Saturday, November 13, 2010

Operation Desert Storm, Part 3

It wasn't my original plan to save all of the human element until I had finished the technical element but that's the way it worked. I needed to shoot some reference for the human pieces and that kept me putting it off for awhile. First up (the easiest reference to shoot) was of the couple saying goodbye. The client wanted to have the woman's back to us, allowing her to be anyone - wife, girlfriend, mother, sister. Different vets left under different conditions; keeping the woman 'generic' allows for the broadest interpretation (pardon the pun, har har).

 The line art already finished is ghosted behind what I'm currently working on so that I can ensure I'm getting the placement I want. It also helps for avoiding tangents - places where edges touch. Tangents tend to draw the eye and in a successful illustration you don't want the eye going anywhere you (as the creator of the image) don't want it to go.

One of the things that sold me on drawing this digitally is that I could use Photoshop brushes to ensure a great variety of textures; something much more difficult to do with a pencil and paper. One great example is on the woman's hair. I was able to create the hair with a minimum of effort thanks to the right brush.

On the flip side, working digitally means that I'm working very large. I tend to always draw/paint digitally with my image at 100% in Photoshop. Zoom out and the line you lay down won't be as accurate and it also develops some squiggles sometimes. I mentioned that this file was really big. 18x24 inches at 450dpi. This next image is an example of what it looks like when I'm drawing at 100% - this is the 'actual' size of the image.

Unfortunately that size tends to require more time to finish things. It's a tough trade-off. The textures I was able to get into this poster are great (I'm happy with them anyway) but the time addition has been a real pain. I have definitely learned some lessons on this project.

Once I'm finished with the initial line work I change to a more painterly approach and start 'painting' in grey tones.

Next I add the remaining 'departure' elements - the yellow ribbon and the soldiers getting on a plane, bound for the Middle East.

Not all soldiers got there via chartered plane, but a lot did. I can tell you, it's a slightly surreal experience sitting on a plane dressed in your BDU's (Battle Dress Uniform) with nothing but a hundred and fifty other guys dressed exactly the same way. There's a brief scene of this in Jarhead, a fantastic movie that I relate to greatly, as I'm sure many veterans do. Unlike many hollywood films, Jarhead is, from my personal experience, a very accurate portrayal of life in the modern military. But I digress...

Here's another image showing the poster at full size.

And now the poster with these elements in place:

Gas masks. Man, I hated those things. If I thought I might die from some kind of poisoned gas though, I'd have that thing on is a second. The gas mask is only the start of it though. In the army we referred to such things as NBC warfare (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical warfare). And to be fully protected you had do don your MOPP suit (Mission Oriented Protective Posture suit - to this day I still don't know what the hell that means). They are hot. They don't breathe. Once your gas mask is on your face will get hot. You will sweat, and when you sweat a bead of perspiration will eventually run down your face. It will itch like crazy and you know what? You can't scratch it.

You know what else you can't do? You can't eat in them. You can drink water from your canteen (there's a connection tube that connects to a little thingy on the top of your canteen) but that's it. Drill Sergeants and Platoon Sergeants like to have fun and torture you by making you wear them for hours at a time. Again, watch Jarhead; you'll have a slightly deeper understanding of those scenes after reading this. Maybe. Maybe not. But again, I digress...

Let's move to a happier subject: the homecoming parade. Operation Desert Storm was the first major military action by the US military since Viet Nam ended. One of the things that really scarred a lot of Viet Nam vets was the lack of support they received when the returned home. It took a lot of years but we eventually learned how damaging such treatment can be. When soldiers returned home from Kuwait a great deal was made to show that we had learned our lesson. The ensuing celebrations were as much for the Viet Nam vets as for the Desert Storm vets and for that reason it was a significant event and is, therefore, an important part of this poster.

Yet another image showing the full-sized drawing:

And the gas mask and parade elements integrated into the poster:

The next section I put off for as long as possible. The combat scene is arguably the most important part of the poster. It's where all the 'glamour' and drama are. It is the fears of the departing soldiers realized. It is the life-changing moment for that generation of soldiers. That's not really why I put it off so long though. I put it off because I knew it would be the most difficult. 

I found a good piece of reference but I had to change some elements not only to make it mine but also to make it fit the time frame correctly. That meant adding a lot of elements for which I didn't have photo reference. When I draw comics (and work from my head the vast majority of the time) this isn't really a big deal. When you're trying to draw a photorealistic illustration, however, it means a lot of work. It helps - a ton - to be so familiar with the equipment. I entered the army not long after Operation Desert Storm and therefore used all the same equipment they used. The uniform, the rifles, the LBV (Load Bearing Vest), the gas mask and it's container, the boots. It's all the same. I actually wore my desert boots just last week. Still, I had to add a lot of elements from my head, and it took me for-ever! I was right to be afraid of it.

Yet another full-sized image:

And the medics now being covered by Me, Me, and Me. Wanna see the reference pictures I took of myself for the scene? 

How does it feel to want, hahaha? Sorry, old joke.

Once again, having finished the line drawing, I move on and add the tonal elements.

Behind them, largely cropped in the above image, is an explosion. Here's a view of the entire combat element:

And the combat scene integrated into the final poster:

Technically this isn't the end of the grey tone work. There's one element left to add - a couple of Kuwaiti locals - but by now I was overly antsy to get started with the colors, so that's what I did and that's what the next post will cover.

Oh, I mentioned before that I'd show the Destroyer. I hadn't prepared any jpegs of it last time, so here it is. I think it might be my favorite part of the poster. I used Google SketchUp for most of the tech pieces. SketchUp is Google's free 3D software. The best part about it is that people, once they finish a model, can upload it to Google's 3D Warehouse where people like me can download them and use them for reference. I turn the model around in three dimensional space, alter the lighting and camera to get the shot I want, then render an image I can use in Photoshop as the basis for my underdrawing. 

These models, even when they are elaborate and impressively detailed, are still far from the detail of the real thing. I spent two days doing nothing but adding details to this destroyer. I think it was worth it.

See you next time in living color. 

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