Making Of 'Work Makes One Free'
With having a traditional art background most of my digital work has been primarily 3D, with only compositing and colour correction using Photoshop. But with this project my goal was to rely on both 3D and 2D elements equally, creating a true hybrid piece that would utilise the strengths of both approaches. First I had to find a concept that would align with my goal. I immediately knew I wanted to create a landscape, and I've also wanted to tackle a primitive, industrial environment. Many ideas surfaced but the ones I gravitated towards revolved around civilizations such as ancient Egypt where thousands were forced into hard labour to build the pyramids. Other ideas that came to mind were the horrible conditions and the same slave-like scenario of the Nazi concentration camps. In the end, I decided to combine imagery from both of those topics.
Another goal I had before laying any paint or vertices down was to give a sense of ambiguity to the scenario that would allow the viewers to pull their own conclusions. I envisioned this landscape in a desert-like environment with a heavy, dusty haze that would resemble an Egyptian-like atmosphere during a dust storm. There probably wouldn't be a cloud in the sky and any water source would have dried up a long time ago. Then focusing on the civilization, I wanted to place them in time during the age of our Industrial Revolution to allow some of that concentration camp imagery to peek through. As for the creatures that were forced into hard labour, they had to have strong lungs and even stronger skin and muscles to survive in this chaotic world. Perhaps mixed with selective breeding from the "master species/race" of the planet, they would weed out the weak and only keep the strong. With that in mind, I wanted to call back to the ancient Egyptians and have these slaves carrying huge pay loads, perhaps without even the help of machines. Now I'm ready to dig up some references and begin sketching some ideas out.
Even though I wanted this project to develop extremely quickly, I still went through my usual process of finding some references, doing some thumbnails, and working on the final piece. I first dug through my photographic library and came across an image from a film shoot (Fig01). The cliff in the image gave me the idea that the master species would try to build their "factories" in the shadows and valleys, perhaps suspended off the ground to allow cooler air/water from below ground to siphon up. I also wanted to include an ominous pile just outside of the factory for the viewer to imagine what it could be. Then, using that image as a background, I began sketching on top of it using Sketchbook Pro with a Tablet PC. After a few minutes on thumbnails I began spending an hour refining one of the images first in Sketchbook Pro, and then colouring in Photoshop for another hour (Fig02 - 04). During this stage, I created a bridge to the factory that would allow the "slaves" to enter by a long, gruelling march. Once I was happy with the overall composition and mood I began on the final painting.
To help with perspective and composition, I decided to block out the scene quickly using 3ds Max and then paint over the geometry in Photoshop. Using boxes and other primitives, I constructed the factory, walkway and "cargo" for the slaves in about an hour (Fig.05). A plane with paint deformation on it was used to simulate the terrain. I also created a Z-pass and several object mask images from the 3D scene to aid in painting.
My first step in the painting process was playing with the global colour and general light direction, using a soft airbrush and gradients above the 3D image on a layer set to Overlay in Photoshop. One thing I found helpful was "up-rezing" my coloured thumbnail, heavily blurring it, then playing with different layer modes composited over the top. I also integrated the Z-pass at this stage to simulate some of that hot haze (Fig.06).
Once I was happy with the tonal range and colour of the whole piece it was time to start the rough, impressionistic details. My technique for rendering quickly and painterly involved using simple, round, hard brushes with the Opacity set to 50-70% for light, shadows, and additional surface details. Then I set a layer set to Overlay and pasted in appropriate textures for each material and buildings from my personal photographic library. Then, using a custom smudge brush (Fig.07) with the Strength set to 100% and with the "all layers" option on, I painted on a new layer, allowing me to backtrack or erase my brush work if needed (Fig.08). This part was definitely the most fun and proved to be very quick in achieving an impressionistic style.
The entire image was completed using this process over and over again until it was done. The painting process took a little over 5 hours (Fig09 - 11), with another 2 hours of additional tweaking and colour correction to create the final image.
Hopefully this breakdown was helpful in driving into my thought process and techniques for realising and rendering a concept in a relatively quick amount of time.
Thanks for reading!