Thursday, September 13, 2012

Helen of Troy, part 2

I don't think I thought enough about how much work the battle scene was going to be when I was laying this piece out, but you gotta do what you gotta do. You can't chicken out of doing the right thing just because it's hard, right?

So here's the first bit of progress on said battle scene.

First thing you'll notice is that I've finished up Achilles's shield. I happen to have a letter opener that's Achilles's sword and shield, so I took pictures of it to use for the background bit. That was handy. Once I started working on the actual battle scene, which features Achilles's shield, I started to notice subtle differences between the full sized version used in the movie and my miniature. I'm not about to go back and make changes at this point though; those differences are pretty hard to notice unless you're up in its face and obsessing over details like I am when working on it.

When I'm drawing something I have to decide, as I go, how much I want to do with my "pencil" brushes and what I want to leave for other "texture" brushes. In some cases I get carried away and do the textures as I go, like on Achilles's helmet and vest. For most things, though, I usually wait and do the textures once the "drawing" part of it is done. Achilles's shield looks awkward here because of this. Most of it is blank because I'll be coming back to it later.

This is another screen shot showing the image zoomed in to 100%. I think I mentioned this before: I usually work at 100%. I'll work at 50% sometimes, but nothing else really. Well, not entirely true. Every once in a blue moon I'll zoom in to 200 or 300 percent, but that's rare. I'm already crazy for working at 100%. It's just that the line quality suffers when you work zoomed out too far and my anal attentive nature won't let me do it. Hopefully you don't have this problem.  :-)

I feel like there should be some kind of time lapse here because there were a LOT of hours between the previous image and the next one. For some reason I didn't save any process jpegs between that and this. Oh well. My master file was getting pretty big and unruly as I progressed on this part so I cropped my image, got rid of as many layers as I could, and saved the file as a different photoshop document. I save all the time, so when a file gets big and I have to wait while it saves the time lost adds up. Breaking off bits of an image to work on makes things flow much more easily. I'll combine all the bits and pieces later, once all the line work is done.

So, yeah. After a LOT of work - did I stress the LOT bit enough? I doubt it - a LOT of work, the battle scene is done. Holy Moses I mush have some screws loose in my head. 

As it stands the two major figures don't stand out as much as they should, but that's where color will become king. If I were only going to have this as a black and white piece I would have done some things differently, like having more blacks surrounding the main figures to help the pop, but since this is for color it's fine the way it is. It's good to know where you're going with a piece - to have a vision - because it helps you make the best decisions along the way. 

Of course things never turn out exactly as you imagine, so even with the best pre-planning you end up having to make adjustments. That's part of what makes the journey of creating artwork so much fun.

You'll notice a lot of "splatter" here. There will be a lot in the final image, not limited to the battle scene, but it's always kept on its own layer so I can manage it as needed. Sometimes you have to get rid of it in faces because it can become too distracting. Hector's sword is a perfect example of a place where I cleaned it up. There's no splatter there at all. I want that sword to really pop. It's surrounded by textures and grey tones, so having it perfectly clean makes for a nice contrast. Once it gets blood on it, it should REALLY pop.

Anyway, the splatter draws a lot of attention to itself right now but, by the time it's done, it should blend in and just exist as a part of the overall texture. To end this segment of progress, here's another shot zoomed in to 100%. You can really ge a sense for some of the textures and the detail, or lack of details, in the background figures. 

Now to finish up the remaining portraits and move on to color. Hope you're enjoying the sharing of process as much as I'm enjoying creating the piece! Cheers.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Helen of TROY, part 1

This is a piece I'm working on for an updated portfolio. Also for Planet Pulp's recent theme "Femme Fatale". Above is the version that just made it into the month's theme, but it's far from done. Far, far from done, as you'll see here if you choose.

I loved the movie TROY, especially the director's cut (except for the change in music when Hector and Achilles fought - bad, bad choice). Still, I loved the idea of removing the gods from the ancient tale and leaving behind a story more plausible in nature. It explores the brutality of war, the loss and sorrow it leaves in its wake. So, when the theme came up on Planet Pulp I took the opportunity to make a piece of fan art.

Turns out it's the most ambitious piece I've ever done. I sort of knew it would be but it exceeded those expectations. By a long shot. I figured, then, it would be fun to share my progress as it comes together. The hours I've spent on this already is a little crazy. It's got to be close to 80 at this point and I'm not even half done. The finished poster will be 27x40 inches - movie poster size. To view a print of it any smaller would be a shame because I'd lose so much of the detail I've gotten into the piece.

Anyway, on to those details.

The Femme Fatale theme was a perfect fit for the vision I've always had in my head for my take on a movie poster for the film. Helen is the focal point around which the story takes place, so she should be the center of attention. All of the violence and death happened because of her willingness to flee her husband for another man. I wanted to represent this by having her umbrellaed over the rest of the imagery. Achilles gets a spot outside of Helen because, in the film, he goes there for his own, personal reasons. So with this idea you play around until you find a layout that works. I would love to have more of the violence in there but it needs to have portraits of the other key players. 

Most movie stars have clauses in their contracts requiring their portrait on a poster be at least as big as anyone else's. That's why so many of the posters these days are just floating heads of the same size. It gets boring really fast when posters are made with such restrictions. Luckily I'm not bound by any of that for a piece of fan art. 

So now that the layout is set, it's on to the rendering. This piece is 100% digital, created in Photoshop CS5. I use a lot of custom brushes; half of them I make and the other half I get from various places, although some of my favorites come from Chris Wahl. He's got some of the brushes he made on his blog. Get 'em here if you like.

So. Helen. I figure why not start off with the portrait of a beautiful woman. It's where I want the viewer's eye to start anyways. The face is done here but that's about it. In the next shot you'll see that the hair and head band have been finished off.

I've also added an under-color to the whole piece. Working on a non-white canvas allows you to pick and choose the spots on a piece that will be white. This is important because it will give the piece a tighter sense of focus. In a photography class in college, a teacher taught us that every good picture - we're talking black and white here, although I feel it applies to color as well - should have black blacks, white whites, and a plethora of grays in between. There doesn't have to be a lot of black or white, but it needs the two extremes to be a balanced piece that includes the entire spectrum of value. This is what a non-white canvas gives you: the ability to spot whites as well as blacks, making sure that you've got that full range of values.

So, in photoshop, I've got a layer for my line work, a layer under that for the grey tones, a layer under that for the whites, and a layer under that for the base canvas color. I try to keep these elements separate so that the piece is more editable as I get further down the line. It's pretty frustrating when you have to spend valuable time towards the end of a job using the lasso tool to grab stuff that wouldn't taken two seconds if you'd just kept it on it's own layer back in the beginning. I've learned this the hard way, trust me.

Yes, I use photographs as reference. Closely. I use them as a starting point, tracing the outline of the face and features. From there I use the photos as a reference, setting it up on my second monitor to look at while I finish off that part of the finished piece. I also make changes, as necessary, to fit my design and end goal, and to make those changes, and finish off any given portrait, is where the real skill comes in. That's what art school was for, learning anatomy, form, perspective, etc... You learn to interpret real, three dimensional life into a two dimensional piece of work. As Drew Struzan said on his making of the Hellboy poster DVD "artists are hopefully not just drawing what they see but what they understand".

I grew up with Drew Struzan's movie posters. His style was ingrained in my brain before I even had a clue what any of that was. His ability to accurately capture likenesses is unparalleled. I mention Drew because he also uses photography to capture likenesses quickly and efficiently. Before computers, artists would use a projector, the most popular of which was the "artograph" to project a photo down onto a piece of paper. With a computer you simply have your image on one layer and draw on top of it on another layer. It's very efficient. But as I mentioned before, you use that as a starting point, getting the features correct (for likeness purposes), then move it to the side. The "tracing" is one, small starting step in a long process. Just wanted to be honest and clear about that.

Now I've tweaked the canvas color, whitened Helen's dress, and started on Achilles and his shield. I must have spent four to five hours just on the hairs in Achilles's helmet. Serious. I think I must be a little crazy sometimes. But the effort is worth it.

Last bit: a look at the actual size of the piece. This a screen shot of photoshop with the piece zoomed in to 100%. I tend to work at 50% or 100%. The lines come out more accurately that way. I find that if you draw zoomed further out the slightest wiggle gets exaggerated too much for my tastes when you zoom back in. I use a couple of different brushes for doing the line work then let lose and play once it comes to the grey tones and textures. A few good brushes can make a lot of complicated textures that look really complicated with relative ease.

Okay, thats it for part one. More very soon. Cheers!