for the sake of your designs. Make sure you know how to use basic materials, lights and in-built renderers. Even if you want to focus only on design, such knowledge may be very useful and will allow you to realistically present your ideas, especially those "mechanical" or related to architecture, like interiors.

As an additional 3D software I recommend Google SketchUp. It can be downloaded for free and it's a great tool for quick 3D design or layout, very helpful when dealing with architectural elements and composition. Spend a few minutes in SketchUp, make a screenshot, open it in Photoshop and paint over it.

Software that soon after its release changed the whole industry. Ability to sculpt in millions of polygons allowed artists to put enormous amount of details into 3D models and make them more realistic than ever before. ZBrush gives lots of possibilities to modelers as well as to concept artists dealing with something organic - never before posing ans creating a creature was so easy. Definitely a good investment. The latest installments also offer tools for hard-surface modeling/sculpting.

After Effects
Just like Nuke, Fusion or Shake, AE is a compositing software. What does it mean? It allows you to combine and modify almost any kind of 2D artwork, 3D render or video clip. This kind of tool is often used together with 3D package as it allows to import render passes and combine them as you see fit. But how can it be useful to concept artist? Every compositing application can use tons of presets and f/x effects you can apply to your art and preview everything in real-time. It may be really useful, especially for action-related, more "cinematic" artworks.

So, there you go, my few cents. Feel free to post any comments or questions. Till mext time.