Sunday, October 28, 2012

Quick Update

I do have some treats for....uh...the 5 of you?  I kid, I know there are more then that.  :)  Alot of the recent work over September and October has been under NDA or is adult content - neither of which I can show.  Enough that I've considered setting up a blog for content of the later variety (i.e. adult stuff.  Don't ever break NDAs folks).  I might have more on that later.  For now, I've picked the best of what is available to show for this update!

Penciled splash page (on 11x17 bristol) of an female Archer.  You know, I think this is the first time I've posted my pencil work on here.  I'll be sure to post a few more in the next update.

Painted portrait of a mage/sorcerer type character.  Definitely has some "wild" and "witch" vibes.  It might look simple, but figuring out the arm resting on the leg took me a few hours to get right.

  When things go right, the hardest things are those the audience doesn't notice.  The arm mentioned above is a good example, but so are the kneecaps in this piece.  You absolutely have to get them right because everyone knows it when they're wrong.
And finally we have some SWTOR character commissions.  All of these come from the same charming person.  On the left we have her character's portrait.  On the Upper Right it's the character (An'irel) and her husband, a very fun piece to do because Interacting characters are always fun.  She's also pregnant in that piece - my first time as an artist dealing with that.  It's not something that's easy to find a model for but I do believe I adapted to the challenge quiet well.  And finally, in the lower right corner we have the same character and her brother as children.  Sibling rivalry.  I'm showcasing it because children proportions are different from adult proportions.  Alot of artist have trouble making kids look like kids.  Still working on getting it myself, but it's a step in the right direction!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sci-Fi Standoff

Sci-fi western, sharpshooter standoff against a semi-human in the desert.  6x6 inches @ 300 DPI.  CMYK compatible.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

General Pre-Production Walkthrough

Whew....Busy month.  Moved literally half-way across the country.  I've racked up some injuries (namely, my teeth actually punching through my lower lip after I collapsed).  By the way, if you have never had blood taken before, just lie there for a few minutes.  I don't care how good you feel - I was doing fine up until the last second then WHAM!  But I'm all settled now; Completely moved in, got my degree in the mail from SCAD, the injury isn't filling my mouth with blood (amazing how hard it is to draw when you're drooling blood on paper).  Lets get June's post up while it's still June somewhere in the world shall we?

As I said last time, we're going to start with step one.  Often times concept art is step one for a project.  Before you start creating, you need to know what you want to create.  So if we know we need a female explorer for the hero to stumble across, someone who could be a potential love interest, then before we fire up a 3d program we need to sit down and sketch a few possibilities.  Now I already have a character in mind for this example: Kalia, a non-canonical apprentice to Kyle Katarn for the Jedi Academy mod Jedi Betrayal.  It gives us a unique opportunity because it's a current mod for a game about 10 years old.  One of the things I've been doing this month is joining various mod teams because it's fun and it's non-paying work experience.  9.9 times out of 10 - they end up dying for this reason of non-payability.  Yet there are alot of them and because they're always starting up, pre-production work is in high demand.  And that pre-production work looks the same for a mod as it does for a well funded game project (artist skill aside).

So what do we know about Kalia?  Well we know we need atleast two models, maybe more for muiltiplayer but lets just focus on the two.  The first one is for when we first meet her: She's an Imperial prisoner on a remote planet, caught exploring ancient ruins of a force tradition.  She needs to come off as a civilian, helpless, relatable (as in a few quirks, some humor, something that makes the player trust her right off the bat).  As such, her clothing should be white, or light colored.  Perhaps earth tones (Afterall, in the original Star Wars trilogy, the good guys wear white for innocence and earth tones while bad guys wear black and are all greyscale).  We also know she is humanoid, likely a Human, Zabrak, Zeltron, or a Miraluka - although we won't deal with the face and race yet because of potential spoilers in the design.  And she's force sensitive, although she isn't aware of it.  I hope you wrote some of those down because that list of what we need is now our bible for designing this character.

First up we have the thumbnails, something the director (or in this case, the overall mod team) can look at and get a first glance impression.  We want to see where they want to go and give them a few options.  Here, you want to show as many options as possible.  Let them mix and match the cloak of #1 with the asymmetric skirt of #9 all on top of #4's design.  That's what they picked by the way, but give them as much options as you can.  I'll get into alien designs and generating silhouettes and more in a later post.

Once we get feedback on that, we take their suggestions and feedback and run with them.  Around this time, we figure out more of the details and provide more for modelers to use in case we need to go straight to the next step.  Because this is made for a modeler, some area like the cloak and hood have been cut away to accurately model what's underneath.
Humanoid characters are more about costume design and picking up on the subtext then trying to design a new creature.  We have some nice sci-fi bits, alot of simplicity, the character is sexy, she's not threatening.  Overall, it looks like an archeologist you would meet who's been imprisoned and needs help.  We'll need to design her Jedi Apprentice clothing next before we finalize facial features and race.

But all that's for characters and armor....What about things like environments?  They're a bit different.  Once again we need to know about the map we want to design.  Is it for a tabletop RPG game?  A 3D video game?

We almost always begin drawing and designing maps from the top view.  It just comes natural to most people when given a blank piece of paper.   Maybe perspective scares them?  Or, more likely, we're just used to seeing maps.

So over to the left we have a map design.  It's a rough draft, like the thumbnails we did.  We marked where the players can and cannot go.  What's where.  We even have a general idea of the lighting.  And after showing it to the director and putting the final touches on it, we get the map to the right.  A nice, lovely, run-down swoop-gang hanger of an RPG map.

Using the floor plans, like the ones above, we can create maps in 3D as well.  And because it's dealing with complex 3D models, some require more thought out blueprints then others.  On the other hand, some require none.  Just adding a scaled figure in an image works just as good as a grid/layout map, and it's faster if the team is used to it.  This is how most modern maps are made, because they use things like static meshes heavily.  Static meshes are groups of polygons that can be used to form structures, crates, wall details, platforms, you name it.  And often, these assets can be scaled in the level editor.  You can also reuse them - so a couple of different walls might only be one square model that's been rotated.  Levels require fewer and fewer BSPs these days to increase performance.

So we move from top-down maps to maps in perspective.  Were we can see the ceiling, walls, and general lighting.  Taking a map like this, we can even paint props over it.  Sometimes you need some smoke and mirrors though when conveying images like this to a team.  For example, sometimes artist don't use a perfectly linear perspective grid.  After all, you need the see things like the ceiling and floor in order to make them, and bending the grid ever so slightly so you can get a better look at them is perfectly acceptable.  Just make sure the team knows or that it looks flat anyway, or you might end up with the player feeling like they're going from fishbowl to fishbowl.

 And with that, I think that will be it for this post!  Be sure to check back later for July's posting.  We're going to get into storytelling for comics and sequential art along with an updated portfolio post!

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Formal introductions are in order

800x1200 pixels.  Medium: Digital
Greetings and welcome to the Altar of the Visual Narrative.  This blog is run by Val Commons for the purpose of showcasing my own artwork, discussing what works and what doesn't for visual storytelling, developing concepts, and to teach and inspire my fellow artist in general.

Who is this Val Commons?  Well besides being someone who is fun to hang out with, I hold a degree in Sequential Art from the Savannah College of Art and Design.  I've done storyboards, comics, concept art, and illustrations.  I also do quirky side activities like archery, SCA fighting, and frequent attempts of world domination.

In the beginning...

Lets get some things established about this blog; Find out where we are and what to expect on the small scale with existing art.  For example, am I going to be dealing with a younger audience?  Hobby Artist?  Or will this be geared entirely towards professionals?  While this blog is brought into existence partially to showcase my own art, I want a significant part of this blog to be about methodologies, tutorials, what works to tell clear and captivating stories - and why it does work.

1110x600 pixels each.  Digital.  Greyscale Environmental thumbnails

 What to Expect....

Here's what I'm thinking with the above.  I'm going to add a monthly post, even under busy schedules.  Either an art tutorial of some kind or explaining a way to tell a story or observations about storytelling.  And we'll cover storytelling through various mediums, namely comics, graphic novels, tv/film, and games here.  Every now and then (read: every 30 - 60 days) you'll see a portfolio "Art Dump" post with my latest work not under an NDA in addition.  I would love to do something more regular, like something every week, but lets wait for the post-graduation chaos to settle down and see what's doable.

1410x600 pixels each.  Digital.  Colored tight roughs.

What's the first step?

Panic.  It is always to panic.  Why?  Because Art Directors and Editors can be scary, but in a good way......most of the time (God help those poor souls who have missed deadlines and rejoice that I'm not among them).
2220x1200 pixels (7.4x4in @ 300 DPI). All Digital.  SWTOR Fan Art - "The Siege of Ryloth"

 Ok, now that you're panicking over deadlines, wondering how you're going to pull off correct perspective, anatomy, dynamic lighting, if you're getting paid enough, and wishing you could ignore the array of legal aspects in that scary looking's time to talk about.....well, where does one begin?  These are vast topics....

2220x1200 pixels (7.4x4in @ 300 DPI). All Digital. SWTOR Fan Art - "Ambush among the Ruins"
But we'll start with step one.  Work our way through some concept art and character designs for a short story while touching one quick reads, silhouettes, and reducing our designs down to primitive forms for consistency.
2220x1200 (7.4x4in @ 300 DPI). All Digital. SWTOR Fan Art - "Knight Fall"
So tune in click back here next week!