I joined Big Art Buzz, an artist’s collective for people across Ontario, in 2015. Besides having my work posted on the core website and its social media affiliates, I also enjoy the opportunity to display pieces in person at various events and to conduct demos. Here are some pictures from events that took place in recent years. The first images include pictures of the art work. The last two have me at my table with Keith Moreau, creator and organizer of Big Art Buzz, speaking with visitors. (I can say there’s somewhat less of me now than when those pictures were taken.) You can visit the site at www.bigartbuzz.com. Visit also the Big Art Buzz channel on YouTube. There is also the work of Keith Moreau on YouTube, which if you click on his name in this article you can see.
I had the great pleasure of working on a production at the Whitby Little Theatre of this very funny and wise musical featuring foam, fur and fabric covered puppets that might have been at home on a certain other street on a certain long running children’s television show. Wonderful music, over the top and very risque humour dominate the production, and the production values required of the company meant that not only did robust, remarkable working puppets have to be created, but they had to work convincingly on great stage sets with live actors, accompanied by numerous animated title cards and sequences that themselves had musical or sound effects soundtracks.
Bringing together the parts to make the whole that is AVENUE Q was a monumental task, and my dear friend, director Monique Essegern, and a very talented company managed to pull it off. Being involved in the animations, I worked in the background and only had contacts with Monique, the sound effects creator and peripherally with the tech crew who had to sync up the imagery with live music and other actions on the stage.
I decided to take a different route for my work, keeping it as loose as possible, using wax crayons and markers to add colour, not using rulers on objects to make buildings, buses and scene details more organic, and often working ‘outside the lines’ to make the images look more child-like. With such great models, it wasn’t hard to become completely immersed in the imagery and realize that behind the laughter the show explored some huge questions we all face in our lives: ‘Who am I?’ ‘What is my purpose?’ ‘Will I find love?’ ‘Will people accept me for who- or what- I am?’ Consequently, some pieces needed to be treated a little more seriously than one might have expected and some great discussions with Monique on these points helped flesh out the scenes much better. I created the animations in Poser and linked them up using Movie Maker.
Here are some of the puppets that featured in the production, shown from photos taken either by me, or by members of the company for my use in creating the animations. They are seen in different costumes and at rest with their mouths hanging open in the storage room. I have also included a picture of the stage maquette, created as a guide for the construction of the full stage set, which I wasn’t able to photograph.
DESIGNING THE ANIMATIONS FOR ‘AVENUE Q’.
I created scrolling backgrounds and animation elements by hand and then loaded them into Poser as texture map images onto flat planes set up on a blank virtual stage. Basically, the idea was to recreate a traditional multi-plane camera in the computer software, similar to ones used in the classic days of movie animation before computers came along. Using the music score as a guide, I then set the length of the animation and manipulated the elements to create traditional 2D cartoon scenes in a 3D modeling software program.
The animation was limited in what I could do to pans, tilts, rotations on the Y axis. I had no time, nor was Poser the best platform to create cel type animation that could have characters move frame by frame, twist, move limbs independently and so on. It might be possible to do so, but I would have to ask if it is worth the effort in making it work. Other software exists that is better suited to that kind of animation. For what was needed in ‘AVENUE Q’, the set up I was using was fine for the job.
I wish I could include some of the animations, but without the music they lack context. Without permission, I lack money after the copyright holders sue me…
This project was a for an IT firm in Toronto developing a concept for the auto industry. I am not going into any details about their concept in the project, but I was given permission to reproduce these images for the website and my portfolio.
Below is a model I built to study and pose for the other images in the storyboard piece. The model was created in Poser 9 from bits and pieces of different objects that came with the software and some add-ons acquired online. The whole thing is meant to look like a toy. I studied Lego, reading from a DK book I found in the drugstore on the history of the toy building legend and used bright primary and secondary colours to help emphasize the various elements- like the columns I constructed from scratch, the tubing, cobbled together from a model of over 200 objects located on ShareCG.com. I had a list of things I had to include and this image, excluding people, contains everything on the list.
The beauty of building a ‘set’ like this, is that when working with the client, I was able to move the camera around and with him, plan the panels that eventually became the storyboard. My client was intrigued by how I start digtial in projects to create resources and finish the job with traditional media.
The scene below is a representation for the client of industry in the cloud. It is fanciful, as requested, and I designed it to be reminiscent of some of those maps you sometimes see where cities appear oversized against the surrounding countryside.
The final piece is a set of storyboards, laid out like a Sunday comic strip. I was asked to provide only line art- no colour, value or texture. It was a different kind of experience leaving something like this. However, the point is if further development takes place, this can be completed any way the client wishes. The assembly line pieces were set up with the model in Poser. I admit, the cars were a ‘light table’ job. I like to work freehand as much as possible, but I needed them to look identical, so took my composed layouts and traced those elements onto the vellum- a technique often used by comic artists- and adding the characters and various other monitor details, along with the text as I went. To create schematics for the tablet readouts, I was given templates by the client to follow and made new ones from scratch. For the automobile, I chose the vintage Corvette because it is a classic car anyone who appreciates such things should admire. Also, it had fine curves that complemented the various other elements like the characters and monitors. I finally created a logo for the piece, as there was a blank space that needed to be filled and I felt we’d come this far with the Sunday comic strip idea, so why stop?
This was a secondary project for the same person a year later, creating a logo for an online site that featured vinyl albums. It was meant to be fun and cartoony at the same time, like the retro styled art that would have been popular in a lot of animation when the albums on the website were produced.
In the last year before Oshawa Central Collegiate Institute closed its doors after over 60 years in operation, I found myself involved in two projects related to the event.
First, I suggested that two staff members involved with the Accommodation Revue Committee, (ARC), organized by the Durham District School Board to examine options for the school in addition to closing it, (I will not dwell on the process here), be recognized for the hard work they put in fighting for the school against what many felt was a rubber stamping process to legitimize a decision that had already been made. Whatever was the truth behind it, we may never really know, but what was agreed on was that these persons needed recognition. So, I created an art piece that parodied the Indiana Jones posters from the first three films and what is shown below was the final product.
The second project was the cover of the last yearbook put out by the school. This is usually a job done by students, so jumping in at the last minute to help the staff member running the Yearbook group put together something after student efforts came to naught was an interesting experience. Here I was, packing up my classroom, what of the Visual Arts program I was allowed to take to my new school, (I had exciting prospects awaiting me at Pickering High School), and ending 17 years at OCCI, then going home and putting together the final cover at night on the same machine I am using to write this post four years later.
What follows are parts of a place that no longer exists, except as archival pieces in a warehouse somewhere in Whitby. How like the ending of an Indiana Jones it all was…
The story of CORRUPTED began just as work on SARGASSO, my self-published series of books, was winding down. ‘People who knew people’ stuff happened and I was offered the chance to meet Paul and Jeff, who were developing this game for the X-Box Indie platform. We got along well and before long, I was brought in to work on character designs for the project.
Here are some things you might want to know about me at the time I began work on CORRUPTED.
I had never played a video game on either X-Box, Playstation, or Nintendo beyond Wii. I had flown a bit on Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, (and got vertigo on the screen?!), played some games on a desktop computer that had me using directional keys to steer cars onto sidewalks and fun stuff like that. But that was it.
I had no formal training in character design.
Any character design I had done was based on looking at model sheets I saw in books and copying the format of figure rotations and gestures. “If that’s how Disney does it, I can too.”
I had no concept about the architecture of what these games looked like, what sprites were, what characters and stories were popular in gaming culture or anything like that beyond FINAL FANTASY, because of the anime connections it had.
Basically, I was clueless. And being clueless made me perfect for the job apparently because although I had what was then self-taught art smarts, some skills and experience publishing a few books, my mind was a blank slate untouched by the influences of video games. Consequently, I wouldn’t inadvertently slip in some materials that buried themselves in my subconscious from previous game play experiences, leaving potential players saying things like “Hey! That’s just like the Blade of Pohtus used by Dojt Sryvat from MAGA 4: WASTELANDS OF THE REPUBLIC!”
Fans can be annoyingly observant about things like that…
Anyway, here we were, embarking on this amazing journey, and I must say I have only fond memories of my experiences with Paul, Jeff and the creative process that went into CORRUPTED. It was, in the end, what brought me to taking courses at George Brown and finally learning what all that stuff I’d been doing was actually called.
There are three parts to this story. Scroll down to read them and see the accompanying process work.
Paul saw my work from SARGASSO and while he was impressed with the illustrations, he wasn’t sure I had what he and Jeff needed for the game until I started pulling out books on manga character design and he identified with the super-deformed characters called ‘chibi’. Chibi is a super-cute form of manga character design where the figure is about three to four heads tall and the eyes are huge. The body proportions are all distorted so even crazy looking weapons look ‘cute’ to an outsider. Knowing I had resources and watching me explain them, Paul agreed to meet me again once I came up with some concepts. For that, I needed information on the characters- who they were and what they were like. I took the information and began with some further research into video game character designs, receiving much help from students in the form of screengrabs of sprites from ZELDA. One even tried to create sprites of his own to show me how it was done. From there, I sat down one day while the classes were working and I had nothing else to do and came up with two ‘chibi’ styled characters.
You can see the guidelines on the knight as I blocked out the character. The other one was something I did for fun, turning out to be a big hit with the students. They loved the antenna and the Jawas look to it, but really went mad over the fact the skulls on the belt were supposed to talk, hurling abuse at passersby. Originally, I was going to keep that one for myself, but with the work on SARGASSO taking up so much time, I decided to gift him to Paul and Jeff, who made him into the merchant for CORRUPTED.
Two elements carried on from this sketch of the knight to the final version, ie. the breastplate and aggressive posture. Everything else, as the character evolved, changed. As uniformity was going to be key, I did more reading, purchasing a great book called SUPER CUTE! KODOMO MANGA, written and illustrated by Kamikaze Factory from Spain and published by Collins Design (ISBN 978-0-06-192755-3). From that research, I created my own original base body template, based on a ninja pose on page 206 that caught the eye of the guys when they first saw the book. Thus, in a scrum around the dining room table in my house, we could now bash out ideas for the characters and just draw on the sheets until the pile was exhausted. The interesting thing was, though, given the information I had from Paul and Jeff, when we sat down to do this and I showed them the first revised concept, they went for it with only minor changes.
Anybody need some template sheets? I’ve got lots left over!
These were the base templates. The image below was the first- and main development sketch for what would become the evil knight in CORRUPTED.
A helmet design would emerge in much the same way and, unchanged, I will show it in the next section. I wanted the knight to be shown in action as befitted the nature of the game. So, the template was created to work with this as the premise from the beginning. We also worked on swords, bows and arrows and created a list of characters to be created at that point. Then, as you will see in the next section, I would create the unifed character reference sheets for an animator to use in creating the sprites. Click on “Final Character Designs” to see how they came out.
I knew the animator would need to have characters that worked from all angles, with armour and clothes lining up in multiple poses. Having read many books on the making of movies and series, I decided to create for the main characters- the evil knight, the good knight and the princess- templates with front, side, back and top views done to scale on a grid background. For the others, top and front views would do. Paul and Jeff wanted the characters to be see from the top in the game, so it was agreed to put some emphasis on heads where possible.
To unify the designs, I fired up Poser on the computer and opened Sadie a computer model who was the foundation of the original Poppy in SARGASSO. (Refer to the article on the art of SARGASSO to see some imagery to put this into context.) Enlarging her head and making her body as gender neutral as possible, I created the above mentioned views by rendering her from those angles with Poser’s cameras. By not moving the cameras once they were loaded, I was able to guarantee consistency in proportions and scale in the renderings, making it easier to line them up on the grid I would later create in Corel Photopaint.
This is Sadie, in case you haven’t seen her before.
This is how I modified her for the body template. Note how the camera names are on the images I composited. I also enlarged the feet, as requested by Paul and Jeff.
Below is how I drew on the costume for the evil knight over the photocopied template. I followed the same process for all the characters, thus keeping them fairly consistent.
From there, I took the images to Staples, photocopied the sets and shaded on the back of each copy with a soft pencil. I then carbon-traced out the drawings to clean paper. As the grid was only useful for the initial layout to keep everything lined up, I did not need it for the final inking, which was done afterwards. I use carbon-tracing often when working on large projects to preserve all reference materials in case of a foul-up and this has proven to be a smart practise over the years on those occasions when I have had to modifiy a piece or redo the final work. I also keep the reference materials after the job is done for years in many cases, just so I can recall the creative processes used when I need to do so.
THE EVIL KNIGHT- FINAL INKS
The top of the head was an important part of the design as this was what players would see most when playing the game. With the chibi design, it meant the head would overwhelm everything else around and beneath it. Thus, the evil creature possessing the knight was created as a focal point. I think that was my idea, but I could be mistaken. Looks nasty, though.
THE GOOD KNIGHT
The armour on the evil knight was meant to be spiky and concave, glowing green between the plates. By contrast, I suggested the good knight should have softer forms and curves, with the armour looking more like the material I saw in reference books I consulted from the local library’s childrens’ section. Good call on the part of the librarian who helped me. The best books really were there- not in the adult section upstairs.
There is a reason why she is barefoot. I suggested she might have been grabbed from her chambers while engaging in her daily ablutions. There was something innocent in this presentation as well, I thought, and I transferred it to the final cover art.
I moved the skulls to the front for more impact and gave ‘him’ nasty looking nails and a little more detail on the cloak to make him look a little less like a Jawa.
THE RANGER AND VILLAGER
What can I say about the Ranger? Everything I’ve ever seen of them in fantasy art seems fairly consistent. Paul, Jeff and I agreed to keep it within those common concepts. As for the villager, he looks like he could be happy in a field, at the forge, or behind the counter of the local tavern.
To see how the cover and the animated evil knight came together, click on the link “The Cover Art and Logo.”
COVER, LOGO AND ANIMATION
Once the characters were done and signed off, it was a race to get the cover completed. Time was flying and I needed to start prep work for the main gig- school. Paul, Jeff and I worked through some ideas and I developed some concepts using Poser and Corel Photopaint which I thought might work. Neither Paul nor Jeff felt the love, though, and these early efforts simply became stepping stones to the final work. The meeting when we hashed out the cover concept, though, was some of the best fun I had in the whole project. It was like being in the big studios working through a creative session on a movie where everything went on the table and was bounced around until it stuck or fell apart.
Poser was fantastic as a pre-visualization tool at this stage. I used the Sadie base I developed for the templates and posed versions of her with prop weapons and sets to give the guys a feeling for the final piece. They made suggestions and eventually, we agreed on this composition after I tweaked three versions and they cast ballots by phone and email.
I blew up the images and carbon traced these basic forms onto larger art sheets- one each for the good and evil knight. With those templates, I then drew the armour, weapons and costumes based on the original designs. The new drawings became the foundation for the final work.
Without the CG base reference for proportions, I don’t think I could have finished the piece in time. I prefer going freehand whenever possible, but that armour and the princess’s dress was very hard to do. So having the bathing suit Sadie template as a guideline made getting to the freehand stage a lot faster. As you can see below, the guidlines are still in place, although the bodies have disappeared under the clothes and armour. Only the face of the princess remained relatively un-altered at this stage. The background is clear in both images.
I added all the buildings and background elements directly to the final piece later, hoping all the time they would work with the characters and not overwhelm them.
Please note in the gallery below, double-click on each image to bring up a larger version in a separate gallery.
Back to Staples to create photocopies of these drawings. They would be transferred afterwards onto the 100lb paper I bought for the final art. What follows are snapshots I took as the work progressed. They are not very good, but did give Paul and Jeff tantalizing glimpses of what was to come. Paul and Jeff wanted the final work in coloured pencil- something I had not used on this scale since 2007. It was great getting back to it, though. There’s so much computer work out there that people forget that wonderful results can be obtained from these simple tools.
Did you see it? Just before I finished this part of the image, I reversed the sword in the hand of the evil knight. Check the transfer drawing again if you missed it. I was not happy with the piece as I working on it, but could not put my finger on it, being too close to the work. The moment I concentrated on the sword, I knew that was the problem. Once flipped, I felt hugely better about the piece and it was done in no time.
This is actually a mixed media work. The sky and stones are done with graphite pencils. Only the buildings and characters are completed with coloured pencils. The cover design at the top of the page has the colours tweaked a little from what you see here, which is closer to the original. However, I think the cover with the composited title looks wonderful. I don’t know who did it as I signed off after the cover was done. I definitely like it, though.
This was the second design. Green was the order of the day. I used red in the earlier version with original text I created that looked like a graffiti tag. As you can see, if you compare this one with the logo on the cover art at top, the texture on the letters has been redone. We agreed on what you see here, but I like the other on the final cover better. It looks like scales! Oh, the nasty looking thing underneath is a view of the sword in regular graphite pencil.
A WONDERFUL SURPRISE!
This arrived in an email one day- the evil knight as rendered by an animator in Sweden. If you read Paul and Jeff’s blog at the time, you could follow links to the creator’s own site. I think the drawings translated really well into the final model. The sword was simplified in the blade, but the handle remained pretty much as imagined. And you should have seen this guy move in the demo animation!
And that was it. At the time of writing, the game was still available on the X-Box Indie platform. People I’ve talked to who played it had a lot of fun. I did get an X-Box later and played a few games on it, but never became a huge fan because of the time involved and all the other projects I wanted to work on. I will not say ‘no’ to another stint of character design, though. CORRUPTED was just too much fun.