Stunning Martian Landscapes

As you may be able to tell by the dearth of posts here over the past little while, my attention is focused elsewhere. I will soon be able to return to spicing up your lives in a most positive manner. In the meantime, I feel the incontrovertible urge to share this link with you. It will direct you to an article on The Verge titled “Alien frontier: see the haunting, beautiful weirdness of Mars.” They have curated some NASA photographs of martian landscapes that will help fire your imaginations to new levels.

Breathtaking inspiration for any science-fiction novelist. Source: TheVerge.com / NASA/JPL/University of Arizona

Texture Fabrik: a great resource for digital artists

If you’re a digital artist, you’ll probably want to take a spin by Texture Fabrik. They have some very good and unusual royalty free textures.

Go ahead, try them out. You know you want to!

Luffa. Who knew? Image credit: texturefabrik.com

Suddenly Chewie realized he was in big trouble

In the process of organizing some of the thousands of photographs I’ve taken over the years, I’ve come across a few gems, products of my early attempts at creativity with Photoshop. They are so cheesy, I may have no choice but to share them for all to be stuck with something they can’t unsee.

In this case, back in 2004 I put to work my inner Star Wars and Warhammer 40K fanboy to experiment with merging photographs, creating masks, and using the software’s different color functions to color in a black and white photo I had taken of an unpainted Space Marine miniature. I had completely forgotten about this picture, so this is kind of like finding that twenty dollar bill you forgot in a pair of pants two years ago. Mind you, that bill is a little beat up, some moths have taken some chunks out of it, and it probably needs to be washed, but you’re still a little further ahead than before you put your pants on.

Suddenly Chewie in Trouble

Now that I think about it, this probably planted the seed for this image I submitted for a gamecareerguide game design challenge last November.

Game design challenge: Crossing Over entry

It’s all about taking baby steps and working away at things to keep improving. Few people have the raw natural talent to excel at first. But stick to it, work hard, work smart, and you’ll get there. When it comes to inspiration, an idea can take years to fully develop. Give it time.

Now if you don’t mind, I’ll sign off. I’ve still got a lot of work to do before I excel!

Cover illustration completed. That’s a set!

A snippet from the cover illustration

A snippet from the cover illustration

I am overjoyed! My final illustration, the book’s cover, has just made it in. That completes the illustration work for my book. It is wonderful to see things beginning to take shape. I’m now down to writing the last two chapters before getting into the heavy review and editing.

As much as those stages will be tough work, I’m still a little daunted at the prospect of laying out the book’s 60 or so pages. I am experimenting with iStudio Publisher in the hope that I can have more control than with Pages. The major problem I see so far is that it appears that I will have to insert each text page manually, which is looking like a tedious process. That should motivate me to look for the best way to optimize my workflow.

The Beach

The Beach

In 2006, I was traveling around New Zealand when I came across a beach along the road on the East side of the South Island. I forget its exact location. Even though a storm was approaching, two children were playing in the water.  Upon closer examination, it looked like they were throwing box traps onto small creatures on the beach. Perhaps they were catching crabs?

Although I did a little tweaking of the colour levels in photoshop to bring out the contrast, and enhanced the sharpness, the scene is largely as it appeared that day.

On sharing inspiration – Ripples in the pond

Rise of the Redshirts

Rise of the Redshirts

I illustrated the image above back in 2009 as an entry to the “Be the Hero!” Game Career Guide challenge . I did it rather quickly, but am still quite pleased with the image, as I used it as an opportunity to try some new techniques with a Wacom stylus and Photoshop. The entry didn’t get picked up, so I may re-post it later for reference’s sake, but I did end up posting the picture on conceptart.org. I forgot about the image up until recently, when I was cleaning some files up in my computer in an attempt to speed my aging beast up.

I smiled as I remembered that in 2012, John Scalzi published Redshirts, a novel where one of a starship’s intrepid security staff decides that dying for the captain isn’t for him. As I sat there and thought about it, there certainly is some similarity in the concepts between the story and my image above. I started looking around the internet to see whether anyone else had caught on to the idea. I found that in 2011, a youtube channel called Star Trek Online: Rise of the Redshirts saw the light of day. The similarity between the titles does catch the eye. There is now a very cool game in development called Redshirt by the Tiniest Shark. There are certainly some similarities in the general layout and theme between the two images.

Redshirts game image

I am certainly not arrogant enough to believe that I am solely responsible for the ideas these highly creative people have developed. After all, if I had an idea, there is a high likelihood that someone else may have had the same idea before or after me with no external help whatsoever. In fact, I drew on inspiration from other short stories about the Redshirts always getting whacked to come up with my game pitch and illustration. There are only so many ways to illustrate a game cover, and there are some narrative illustration short hand techniques and tips of the hat that tend to ensure that there will be some similarity in imagery for science fiction posters. However, I do like to believe that the picture I tossed out without a second thought on the internet kicked off some spark in imaginations I’ve never met and ultimately served to enrich each of us. Like a stone cast in the pond, the ripples of inspiration can travel far and wide, touching distant and unseen shores.

So share your ideas. You never know how or who they’ll help.

The Hobbit in HD – An Unexpected CG

I did not catch The Hobbit while it was showing in theatres. Thanks to the magic of iTunes,  I purchased the HD edition and began feasting my eyes on…PS 3 video game footage?

I’ve never seen a Blu-ray edition of the Lord of the Rings, so it is hard for me to compare, but the photography seems off somehow. Clearly, the Hobbit was made by incredibly talented artists, but for some reason I am unable to let myself get sucked into the story as I did for the LOTR. The image quality is surreal, too crisp, and what may well be carefully-crafted creature masks look like CG. Perhaps they are CG, which may explain that aspect. Nonetheless, I find my suspension of disbelief challenged at every scene. The villains don’t quite seem to be physically present, but rather appear as uncanny apparitions on screen, unlike the masked orks, goblins, and uruks of the LOTR. Herein lies the rub for FX-heavy movies, and with television technology pushing towards ever-higher resolutions the effort needed to seamlessly blend live action and CG will become ever more difficult. Entirely CG films also run the risk of looking like elaborate cut scenes from video games rather than feature length blockbusters.

As much as I loved Peter Jackson’s efforts to bring to life LOTR, wondrously lifting the images my imagination had built years before and displaying them in the flesh, I am not so certain it works as well for the Hobbit. A few observations:

1. The Hobbit takes place in a more innocent time than LOTR, and this is reflected in the tone both the book and the film set, but I am not quite so sure that singing dwarves translates from paper very well.

2. Azog looks like a computer game character pasted onto most scenes. Though my recollection of the book’s version is clouded by the decades since I read it, don’t recall him having that prominent a role. A useful tool to stretch the film out into a trilogy, I suppose.

The Uncanny Azog

3. Have I mentioned the paradox of fancy graphics vs. physical effects yet? Just checking. There’s CG here. Lots of it.

4. It’s still a fun movie, and it fits into the LOTR, so I’ll probably end up watching it again a few times, regardless. The true curse of the Ring!

Carrara version 8.5 / 9 on their way?

Carrara news from http://www.jurn.org

If the tentative release for an update from Carrara 8 to 9 is accurate, then this is great news. I am a big fan. I find its interface simple and intuitive. The price point is a far less formidable barrier to entry for an amateur artist like myself than those represented by the likes of Maya, 3DS, Cinema 4D, and Modo. Although I use it mainly for hobby modelling, I have also used it to build concept models for a number of projects at work. This greatly increased my team’s ability to discuss the requirements and the vision for some pretty cutting-edge concepts, which incidentally were a lot of fun to come up with.

I’ve been a  Carrara user since version 5, and to date each update has been well worth the investment. I am looking forward to seeing what is in store in the coming months.

On the sophistication of young readers

In the process of tackling my first project, a book for 9-12 year-old readers, I have decided to include an illustrated component to lend some visual interest to its pages. I have always been a lover of artfully-illustrated stories. I believe the images enrich the tale for young and mature readers alike.

Although I have some skill as an artist, I’ve elected to hire someone to devise the illustrations. This will allow me to concentrate on crafting the tale, and I’ve found an illustrator who blows me out of the water, hands down. I am quite happy with the partnership which is developing. The artist is original, highly creative, and has a great sense of humour, which translates directly into his artwork.

A fascinating discussion took place while I was seeking a freelancer to aid in this task. A few of the more experienced artists were trying to nail down the style of illustration which would be most suited for my readers. Surprisingly, the general commentary indicated that a simpler look would appeal more to the kids I am trying to reach.

I was quite taken aback by this. I had assumed that young readers possess a more sophisticated eye than some of these veteran artists believe they do. When I was ten, I was fortunate enough to travel to the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. One of the few sources of entertainment I was able to bring with me was a massive paperback tome, the entire Lord of the Rings collection in a single book. I may have been somewhat intimidated by the challenge of reading a three inch-thick book packed with microscopic type, but once I set my mind to it, I avidly tore through that book. I also remember being engaged by the beautiful cover illustration. There was no compromise made for a purportedly young eye. I would always take a few minutes before reading the book to explore the haunting landscape that played out before me. I no longer have the book in question, but as I remember, this was the illustration: http://www.tolkienbooks.net/php/details.php?reference=46200

I also recall feeding my imagination with beautiful fantasy artwork produced by the stable of artists that populated Games Workshop’s products with lively material. Although the state of the art has evolved somewhat since those days, it still does not strike me as having been simplified for a younger crowd.

I am uncertain where to stand on this issue. I doubt that I was gifted with prodigious maturity at an early age, allowing me to enjoy  what others of my generation could not at the time. Have tastes simplified due to the abundance of mass media? Or do we underestimate the refinement of our youth? Authors and artists, what has  your experience been at this level?