Sketchbook: Muttaburrasaurus, is it cold in here?… and what the?

One of the benefits of rendering in 3D/AE is it gives you a little time to scrawl on your notepad while the computer makes a pretty picture. So I scrawled a Muttaburrasaurus.

I’ve been gestating this idea for a very long time and hope it’ll be an updated version of this physical painting… uh, eventually. Why is he fluffy? The highly scientific and evidence based reason that “it’s cold”.

And what the heck is this? Not a dinosaur…….?

..and what has it got to do with steampunk monkeys?

Chinese Dragons and the Great Software Wrangle!

It’s been a bit quiet here while I’ve been tangled up in other projects. Thankfully one of my clients has been kind enough to let me show off the work I’ve been doing with them.

The project is for an exhibit in Northern Tasmania to do with the Chinese Tin Miners who migrated there in the 1800’s. The exhibit uses animation and live action to tell a story around some of the migrants.

Among other things, I get to make a 3D animated Chinese ‘Tin’ Dragon.

I’m using 3 separate pieces of software, Lightwave, PMG Messiah and ZBrush. The process of getting those three working together has been a long one for me, as often you need to do some digging to find what you need to know and it was my first time using ZBrush.

So it goes a little something like this, initial modeling in Lightwave, rigging and animation in PMG Messiah, Texturing and additional detail modeling in ZBrush, final surfacing and rendering in Lightwave.

I’d sat on my copy of ZBrush for quite a while waiting for the opportunity to use it, never finding the time between other projects to play. I really regret that now as it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

ZBrush lets you take your low detailed 3D model and make it a highly detailed sculpture, which you can then export for animation etc. The interface is a little alienating at first, as it doesn’t follow the standard Windows way of working. I found this excellent guide by Steve Warner for getting Lightwave objects into and out of ZBrush, as well as how to get started in ZBrush itself. It’s a little out of date though, and I found I had to trawl both the ZBrush and lightwave forums to discover that some things had been streamlined and actually work better now.

Couple of tips….

Tip#1: Ensure your starting mesh has enough density to support the detail you create in ZBrush, even in places where you would usually reduce polygons for reasons of economy.

Tip#2: Install all the ZBrush plugins, they’re free and add some amazing capabilities to the arsenal, like being able to paint on a ZBrush ‘screen grab’ in Photoshop, then apply that painting in ZBrush.

ZBrush itself makes 3D modeling feel like sculpting and painting, it’s no wonder it’s become so popular.

So in the end I was able to go from the initial Lightwave model…

To this…

While we worked from statues and illustrations of Chinese Dragons, an important factor for me was to ensure it is a living animal. I took the view that the Chinese paintings and sculptures were an interpretation of reality, as if the artist had seen a Dragon and then tried to paint or sculpt what they’d seen flying past and the best we were getting was brief eye witness sightings. Otherwise I would just be making a moving statue, or a cartoon.

My paleoart dabblings led me to do things like add a caudofemoralis muscle, as well as ensuring as much of the anatomy as possible made sense and worked.

That’ll do for now, I’ll be back with a bit more on this project soon!

PS: I’m not sure how much technical information people might want about this process, so if you’re interested in knowing more pop me a question in the comments.

Tarbosaurus: early sketch

This is one of the initial sketches done for Dave Hone’s Selective Feeding by Tyrannosaurs paper.

I initially proposed 3 images for the paper, unfortunately due to time constraints I couldn’t include this part of the ‘story’, so I wound up with the diptych.

Still, there’s something nice about a wandering Tarbosaurus looking for an easy snack!

Dinophiles will notice some display plumage on those tiny arms. I guess the other thing about this image is the closed mouth. Usually these guys are portrayed majestically roaring or (er, magnificently?)gaping, which is a pity since they have such a cute overbite!

Poor Science literacy made worse by poor reporting of science… literacy….

Not my usual sort of post but I really wanted to write about this, I promise to post a pretty picture soon to make up for my rantishness.
ABC news recently reported that scientific literacy was poor in Australians, with 30% of people believing dinosaurs and humans cohabited the Earth at the same time.

As sad as this is, when the story comments were inevitably hijacked by Creationists, they were unwittingly aided by no less than Dr Cathy Foley, president of the Australian Scientific and Technological Societies. In the article, Dr. Foley had either chosen her words poorly, or was misquoted when she said:

“Unfortunately 30 per cent of Australians think reptiles or dinosaurs and humans were alive at the same time, for example, which is probably something I guess worries us.”

Emphasis is mine. Of course reptiles are still around now, something people with a beef with evolutionary theory were quick to point out. I can only hope the survey wasn’t as poorly worded.

So why am I going on about a little gaffe in a story that would have been a poor fiftieth choice after everyone had clicked on the latest tidbit about Lindsay Lohan not getting a pillow in prison?

Because science needs to remain relevant in a world awash with information. We have no better tool at our disposal for understanding nature yet it’s poorly understood, or worse, distrusted by a significant proportion of society.

Then of course, when it comes to Evolution there’s a definite movement in opposition from people to whom the very notion is against their belief system. These people make the most headway when science is poorly understood in the first place.

So little stumbles from prominent scientists become easy sources of misinformation.

More than ever, scientists need to make sure they have their facts straight, especially when dealing with the media and with something outside their direct field of expertise.

(even more so when you get this sort of nonsense going on in Australian schools)

New Theme and New Portfolio Website

You might have noticed a nice new theme with a pretty bit of art work at the top, I felt it was time for a face lift!

The image in the header is a sneak preview of 2 new paintings for Dave Hone, hopefully there’ll be a post on this soon.

Some people have been asking for a portfolio site to view my work.

Well, now I have one over here. There’s also a permanent link in the sidebar.

So traipse on over for a sneak preview of some new stuff, as well as all the er… old stuff from here in one convenient location!


Dinosaur Art: Chaz the drive by Chasmosaurus.

Ok so it’s a pretty obscure post title.

The Chinese Dinosaur images have been popping up from one end of the Net to the other, which has been getting a bit more traffic through the blog, nice!

I’ve also had contact from many different corners of the globe asking for permission to use the images for this or that, which has been quite cool.

One person to get in contact was David Orr, who writes the blog, ‘Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs’. Dave’s site describes itself: Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs is a blog about dinosaurs, their relations, their neighbors, their study, and their various manifestations in pop culture.

Dave wanted to do an interview about the artwork that I’d done, my interaction with Dave Hone over on ‘Archosaur Musings’, and some stuff about me. It left me blinking at the screen a bit bamboozled… ‘about me?’..

He then asked if I had any other dinosaur images I could supply him with for the story….er….. it was at this point I was reminded how little I’ve done since I got back into painting, and like most artists I don’t like anything I did more than 30 seconds ago.

So I found a Chasmosaur skull on the net and added some flesh to the bones for a bit of fun. I consider a painting like this to be a ‘drive by’, pretty much a speed paint done in a couple of hours.

I stayed in black and white because I’m trying to work on my values, and since this is quite a different animal to Xixianykus I looked at a bit more reptile reference, though there’s a fair bit of parrot in there.

Anyway, do go and check out David Orr’s site and even the interview (I really jibber on a bit though, you have been warned!).


Unhappy Tree Friends

I was lucky enough to be invited to do some creature concept art for a very early development horror/dark comedy film with some quite original baddies based on plants.
My friend Stef had already done a pass on the idea which you can see over on his Bowwow graphics site here and he gave me the basic outline of what the film makers wanted.

I liked what he’d done, especially the weird hairy crawling guy, but decided to take a different approach.

I got a little scientific about it and talked to botanist friend(thanks Mark!) who suggested I take a look at native orchids. He then proceeded to show me all these very creepy looking flowers and stems, which looked quite spidery and not at all friendly.  I also asked him about plant movement to get an idea about how I might build something that needed to get around a bit….

I also drew some inspiration from some unexpected sources…see below.

Anyway, the client needed several versions for various reason for which I’ll remain vague in case the film gets made and the designs are used, so here are my three ‘unhappy tree friends’…

They’re really speed paints, I didn’t have much time to produce them in between other things but they were a lot of fun.

The last monster had an unusual source of inspiration in this image:

Click on the picture to find out what she’s all about for those of you who don’t know!

Many people find her beautiful, and I can see that, but I think the frame holding her set off the creepy alarm for me. Something about unnaturally long legs, almost spidery.


Dead on Time WIP#3 (I am an Eeeeeeeeediot!)

EEDIOT! Of course I launched into this image in a typical gung-ho fashion and now I’m paying for it!

I decided the perspective would be easier if I actually had an idea what a super duper futuristic jet was supposed to look like! I know, basic stuff huh!?

So I did some rough sketching to at least get a silhouette  of a top down view based loosely on the game itself and some reference images of fighter planes I found on the net. Well Duh!

Here’s the result, it’s all pretty loose still and I want to keep it that way.

There was the other little matter of the final aspect ratio of the image needing to match the cover of the case! Ahem.

I’ve had fun erasing parts of the plane back to expose the ground colour too.

Still not totally happy, the fighter is looking like a static brick. Things might change!

The landscape is coming a bit easier, really just chucking in rock formations from some reference material. Nice to play with some blues in amongst all that orange rock too.

I’m a little concerned with output from Photoshop. Images that look fine in PS come out with more contrast when displayed in browsers etc. Gamma correction settings or something perhaps?

Hopefully I’ll get another update done before I go on holiday.

Dead on Time WIP#2

Here’s an update on the ‘Dead on Time’ image. I’ve been battling perspective a bit and the natural inclination to add too much detail too early.

I think I’ll try to keep this image much looser than what I usually do, partly because I’m running out of time before Christmas holidays and partly because I want to stop it becoming too laboured.

I was looking at the screen shots from the game and noticed this spindle like baddie.

I thought my bad guy space ships were a bit bland so I’m going to play with this design to tie it in with the game more strongly.

When I first saw the player’s ship in the screen shots I thought I was looking at a top down view of a Bee! Paul and I had an email exchange titled ‘above a bee’ where we toyed briefly with the idea of the ship as a bee and I produced a 3D bee image which I did as part of the course I teach at TAFE as possible loading/cover art(see below). The idea didn’t fly but I still internally refer to this game as ‘Above a Bee’ !