Monday, April 18, 2011

Proper Use of Reference and Anatomy in Creature Design - Part Three

Habitat, Environment or Ecosystems play a major role in the development of an animal or creature's design.
It's due to the varied terrain that animals belonging to the same family evolve over time to adapt to their surroundings. This is how individual species are born during the process of evolution, branching off from one animal into many different though similar variations. This is why the environment in which an animal lives is an integral part of creature design. It helps if you think of your design in the sense of it being a species. If you're drawing sketches and designing a creature, if you think of it as a species; then come multiple factors to keep in mind during this process. As is the case with a living animal on earth, we need to bare in mind how this creature functions in all aspects of life. How does it interact within its ecosystem, how has the anatomy come to evolve due to its surroundings? Where does it fit within its fictional Animal Kingdom? - Part One and Part Two of this series.

(Note: Artwork below by Raul Martin)
Camouflage is a result of color and pattern adorned by multiple species each for their own reasons. Color and patterns play a major role in an animal's life and the design of its markings are due to the surrounding environment. The spots of a cheetah or leopard are meant to conceal its body and break it up to blend into the environment when hunting. The same goes for the coloration of shark and fish where the underbelly is bright and the top side is a darker blue/grey/green. It's so anything below the shark looking up won't be able to distinguish the white underbelly from the white light shining down above the surface and anything above sees it disappear into the abyss. Larger animals like an elephant, rhino and hippo don't need to worry so much about attacks from predators but their color is a neutral tone in part due to their size. Usually it's a case of keeping the body temperature down especially for an animal like an elephant where a lot of energy is exerted to move such massive weight and bones. If it were too light or too dark, it might overheat or become too cool. In certain times when the heat is overwhelming, elephants will cover their bodies with mud to block the sun and to cool themselves down.This kind of act of using its environment to regulate its body temperature is another thing to keep in mind when designing a creature. Thinking of various underwater and aquatic animals, you may see shrimp and crab species adorning and decorating their shelled exterior with living plants, algae and other aquatic vestigial life. Camouflage isn't always born through evolution or embedded in the design, sometimes it is created by use of the surrounding ecosystem and manually crafted by the animal. So how might your creature utilize its environment? How might its coloration be put to use based on its size, its purpose in life or its environment? ... always ask yourself "why?" Below are artworks by wildlife and paleontology reconstructionist artists Dick Van Heerde, Robert Nicholls, Tod Marshall, John Gurche, Ron Meilof, John Banovich, Jeremy Pearse, Robert Back, Nancy Howe and Raul Martin. All artwork is copyright to their resepective owners. If so many variations of animals can fall under the same class of marine mammals, the family of delphinidae there must be a purpose why each individual species evolved with distinct attributes. The length of the body or a dorsal fin, the shape and length of a tail fin, the shape of the head, length of the nose, the type of teeth etc. So when you're making decisions in design of your creature, make conscious decisions. Once you're done with your concept, go back to it and examine it... learn from it. Whichever species of animal you borrowed anatomy from, they had a specific purpose so it would help to research that animal and its anatomy to better understand the function of your design.

(Note: The montage of dolphin species below is by concept artist and illustrator Tiffany Turill
Below is artwork of a fictional creature designed by Alex Ries aka Abiogenesis. His Barnard's Swordswallower exhibits a similarity to multiple marine species that exist here on earth but it is unique in its construction and purpose. The anatomy choices in design suit the environment as do the markings in the creature's coloration (light underbelly, dark above). Just as we see species and animals evolve over time here on earth, you should build a history and background to the existence of your own creature designs. Writing little notes or a small story or description about the creature will help. Perhaps there are other creatures similar to it that the creature evolved from or species that have evolved from or are related to it. I mentioned once before in part 01 and part 02 of this series that it's best if you think of your creature design as an animal species no matter how bizarre it is. Now of course there are "monsters" or "characters - creatures of an individual personality" but we will discuss that in another topic. Nothing on an animal's body occurs by mistake, it's all developed and designed over time for very specific reasons. Just as is the case with concept design, some of those changes or choices are discarded and the more affective ones survive. The body of one animal and it's differences from another are relevant to the way that animal runs, eats, hunts, breathes, births offspring, mates or courts a mate, how it digs, balances, jumps, hides and survives the weather. Everything in life has a purpose and with that statement, you should implement that reasoning into your own thought process.

(Note: Artwork below by adeptka biotechu)

There are species of dinosaurs, raptors, oviraptors and pterosaurs with many similar features and body structures depicted with feathered vestigial limbs or bodies. As the design of these extinct animals came to resemble birds more and more over time, it's not hard to imagine a relation. As certain species of dinosaurs evolved into small bird-like theropods there must have been a reason for the development of feathers and eventually species capable of flight. The same reason that other similar animals like the penguin or ostrich though birds had evolved where flight was not a necessity. It has to do with the living conditions, the environment and the necessity of surviving in such conditions that cause an animal to evolve and adapt to its surroundings. Penguins have adapted to cold arctic winds, they migrate on foot, they swim, catch and feed on fish using their beaks. Other birds like a Falcon or Hawk glide and attack from above with talons for grasping and ripping into the flesh of smaller mammals and other birds or snakes. Then still, birds like the Ostrich run quick and gallantly with long strides, they attack with large powerful legs equipped with large nails and they feed on mostly vegetation of sorts and some insects. We're capable of classifying animals such as a polar bear, a grizzly bear and a black bear to have all developed from the same ancestor. If a polar bear lives in the arctic circle and is constantly surrounded by snow and ice it's by no mistake that the animal's fur coat is white. In this example the purpose is to allow the animal to remain hidden from hunting prey, yet in other examples of the arctic hare (rabbit) its purpose is to conceal itself as a form of hiding/camouflage. So the color of an animal or the color of your creature is also very important. Don't simply choose without reason to make your giant terrestrial arhropod that lives on a red planet like mars to be a bright white just because it looks cool in contrast (Though aesthetics in design are often important as much as the reasoning behind the choice.) make sure you put as much thought into the color scheme as you would the functionality of the body and its limbs. Artwork below by Alex Ries aka Abiogenesis. This is his own rendition of the largest flying animal in recorded history, the Quetzalcoatlus pterosaur. (A 12-15 meter wingspan, standing in comparison to the equivalent of a giraffe.) It's important to understand what was possible to make what doesn't exist believable.Now the difference of the artwork below by artist Adeptka Biotechu is an Oviraptor a small flightless bird-like dinosaur, as scientist have suggested possibly feathered species otherwise known as theropods. This would be more closely related to large flightless birds such as the Ostrich or other Ratites like the Emu or Rhea. Other than the largely obvious distinguishable feature that Pterosaurs flew and Oviraptors didn't, they are both bird-like dinosaurs. Think back to Penguins versus Falcons. It's interesting when you study the body of pterosaurs because it's believed most or all couldn't take off from the ground (generally having to fly off cliffs, and rather than flap much like birds today they mostly glided using wind currents and heat pockets - we see the same tactic used by the largest of birds of flight today). Aside from flying or taking off from the ground, they had to walk as well. You can see in Adeptka's rendition above there is one pterosaur landing from flight and one walking. It's too in depth to discuss in this post but research a bit about Avian Flight and you'll see just how difficult it would be for such large animals or creatures to fly. Action and interaction: Once you start to place your creature into a setting involving an environment, other creatures whether predator or prey and the elements of nature, you'll better understand how it functions. You'll want to consider it's general size, how it's bone structure (if it has one; vertebrates, invertebrates) is comprised, how much it weighs, what it eats..etc again, you need to at least consider these options otherwise it's just a random shape that moves without reason or function. Provide yourself with a starting point. Figure out where your creation lives, does it live on land, or water, underground, in the air, in space, jungles, desserts, cold or hot regions etc..

(Note: The 1st image below is by artist John Gurche, other paleo works are by Raul Martin and Todd Marshall as well as others mentioned at the top of this post)
An observation of life in the wild. A sketch of Hesperornis below: By artist John Conway (An Extinct flightless aquatic bird, much like the penguin) shows this species engaged in hunting for food. This is something that should be constantly studied and examined when watching series like Planet Earth or Life or any other show on The Discovery Channel and Animal planet that document animals and their living habits. These are all things you can put to use in your creature designs. As we see in the drawing below by artist Virgil C. Stephens, we have 3 species from 2 different classes (The Mountain Lion and two Buck Deer as well as a bird flying in the background - the Mountain Lion also known as a cougar or puma and the Buck Deer fit in the class: Mammals and the bird in the background though unidentifiable fits within the class: Birds) The most important thing about this drawing is the interaction of 2 species of animal and how they fit within the surrounding ecosystem. This is a classic scenario of Predation (Predator versus Prey), in which the Mountain Lion is giving chase to two male deer. Things to note when glancing at this drawing:
1:Notice the difference in strides of the Mountain Lion and the Buck Deer as well as how the muscles and bone joints of each animal differ from one another.
2:Note the difference in size of the Predator in comparison to the prey. What allows a predator such as this to hunt prey that is larger and heavier in size? (Predators: Often armed with anatomy meant for attacking, grasping, breaking bones, piercing skin, ripping flesh IE; Sharp Incisors and Claws.) These are all things that are important to remember when designing your own creature. Where does it fit within the food chain of its own ecosystem? Is it a predator or is it prey? Does it hunt for its food or does it scavenge or eat flora (herbivore); Flowers, Plants, Fruit, Grass, Berries and Trees/Leaves? What enables your design to be capable of hunting in a similar chasing down fashion as the Mountain Lion? Is it capable of agile speed, is it equipped with the ability to grasp, slice, tackle, tear, rip or attack its prey and how does it do this? Ask yourself these questions while designing and it will help create something more believable with more meaning, even if it's only a winged mutli-eyed creature with tentacles and talons. The sketches below by artist William D. Berry are a perfect example of what every aspiring creature artist should be doing in their sketchbooks. Visit a local zoo, or study birds, squirrels, rabbits and any other indigenous wild life that live within your area. Take notes, jot them down in your sketchbook as you draw quick sketches in observation of how the animal interacts in the wild. Study the movement of an animal, watch how the joints bend, how the muscles contract and expand as it jumps or climbs and how they twist and stretch. Every animal is different so it's important that you at least try to cover the main classes: Mammal, Reptile, Amphibian, Birds, Fish, Arthropods. They'll each provide enough of a varying degree of movement and use of limbs that is distinct from one to the next.When it's possible, study the muscles and bones beneath the surface. Whether you fully understand the complexity of the muscular system or not it's always good to know the basic functions. The same goes for the skeleton, which if you were to take note of a Moose Skull or any other similar animal such as a Deer, Horse, Cow or Goat it may appear quite different from the animal itself because of anatomy constructed of cartilage, tissue and muscle. An elephant skull is a perfect example because of the lack of ears and the trunk. The skull itself appears almost alien compared to the animal itself. This is why appendages such as the trunk are so flexible (it's all muscle/tissue, the same goes for the lips of various animals which are prehensile and serve as an additional way to extend, grab and tear off foliage, leaves, fruit and grass (the lips and tongue of a giraffe). After studying real world animals, their habits, how they function in the wild, what their purpose in life is and how they fit within an ecosystem you'll understand how to combine all of these factors when producing something imaginary. It will help ground your concept even if it's an alien life form from space or another dimension. You may want to check out a few additional art books if you can find them: The Best of Wildlife Art - Painting the Drama of Wildlife step by step - National Geographic Dinosaurs. Also be sure to check out RAUL MARTIN 's website where the majority of this paleo artwork came from, he's an amazing paleo reconstructionist. The possibilities of design are endless because life and evolution are endless, it never stops evolving and changing. If you have so many resources, references and information to study from you should be capable of coming up with an infinate amount of ideas. I'll leave off by including some art studies of the evolution of prehistoric and extinct ancestors of the crocodile by artist Todd Marshall.

I hope this was instructive and insightful, please share your thoughts and provide feedback.
Mike C -

Guest blogger Mike Corriero is a character, creature, and conceptual designer and illustrator living in New Jersey. Since graduating from Pratt Institute in 2003, Mike's client list has included Breakaway Games, Fantasy Flight Games, Allied Studios, Kingsisle Entertainment, Radical entertainment/ Vivendi Universal Games, Liquid Development, Zynga Inc, Challenge Games, Paizo Publishing and Hasbro Inc, among others. Mike's book "PLANET to PLANET creatures and strange worlds" includes hundreds of his sketches of creatures, robots, alien life forms and their environments. I recommend it for students focusing on visual development for games, or anyone who loves creature design. - J. G. O.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

An Interview with Jerad S. Marantz - Part Two

To those who have missed it, the first portion of this interview can be seen here: Part One - an interview with Jerad S. Marantz Jerad is an accomplished Creature and Character design artist working for the film and video game industries. In addition to concept work he also teaches a course at the Concept Design Academy and The Gnomon School of Visual FX. Jerad has worked on a number of projects including Sucker Punch, Clash of the Titans, Infamous 2 and many many more.. MC: I see you have worked on both games and films. What in your opinion is the difference in creating concepts for one or the other? Which do you prefer to design for, video games or films and for what reason?

JSM: I’ve done a lot of work for both the film and game industries. There are quite a few differences, but the basics are the same. For film, the level of finish in the initial design phase is incredibly high. As I mentioned before, oftentimes in the first pass of a creature design, I have to take it as far as I possibly can so that the design looks like a still from the potential film. In video games you don’t do that. In video games you literally design from the silhouette out. You determine what the basic shape is of the creature and then start to flesh out the details. In film you’re doing both at the same time and it’s a bit more hectic. Also in film, the time in which you have to work is much shorter. You don’t often have time to go and explore.In video games, you will get that time. In film, you will end up using more 3D, more photo elements to convincingly execute the designs. In games you can pretty much just work traditionally in Photoshop without having to add any photo elements until the very end, if at all. The level of detail is very different in games and film. There are also different restrictions. If you’re working on a film and you’re designing a creature suit, you have to make sure that a performer can walk in this thing successfully. You have to keep in mind weight distribution, the weight of materials that are going to be used to create the suit. A lot of factors are involved. If it’s a visual effects character, that goes out the window.

(Note: Images below are from the film "Sucker Punch")
For video games, you might have to design around a specific poly count. They might not have a lot of polys to resolve your design so you might have to design very simply if it’s a low level bad guy. Sometimes in a game, you actually have to design creatures around the same animation rigs. It’s very common in video games for different characters to share animation rigs, and you have to design it accordingly so that the creature’s limbs don’t collide with the geometry and can actually share the same animation cycle. MC: Can you provide any tips on creating orthographic (turnaround) design sheets? What are the specifics (views and details) a CG modeler usually needs in order to turn the 2D design into a 3D design?

JSM: Fortunately, nowadays I don’t really do that many orthographic views. I’ve rarely done an orthographic view for a film; that tends to be unnecessary. In video games I used to do them all the time and there are a few tricks. One I would use in particular was that after I designed the creature and did a full painting, the pose of that creature would usually be three quarters. I would find that creature’s center line, the very center of the design, select it, and select half of the creature and drag it onto a new document in Photoshop. Then I would warp and distort that three quarter view until it was a full front view. I would also flip that so I could get the full front view of the creature. Now, the front view and the back view are identical in silhouette. So once I finished doing the front view, it was very easy to do the back view. Then finally I would do a profile and that’s simply just a matter of drawing guidelines from all the key landmarks and connecting the dots in profile. It’s a very boring process and I’m glad I don’t do it that often anymore.

(Note: Images below are older concepts meant to show the Ortho sheet process discussed)
MC: Out of every project and every creature you have worked on and produced, what do you feel is the most successful concept you have come up with? What is it about that design that you feel makes it the most memorable?

JSM: Of all the projects so far, I think my all time favorite was “Clash of the Titans”, specifically the Kraken design. There is something incredibly powerful about that creature and I was pretty happy about the way it was executed. With that particular design, I went from loose sketches to finalized renders in Zbrush and Photoshop, and it took a very long time to design. So when it finally made it on screen, it was awesome to see the fruits of my labors come out so well. What I like about the design I think the most is how incredibly powerful the character is. It is unstoppable. It’s gigantic. It’s really just over the top, and the kid in me has always wanted to design something that massive and that powerful. To have that opportunity was just amazing. I was also just thrilled at how well it was executed. (Check for Clash of the Titan's concept art in Part 01 here) I was on a lot of creatures for that film—I designed Medusa, I did several passes on Calibus, I designed the witches, but the Kraken was the climax of the film. It was a big deal and it took a very long time to get right. It was just a very exciting process.

(Note: Silent Hill - video game - final boss designs below)
MC: Is there any genre, subject matter or field of work you haven't yet had the opportunity to work on that you would love to be involved in? IE; horror, sci-fi, film, games, whimsical, animated..

JSM: I’ve always been interested in working on an animated film. I’ve been looking at a lot of animated movies lately and have been floored by them. The production design, the attention to detail… I’d love to try that out. Currently I’m writing an animated series and I’ve had the opportunity to design my own characters for a show that I’ll be pitching this year, so that’s exciting. An animated film would be very appealing because it’s actually the opposite of what I do. Having to simplify forms and get characters to read with as few lines as possible would be a fun challenge.

(Note: Work below is from X-Men: Origins - Wolverine. Sketches of "Deadpool")
MC: How does the use of 3D programs like Zbrush work to benefit a concept artist? Do you feel it is an essential tool to learn if you want to speed up the process or learn to draw your design from multiple angles? What are the advantages of a program like that to you?

JSM: Learning a 3D program is essential. I work mainly with Zbrush. Zbrush has a lot of benefits. One of the biggest things I find that students struggle with isn’t necessarily the design of the creature, but how to execute it: how to draw it in perspective and how to light that creature. With Zbrush that isn’t an issue. You simply sculpt it and you get the lighting and perspective for free. The program has a ton of advantages. You can render out your character in different materials, light the creature and you can also show orthographic views of your design instantly.It’s a lot harder to do that from the ground up going into Photoshop, designing the character in grayscale, painting over it, and adding photo elements, while making sure that your lighting and perspective all work. Learning 3D is essential to the survival of concept artists today. I’m often surprised, when I’ve had the opportunity to work with other concept artists, to see how many of them are actually using 3D. Even concept artists whose work seems very painterly will actually rough out a composition in a program like Maya or Moto and paint directly on top of it. Even for environment artists, just using a simple program like Google Sketchup can make the process go much more quickly. As a matter of fact, if you were to use a combination of Google Sketchup and a lighting program called V Ray, you could finish sixty percent of your design in the computer. So again, very very important to learn 3D. MC: What do you feel really helped to kick start your career and what allowed you to focus completely on designing creatures/characters? Do you ever get asked to produce other types of assets? IE; environments, weapons, vehicles..

JSM: What really jumpstarted my career was working in effects houses when I was a kid. I lucked out. I got an internship at a low budget effects house thanks to my sculpting teacher when I was just thirteen, a man by the name of Jordu Schell. He’s most likely the industry’s best maquette sculptor and definitely one of the best sculptors in general. While interning at these special effects houses, I tried everything. I did everything from sculpting to mold making, and realized throughout the process that I didn’t really care much for making molds. I enjoyed sculpting, but noticed that a lot of sculptors out there didn’t necessarily design. Through the process of trying everything, I discovered that I really only cared about designing and was able to just focus on that. Once I had figured that out, my path became much clearer.I hit the books pretty hard looking for inspiration, looking at other creature artists and studying their techniques. Mainly the illustrative designers like Miles Teves and Crash McCreery. I looked at a lot of comic book artists. I often do more than creature design. There are very few people out there who survive only as a creature designer, and as a concept designer, I’ve discovered that the more you can do, the longer you can stay on a show and the more secure your position can be. Not only do I do creature design, though that is my specialty, I also do character design, I do costume design, I do a little bit of environments and scenes, I do props, and I do vehicles as well. Being able to do everything is really important. Not to say that having a specialty isn’t, but being able to do everything just helps you survive and that’s really important as a concept artist. You will not always get the most ideal job. There have been times where I’ve had to just take on work that was really boring when the film industry slows down. MC: What advice can you offer as a last bit of experience when it comes to building a strong portfolio? What do you think would help one artist get noticed over another; what should they include in their portfolio if they want to pursue a career in creature design?

JSM: When I got out of Art Center, I started working immediately at Stan Winston’s. It was an amazing experience and it was incredibly validating. I believe what got me the job was the fact that I had a portfolio filled with original design work. No academic work, no still lives, no figure drawings, just one design after the other of aliens, werewolves, cyborgs, mechs, just anything that I could do to show range.A bit of advice that I would give students who want to be creature designers in this industry, is to just focus on an original portfolio for as long as they can while they’re in school. Try to do a creature a week. Cover your bases. Do an alien. A werewolf. Almost every genre of creature that you can come up against. Don’t neglect fantasy, science fiction, horror— all of your bases should be covered. There is no maximum of images in a portfolio. The more the merrier. Of course you want to have the strongest images in your book, but quantity as well as quality will tell a potential client quite a bit about you. Show range. Show range of abilities, not just the same execution every time on every image. Show that you have designs that are accomplished in 3D, show drawings, show paintings, show photo manipulated pieces, show your clients what you can offer them. A portfolio is a very powerful tool. When I’m showing a potential client my book, I’m looking at the client’s reaction to the work. If they gloss over my drawings quickly, that means they don’t read drawings very well. If they’re focusing on the 3D work, then that’s how I will produce work for them. Whatever they are responding to. A portfolio acts as a menu to a client and you have to watch them go through your work to determine how best to design for them. Keep academic assignments out of your portfolio. I’ve noticed a lot of portfolios are filled with descriptions, and they’re really formatted, there’s a lot of text in there describing the artist’s process… the truth is if the images don’t catch the client’s attention, the words won’t. No one reviewing a portfolio ever reads your notes. It doesn’t matter what you write, it really is just about the images.As for other pieces of advice, while in school students will learn quite a bit of theory, and this is good. This is all necessary. Color theory, shape theory, rules when it comes to producing convincing creature designs or design in general. The harsh truth that all students will come to realize is that as soon as they’re designing for the real world, for real clients, theory doesn’t mean much. In film, the people who are signing off on designs don’t know about shape theory. They don’t know about what it is exactly that academically makes a design good; they simply know what they like. I have found that once I understand what the client likes, I can get designs through. It is a harsh truth, but it’s very true. By the time you get into the real world, you will no longer be designing for your teachers; you’re going to be designing for your clients. So don’t butt your head up against a wall. Don’t fight your clients. Help them develop their ideas and be as accommodating as possible. Maybe later on when you’re accomplished enough, your opinion or your work will be sought after and you’ll be more trusted, but when you start working make sure you make your clients happy. You’ll last a lot longer. MC: Jerad, I want to Thank you for all your time and the advice you have to offer regarding the in depth answers. I hope to continue to see your work in the film industry and your magnificent creatures grace the big screen. Good luck with the continued success of your career. To everyone reading, you can check out more of Jerad's work and continue to follow his updates on his blog: The Art of Jerad S. Marantz

Guest blogger Mike Corriero is a character, creature, and conceptual designer and illustrator living in New Jersey. Since graduating from Pratt Institute in 2003, Mike's client list has included Breakaway Games, Fantasy Flight Games, Allied Studios, Kingsisle Entertainment, Radical entertainment/ Vivendi Universal Games, Liquid Development, Zynga Inc, Challenge Games, Paizo Publishing and Hasbro Inc, among others. Mike's book "PLANET to PLANET creatures and strange worlds" includes hundreds of his sketches of creatures, robots, alien life forms and their environments. I recommend it for students focusing on visual development for games, or anyone who loves creature design. - J. G. O.