Thursday, December 29, 2011

Legend of the Five Rings : Introspection

I've long wanted to have some of my artwork on CCGs like L5R. On many of the podcasts and art blogs I frequent, they advise aspiring artists to create work that suits a specific property and only show that specific work.  The argument is that an art director will not want to waste time wondering if you'll be a fit for their property, so if you can show it to them beforehand with some ready-made work, it'll make it that easier for them to decide to hire you.  This is the first of what will eventually become a set of L5R card art that I'm looking to present to the art directors at Alderac.

For this piece, I was inspired by the Daibutsu, or Great (ie Large) Buddhas of Japan, since neither of the previous versions of the "Introspection" card featured any kind of statue.  Since the butsu or Buddha doesn't actually exist in Rokugan, I figured I'd make the statue a representation of Shinsei, the wise monk of Rokugan who was advisor to the kami.  To be honest I don't know enough about Rokugan yet to know if there are such statues put up to honor him, but it doesn't seem like a stretch to imagine that there are such statues in place.  One interesting thing about Shinsei is that according to legend he has a crow as a permanent companion.  Instead of including the crow in the statue, I though that having a live crow perched on the statue's shoulder would be more interesting, sort of alluding that crows have an affinity for the statue, while at the same time giving the viewer an additional sense of the scale of the statue.  I've pasted my piece on top of the original, while also showing the original to the right for comparison.

This is the first of what will be five (I thought it was apt) pieces that I will complete over the next few months then submit to Alderac entertainment.  I'll be working on them on and off in between my current projects so I don't really have a deadline for them, but hopefully I'll have them done before the middle of next year.  Not sure what the next card will be, but if anyone has any requests I'd be happy to hear them.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Meteors! UFOs!

This piece was created to be cut up into promotional banner ads for a game.  Unfortunately for me the client didn't like the final product (though I was paid in half).  I had no hand in the design of the character, which is essentially a guy in a white shirt, jeans, chucks, and a long black trench-coat.  The biggest takeaway from this piece is that trench-coats are hard to draw in motion, and only look cool on Gambit.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Tale of Two Werewolves

After posting about the Monster Stand-Ins project last week and looking at my werewolf painting, I realized just how far I'd come in the past year in terms of my artwork.  To show that off, and to hopefully help people learn from my own past mistakes, I decided to dredge up an artwork that I'm frankly quite ashamed of now, in order to compare the two pieces.

The artwork on the left is a werewolf that was created in November of 2010.  Let's take a look at what makes it a weak illustration, ignoring the obvious difference between the styles (ink and painted) and my own improvement in rendering.  The werewolf on the left is very stiff.  In fact if you reduce the pose to geometric shapes you'll see that his shape can be divided up into a few triangles.  This makes him look like a cardboard cutout, and visually is not very interesting.  Related to that is how his shape doesn't suggest any kind of movement at all.  While this may be okay in some cases, this again leads to to a very boring image.  If your illustrations can suggest any kind of movement, it's always better than if they're still, with the exception of a character whose foundation is sitting still, like say, Jabba the Hutt.  Lastly while I used hatching to try to suggest a 3-D form, once again his pose and lack of movement keep me from really suggesting that he exists in a 3-D space.  I've posed him in a 3/4 view but I might as well have had him facing straight to the front for all the good that did me.  Illustrations are also supposed to tell a story.  What kind of story is being told here?  Nothing.  He's a werewolf being menacing while standing behind a full moon.

The artwork on the right is a much more recent work that I created in November 2011 for Monster Stand-Ins.  It's the superior artwork to the werewolf on the left for a variety of reasons.  First of all his pose is much more fluid, but at the same time it's still easily composed into 3 distinct shapes.  His form also shows a lot of movement.  His body is twisted up so that while his lower body is almost in profile, the upper body is in 3/4 view, almost front facing.  This suggests that he's in the middle of a sharp, twisting motion from walking to the side (the right) to suddenly looking toward the front (ie towards us).  This twisting motion, as well as the positioning of the two legs, also helps to suggest form, and makes the werewolf feel like he exists in 3 dimensions.  Lastly, the way he's posed conveys a story.  In my head at least, the story is that the werewolf has been wandering the forest, seeking his prey.  Suddenly he hears/smells/sees something to his right, snarling and drooling at the thought of his prey nearby.  While it is questionable whether or not I ultimately succeeded in telling that story, the point is that I was thinking of  story, and that informed my choices when painting this piece.  In fact, I was actually snarling at the monitor every now and then just to get into the mood of the piece and push it even further.  I did none of that in the previous werewolf piece, and I think it shows.

I hope you all found this little self-critique useful, and once again I'd like to ask for your support in making the Monster Stand-In project a reality.  I will likely learn a lot more in the process of creating those monsters, and I will happily share whatever I've learned with you in return!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Spacechem voted one of 2011's top indie games by Gamasutra!

My longtime friend and artistic idol Chris De Joya pointed out to me yesterday that Spacechem is one of the top indie games of 2011 as voted on by the Gamasutra editors.  While I've always maintained that my art is the least important aspect of the game (I'd rank it design first, music second, art least) It's always still a thrill to see it getting press on sites like Gamasutra.

As I like to do whenever I post about Spacechem, here's a little concept work from 2010 when we were first working on the game.  This mining boss is one of the first you'll "fight" against in Spacechem.  I drew upon industrial machinery when concepting for this, as well as mining vehicles in RTS games like Command and Conquer.  I'd also forgottent hat I'd actually  used Google Sketchup to help me better visualize the machine before drawing it in Photoshop.  While the Sketchup concept and the final product aren't 1:1, it's amazing how useful Sketchup as a free software can be for conceptualizing objects like vehicles and buildings.

By the way, even though Spacechem was nominated in this year's Indiedb awards, it still needs more nominations to find out where it ranks in the top 100 indie games of this year.  The whole Spacechem team would rally appreciate it if you could click here, then click on Puzzle Compilation, then click on Vote!  While you're at it go on and check out the other fantastic indie games on the list.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Please Back the "Monster Stand-Ins" Kickstarter Project!

It's been a month since Joe Wetzel originally reached out to me and a bunch of outstanding artists to create monster artwork (The werewolf above is the artwork I submitted) for his Kickstarter project, "Monster Stand-Ins".  The idea behind the project is for D&D players to be able to use the stand-ins as replacements for much more expensive and bulky miniatures when playing their RPGs. What other problems do :Monster Stand-Ins" solve?
Shortage of Miniatures
  • Even if you have many miniatures, you may not have a specific creature.
  • Even if you have the right creature, do you have 10 of them? 
Cost of Miniatures
  • Metal miniatures cost $5 each (at best) and take time to paint.  Some people love to paint them, some do not.  Some people have time to paint them, some do not. 
  • Random packs of plastic miniatures still cost over $10 for a random pack of just 4 or 6 miniatures. Monster Stand-Ins will give you over 150 creatures for just $30. 
  • Easier to transport than two tackle boxes of regular minis.

This is really a thrill from me because if it all pans out it'll be one of my first illustrations (that I actually like) that will be printed out and seen by the general populace.  That fact that my work stands alongside such stalwarts as Jason Rainville and Eric Quigley is daunting but also exciting for me.  If you find yourself faced with these problems as a DM or a player or just feel like supporting me by way of helping make this project become a reality please have a look at the kickstarter page and support this project!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Creature of the Week #239 : The Bakemono that Haunt the Mountains WIP pt2

In part 1 of this 2 part series, I left you with some initial line art for the piece.  After looking at a bunch of Japanese winter paintings for inspiration, I decided to begin laying down colors.  I wanted the background to be predominantly blues and greens so the the redness of the macaque's mask would stand out, so I first laid down a gradient as a background.  The gradient's a good tool to help me remember where the light source is coming from, and to act as a base for all the colors I'm going to lay down on top of it.  I another layer I start working on the monkey.  This probably isn't the best way to go about things, but I wanted to make sure that the macaque looked good right away, since that's supposed to be the focus of the piece.

Here I've laid down some flat colors for the background.  Everything is pretty much the same as before, but you'll notice that I added another tree in the foreground.  The reason I did this was because there was a lot of  dead space in the lower right corner.  By adding the tree there it (as well as the tree behind it) helps to frame and lead the eye to the macaque.

I've cleaned up the coloring and painted the trees, which took a lot fiddly detail work.  I also went in and added more elements to the samurai mask, since that's supposed to be the creature I'm designing.  I give it a lot of tentacles that seem to be coming out of the fur of the macaque, suggesting that the macaque's inner body isn't quite what it seems.  I've also given it some vestigial arms and legs to suggest that if it had to leave this macaque body behind it could very well do so. A lot of that detail is lost in the final image, so let's zoom in and take a look.

So this is actually a more updated version of the last image.  I added some more detail to the mask to make it look like it's a hundred years old (referring to the Japanese legend that 100 year old inanimate objects will come to life).  I also altered the mask's smile and its eyes somewhat so that it looks less crazy and more sinister.  All of the eyeballs are now pointing in one direction, suggestion that it's found a target, and the mouth, instead of what earlier looked like a snarl, now seems to be smiling mischievously.

This is the final image I submitted to the challenge.  You might notice that I cropped the image a little bit.  I wanted to be able to focus more on the macaque than the surrounding background.  While it cuts off a chunk of the background that I spent a lot of time working on, I think it was for the best since cropping like this eliminated a lot wasted space around the edges that could be too distracting to the viewer.

I really liked how this turned out, although I must confess to some bewilderment that it didn't get a lot of love  from the people at  While I wasn't expecting to win the challenge, the fact that this piece, only garnered 1 vote and last week's got 5 votes confuses me, especially since I poured a lot of thought and time into this and last week's piece was almost a throwaway art exercise for me.  Ah well, c'est la vie!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Creature of the Week #239 : The Bakemono that Haunt the Mountains WIP pt1

As I mentioned in a previous blog, I'm starting to get into the groove of the weekly challenges again after a bit of a hiatus.  This week's challenge is to create "The Bakemono that Haunt the Mountains".  From conceptart:

When it comes to creatures, demons come in all shapes and sizes. In most fantasy setting demons have a tendency to to take on very western demonic ideals and we oft end up with the horribly mutated cousins of Tim Curry in Legend. This week we will be taking a look specifically an invented malevolent, demonic creature, but in distinctly Japanese fashion. Now, in Japanese folklore, Bakemono doesn’t necessarily refer to a demon per se, but it does, by definition, shape-shift. Your task this week is to create a type of mountain demon with the ability to shapeshift into some kind of normal animal. As a nod to its origins, the creature should at the very least have a nod to Japanese folklore in its design, in some way.

I did some research on Obakemono and decided I'd like to take a stab at rendering a Tsukumogami, or 100 year old object.  From Wikipedia:
the term is generally understood to be applied to virtually any object, “that has reached their 100th birthday and thus become alive and self-aware.

After browsing the internet and doing research on animals that live in the Japanese mountains I'd also decided that the demonic creature I wanted to render would be a Japanese snow macaque.  In my initial sketches above I experimented with the idea of the demon object being a stone lantern that came to life after a hundred years.  You can see how I tried and failed in the sketches above to synthesize the shape of the macaque and the lantern.  After giving the idea some more thought I decided to try something else.  I'd always been interested in samurais and their accouterments, and the more I looked at the macaques the more their faces reminded me of samurai masks. I made a couple of sketches with this idea in mind and since I was pleased with the result I decided to go that route.

Since I'd already decided what my demon and his animal form would be, I now had to work out how I would like him to be posed.  Keeping in mind what I'd learned from the Gobelin's Master Class in Animation  I wanted to make sure that the silhouette of the characters stood out and that it would "read" properly even without any details.  To aid in this I kept my lines as simple and clean as possible, eliminating and internal detail and focusing on making sure that the body silhouette and that of the mask were most easily readable.  I liked the shapes of thumbnails 1 and 3 the best, although I ultimately settled on 3.  While both thumbnails exuded "evil", thumbnail 3 looked more like a creature that was out to work some mischief, and thumbnail 1 looked more like a guardian, or someone taking a dump.  My thought process was that if I was suddenly animated after 100 years I'd be raring to run around and trick people instead of just sitting still.

With my pose in mind I settled down to create the initial line art for the piece.  After doing some research on Japanese paintings depicting snowy landscapes (which I will go into with a little more detail in my next post) I made some quick thumbnails in my sketchbook and then translated that into Photoshop.  This composition isn't final and I'll be talking about some changes I made to lead the eye more towards the creature, but that can wait till the next post!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Nominate SpaceChem for Indie of the Year!

Spacechem is an indie game that I did most of the artwork for last year and has since proven quite the success. Help us cement that success even further with an indiedb award by nominating Spacechem here! The artwork above is a peek at some concept work. some of which never made made it into the final game.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Creature of the Week #238 : Turkig

After a long hiatus I'm getting back into the groove of weekly competitions.  This week's challenge seemed easy enough so I gave it a shot and finished it after a couple of days.  Our task was to create a Turkey/Pig hybrid that would be the ultimate holiday feast animal.  I think I may have gone off track and just tried to create the hybrid without thinking too much about the "feast" part.  The winner of this week's challenge went all the way with the "feast" bit, adding multiple legs, snouts, etc. to make it look convincingly like it could feed 10 families.