Saturday, April 23, 2011

Making of "Share One Planet" competition piece.

So last September I got an email inviting me to participate in "Share One Planet", a wildlife "digital artists" competition. I of course forgot about it eventually, since the deadline was April 20th, and I told myself I'd do it when I had more time. March comes and I realize I need to get moving on this.
There were about 100 species I had to choose from, and different categories to focus on. I chose the "Mother's love" category. For the animal, I started by choosing the Alaskan moose, but I then decided to see if both Siberian tigers and brown bears were in the list. They were, so I looked them up, and I found out they actually do meet in the wild every now and then - and tear each other up (tigers usually win the battle; they are designed to kill large mammals better that bears, who, even though they seem bulkier, are omnivores, and thus not used to battling other species of huge meat-eating predators very often).
My main focus was tension and narrative. There are still a couple of things I'll get to (you know how finishing a piece can go - there is always something left to adjust/correct/etc.)  Here are the color thumbnails I started with, and subsequently the end result.

Quick color thumbnails helped me set the mood rapidly. I sketched out the lines quickly at first, then added swabs of color followed by sharper and more distinguishable shapes, which I did by using a combo of strokes, the lasso tool and custom brushes.

Focused on these two choices. While the left one has a lot of action, the one on the right seemed a more dynamic composition. It also narratively provided more questions than answers, which I thought was more interesting; It's not clear what's going to happen.
After some feedback I tried to give the tiger a bit more of a surprise appearance to the cub, like he was coming out from behind the rock. I did a quick warp and transform to see how that would look, but the idea didn't work as well as I wanted. The anatomy just wouldn't look right, so I eventually adjusted that back to how it was. Another important aspect was that I didn't feel the separation between the tiger and mother bear was obvious; I needed the tiger to look like he had not seen momma bear yet, and was going for the cub unaware of her approach.  So I added some shrubbery and twigs to give the sense that the bear was partially hidden as he was coming. That helped to add a bit of a visual barrier, as well as to break up the snow and add some interest to the ground.

I wanted the eye to follow the tiger  down to the cub, instead of going straight for the mother bear, so I included some
foliage at the top to help a bit. I also added the tree trunk on the foreground behind the rock to help the composition from escaping to the right. There was too much contrast and attention drawn to that area. Also, the mother in the previous thumbnail seemed too frantic. I wanted the tension in the piece to come from anticipation, and having her run full force wasn't selling the idea, so she is now approaching with sudden alarm; she probably had suspected something was wrong, but did not see the tiger until a moment ago. 

Here is the finished piece. I adjusted the scale of the three animals a bit to better fit the composition. Momma bear is a bit larger, and she now has her head down, which gives her a more menacing posture. Previously she did not have enough presence in the scene, especially since I wanted her to portray incoming danger. She is also not as dark; the contrast in the upper area of the piece was drawing too much attention, so I added a slight atmospheric perspective to tone it down a tad. The tiger's tail, body and front paw were shortened (they were too long). I also polished the fur on the tiger and the bears, and did what I call a "vignetting" pass on the piece, where I brighten and darken certain areas as well as adjust contrast here and there for emphasis. Special note: custom brushes are your best friends. I created about 8 just for this piece, which helped with all the different textures I needed, and saved me tons of time.

Closeup of momma bear.

Tiger closeup.

Cub closeup.

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