What The Whales Saw

whattheWhaleSaw

This has turned out to be one of my most popular images. I sell it on a regular basis from Redbubble and Society6, which is very cool. I thought I’d use this post to explain a little bit on how I came to create this image.

It really started off as an experiment at an underwater scene. The software that I like to use, Mojoworld, doesn’t do underwater images. You can create scenes with water, and make that water transparent (with full reflection AND refraction) but you can’t position the render camera under the water directly. So I had to try and find a way to fake an underwater scene.

The first step was to try and replicate the atmosphere of an underwater scene. I experimented with different densities to create a dreamy watery look. Once I got a density I was happy with, I then experimented with different colours. Eventually I settled on the above colour. The main problem is I couldn’t replicate the bits and pieces floating around in water that you might normally expect – so this ocean is a very clean one!

Once I’d gotten the atmosphere close enough, I then set about posing the models. I moved the Cthulhu model far back in the scene. I wanted to deliberately try and put the emphasis on the foreground whales, with Cthulhu appearing more mysterious. I’m guilty of over-using Cthulhu in a lot of scenes so I wanted to move away from that traditional scene of the old chap himself directly in view.

The whales are more to provide a sense of scale, but I really liked how they are central to the image. Luckily the render engine created their shadows which was very fortunate!

With all the models posed I rendered out the full scene but it still wasn’t quite realistic (yeah, right, because a massive Elder God is realistic!). I took the picture into Photoshop and experimented with the light rays coming down. If you look carefully there are also some caustics on the floor but I was more interested in the light play so that’s what I focused on.

So there you have it. It took quite a long time to get this picture right so I’m happy that other people also seem to like it. Let me know what you think in the comments below, always love hearing what you have to say 🙂

 

Snot

My eyes are itchy, my nose is bunged up and I’m forever sneezing. Don’t get me wrong – I love summer. I’m just sick of hay-fever. Judging by the amount of red eyes and sniffing everyone in the office is also suffering.

The weather forecast last night reported that there would be even higher pollen counts. I’ve stockpiled a load of nose spray. I’ll be fine.

Another day over, another bucket of snot. The office was half empty today. Several called in sick, but some we didn’t hear from. They didn’t reply to their emails either.

When I got home I had a crazy sneezing fit. I hawked up a great glob of snot. That was not bad. What was bad was the creature squirming inside. It looked like a foetus or a shrimp. I flushed it down the toilet before puking. Maybe I was mistaken. I mean, that makes no sense, right? My skin still crawls thinking about it.

Waking up this morning, I couldn’t breathe. My nose was totally blocked. I didn’t sleep well either. Dreams of that snot-thing kept waking me. I tried to call in sick, but no-one picked up so I just sent an email.

I sneezed out another one of those things. Don’t ask me why, but I’ve put it in a jar. I guess I wanted to prove I’m not going crazy. The thing flopped about pathetically until I filled the jar with water. Now it’s swimming around. It looks a bit like one of those sea monkeys. You know, the ones that look cute on the picture but are just fleas or something? I wonder if I should feed it. It comes to the jar wall when I tap it.

The weather forecast says the pollen count tomorrow is going to reach record levels. I’ve ran out of nose-spray, and my nose is locked solid with mucus. Every time I blow it another creature slithers out. I know it’s not normal but that’s what happens. I’ve been putting them in the jar with the first one but it eats them, growing rapidly. As it grows “it” is becoming a “she”, and she is beautiful.

This morning I was woken by a smashing sound. She had somehow fallen off the shelf, shattering her jar. As I came into the kitchen she sat in a puddle of broken glass and water, pleading at me with those gorgeous eyes.

There was no weather forecast today, only static from the radio. I’ve not seen or heard from anyone in a while. It’s just her and me. She continues to grow so I’ve moved her into the bath. When I touch the water, she sends visions of a place that is not on Earth. It’s the most beautiful, relaxing place I’ve ever seen. Unknown stars swirl in an indigo sky and all around is warm blue water. It’s just her and me forever.

She keeps inviting me to get into the bath. Tonight I’ll join her.

How I Approach Commissions

ODQ

This image was created for the fantastic Occult Detective Quarterly magazine. I was asked by one of the founders if I would like to contribute so I jumped at the chance. He forwarded on a story to me and basically gave me free reign, which was brilliant. I’m sometimes asked to do commissions but with only a brief outline of the story – which is very hard to do, as I’ll explain below.

Firstly, I read the story quickly. As I mentioned before, without the story to read I don’t find it easy to produce images. By being able to read the story I can get a feel for the story –  to try and understand the genre. Was it pulpy, prose-y, gore-y and so on.

Secondly, I read the story again but much slower. This time round, I wanted to try and get a feel for where images sprung to mind. As I was reading it, a few key parts of the story stuck out to me and so I focused on those.

Thirdly, once I had some ideas in my head from the story it was time to try and see if I could replicate what was in my head into reality. As I work digitally using 3D pose-able models I am sometimes limited to what models are out there. However, it also allows me to work within certain parameters quickly and, using the relevant software, easily.

After a few drafts, I focused my attention on what eventually became the above image. I posed the character to be sat in meditation, and posed the exact same character behind him to look like he was floating in an out of body experience. I had to learn how to shade the character to appear ghost like, but with a few tweaks I got the look I wanted.

As Rob Ross was keen on saying, happy accidents should be embraced. When I posed the character I didn’t originally intend the light source to be directly behind his head but the resulting effect was very cool so I went with that. The only problem was the light source didn’t light up his face. Hence the lamp in the center of the image. The dead crows added a slight folk-horror twinge, something that I personally enjoy.

Once it was all done and dusted, I rendered it out full size using Daz3d’s IRay render engine. I probably should have rendered a test render to see what the editor thought, but I got carried away. After a few small tweaks in Photoshop to bring out the sunset/eclipse effect (and produce a black and white version) I sent it to the editor to see what they thought. I’ve done commissions before and there tends to be a lot of tweaks needed before the editor is happy. Luckily, this was a first as the editor loved it straight away and ran with it. I’m keen to say this image is now included in the Occult Detective Quarterly magazine, and I believe the full colour version is included for some lucky people.

Why Lovecraft?

I’m often asked why I love Lovecraft. This article is my attempt at trying to explain this. Whether or not I will answer the question, we shall see!

A little bit of back story. Back in the day I was well into role-playing and I used to get the one magazine that dealt with RPGs: White Dwarf. In one edition they discussed a game called The Call of Cthulhu, complete with illustrations and a little extract from a Lovecraft story. I loved what I read but now came a problem. There was no place to get hold of his books or stories (this was back in the pre-internet days) and so his work became this mythical thing, a holy grail of horror. It built up in my mind that this Lovecraft thing was just going to be amazing. When I finally found a collection of his stories I was so excited. Seriously, really excited. On the bus home I read Dagon and was….underwhelmed. Maybe I’d built it up too much in my head, maybe it was trying to read on a busy bus. Whatever it was, I wasn’t impressed.

I stuck with it, read a few more. Slowly, I started to get it. The depth of the stories grew on me, the sense of cosmic dread crept up from the depths and I was hooked. The sheer volume of ideas infused in his stories even now amaze me. Even now, when I read and re-read his stories I’m floored that there are so many original ideas and concepts from one person. Before Lovecraft I’d read a lot of horror but this was the first time there was this whole cosmic thing going on. The sense of who vast the Universe is, and how small and pitiful we are.

But let’s address some of the questions people often ask me about Lovecraft.

Firstly, the pace. These books were written a long time ago. Presumably, life moved at a different pace. I had to slow my impatience down, take my time to read the stories, process the concepts and really absorb the tales. Once I did that, I began to really enjoy the works.

Secondly, the writing. Well, yeah, I believe the term “purple prose” gets banded around quite a bit. Sure, he did get a bit carried away from time to time. A lot of stories drag out to the inevitable conclusion that you worked out quite some time ago. You’ve just got to let go – flow with it and enjoy the ride!

Thirdly, the racism. There’s no getting away from this. It’s been discussed by far more intelligent people than myself. The only thing I have to say on the matter is that his xenophobia must have influenced his writing in some shape or form, creating that fear that exudes in his stories. “Write what you know” and Lovecraft must have known fear.

Finally, what’s with all the tentacles? To be honest, I’m not sure. Tentacles don’t really feature that often in Lovecraft’s work (if at all?), but for some reason it’s been picked up as the key motif of his work. I’m guilty of using tentacles in my own art. It’s an easy way of putting something odd, almost alien, into an image – something that doesn’t quite belong. But if you read Lovecraft, you might see that this is a very misleading piece of imagery. But it exists, so I live with it.

So there you have it. Maybe it doesn’t answer any of the questions, but I hope it gives you an idea as to why, even now, I’m still obsessed with Lovecraft.

The Well

The Well

This is one of my favourite pictures. It’s heavily inspired by the works of Aron Wiesenfeld, who creates amazingly bleak but beautiful oil paintings. His work often leaves me wondering about what is around the corner.

As a render, I was very pleased with the results. I have a habit of over lighting scenes so with this scene I deliberately kept the lighting to a minimum. I’ve since discovered that this type of lighting (if I was a real painter) is called Chiaroscuro – a strong contrast between light and dark. The intention was to try and draw the focus to the well, but also to not have anything obvious coming out of the well. Another bad habit I have is to add tentacles to everything and anything so on this one I kept it all out. I guess it was my attempt to replicate that sense of mystery that Mr. Wiesenfeld achieves so effortlessly.

The picture features two recurring characters I like to put into my renders. The girl is called Lenore, and the little alien thing has been dubbed Albert. His real name is Loik, by the fantastic modeler Nursoda.

Art, Graphic Novels and Me

This post is probably going to meander a bit so in order to try and keep things readable I’m going to try and keep it chronological. The point of it is to try and look at my own journey with art and graphic novels, maybe try and explain what has influenced me along the way and where I am now.

The start of it all has to come from my Dad’s collection of science fiction paperbacks. They all had these amazing covers by Bruce Pennington and I would sit and look at these covers for hours, imagining what was in those books. I was too young to read them, but I was hooked. Even now, the work of Bruce Pennington is a massive influence on me.

It wasn’t too long after that I discovered the beauty of Lovecraft. I’m not going to talk too much about Lovecraft here but his work has affected me in many ways that I’ll try and address in another of these rambles.

Next on the list has to be 2000AD. In the 80’s a lot of us would read 2000AD – Judge Dredd, Rouge Trooper, Slaine – all great characters. Rouge Trooper was illustrated by Dave Gibbons, who went on to illustrate another great influence: The Watchmen.

Watchmen was a bit of a landmark in the world of graphic novels. It took apart the genre, expertly written by Alan Moore. When I first started to read it I was disappointed at these old saggy super heroes who weren’t really super. But as I continued, the story evolved with layers upon layers of depth. As it grew so did my appreciation of what a graphic novel could really do. I’ve never looked back.

This next bit is going to be a bit random, but keep with me. In the early 90’s, I was looking for a new T-Shirt. I found this t-shirt with the most amazing artwork. It was for the Grateful Dead’s album Aoxomoxoa. If you’re not familiar, the artwork was by the surfer/artist Rick Griffin. I bought the album first (which I loved) and then bought the t-shirt. Yeah, a bit random but hey, it worked! From there on, I developed a love for Rick Griffin’s art. I bought one of those Paper Tiger books of his work, which started talking about Zap Comix.

And so…Zap Comix….where to begin? This was like an explosion inside my head when I bought my first copy. It had a beautiful Rick Griffin cover but the inside was just mental. Not all good, some downright hideous, but it made me aware of such amazing talent like Robert Crumb and Gilbert Sheldon.

Whilst I have my reservations about Mr. Crumb (based purely on the brilliant documentary Crumb!), his art work blew me away. His work in the Kafka book has to be one of the most perfect alignments between art and words that I’ve ever seen.

Gilbert Sheldon is perhaps best known for the Freak Brothers comics. Obviously a bit naughty in their subject matter, I was in my University days when I discovered those ribald chaps. I loved every single one of their comics. The earlier comics had an art style I loved, a style that seemed to change in the later editions. But still, even now, they remain one of my all time favourite comics.

By this time I had discovered the joys of punk rock and was fully immersing myself in all things punk. This led on to me discovering how punk rock worked its way into comics. I was intrigued by the works of Raymond Pettibon, who provided the legendary icon for Black Flag as well as numerous covers for SST bands like Minutemen. But this wasn’t quite enough. So when I stumbled across Love and Rockets I was instantly hooked.

Jamie Hernandez, the artist responsible for Love and Rockets, created two (at least) of the most engaging characters: Maggie and Hopey. I’m not ashamed to say I had a crush on both of these tear-aways. Probably still do. Hernandez drew them so beautifully, explored their personalities, their strengths, their weaknesses, in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in a comic. Truly inspiring stuff.

Whilst not a great an artist, Pete Bagge also produced one of the more memorable character in Buddy Bradley. Hate was (is?!) a fantastic comic. I wouldn’t say I identified with every part of Buddy but there were definitely certain aspects of his character I could relate to. His love of music, for one.

That pretty much takes us up to when I left the country. For about 10 years or so, I was away from England and lost connection with what was going on in the comic world. I’ve since gotten back into comics and graphic novels, but I’ll go into that in more detail in another post. If you’re still reading, thank you for making it this far! Let me know what are your favourite graphic novels/characters/artists in the comments below…I’d love to hear what else I’ve been missing out on.

The Pillar

06 - The Pillar

This image started off as a bit of a test of a new 3d model – the central pillar. It was looking good: creepy, moody and a bit odd but was missing some sense of perspective. I added the birds but again it needed something more. So, that’s where the boat comes in. Quite why a boat would be going towards such a thing is beyond me, but it provides a great sense of scale. It also adheres (to an extent) to that golden rule of thirds.

After the final render was complete, I brought it into Photoshop. Here I was able to add a few mist layers to increase the depth of the image. I also added the waves of the boat, using a free transparent image and Photoshop’s transformation tool.

The final image was eventually picked up by a leading RPG book company based in Wales, sold for an undisclosed figure. Needless to say, I’m more than happy with the results from something that started off as a test!