Digital Art Masters: V7 - Sample Making Of 'Planeswalkers Pantheon'
Hello again! A lot has changed since I last had an image published in Digital Art Masters (volume 4), but the gratitude I feel when my hard work garners attention is the same. So I would like to begin by thanking 3DTotal for the honor of being chosen to appear in this book and included amongst such talented individuals; it is truly a privilege!
Alright, let's get right down to the nitty-gritty. My nephew is a Marine and at the end of their training they must endure one final test before earning the honor of becoming a Marine.
It is called "The Crucible". For fifty four straight hours, recruits' endurance and teamwork skills are pushed to the limit. Through perseverance and courage they will finish as platoons and earn the title Marine. The image "Planeswalkers Pantheon" was my Crucible. But instead of fifty four hours my trial was six months.
True to the actual test the Marines endure I had a platoon; my wife, kids and Jeremy Jarvis the Art Director for Wizards of the Coast. I simply cannot talk about this work without mentioning their involvement. I watch my kids during the day and work on my contracts at night and on weekends. I simply cannot do what I do without the support of my amazing family and giving this commission everything it deserved meant getting four hours of sleep a day and throwing my wonderful wife to the wolves to fend for herself every night, weekend and holiday. It was exhausting mentally, physically and at times, emotionally. And I'd do it again one thousand times over. Why?
I came out of the other side of this a different illustrator with a deeper insight into my goals and character defects and this kind of self-knowledge is invaluable. I wish I had the luxury of detailing everything I learned working with Jeremy on this, but it's safe to say that he enabled me to push my abilities to the limit and come face to face with some artistic demons. Rocky had Mickey, Luke had Yoda and I had Jeremy.
Getting out of your comfort zone, remaining hungry for constructive criticism and having a willingness to change and sacrifice more of your personal life than you ever imagined is what creating art is all about. Chances are if you're reading this book you are already pursuing art and hunting for hard knowledge on how to improve. Try to bear in mind that there is no express lane to your goals or any program or tutorial that is going to give you the incentive to invest your blood, spirit, flesh and time. That can only come from you. And like you, I too am on the quest to improve.
So, with this in mind, which artistic demons did I mean? I used to hate relying on photo-references and withered at the idea of doing composite paint-overs. To me it never seemed like art; it seemed like cheating. This piece forced me to change my tune on that, at least when it comes to commercial art, where the client isn't paying for your personal artistic dogma, their paying for an engaging representation of their intellectual property. It's not about your voice, it's about their baby. That's a philosophy I've always had, but never fully gave myself to until this work. These, are the Planeswalkers you see. You get out of their way.
The concept for this piece was pure. Illustrate The Planeswalkers Pantheon. Make each character shine on their but also shine together. Needless to say when Jeremy offered me the commission I was completely blown away by the gravity of the assignment. I still am to a degree. Me?! Illustrate the Planeswalkers!?...TOGETHER?! I never thought I would be trusted to illustrate characters so well known, so loved and so iconic; trusted, being the operative word.
Painting the Planeswalkers
The commission was in two stages and was to first feature a full body illustration of Gideon Jura leading a small group of five Planeswalkers (Sorin Markov, Garruk Wildspeaker, Jace Beleren and Chandra Nalaar), who would be surrounded by the remaining nine. As you can see in Fig.01 in my infinite genius and eagerness to get going, I went ahead and started them from the waist up.
This ended up plaguing me until I bit the bullet and reconstructed them, (Fig .02) repairing and polishing each character so they each shined as powerful individuals without outshining one another (Fig.03 - 04). I'll talk about that more a little later, since these five aren't the only characters involved, but the formula is more or less the same.
With "The Tight 5"(as they were eventually dubbed) completed and ready to roll it was time to set Gideon and friends center-stage and retro-fit the remaining nine Planeswalkers around them in a "U" shape, with Elspeth Tirel and Liliana Vess flanking Gideon Jura and acting as anchors around which the other Planeswalkers would orbit (Fig.05).
This took 6 months to complete and the characters you see here are life-sized (i.e. you can match your head size to theirs when viewed at 100%). Because of this it's basically impossible for me to cover each character in-depth, so I'll cover one character in general terms, so you can get a sense of what it took to paint each one.
The character we'll concentrate on is Liliana Vess. She is beautiful, cunning and deadly. In the Magic the Gathering "Multiverse", Liliana Vess is a century-old necromancer who forged a pact with demon lords in order to be restored to her zenith of power and beauty. She raises the fallen to do her bidding, corrupts the living and draws power from death. My kind of gal!
Liliana at heart, is a predator; a man-eater. It was essential to transmit this in her body-language and attitude. When I think of a predator I think of exotic big cats and serpents, of hypnotic eyes following their prey's every move, waiting to strike from the darkness. Garruk Wildspeaker also embodies this, but on a more barbaric, primal level with fur, tusks and muscle! Liliana however is more subtle, more insidious; like a stalking black panther, or a slithering cobra. I mention all of this because I try and immerse myself in who these characters are when I illustrate them.
I think about what it is that attracts the die-hard fan to these personalities. From this point I create a phrase or word that embodies the essence of what the character should project and I try and make them tangible. The hard-numbers and technique is the same for each character. After studying the reference sheets provided by Wizards of the Coast, I illustrate the character in primitive shapes with a large, wet edged brush at around 50-60% opacity and 50% flow attempting to establish their attitude and presence.
Then I begin to wrangle up references to correct mistakes and evolve the character. It can be anything from movie-stills that possess lighting arrangements I like, to perhaps a hand, set of eyes there, or an entire model striking a pose I like although often the appearance of the model is irrelevant; it's the attitude they project or that invisible something you don't see but sense.
After this I start laying in the flesh-tones, armor highlights and garment colors with smaller brushes (some textured, some not) at a lower opacity. The variables on which brushes I use at what time are also too numerous to mention here, this part of the process is very fluid and I simply don't keep track of specifics. I go in with the Smudge tool set at around 80% and sculpt the pixels into place, blending, reworking and refining as I go along. This technique is more akin to sculpting rather than drawing and I've used it for over ten years and it would take another ninety nine pages of this book to describe it accurately. It's something I've taught myself, as I have with all things related to art as I have never been trained.
The result is commonly what you see here in Fig.06 and typically what gets sent in for approval; a murky, unrefined mess that possesses a couple of focal areas of detail so Jeremy can get a sense of the direction I'm heading. This is the point where his eagle-eye starts pointing out the pit-falls that I have been unaware of like misplaced emphasis or loss of focus. After I clean up the trouble spots and get approval I prepare to enter the ring and fight with everything until I feel I have produced my best.
From here I repeat the process; refining and tightening as I go, investing hundreds of hours on each character at 400-500% magnification until they are finished. It is an unbelievably time consuming and punishing process that is guided more by intuition and repeated failure, than tactical deliberation. I do not recommend it, but I do adore it.
After finalizing Liliana (Fig.07) I move backward to Ajani Goldmane, Koth, and then finally Kiora Atua. Fig.08 - 09 shows how I used light fogging to stagger and separate the characters, being careful not to wash them out.
I use this exact same formula on the left hand-side of the canvas, starting with Elspeth Tirel, then moving backward to Tezzeret, Sarkhan Vol, Nissa Revane and Karn (Fig.10 - 11). As you can see by studying these images a lot of re-organizing took place to balance the position and presence of each Planewalker in order to get a composition both locally and overall. After all the characters were completed I cleaned and tightened the background elements being careful not to over describe the location or demystify the characters.
If you want to take a look at a larger version of my image, head over to http://cryptcrawler.deviantart.com and browse my gallery to find the image. It's only at about half the actual size but you'll be able to check out each Planeswalker a little more closely. Thank you for your interest in my art; I hope you enjoy looking it as much as I did painting it. Until next time!
To see more by Brad Rigney, check out Digital Art Masters: Volume 7