Listen to the Impartial…

A while back I pointed out the importance of listening to the scientist when making scientific illustration, they know their stuff, it’s their job. It’s also important to listen to a trusted friend or two, someone who brings a fresh pair of eyes, preferably they haven’t had contact with the artwork before.. You may not always like what they have to say, but if you’re making visual communication like art or illustration then having a small sample audience can give you an idea if your message is getting across. It’ll become clear very quickly when something doesn’t ‘read right’.

One of the benefits of marriage is you get a convenient audience/viewer/victim to show artwork to. I’m lucky in that Sanja, though now the best book keeper in Tasmania, used to do a fair bit of art herself. I’m also lucky that when it comes to saying stuff about my work, Sanja will just come out with something that strikes her as wrong, usually starting tactfully with “Is that supposed to be…”.

At that point I’ll usually roll my eyes in exasperation, knowing that Sanja has pointed out a critical aspect of the work that I’ve overlooked, knew I could have done better or just plain fluffed.

So with Sanja’s comment on my last post in mind I’ve adjusted the sail on the Spinosaur, which I knew wasn’t right but needed that impartial eye to sort drive it home. Here’s a little update to show the new angle, with the ‘undercoat’ exposed to see just how much the thing has shifted!

For those without a trusted feedback person, you can go far doing a few tricks that allow you to see your work in a different light.

Horizontal Flipping of the image often fools the brain into thinking it’s seeing something new. In software this is pretty easy, in the real world use a mirror to view your artwork(an old trick). It’s pretty amazing how composition issues suddenly appear!

Desaturation really helps sort out your values. I use an adjustment layer in Photoshop which I can just turn on and off to see a black and white version of my painting so I can make sure I’m using a full range of values.

The Old Squint Test, yup, narrow your eyes and look through your lashes. This obscures detail and makes the values and composition much more important to reading the image.

Take a step back. Yep, you can literally and figuratively get too close to what you’re doing. Getting stuck into the rewarding stuff like detail too early can lead to overlooking your main masses, values and composition. In software zoom out and make the image a thumbnail. Does it still ‘read’ well? Zooming out of the image allows you to assess perspective more effectively too.

Even better, take a step away from your monitor/canvas/paper, walk around the room, have a 30 minute break and come back. Does the image still work?

Experienced visual communicators will be pretty familiar with these techniques, and likely have even more to draw upon. Check out David Maas’ blog for a look at how a real pro dismembers an artwork in truly analytical fashion.

Now I just need a palaeontologist to come along and tell me the spine didn’t have that much flexibility…..

2011: Year of the Prehistoric Kitteh

With 2011 behind us, and in the tradition of self absorbed internet navel gazing, I thought I’d pass on how this little blog is doing.

Thumbs up From king Iguanodon!

Optimistic Painter started back in 2009 with the ‘optimistic’ aspiration that it would help me get my painting trousers on and get brush wiggling, since then it’s grown beyond any expectation, with 18000 people going through the turnstiles this year!

Why oh why did they come? Well, it’d be a mystery to me too but WordPress give some nice stats that might help! To start, top searches for 2011 were for, I kid you not, “Creepy Forests”!

A little project I did for Stefan Le Mottee as a background in a short film. The other top search was quite unexpected, especially as I can’t even type it without checking the spelling. It was Quetzalcoatlus, with the ‘Big bird Goes Postal’ illustration proving pretty popular.

Of course these may have been the top searches for 2011, but they were far from the post with the most hits. Back in June Dave Orr of Love in the time of Chasmosaurus and I were discussing Dinosaur TV Tropes with the possibility of doing some posts together. Just for fun I haphazardly collaged together a little gag cartoon. Dave ordered me to immediately post it in my blog for the betterment of all humankind… or er, mostly frustrated scientists and paleo-nerds.

A minor…er, very minor, internet meme was born! Kitteh garnered  more hits in a single day that OPB usually got in a month! Since then the adventures of Kitteh have continued to be popular so I’ve kept chopping up bits of photos haphazardly to make new ones, who am I to argue with the public!

2011 continued the paleo themed illustrations with the above mentioned Quetzalcoatlus and a painting I wanted to make ever since I’d done the ‘official’ scavenging Tarbosaur back in 2010 for Dave Hone.

2011 was also the year of my clients being kind and allowing me to post about some of the other projects I’ve been involved in. So thanks to all for putting up with me asking “Is it ok if I blog this?”

I’d better wrap this up. 2012 is already shaping up to be interesting, with at least two ‘official’ paleo illustrations slated thanks to Dave Hone (watch out for ‘cute fuzzy death from above’!) and more freelance work and non paleo illustration on the way.

So thanks for watching, you’ve kept me painting! And have a great new year!

Matt

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 Dragon spotted in the Mountains of Tasmania

Hi, just a quick post with a couple of frames from a test animation of the Chinese Dragon flying over Mt. Cameron in the North of Tasmania. The original photo was taken by Julie Martin who’s also running the project.

I was hoping to add some camera movement to the shot but time restrictions and tight framing of the original photo conspired to make it static except for a bit of camera shake as the dragon flies over. Instead I made sure the Dragon cast shadows on the mountain, a bit more important selling the shot.

I did have time to cut out and paint in some extra sky so I could make the clouds move, which for some reason I found really fun.. go figure. All the preparation work paid off as I turned the shot around in a day, nice.

So, animated in PMG Messiah, rendered in Lightwave and final processing in After Effects. Matte work in Photoshop.

Stay tuned, soon another episode of the adventures of Prehistoric TV Reconstruction Kitteh.

Chinese Dragon #5: How to Train(Rig) Your Dragon

After the absolute mayhem of last week when the prehistoric kitteh picture went viral and I got more hits on the blog in a single day than I usually get in a month, it’s back to semi mundane topics like the ongoing Chinese Dragon.

As I’m in animation with it at the moment with a tight deadline it’s just a quick post with the basics of the Chinese Dragon rig in Messiah.

The spine runs along a spline IK path, which I can add points to as needed.

I’m a bit of a ‘meat and potatoes’ rigger, so I’m happy for any advice Messiah rigging experts might have to make giant wiggly things move around conveniently.

Messiah seems to struggle a little with this guy as he’s pretty big, 35 meters long.

Chinese Dragon #4: ZBrush Setup, Layers

I was going to discuss ZBrush sculpting in this post, but I realised there might be some value in covering a little more about set up and preparing for export.

So I’d exported my base mesh as an obj. file from Lightwave and followed the steps in Steve Warner’s guide here pretty closely, as ZBrush doesn’t follow any of the standard windows conventions for just about any operation!

For the uninitiated, it can be a pretty daunting interface.

Saying that, once you go through the process a couple of times it becomes second nature, and you quickly get into sculpting which is quite intuitive.

ZBrush does all of its work by subdividing the bejingers out of your mesh, so the more detail you want, the more polygons you need to let it use. It has a pretty impressive capacity to deal with millions of polys, and it sets a limit based on your system’s capabilities which is really helpful.(going beyond it results in instability)

Thanks to Bump and Normal mapping when you export your work for rendering the detail can be managed more easily. I’m a big fan of Normal mapping, which gives a serious illusion of depth without needing any additional polygons. I haven’t looked into it too much but the only drawback is the maps aren’t exactly editable, using multiple colours to express depth:

ZBrush allows you to sculpt in non-destructive layers. Just like Photoshop you can turn layers on and off, or use them to try things out without messing stuff up.

The other thing that is nice about this is that you can turn them on and off to export different maps in different ways. So if you plan a little you can make things easier when you return to your output software.

And finally, because the rest of the post has been dry and technical here’s a pretty picture!