Monday, October 8, 2012

The Thundering Dragon of Heaven

I missed the release of this one!  Stupefying Stories 1.7 has been released, with my cover painting for the story The Thundering Dragon of Heaven, by Michael Matheson.  For those who haven't picked this up, I'd recommend it.  That story is lots of fun, and I had a bunch of visual ideas for the painting.

I'd say this was a traditional Chinese version of Steampunk, with machine melded cyborgs and chi-channeling resistance fighters duking it out.  My concepts for this showed a couple of scenes, and I was careful to get the details from the story correct, where they were given.  But composition and clarity also rule the final product.  For example, the warship in the background of the final cover originally had battle damage, but I felt it would get too messy.  The ornate sides of the ship have detail enough, with adding in gaping holes with burning edges, debris falling away, and trailing smoke.  Maybe it would have worked out, but I kept the craft intact instead.

I love visual detail, and had a great time painting the main character's tunic.  Cloth and patterns are lots of meticulous fun to draw and paint, as it allows me to kind of do another piece of art inside the main painting.  And having her wearing something that looks smart and practical allows me to give some indication of her character.  Clothing and item design are very important, and I can't stand the school of thought that says "well, it's fantasy, so anything goes".  Here, I was looking to go for comfortable, and something the character could conceivably wear during the many action sequences to come.

Having the titles behind the clouds was the idea of the all-powerful Bruce Bethke. I'd painted the sky as a single layer, in a traditional landscape-painting sort of style, and I immediately agreed to slip the titles behind the clouds not fully appreciating how this would complicate the task.  I had to manually erase and blur the titles, then basically painting them into the background layers.  A pretty simple task that turned out to be deceptively difficult to get looking good.  At one extreme the clouds ended up looking like translucent milk spills, and on the other they turned into opaque marshmallow fluff.  But incorporating the titles into the art makes a big difference, and I'm pleased at the final effect.

Concept A was basically static, showing the protagonist in the moments before her meeting with the cybernetically augmented Emperor.  I wanted to hint that she was something of a badass, and the electric arc between her fingertips was meant to do this.  This electrical flow was going to provide point light to her face and clothes, drawing attention to it thought it was to remain visually very small.  The elaborate clothes and hair were more examples of clothing design that I tend to like, and provided multiple small panels for stitching art, like the dragon and crane motifs on the cloak's shoulders.  But this one was rejected for being a bit too static, and I agreed with that.

I'm not thrilled with the way the woman's face appeared in this concept, but realized (too late) that I'd left on the mirroring layer I'd used to make sure her features were level.  This is a trick I sometimes do, in which I duplicate and flip a layer.  After adjustments are made (if any), I discard it.  But not here!  And since this is a sketch, her lips end up being too severe, her nose almost pug, and her eyes entirely too symmetrical.  A small error, and not a deal breaker, but it shows the hazards of working digitally.  For every trick it allows. digital painting admits a new, unforeseen risk.  This is the sort of thing that couldn't happen with traditional media.  In any case, the image in my head was far more attractive.  But, as I tell myself, this is just a sketch, after all.

Concept B was the one we went with.  It's pretty close to the final painting, with a few angles and such adjusted.  The airship in, in this version, bristling with more weaponry, and I eliminated much of this from the final version.

The sketch of the airship was itself based on a render of a 3D model I made of the airship hull, to guarantee that the hull design and sail masts would be geometrically correct, given the complexity of the angles.  The task of constructing the curved lines of the hull using traditional perspective methods was prohibitive for a mere concept piece.  All that work, after all, was likely as not to be rejected, and a simple 3D model was the faster and more accurate way to go.  The final painting is, of course a painting.  The dragon, and other details on the hull do not appear in this first concept piece, except as the roughest of approximations.

Concept C was a close favorite of mine.  This image immediately jumped out at me from the story.  The protagonist is facing a huge cybernetically enhanced killing machine, and waits, readying a lethal electrical charge.  This I showed with the power running down the metal, but I added additional arcs from her boots and body to inform the viewer that the power came from her, not the metal she was grabbing.

But this was rejected on the basis that the warmachine was too Iron-Man-like, and I had to agree.  Another concept I worked on featuring this creature was far more detailed, and unique, but, in the end I never sent it in, as the thing was just too distracting.  The simplified form of this concept, silhouetted a bit by the fire on the horizon, was more visually appealing, but perhaps didn't show enough that was unique.  This is the problem posed by conceptual art: you want to give the impression, not do a full-fledged painting.

This concept, however, is still strong, and I may just do the full painting from it, just to do the idea full justice.  And who knows?  the final may end up looking just as generic as the concept did, and wouldn't that just be a hoot?

1 comment:

  1. How did I not know that you had posted these until now?

    First of all, thank you for the gorgeous cover art for the story. And thank you for posting these other concept pieces as well. It's wonderful to see different scenes from the story brought to life like this :)