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Daev’s Late Night Blog

A Little Space Update

I’m working more quickly lately, having made the decision to stop producing my book, A Little Space, with traditional media and switching to using Photoshop.

aLittleSpace_11-SM

I miss at times the fluidity that comes with using traditional media, but there is a trade off. Transferring my drawings to paper, exploring and then starting over, is a slow way to work. Still, painting with photoshop is awkward, not intuitive, and gives me no ability to work with paint in a way that I would through various techniques like dry brush, water color, drip, splatter and lets not forget impasto. Yes, there are brushes in Photoshop, but they don’t work like natural brushes or actual paint, and paint doesn’t actually blend, which is perhaps the worst sin of all.

What I like is that I can block in the look of my book much more quickly. My layout wall which was enlarged thumbnail sketches a few weeks ago, is quickly becoming full color test prints, ten out of sixteen so far.

aLittleSpace_12-SM

One of the benefits of working in Photoshop quickly is that I can experiment with the entire color palette of the book, and the overall look. I’m not just art directing each page, but how all the pages relate to each other. Does the color fit? What is the style I want to finish each image? Can i use the paper texture? These are the questions I ask myself, and the images I alter, influence the direction the story takes.

The story is about a little boy who loses his gravity, I read it to my sons recently and got some pointed feedback from them. They didn’t like the ending. At the end of the book he comes back around the moon, back towards the Earth, with the implication that he goes home happy. My sons didn’t like that solution. They want to have closure, and felt anxious that maybe he never makes it back to Earth. It was brilliant criticism and I’ve made sure the boy makes it home, even taking the story a little further thanks to their insight.

There is still more work to do, but the goal is to have an updated portfolio for the SCBWI winter conference in February, and two different books printed for the show. I have one book already done, this one doesn’t have to be fully complete, but I’m trying to get it as close as possible before then.

After I block in the rest of the pages I’m going to see if I can switch from Photoshop to a more painterly program so I can take this a little closer to what I see in my head.

Second Generation Artist

I wanted to talk about one of the influences in my art that i’m reminded of on some nights when my son sits in my studio doing his art and I am working at my computer on illustrations or my video game work. I’ve told him how in our very packed house growing up, with eight children and two adults, space was scarce, especially private space.

My bedroom at one point was the loft at the top of the stairs, where in winter months my mother would move her art table (from the enclosed front porch) to the bottom of my bed so she could continue working. On some nights she would work late, and I’d fall asleep listening to the light clacking of her metal knife as she edited books.

My mom was a graphic artist. Back in the days before books were created on computers and easily edited, artists like her would make essentially slave wages to manually lay out each page on full two page spreads. She would cut pages up with exacto knives and using wax lay them down on the page. I’m probably screwing up the order of things; I think the next step was she’d retouch full size negatives that were made of her frankensteined together pages. At this stage she’d remove any lines that showed up, and ink with a tiny metal pen the dust and scratches. It was a time consuming process that was under appreciated by her bosses.

Back in those days I took comfort falling asleep listening to her work at the bottom of the bed, lit from below by the light table that cast a soft blue glow across the room. I remember it clearly, from the smell of the paint to the way it faded from gloss to dull.

My mom is one of my art influences. It may not be obvious to some because she was never a published artist, although she wrote children’s books that only my siblings and I got to enjoy. I still have early memories of her working, though. Red ink, flowery designs for things that I don’t even have conscious memory of what they actually were she was working on, still find their way into my books, sometimes just the color alone as homage (like the red griffin in Monkey Marbles).

Her writing endeavors never came to full fruition, but I still appreciate the efforts she made. In between time that she was raising eight children and then later taking care of a stroke stricken husband, she would write children’s picture books. Let me underscore that again: she had EIGHT children and a SICK husband and still somehow found a little time. Holy shit, I can barely find my way with two children and still have energy to write and illustrate.

I’m a second generation artist, but have spent much of my career working in computer animation, visual effects, and architectural work. In some respects I’ve followed my mom’s path, doing work for others and ignoring the internal need to create things more personal, because, you know, food and stuff. This probably accounts for some of the hard times I’ve gone through during my career because I wasn’t listening to the internal voice that said I wasn’t content. It may also account for the need to still do something personal and let the stories out that I feel I need to release.

My mom is 82 years old now, and I wanted to write this blog post now, when she is still here with us, to let her know how grateful I am for not just the hard work she did raising eight children under impossible odds, but for her influence on my art, and her encouragement along the way. Having recently gone home to help her move out of her house, I was reminded of it again when I found perhaps my oldest portfolio. The artwork I found? Well, to me it was okay, and sometimes just plain embarrassing to behold. I blushed when I showed some of it to my wife. Somehow I continued to find encouragement and turn those awkward stumblings in art to something real. Let’s be honest: sometimes I feel like I’m still stumbling a bit.

Someday I hope to be a published author – you know books published that children actually read. I think if I do it will not just be an accomplishment for myself, but for my mom, too, who influenced me.

I’m a second generation artist. To me that figures as importantly as the fact that Andrew Wyeth is the son of NC Wyeth, that Stephen King’s children are also writers, or that Ben Stiller’s parents are Stiller and Meara. Like them, I have it in my blood, and for that I am grateful.

Open Studio

It’s been busy here lately as I try to ramp up in my studio more and more, and get focused on my art and writing again.

Original study of Griffin. Mixed media, using candy foil and acrylic paint.

Original study of Griffin. Mixed media, using candy foil and acrylic paint.

Having missed the yearly Open Studio walk of Boulder again this year, I decided to have my own open studio after our return from the east coast, so the last weekend of October I pulled together my work and opened my doors.

I showed a variety of work, pulling out artwork from over the years that I’ve been developing for books, or other paintings and drawings, as well as a few flood damaged pieces that I didn’t have the heart to throw away. I displayed these too, because they are interwoven in my story now.

My sons hadn’t seen much of my art, and my smallest son kept asking, “Did you write this story?” or “Did you create this artwork?” to which I’d reply yes and show him a little more. My oldest son wants to know why I’m not published. He asks this question innocently, because the only world he knows is a world where children are encouraged to create. I can’t really explain adequately that it’s not as easy as all that.

griffin4

griffin3

griffinStudy

The sampling above is representative of the hundreds of drawings and studies I did while developing Monkey Marbles. I tried mixed media like the foil study at the top, and then did hundreds of drawings before turning to color studies. This book of course is on the side lines as I develop new works right now, and I am already trying to decide what to rework when I come back to this book. That is not a worry for right now, though as I’m focusing on a couple other books for the Winter SCBWI gathering in NYC.

Part of what I wanted to share is my process. That when I develop a story this is some of the method that I work, and some of what I like to explore as an artist, to me there are countless ways to explore as an artist. Everyone works differently, this wasn’t a how you should, just how I work. I begin with thumbnails of my book that I pin to an art table or my wall. I then enlarge each thumbnail on the scanner and draw on top of it. In the old days I used to do this all on my light table. Each iteration was painfully redrawn if I found that I didn’t like some element of the composition or the characters etc. Now my process is to streamline what I’m doing. I still like to work traditionally, but my studio is a blend of digital and traditional. One of the things that I showed people is that instead of making physical models like someone like James Gurney (Dinotopia) creates, I make digital environmental models for my scenes now. Then I can be like a film maker framing my shots. This cuts my time down tremendously in deciding what I want a shot to look like in my book, as well as letting me work out details of the environment like furnishings and architecture in three dimensions first. Probably the best benefit is that it allows me to bypass working out perspective drawings from scratch with a ruler.

aLittleSpace_1

aLittleSpace_2

Besides the children’s books that I’m developing, I showed other artwork, too much to show here. In the last couple days before my show, I managed to repair some Indie video game work that I let people play including some prototyping work using the oculus which is always fun. What’s not fun about ghostly cats?

twoMonkeys2

twoMonkeys1

twoMonkeys3

The show for me was about pulling together the stories, the artwork, much of which I had forgotten myself, and trying to jumpstart myself from being the artist in flood recovery mode, to getting my work together again, finished and out. Aside from connecting with people and showing them what I’m doing, the show for me was about trying to find focus again post flood, and get energized about what it is I’m trying to do.

Impatiently bypassing Creativity

We often begin life with impatience, sometimes through epidurals and c-sections to start us on our journey into this world. If we are slow to speak, we are prompted and encouraged with some anxiety. If we are slow to read, the anxiety becomes even greater, and after that each new hurdle in learning is laced with fear of being left behind, and thought of as stupid. How will children who don’t score well, reflect on parents? Will our children be able to succeed? Will they go to an Ivy league school? Will this go on our permanent record?

Theodor Geisel : aka Dr. Seuss.  became successful writing in his 40s.

Theodor Geisel : aka Dr. Seuss. became successful writing in his 40s.

We are tested, pushed, measured in so many ways and most importantly we learn to compare ourselves with others. There are generic tests, and generic methods for teaching children to think of the world, and in the midst of all this push to teach students to memorize times tables, and understand word problems, creativity gets increasingly left behind. Daydreaming is considered a dangerous notion in terms of learning, and leads to diagnoses like ADHD.

By the time we are young adults we’re finding ourselves ushered into careers and jobs we barely remember entertaining. Many of us suffer from an underdeveloped use of our creativity, and still have that longing to engage that creativity – yet we persist often robotically through jobs, and eight hour work days, and job reviews that our careers seem to hinge on, while commuting two hours daily, and suppressing the need to be creative.

Toni Morrison, published her first novel at 40.

Toni Morrison, published her first novel at 40.

In today’s world we also compare ourselves to others as artists, always tearing ourselves down as never being good enough. You couldn’t possibly be as good as Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Toni Morrison, or name your favorite artist, so why bother? We are impatient with our first attempts at a new medium, whether it’s writing, or oil painting and very often the door quickly closes. We equate monetary success with creativity, because so often that is what the world has celebrated. What if following a creative path meant inventing something that no one has even thought of before? It could be ground breaking, and yet go unrecognized, uncelebrated. Such were the impressionists when they began their ground breaking work.

Self doubt though, even for successful artists is an ever present beast. VanGogh, Cezanne, being examples of people who struggled with their art.

Robert Frost : Published his first collection of poems at 39.

Robert Frost : Published his first collection of poems at 39.


Art though is an accumulation of experiences. It is a step by step process of honing skills, and having self discovery and discovering what you want to say as you create. It may take years to get to your opus, but artists who get to their most celebrated works often take decades to get there.

More importantly for the person who is creative, and not listening to that inner voice that says, “write!” or “paint!” or “act!” then these people never get to follow that voice and experience any of the self discovery that might come from following this path.

It is risky business for sure. You may spend twenty years writing poetry, and honing your craft and hoping to connect with an audience. Creativity and being an artist has something to do with communicating, yes, but it also has a lot to do with simply expressing something that wants to come through.

So is it risky business? What if what it gives is something along the lines of meditation, self knowledge, and introspection? Are these things not valued because they don’t have a direct and linear monetary value?

I’m not writing this because I don’t suffer from self doubt, I am writing this because I do suffer from self doubt, and the persecuting voices that either say it isn’t important, or isn’t good enough. A lifetime of training that minimized creativity in schools (art and music for instance) in favor of geometry, trigonometry etc. Those things that could be measured to prove how smart we are vs those things that could help us to become more creative. Creativity is essentially squashed and in the end creative people sit on that creative energy and resist letting it up.

Years ago, I cut off from my artwork for a period of time. When I did, I felt bottled up, unhappy and cut-off. When I listened to those musings inside and started to write, and draw and paint again, there was an explosion of energy that came out. I learned that it was folly to cut off from such a big part of myself and now I feel out of sorts when I don’t get enough time to be creative.

So the question is, are you cutting off from your well-spring? If so, how can you let it in? When you open the door, be patient with yourself. Remember that your creative self has been bottled up, crammed down and abused for decades. Try to be gentle with yourself and let it come. Listen to the voices that want to create and simply do what we all do, try, practice, fail, and try again.

Life is what happens

I’ve spent three weeks now on dusty detours away from my studio. Between trying to restore gardens, barn cleanup, installing the new pump system and designing the barn restoration post flood, my plate has been more than full.

Untitled

While working on the barn this week I came to the realization that there is more damage to the floor than I cared to admit, and that means I’m likely the contractor who will be rebuilding the barn, because I won’t be receiving enough money to hire someone with the insurance money, just enough to buy materials. This was quite a blow to me to realize this as I had basically finished the barn just before the flood and now I’m not only looking at rebuilding it, but doing the somewhat daunting task of demolition to parts I’ve constructed.

I realize now that it won’t be days or weeks before I can get back to personal work, but likely months with little dives here and there into my work. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, and has made me grouchy and depressed as I try to press through the work at hand.

With my wife Sheryl’s help, I realize I need to slow down, this is all going to take more recovery time, and I need to embrace it more, resent it less.

Untitled

sigh. I’m not good at this I admit.

I want this thing to be done so I can get on with doing my “real” work, or you know, figuring out what my real work is supposed to be. So I work on the yard, and the designs and then try getting work done starting at midnight on illustrating books or creating games.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to get everything restored, while figuring out what I’m going to be when I grow up, and it’s taking it’s toll on me.

So where does this leave me? The last couple weeks I decided to abandon using Sketchup as a means to design the barn changes, and use Maya instead which has made me much happier, but there are still some challenges left as I get orthos and perspective images ready to print.

original view of open stable.

original view of open stable.

It’s hard to let go of expectations as days, weeks and then months trickle by dustily. I’m trying to let go today, or rather embrace, and in doing so wanted to share my drawings of the project I try to keep at arms length, the stable workshop renovation.

This is what I’m working on right now, maybe I should be more proud of it.

Dusty Detours From my Studio

Layout for "A Little Space". Trying to get a feel for the story and what can be cut.

Layout for “A Little Space”. Trying to get a feel for the story and what can be cut.

worked hard this past weekend to get ahead on my book layout for A Little Space. My in progress work posted on the wall in my studio where I can study the flow of the story. Having worked until late into the night Saturday to get the work up, I knew that I would have to again divert efforts back to our flood damaged home.

I’ve spent the rest of this week setting up a new pump for our sprinkler system,building prototype fence sections, and doing some prep work on the barn to get it ready for it’s overhaul post flood.

Everest likes to help me think through problems. The problem with these pumps being they have to be "primed" which is shorthand for saying they need to be air tight, and filled with water down to the water source to get any suction.

Everest likes to help me think through problems. The problem with these pumps being they have to be “primed” which is shorthand for saying they need to be air tight, and filled with water down to the water source to get any suction.

Like many hit by the flood, our well is currently filled with silt and stone, it’s invisible, but the tube itself is still down there below the debris. I am pulling water temporarily from the creek just to get the system up and running. Mostly I haven’t drawn anything from the creek yet, it’s all about testing my fittings to make sure they are air and water tight to keep the suction, and to make sure the pump is working. My goal is to try and push some water through the old sprinkler system before my well is emptied of debris on Monday.

I don’t imagine any of the old sprinkler system will work, this is a last ditch effort to just see if anything pops up, but having had a lot of heavy equipment (the heaviest weighing in at 37,000 pounds) on our property and scraping away silt, I doubt there is much of anything worthwhile under the soil from the old system. It’s just about due diligence though and seeing what I can restore.

Asher plays in a makeshift treehouse while I work on the pump system.  A dusty area devoid of greenery now, I try to find ways for the boys to play or be involved while I'm working.

Asher plays in a makeshift treehouse while I work on the pump system. A dusty area devoid of greenery now, I try to find ways for the boys to play or be involved while I’m working.

In the meantime I’ve been designing my own flood fences, and flood gates for doorways should the creek jump it’s boundaries again. Everest joins me in designing making suggestions for how to make things easier to handle during any flood. I like that he takes an active role in helping me think through problems, that I have been obsessed with since I found myself in the rain and flood waters September 12th trying to save our house. With no warning, and no preparation, everything in the barn was lost, and it sustained heavy damage. My goal is to prevent a similar event from running through everything again.

So much of my time has been spent on the yard in the last weeks. The new tractor reports about 12 hours of use hauling dirt for two weeks work, but that doesn’t count the hours I’ve spent off the tractor which is easily four to five times that.

I’m hoping with solid work done on the pump and fence layout that by next week I’ll be able to start spending time in my studio again, although even then some of that will go into barn designs for permits, something I’m hoping to receive before full on summer hits with it’s promise of mosquitoes, more snow melt, and hot days hauling heavy stuff through a dusty yard.

I still try to get a little work done late at night, but usually a day in the sun doing work leaves me somewhat listless as I head back to work on my game work or illustrations.

It's not about the money

As tax day has come and gone this year, I have time to reflect on my earnings, and what I feel is some of the most honest money I’ve earned during my career. My income from publishing my first interactive book in 2013, was a very modest $36.00, or something close to that. I haven’t even added it up actually.

scooby-journey

I’m not ashamed of that salary for the year, I look at that as possibly the first honest money I’ve made. I’m not saying I’ve cheated or stolen. I’m saying that sometimes I feel my salary was for questionable causes. I worked for architects with questionable ethics, movies that are intended as crack for children and make hundreds of millions of dollars so that studio execs can get bigger homes and better cars. More than once that kind of work had me questioning what I was doing at the end of the day, and why I was dedicating so much energy to it. There were a string of furry creatures, car commercials, mediocre Arnold Schwartzenegger films, hyper active animated films.

I struggled with this idea at times. My value, my voice had been replaced with a monetary value. My paycheck and status at visual effects companies replacing my own personal ideas over the years. To me, a poor kid from New Jersey, the money was dependable and enticing and that felt good, that incentive superseded my own personal goals.

SixthDay-journey

Gradually over the years I’ve shifted out of visual effects, the last real work being for the Discovery channel in 2009 (thanks Joel!). It’s probably little coincidence that my last visual effects project happened when my wife was giving birth to my second son, Asher. As we shifted into a larger family, I was shifting more into a role of spending more time with my family.

Since then we committed to home-schooling our sons. My wife and I both work at home, and split our time, neither of us putting in your standard work week. Our life looks much different than it could have, if I stayed the course in Los Angeles. It would have trapped us into one mode of life that didn’t agree with our life choices, and in the end the industry collapsed which would have left us few options.

Over the years, I’ve also shifted more into video game work, as well as teaching and writing again, at least I tried to do my own work while teaching, but teaching as many people know takes a lot of dedication for very little compensation.

aslan-journey

A little over a year ago I left my Head of Game Art position, to focus on family and my own illustrating, writing, and still tinkering with personal games. I enjoyed teaching students, but in the end the message I got from the college was that they wanted more, and still more of my time. I wasn’t valued for the expertise and dedication I brought to the college, but was seen as someone who needed to sit in an office, and at meetings for more hours.

I did something that I should have done many times before in my career, when working with the architect with questionable ethics, and on the movies sucking my life away, and now the college with questionable practices.

I quit.

Two months later, I published my first interactive book Ten Monkey Marbles on the iPad, and since then I have been working on game ideas, my own books, and spending more time with my family.

My earnings are small, modest, inconsequential I hear you say.

Laugh heartily, it’s okay. I feel proud of what I am doing, and spend much of my time on personal projects, which I hope to steadily release over time, on a time-table that agrees with living my life and being available to my family. The bottom line is that I’m feeling like life is more about the journey now, not the destination, not the paycheck. Yes there are definitely days I struggle. I often spend many hours still recovering from the Colorado flood, which is still exhausting work, but eventually that work will be over.

In the end I still believe that there is something valuable in what I’m creating, that isn’t reflected in how much it is or is not earning right now, and has more to do with the value of contributing art that is personal in some way.

The choice that many indie artists, indie game creators, and children’s book writers have is between despair, and perseverance. So many despair and give up. If we persevere, we can take time to enjoy the journey, keeping in mind that often the most important things we do in our lives, are not about making money.

Studies for: A Little Space

The first study is a replacement for the stuffed bear, which I sketched, then sculpted in sculpey, and use in various poses while i’m drawing. My bear drawings were looking too much like trademarked bears. So I decided to make the bear a raccoon.

racoon 1

I did more color studies on my print paper this week, not all shown here, my hand mixed pigments are working well and drying well. I’ll continue to improve my mixing technique to get rid of granules that come with certain colors, but I feel satisfied moving forward.

a-little-space

I did a study of one of the outer space scenes from the book, since much of the book occurs in space, I wanted to make sure my approach would carry throughout. I’m still not sure on all details, but feel good moving forward. I’ll make more decisions as I finish more drawings and pin them onto the wall in sequence like a storyboard to make sure it all flows well.

marsStudy

In the next weeks I’ll be focusing more on only drawings and layout all the pages before continuing on paintings.

struggles with paint

It’s strange to be an artist, who loves to paint and is allergic to paint. I find myself constantly battling the smell of chemicals that can overwhelm me and bring on an asthma attack, alternately I’ll paint with acrylic which I find give me the the worst results. I’m not saying acrylic is bad for everyone, but it doesn’t have the feel of painting with oils, that allow you to blend, take a break and mix a new color, and then come back and work more.

Today's oil study, made from hand mixed oil and Earth Pigments.  Non toxic - non-smelly. Non-Acryclic.

Today’s oil study, made from hand mixed oil and Earth Pigments. Non toxic – non-smelly. Non-Acryclic.

There is loss, knowing that my oil paints are gone, all of them destroyed by the flood (they were stored on the floor). Struggling against acrylic the last weeks, I went searching for my oils, like a crack addict I searched my entire studio trying to deny the fact, that I had thrown them all out after the flood swept through my studio.

In the end, I opened up my box of dry Earth Pigments again. I’ve mixed my own paints before, and talked about it, but I still haven’t been satisfied with the body of the paint, and sometimes various dry pigments don’t grind easily into paste. However I kept at it the last couple days mixing my own paints, so that I can make another stab with oils.

Hours of grinding and mixing to yield six colors of my Earth Pigments.  Will it be worth the trouble?

Hours of grinding and mixing to yield six colors of my Earth Pigments. Will it be worth the trouble?

The oils I’m speaking of course are chemical free, vegetable based oils. There is no chemical smell as I work, and my pigment is toxin free.

Today’s test is a modest test, and to the naked eye there may not be much of a difference between other small tests and this. The paint blends far better though, and gives me the spontaneity that is so lacking in acrylic, it’s fast food like plastic sensation, is so grating to work with.

In the end I am encouraged, and only have to wait for my new blend to dry, and see whether it bleeds, oozes, cracks or just dries well in the next week or so.

Pencil

Pencil drawing for A Little Space, still working on color studies as I try to decide on the look overall.

ALittleSpacePencil

Color study : A Little Space

In a recent post I mentioned that I am moving back to more traditional techniques, away from the computer. So the studies I had done for the book about a little boy who loses his gravity were done on the computer, now I’m approaching them again with traditional media.

littleSpaceColorStudy

I don’t much like using illustration board, one of the things I’ve moved towards over the years is printmaking paper. It’s a thick paper, that absorbs paint quickly. I have some different techniques for working with it. I can gesso the paper with clear gesso. This gives me a nice gesso surface for painting so that paint doesn’t get absorbed, and lends itself to the texture of paint.

This study tonight is done without gesso on the paper. There are two reasons, one is that the gesso stunts my drawing, because the pencil loses any delicacy it had on the paper before.

Another reason is that I want my paintings to feel live and fluid. I’ve probably blogged before about being able to see a painting in progress, “non-finito”. It allows me to keep some of my drawing intact, and work with the drawing, and the paper, rather than covering it all with thick layers of paint. I don’t always work like this, but it’s something I return to again and again, and I’ve returned to here tonight doing a study for the book I’m currently working on.

UDK : UE4 Arrives

This week with GDC’s arrival, Epic Games announced the arrival of UE4 to everyone not one of their beta developers. With a new subscription plan, the software is $19 a month, plus 5% of gross revenue. It’s a deal that puts a game company at the finger tips of many indie game developers.

UE4 ARRIVES

After using UE3 just a couple days I would say that it’s possible they’ve taken some pointers from Unity, or maybe they’ve just moved permanently away from the graphics interfaces of old. Now widgets can be customized and set up to a user’s liking. In essence it has more of Unity’s simplicity and even the layout overall. I’m not sure if Unity is influencing Epic, or if there is just becoming more of a global expectation with 3D programs. Programs like Maya, Unity and now UDK are starting to match philosophy and layout. This may seem random to some, but take for example that until we showed Autodesk the way we use Channel editors at Rhythm and Hues, they hadn’t even had the channels available. Now the same channel editors have become par for course in software across the board.

While some of the graphics choices are a bit larger than I’d like (they take up too much real-estate than they should on a laptop) overall they feel much better, more up to date than the old.

Another oddity of UDK in the past, was saving game packages in the Engine location on the disk. This was always a dangerous prospect to me. Now, when setting up projects it sets up the project to the User/Documents area of your drive.

Blueprints vs Kismet : Blueprints is the name of the graphical programming editor that replaces Kismet. Kismet was in need of an update, and having just gotten started I can’t say too much about this, except that the idea of making kismet “prefabs” seems to be more the plan now.

Static vs Dynamic : Another change is that in the properties of a static mesh, you can decide what the physics properties are without having to convert the mesh to a dynamic mesh.

Game Types : There are some out of the box game types you can use to set up your project; side-scroller, third person, etc. Again, it seems to borrow from the simplicity of Unity, but with the working guts of UDK that has been such a draw to developers.

There seems to be a simplicity of philosophy in the new software, a real move to encourage artists to get in and work with the tools. Although at the moment I’m still getting used to a house where someone has moved all the furniture around, it’s a move in the right direction and very promising.

Skimming Stones

This past week I’ve been in Los Angeles, while my wife Sheryl has been recording some video courses for MindBodyGreen. While she tapes, or prepares, the boys and I have been out and about exploring the city, or even exploring together Marina Del Rey where I once lived while working at Rhythm And Hues for many years.

skimming

I think I appreciate the Marina area more now as I experience it through the eyes of my sons. They experience everything with a curiosity and joyfulness, and a willingness to try new things. So we go for walks in the marina, and over the channel bridge to the beach and run from waves every day.

everAsh1

The idea for Monkey Marbles came spontaneously, as I was walking that same beach and skimming some stones at sunset. The first draft popped into my head, a spontaneous recitation, and when I got home I wrote it down. It began;

Innocently me, skimming stones int the sea, when I heard a sound far off it seemed, innocently me.

The cadence influenced in part listening to Bob Dylan at that time period, started me off, and later I dropped the repetition of words at the beginning and ending of each stanza. The reason is that every page was forced into this cadence and repetition, and it became difficult to sustain in a meaningful way.

Not long after, I had my first sabbatical from Rhythm and Hues, and I dedicated myself to writing and illustrating Monkey Marbles. After hundreds of drawings I thought I had found a style and I began some paintings. I later showed my book in New York and Los Angeles at the SCBWI conventions, and although I had some nice comments and an offer to illustrate a series of textbooks in India (which i turned down), I didn’t see any real interest in publishing it. I’ve written a lot of other stories since that story, and now I’ve come back around to see if I can start finishing up Monkey Marbles as well.

When working on Monkey Marbles I worked hard not just trying to find the style of drawing that I wanted to create the book with, but I did a lot of prep work. I drove to distant towns in California just to take hundreds of photos of quaint buildings that I wanted to be my location. I worked my childhood home into the book, and the lighthouse nearby to where I grew up in New Jersey. The bridge in Marina Del Rey appeared in the book too, the one my sons now call Monkey Marble bridge.

I did many drawings in pencil and then inked them. I did type layout and copied it onto transparencies so that I could overlay my illustrations and then color photocopy them as pages and make working dummies of my book as it progressed. I also tested various mediums doing test illustrations in an effort to find the look I liked best. I tried color pencil on paper, and then progressed to full painting on illustration board.

monkeyCover

One of the most difficult things I found with Monkey Marbles was that drawing a marble, especially gigantic as they were in the book, was difficult to pull off. A marble relies heavily on reflection and refraction, so I set up a tiny light box, bottom lit with a light bulb, and a back drop of white to photograph marbles in detail. I then would paint a page of illustration minus the marble, and would shrink the painting down using photocopies to a size more in proportion to the marbles and put it in my home-made marble light box. Once the miniature of my page was set up, I’d photograph again, and see what kind of reflections and refractions I got on the marble. Which you can see in the full painting with the griffin, boy and marble.

BlueMarble

Now coming back to the book I am looking at my images and I am struck by two things of course. I wrote Monkey Marbles when I was single. Yet here I am years later on the same beach playing with my sons who bear some resemblance to the boy in Monkey Marbles. It’s the same beach where the story sparked to life, and where the photographs were taken for the seascapes, and I wonder what that says about the unconscious.

I also admit that after all this time my painting and drawing style, and ability has evolved and I look at my paintings from that period with some dissatisfaction, and I’m not sure if the original style will stay intact when I pick up paint brush again.

I had originally thought I would simply finish up my paintings on my ipad, but I’m not sure that I feel satisfied with this approach right now. I’m considering transferring drawings back to illustration board again and doing the work with real brushes, in the real world.

Of real interest to me as an artist, and spending time with my sons is that I not only get to immerse myself in a child’s vision of the world (which I only too easily allow myself to do) but I get to photograph my sons in their play and explorations and file these things away for stories that I am working on now, or may come up with in the future. This week I’ve photographed them with space ships, on deck of the Queen Mary and inside a Russian submarine. We took photos at the beach, and at the Petersen Museum, alongside old cars, and those city streets at the Petersen set in other time periods. I don’t pose my children, but rather try to catch them being who they are in the moment, spontaneous.

In essence I get to spend time with my sons and explore, and play and teach them, and part of me is “working” on drawing and painting and writing at the same time.

The idea for Monkey Marbles was spontaneous, something that popped into my head, and that took a lot of effort to put into a book form and the work is ongoing. The recent flood in Colorado has convinced me that I need to stop sitting on my books and finish them up though. Many of my original drawings were destroyed during the flood, as well as some more finished illustrations like the one above. I’m hoping when I get back to my studio, to make some progress on work like these and get them out of my filing cabinets and into the world for what it’s worth.

Unready to publish Monkey Marbles, I did self publish a smaller version, Ten Monkey Marbles, an interactive counting book for the ipad in 2013, which can be found on the Apple App store.

Procreate to Illustrate

TEN_MM_COVER

It’s been one year since I released my first interactive book, Ten Monkey Marbles, to the Apple app store. Not a huge selling product by far, there is still something satisfying in just finishing something creative and putting it “out there”. Out there is basically anywhere that isn’t my stacks of drawings, art filing cabinets, or in some cases boxes of drawings destroyed by flood waters.

Although I spend a lot of time talking about creating games on this site, it doesn’t reflect that I split my time in my studio between developing my games, and writing/illustrating and painting.

Aside from trying to expand my repertoire into writing chapter books in the last year, I still work on my picture books and have been dusting off some work in the hopes of finishing them up lately, especially post-flood where I heaped a great deal of my artwork and illustrations into the trash.

My first attempt at writing, Monkey Marbles, was written when I was on my first sabbatical from Rhythm and Hues Studios. Sabbatical from visual effects was something that was unique and highly valued at R&H, and it was this time off, that gave me time to consider other directions for myself.

My writing has taken a back seat to the practical needs of jobs over the years, or raising children, or digging out mud from floods more recently. Now as I try to dive back in again more deeply, I pulled out one story that I was having difficulty finding a look for. I’ve done some sketches, thumbnails that are usually pretty small to get a feel for my book and the past couple weeks I decided to scan my thumbnails and bring them into Procreate, a painting program on the iPad that cost me a whopping $5.99.

Having digitized all my illustrations, I'm finishing them up in Procreate.

Having digitized all my illustrations, I’m currently finishing them up in Procreate on the iPad.

Procreate has some limitations, and yet I find myself enjoying it, enjoying being unchained from my workstation.

One limitation is the number of brushes, but yet the brushes all feel useful and they work well, making the software far more useful. The thing I enjoy about Procreate is that when painting with it, the brushes behave as I would expect them. I can paint, blend, and use brushes that give realistic textures. I feel like I can be spontaneous, which I have never felt in Photoshop (not a painter’s program at all) or even Corel Painter, which for all it’s bang is somewhat overbloated and easily gets slowed down. With Corel all intuition goes out the door for me, which is not a loss I can bare well. When I have to scratch my head too much about what’s happening in a program, I tend to avoid it because it gets in the way of spontaneity and the real creativity in service of technical hurdles. I don’t like technical hurdles because I don’t want to spend my time thinking about the software, I want to think about the story and illustrations and get into the zone.

“A Little Space” is another book I wrote awhile back, not as far as Monkey Marbles. I’ve sat with it and every once in awhile I try to illustrate a page. I haven’t been able to get the look that I want. This is my first dabbling at an illustration for the book in Procreate, and I feel like possibly I’m on the right track so far, and that maybe I might get to what I want. I’ve stopped now as I look into sizes of children’s books that might be printed digitally to an e-reader (other than the iPad) so that I can rethink formatting before I get too far.

aLittleSpace

Exploring more loosely with Procreate, to see if i can find a style I want to express a story about a little boy who wakes us to find he’s lost his gravity.

They are two different style of illustrations, one that took a lot of more meticulous preparation and another that is very loose and based on quick thumbnails I made to capture the story (thumbnails I scanned).

I’m hoping that I’ll be able to bypass thumbnails on paper for my next illustrations and see if I can do more of this on my ipad. I’m not opposed to doing work on paper and canvas. I feel most fluid with pen/pencil and paper, but I know that my meticulous nature in preparing illustrations means I’ll get lost in prepping boards, transferring drawings and those are the things that I’m trying to eliminate so that I can illustrate and write more, and prep less.

If it works out, it would mean that changing my software, not the computer tablet or the pen, but the painting software really ends up paying off.

The real goal though is to simply get back to creating books again, writing stories, and finishing what i’ve started.

UDK Static Shadows on terrain

One of my pet peeves with UDK is the surprising quality of shadows as a default on terrain. Seen here is a sequence of images that simply goes over the process of shadows in UDK. I’m sure this is not a mystery to the folk at Epic games, after all the demo games that come with UDK are typically built with BSP brushes and meshes rather than relying on the overhead that comes with complex terrains, and it’s something to take note of.

Some starter info : I’m using a moonlit night, but I have turned down some defaults in UDK.

Under World Settings : I like to turn my Environment color way down, there is simply too much light bouncing around for me. So I set the color dark, and then I set the Environment Intensity down as well. This makes it much more shadowy in my worlds.

shadowWORLD_PROPS

For this test environment I’ve also turned off the default exponentialHeightFog, to keep the scene clear. The only thing I am altering in these renders are the lighting attributes on the Terrain.

NOTE : Although I will crank up the resolution of the shadow it is not recommended to do this for your game. This is A SIMPLE scene and merely to DEMONSTRATE the change in shadow quality, but real world tests of your game will show that this will not only be costly in time to bake your shadows, but also will create overhead in your maps that are loaded into memory.

FIRST RENDER : I set up a quick environment to show what shadows of my trees will look like on the default UDK ground. It’s passable, we have shadows out of the gate.

treeShadows_1

SECOND RENDER : I added a 16×16 terrain to my environment, and added a quick grass texture. There is no height change in this render, so it should be pretty clean. Now, to the new user of UDK this will look pretty promising. This is a render from the Editor window, but it’s deceptive and disappointing. When in editor mode our shadows are dynamic shadows, because they haven’t yet been rendered. To use dynamic shadows throughout our game would be very heavy in UE3 (we’re promised real time shadows in UE4).

treeShadows_EditorWin_1

Confusing to many who setup a scene in UDK and are seeing great shadows, is the surprise of going into game mode, and seeing your shadows evaporate. The reason can be found in the terrain’s settings. You can see the Static Lighting Resolution is super low, this line and the entry below it are what we want to focus on.

treeShadows_onTERRAIN_Default-SETTINGS

THIRD RENDER : Static Lighting 2 :
This is what the shadows look like after we bake out our lighting. There is simply not enough resolution someplace, so we lose any fidelity in our shadow renders. If we double click on the Terrain, our terrain Attributes will come up, and we can see the default static lighting Resolution is set to 2, and that Override is turned off. (Actually this is a mistake, the default is actually a more discouraging 1 – and that number can not exceed 4 without hitting Overriding Light Resolution. If overriding that number doesn’t make you nervous it should. You have reached a dilemma, and will face quality vs speed issues after that number goes up.)

treeShadows_onTERRAIN_Default

Now we can start doubling that number to 4 and 8, but our progress making better shadows will be slow. So we jump to Default Static Lighting : 16 However, before you type that in, make sure Overriding Light Resolution : is ON ! Otherwise it will bounce back to 4.

treeShadows_onTERRAIN_set16-SETTINGS

FOURTH RENDER : Static Lighting : 16
In this render we can see a great improvement in our shadows. Remember at this point to Play your game and make sure the shadows are the same as in the editor window.

treeShadows_onTERRAIN_set16

FIFTH RENDER : Static Lighting : 32
For this demonstration I’m doubling my numbers and keeping them power of two, but this will not be our end game, this is more about demonstration. We are seeing a much higher quality and I could live with this render and get back to other tasks. Still, I want to push it one more notch and see what I get.

treeShadows_onTERRAIN_set32

LAST RENDER : Static Lighting : 64
A thing to note is that I also turned on specular highlights on my terrain in the attributes, but here we can see a higher quality. It looks good. The trade off will be how much time I am willing to wait for shadows to bake to get better results.

treeShadows_onTERRAIN_set64

This tutorial was not meant to be an end all on the subject of shadows but I hope it gives guidance to the issue of what happens to terrain shadows, so that someone making a UDK game can consider some of the hidden things about UDK before proceeding too far in design. Shadows themselves are a complicated area, the information will vary for different types of objects. Terrain, static mesh, dynamic mesh all have different requirements. There is also a zone around the player which has dynamic shadows, and may be seen at times as it follows the player through the game, this is because you will have a near area in game you interact with in terms of lighting, casting your own shadow, or using a light that is carried in game).

One thing that is clear, for now in UE3 if you set your shadows to dynamic your game will not likely be able to handle shadows for long, although it will be tempting to use, you need to think smart about how to bake shadows, set up lighting UVs on objects and break your game up to make sure the lighting can still bake. Be careful how much you crank up that number for static shadows while you’re testing.

For the record : I am currently using a Static Lighting value of 10 in my game, but the results in overhead will vary depending on the size of your terrain, and the number of materials you use to paint your terrain. These numbers make my lighting too heavy to bake out daily while developing. I test small areas of my game by keeping my game areas as streaming levels, so that I can test parts of the whole and consider how to make my work, and game more efficient, while still trying to make the game look good.

UDK can be a very intuitive software to use, but shadows are a sticky point in UE3, that will challenge your patience as you wait for scene lighting to bake out. To me the end result is one of the most rewarding but lack of computer power for an Indie developer makes it one of the most challenging to deal with.