The Long Beach: a short animated film

It’s about time I released this film into the wilds of the internet.

Made by the talented Mauricio Milne-Jones and myself in 2006 and based on a short story and script by Helen van Rooijen (good on ya Mum!).

The original short story had no dialogue in it and I wanted to keep it that way to reach a wider audience and allow the narrative to come from the actions of the characters. It seemed more elegant that way.

It’s definitely one to relax and watch with a glass of red, weighing in at almost 12 minutes it’s a long short! While it’s not ‘arty’ by any stretch of the imagination it does ask you to put things together a bit.

It did ok at festivals for a long sentimental film that asks the audience to think a bit, if it were a short punchy comedy it would have done much better!

A big thanks to everyone who contributed, Alicia, Duncan, Matt D, Grace, Nando, Nina, the use of facilities at Blue Rocket Productions (and you David G!). Plus some helpful advice from Adam.

For those to whom like to know these things, made using 3DS Max, Lightwave and a bunch of Adobe products!

Oh, and if you see this broadcast on TV in the USA, let me know, I’d love to know who the distributor is so I can kick their backsides!

Quetzalcoatlus: Big Bird goes Postal

Welcome to a dinosaur free painting!  Nup, no dinosaurs here! And before I’m lynched for suggesting Quetzalcoatlus is a bird in the title, there are no birds in this painting either.

Quetzalcoatlus is a Pterosaur, and so far as we know, the largest animal known to have flown. Once you start  imagining something as tall as a giraffe with the wing span of a Cessna flying about it begins to boggle the mind.

When I decided to make this painting on a bit of a whim I didn’t realise what a contentious animal Quetzalcoatlus was. Since its discovery more than 30 years ago it has yet to be properly ‘described’ by science, in part because its discoverer has hoarded it away and allowed only a tiny few workers in the area to examine the fossil. Despite 30 years of promises to spill the scientific beans, the beans have remained in their er.. scientific tin….

Pterosaurs as a group of animals are also contentious. Debate flows back and forth about many aspects of their anatomy, how they walked, how they flew, and what they ate.

In the end I was inspired by recent work carried out by Mark Witton and Darren Naish which suggests the family which Quetzalcoatlus belongs to may have had a lifestyle similar to ground based predatory birds like Hornbills or Storks. Mark is a talented illustrator in his own right and several inspiring images accompanied the release of the paper. Giraffe sized killers stalking around gobbling stuff up? What’s not to like?

A big thanks to Dave Hone for advice on the bizarre anatomy of these creatures.

PS: The little guy about to be dinner is Champsosaurus, he’s weird in his own right, if you want to know more I’ve discussed him elsewhere.

Pink Dinosaurs for Breast Cancer Research!

The guys over at Art Evolved have set up a Pink Dinosaur Fundraising Event for Breast Cancer awareness.

Part of this has been to challenge to paint or draw a pink dinosaur and send it in, with each entry triggering a donation for cancer research.

You can check out the details of how to send in your picture here.  All those cartoony people I know get out your Wacom tablets/Pencils and start scribbling for a good cause!

The image I’ve submitted is of Leaellynasaura, who spent half the year in polar darkness. I figured that gaudy Mardi Gras colours would have had no impact whatsoever on it’s ability to blend in to its surroundings in the dark!

Creepy Forest colour fix…

Stef visited yesterday with footage from the film which is looking freaky in the way only short film can!

One thing we did notice was how saturated my forest is looking compared to the footage and setting in the film. So while it’s a fantasy element in the film itself, it needed a tweak to sit better with the footage.

As usual sucking the colour out meant a few other tweaks to the levels etc, and I thought the  difference was big enough for anyone curious to have another look.

I think it feels a bit less ‘friendly Disney forest’ now, hopefully it’ll give the right impression of menace in the film.

You may have noticed it’s been flipped horizontally. This is the old trick for taking another look at the composition, when painting in the real world you can look at your work through a mirror to get the same ‘fresh eyes’.

Creepy Forests our speciality..

My good friend Stef over at Bowwow Graphics is doing some animation as part of a short film.
He had his hands full doing the animation itself so he needed someone to paint a background for him, in this case a menacing forest. Stef liked what I’d done with the creepy forest images in my ‘Unhappy Tree Friends’ concepts and wanted a similar feel.

The only other considerations were that the trees would form a dark tunnel with patches of light and have enough detail to sustain a camera track which started in very close. As a result the painting has much more detail than I usually would have put in, and the values are a little static across the image instead of lightening so much in the distance. Here’s a bit of the image at its full resolution, there’s a fair bit of detail in there!

The film is still in production but as my painting doesn’t give anything away they’ve been kind enough to allow me to post it. I sent Stef a thumbnail(below), which was approved by the Director and gave Stef something to start using straight away in Flash.

Stef’s early animation test were looking great, there was something pretty freaky coming down the tunnel and….. well let’s just say I can’t wait to see the final result.

Tarbosaurus tucks in! (more Chinese Dinosaur Art)

Dave Hone over at Archosaur Musings had the good fortune to do an investigation into some tooth marks on the upper arm of a really well preserved Saurolophus (a kind of Hadrosaur, or duck billed dinosaur).

The marks came from Tarbosaurus, a very close Asiatic relative to that other, really famous dinosaur… you know the most famous dinosaur.(well known for eating Lawyers off toilets)

So when he asked me if I’d be willing to wave my digital pen around a bit to make some pretty pictures… er, I mean sensible illustrations, I was happy to oblige!

I already had something in mind, Tarbosaurus charging into the unfortunate victim with its jaws agape, using its weaponised head as a giant battering ram/cookie cutter! There’d be blood and maybe some tastefully rendered guts….

Of course Dave’s study didn’t actually reveal the scene I’ve described(poop!). Instead it does that really great thing Science does, uncovers something which changes your perception of nature.

As it turns out the Tarbosaurus found the Saurolophus lying around, already dead and half buried with pretty much only the arm above ground. So it did what anything offered a free lunch would do, it snacked out. I’d probably do the same thing if I came across a block of chocolate sticking out of the ground…. or……. er…. anyway…

So this wasn’t quite as exciting as my scenario, which I was considering pitching to Dave to use as an illustration of what didn’t happen. I reckon I could have sold him on that angle too as I knew, as usual, the media would let Dave down and make his study all about something it wasn’t. (seems things are already heading that way, see below*)

As well as being poorly drawn, this picture has nothing to do with Dave's paper.

The cool thing the paper shows is that Tarbosaurus was a discerning, even delicate, eater. Instead of gorging the arm whole, Tarbosaurus has used small nips and bites to get the good bits off. So here we have a 5 ton predator with impossibly big teeth the size of railway spikes, using them precisely to get at all the good bits. Like me separating the white chocolate from the milk chocolate on a block of top deck which I may or may not have found, er, sticking out of the ground.

So, by about now you’re saying “Shut Up and show me some pictures! It’s not the Optimistic Writing Blog! I could be over on Facebook telling everyone I’m making a cup of tea!”

Dave needed 2 images, one of each biting strategy used by Tarbosaurus.

We had some lovely discussions about how much flesh would be left on the bones and I found some really gross reference images of skinned crocodiles and their stomach contents, as well as many and varied decomposing animals.

Dave has a penchant for melaninistically challenged (black and/or white) animals and as it seems to suit Tarbosaurus I set out to make him monochromatic.

I have to admit I was a little daunted. At the start of the painting I didn’t have a firm idea of how I was going to approach this animal’s skin. I hadn’t done a complete image of a large, scaly, dinosaur in many years.

So I did a lot of research which has hopefully made for a convincing animal.

*There’s been a long running debate in Palaeontological circles about whether that really famous dinosaur, you know the one, was a hunter or scavenger. Because the Tarbosaurus in this study did what anyone who likes chocolate would do in a similar situation, some of the press are already crying “this proves it was a scavenger!!!!!!” Of course it does nothing of the kind, but it is the sort of sensationalist stuff that gets lots hits on websites..

Plus, anyone knows that given the opportunity I will ambush chocolate as well as scavenge it…

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!


Diabloceratops Polished a bit….

I enjoyed my Diabloceratops speed paint but  after taking another look at the reference pictures from over on Archosaur Musings I wasn’t happy with the proportions. So being unable to leave well enough alone and quite liking the diabolical appearance of the animal I spent around an hour generally messing around with the speed paint, moving bits, painting over and adding detail until I got it looking more like the pictures.

I worked in black and white again but did a final overlay layer with some colour for fun. This is a really common technique in Photoshop work, and to be honest I really don’t like it.

Since it literally just overlays transparent colour on black it ends up looking muddy and lifeless. To me it’s a signature ‘lazy Photoshop technique’ , throws some colour on without any of the richness from underpainting or consideration for well, the use of colour!

So with that in mind and general laziness setting in I played around with colourising the tonal image using a textured colour layer in the hope of a livelier result.  After a whole couple of minutes of messing around here’s the outcome:

It’s better than the usual result but I still think it’s a pretty naff way of adding colour, there’s enough grey coming through from the original image that the colours are still quite dead. If I try it again I’d look at colourising the tonal image more specifically, or actually starting in colour.

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!).


New Chinese Dinosaur Art #2: Xixianykus zhangi

Xixianykus (She-she-ah-nye-kuss) was the first dinosaur I was asked to do by Dave Hone over at the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology & Palaeoanthropology in Beijing. The paper was released after Linheraptor, so poor little Xixianykus had to wait his turn.

This guy was a very small dinosaur, around half a metre long. Xixianykus is from a family of dinosaurs called alvarezsaurs. They’re lightly build fast runners, with Xixianykus looking to be the speediest so far due to the proportions of its long legs. I had to resist the urge to send Dave a picture of the Road Runner and pretended to be an adult long enough to get painting.

The other special feature of these animals is the large claw they have on the end of their arms. Alvarezsaurs appear to be insect eaters with a talent for digging up juicy morsels or extracting them from under bark.

When I was shown the paper and the fossil remains I did wonder what I’d gotten myself in for:

Xu et al., 2010

Very quickly dubbed ‘the roast someone sat on’ it did little to inform a layperson like me about the elegant creature it turned out to be. Thankfully there was plenty of input from Dave and Xixianykus has some well known relatives. As usual I used a ton of reference of animals and environments, there’s no better way to see how things work and look.

Did a few sketches along the way, though we went for Xixianykus running as one of its main features was those fast legs. There seem to be lots of dinosaur illustrations done from the side, so I deliberately picked one from another angle and higher up, to help the sense of scale.

Xixianykus was found in a floodplain environment so I started out with a quite open background, this changed when we realised there was little to scale Xixianykus against so I opted for a more enclosed copse on the edge of the floodplain where I could add trees, mushrooms and ginko fruit and leaves.

Thanks again to Dave Hone over at Archosaur Musings for giving me the opportunity to paint yet another fantastic animal.