Barbel- my Overwatch style character design- is finally complete. Two and a half months of focused work has left me with something I’m relatively pleased with. There’s always room to improve though, and one of my favourite ways of doing that is to review the latest project and think of how to get better results next time.
The idea for Barbel was born sometime in early 2017- I knew I wanted to make a 3d character in the style of Overwatch, but I din’t have any specifics beyond that. Then one day, the idea came to me- almost fully formed- which never happens usually and is not be relied upon. I wanted a giant catfish armed with a trident like one of those Roman gladiators. I could see him hunched there in my mind’s eye doing some kind of daft “play of the game” pose and making weird fish noises. He had a space helmet full of water though. I ditched that early on.
What I learned:
In concept art 3d is superior to 2d.
Sketching is obviously a very fast way of presenting ideas, but the fact is that some ideas just don’t occur to you simply because you’re thinking in a 2d way.
When you have a lump of 3d clay and you can quickly manipulate it without preconceptions- you begin to think in a more 3d way and consider how forms twist and turn as they travel through space- how the silhouettes look from all angles rather just one or two key profiles, or how things overlap. All this stuff is obviously possible in 2d- it’s just harder.
It’s also pretty tedious to redraw a character from the back or the side, just so you can see a few areas to decide how they’ll look. In 3d you have one model- and you can see any angle you desire and what’s going to go there. Playing around in Gravity Sketch and Oculus Medium led to a few happy accidents that helped me overcome design challenges I was having at certain points. Which leads me on to my second point…
VR is the best way to concept design in 3d.
Wherever I thought that the 2D concept was underdeveloped or not clear enough I would play around in Medum or Gravity Sketch and quickly come up with a solution. Arguably you could use Zbrush or Maya or something traditional, but the immediacy of reaching out and drawing a line in the air, of genuinely working with three dimensions of input rather than the two offered by the monitor screen, of being completely immersed in a world where only you and your work exist- is pretty damn special! VR may be a little clunky at the moment, but it more than compensates for it by allowing for a state of flow that surpasses traditional modelling.
It’s also really fast. The aforementioned three dimensions of input mean you don’t have to move the camera every time you want to do a simple operation such as moving an object along an axis that isn’t perpendicular to the viewport. True stereoscopic vision means you don’t have to move the camera to get an understanding of form either. On top of all this- you can move, rotate and scale objects all at the same time, even as you move your view around.
Colour and form should be designed together
Good colour design requires you to balance different key colours, secondary colours and accents. If you have a model ready to texture and you haven’t decided how to balance these colours, you may find some areas of colour or material are bigger or smaller than you’d like, and it’s too late to change it easily.
By contrast- if you deal with colour and form at the same time you’ll get a much more immediate impression of how your design is going to look when it’s finished and textured. If you deal with this at the concept stage you have a lot more freedom to play with the design so that the hierarchy of shape and colour works as you’d like.
I can only imagine how touched my uncle would have been to see so many dear and familiar faces here today, to celebrate his life and mourn his tragic passing. No doubt many of you had your reservations about coming- I understand that Uncle’s singular personality rubbed some of you up the wrong way.
In his defence I can only say that Uncle Vince was a character- a unique individual. I myself still have strong feelings about some of his habits, exploits, and ventures- the otter-cheese farm, the mandatory zipline to the downstairs toilet, bear boxing- I never supported any of these. Now that dear Uncle is gone, I shan’t worry about having to wear pink stockings after nine pm, eating only with spoons, or only turning anti-clockwise in the presence of women.
We may never truly know how Uncle Vince passed away. We may never know how he wandered into the locked greenhouse in the middle of the night, without his protective bee “disguise”, stark naked and with two lamb chops and a pork loin taped to his forehead. We may never know how he came to be so riotously drunk as to do that, despite being teetotal. All we can say is that he will be missed, and as the sole inheritor of his massive estate I feel it is my responsibility to thank you all for coming. Cheers.
About two weeks ago I bought an Oculus Rift. I’ve been extremely excited for VR for a long time now and so far it hasn’t disappointed at all. The games are incredible, Google Earth in VR is incredible and the potential of VR for artists is incredible.
I’ve been using Oculus Medium for concept designing, inspired largely by Jama Jurabaev. Here’s the rough sculpt inside medium:Then a bit of tidying in Zbrush and off to be rendered in blender Cycles:
The end result tweaked and over-painted in Photoshop:
There’s definitely plenty of room for improvement with VR tools, but also incredible potential. The ability to simply reach out and touch a point in the air where you want something to be, or the fact you can use all the space around you rather than just a monitor screen are completely game changing.
To to curious the people from Reddit (and elsewhere) hello! Since I’ve been asked several times about how I do my work- and in particular how I did this piece-rather than repeating the same thing in the comments section I though it’d be better to put this rough walk-through together.
Start with the idea- make a sketch or two just to see how it all might fit together.
Gather reference images for the tricky bits from google and elsewhere.
(Optional) make 3d reference models to help with the perspective.
Make sketches to help flesh out elements within the picture.
Paint some more.7. Done.Here’s a little time-lapse:
Obviously there’s more to it than that, but each and every aspect could have a book of it’s own, so I don’t want to dive in that deep here. Also, I can’t recommend anyone paint like me. I’m pretty slapdash and undisciplined. It’s always been a matter of “feeling it out” to me.
Digital art FAQs
Q. What program do you use?
Q. Do I need special brushes/what brush do you use?
A. Short answer: No. It doesn’t matter.
Long answer. Being conscious of the effect you’re having with the brush is what’s important. Paint with intention. Craft the shapes while paying attention to areas you want to be sharp versus soft. Fancy brushes can add texture, sure, but they add it indiscriminately. There is no perfect brush. Maybe have a sharp one, a soft one and a medium, textured one. That’s really all you need. Also, a graphics tablet is fundamental.
Q. Do I need to use the fancy 3d software that’ll take me ages to learn?
A. No. But it undeniably helps.
Q. I can’t afford Photoshop. Is there a good alternative?
A. Yes! Krita (https://krita.org/) is a great open-source digital painting program that gets better all the time. I’d also recommend Paintstorm Studio (http://www.paintstormstudio.com/)- which though it isn’t free- it is pretty cheap and more than worth the price.
Q. How long does something like this take?
A. Ages. Maybe 3 hours a day for a few weeks. I’ve taken a week off it here and there but I think I started in February. You need patience I suppose. A lot of the time I didn’t really want to do it but I still wanted to see it finished.
Here’s a picture I finished recently called “The Museum of Unnatural History”. It’s an idea that’s been knocking around in my head for a few years now but I’d been putting off knowing it was going to be a big, time-consuming job. Eventually I decided it wasn’t going to paint itself and got stuck in.
Perhaps a little self-indulgent. Even by my standards! I’ve hidden a number of things from my past (and future!) work in there, alongside some popular characters some people may recognise.
A couple of days ago I was delighted to receive a package I’d been eagerly anticipating. Books! With my art on the covers- the de-facto proof that someone else thought it was good.
The books in question are by the generous Mr Benjamin Mumford-Zisk. I’ve been reading and very much enjoying book one: “The Origami Man”. It’s always a delight to work with people that have some original creative vision.
According to google analytics people are still reading these “General Wisdom for artists” posts. Alarmed by this- I’ve been back and read them again to see what bollocks I was sprouting several years ago to make me cringe in the present.
My current advice to anyone who reads this now is as follows: Relax. Enjoy life. Whatever you’ve done lately is fine. Be nice to people. All that Carpe Diem crap? It’s to make you spend money. We all die in the end. Enjoy the sunshine, and don’t take indiscriminate advice from blogs- You never know which idiot has written them.
I’m still working it all out of course. I might have some real hot tips later…