„Animals“

In the beginning of this year I was rather active in the forums over at conceptart.org. There I found the sub-forum for concept art where I shared some of my beginners concept work. To my surprise, soon thereafter I was approached by a young British filmmaker, who at the time was in the process of location scouting for his planned feature film „Animals“. In his message he asked, whether I would like to contribute some concept art to his Action/Horror film. 

My initial reaction was hesitant. While I had been working more consciously on concept art style paintings and designs, I was not sure I was ready to take on an actual, serious assignment. This I stressed repeatedly throughout the following exchanges of E-Mails. However, I was assured my lack of experience would not be a problem. Eventually I excitedly committed to the project.

 First teaser poster for "Animals"

First teaser poster for "Animals"

Ryan, said writer and director, subsequently began to share images and collages he had put together to showcase the mood he was going for. And most importantly the story outline for the movie. I am sharing this story, because something incredible happened, once Ryan had shared the details of the intriguing story with me. 

My imagination came to life. I began to think extensively about the story and it’s characters, their possible backgrounds, physical features and the individual looks, I had been „hired“ to design.

„Animals“, of course, not by accident the title of this film. At its core was a group of young children who, through some circumstances I won’t reveal, are living alone, deep in the Rocky Mountain woods. Think: „Lord of the Flies“ or „Stand by Me“. 

Note: I am writing in past tense, because unfortunately this project has been iced for now, though I hope the imaginative story will be realized at some later point. Therefore I also will not share any more detail about the story beyond what has been communicated publicly.

So, the title „Animals“, derived from the special, distinct looks of the main characters whose real names we never learn. Instead, what was given to me, both, as the task at hand as well as one of the most interesting story details, were the pro- and antagonist’s chosen alter-egos: Fox, Wolf, Rabbit, Owl and Bear.

Living in the woods from a young age on, each of the children took on the role of the animal of their choice. And of course, each with the corresponding physical appearance and outfit, completed by a self-made wooden animal-mask.

Becoming a concept designer

Now let me explain. The reason why I felt like sharing this story is to encourage others to get their feet wet with some actual design work. By doing so, I believe there is a win-win here, since upcoming filmmakers get to profit from fresh ideas and - lets be honest here - free concept art, while upcoming artists get the chance to learn a hands-on lesson that cannot be achieved by merely working on own projects.

This might be a bit far fetched, but I can best describe my experience by comparing it to acting in a play or giving a public presentation or speech. With this I refer to my experience of the quality of performance you get out of yourself when performing for real vs. the quality of work one manages during self-contained practice.

Having the inspiration and ideas from somebody to interpret and work with made a huge difference to me. Often I find myself getting stuck when trying to come up with a subject to paint or draw. Being able to skip this step has really helped me to build on somebody else’s imagination and to put myself into a problem-based mindset. 

I am struggling to properly explain it, but working on this basis just opened up a completely new perspective for me. To work on a conceptual basis and taking into account the practical dimensions of actually building the designs, made all the difference in the world.

I spent a lot of time watching numerous videos on concept art. There I often came across descriptions of this dimension of working for a „client“, going to the places and imagining the worlds and characters. But only after actually getting the chance to try, I really understand the beauty of that.

Now, of course we’re talking about amateur work for a film that didn’t come to be, so lets not get too romantic about it all. But I hope you get what I am saying. I’m sure though, these things are even more true on a professional level. So I can only imagine the fun of that.

Designing Animals

I am sure at this point you can hardly contain your excitement to see the actual work that came out of this project. Again, to remain humble, I have to stress that of course this is not professional work. 

Looking back on it, I made many mistakes in the process. Foremost getting into details too fast, before creating a wider variety of rough designs to present and let my client choose from. But I went in head first and produced my first pitches.

Fortunately, the communication was fast and open, so the pitches could rather quickly go through different iterations, up to the point where they could be published to support the social media work surrounding the announcement of the film.

As mentioned above, unfortunately at some point I was informed that the project would not be further pursued. So, I did not tackle the designs for „Owl“ and „Bear“. Here are the final designs for „Rabbit“, „Wolf“ and „Fox“ that I prefer most:

I also created a 3D render for Fox: check it out here

To wrap things up, I again want to encourage anyone interested in concept design to go out there and take on a real challenge to experience working on a real project. For me, I fortunately got to work on a different project in the meantime (#WasteLandMovie).

I hope you found this little personal insight interesting and/or helpful.
Please let me know by hitting the little like button or leaving me a comment below.

Want to get in touch? Feel free to e-mail me at chris.moll.zh@gmail.com

Wacom Cintiq 13HD review

Hi there!

 Wacom Intuos

Wacom Intuos

When I learned about the new Wacom Cintiq 13HD I was very excited. I have been using a Wacom Intuos 4 for quite a while and it is a great product, but working with it for me has always been sort of counter-intuitive, due to the way you "blindly" draw on the tablet surface, while following your strokes on the screen.

 Wacom Cintiq 13HD

Wacom Cintiq 13HD

Enter: The new Wacom Cintiq 13HD. Officially priced at $999.- the "creative pen display", as Wacom calls it, offers that solution with updated hardware and a larger screen.

Given the still high price tag, I searched the internet front to back, reading reviews and watching countless YouTube videos, to get an idea of whether I should switch to the Cintiq.

Eventually I decided to just go for it and bought the Cintiq 13HD. I have now been using it for several weeks and feel ready to write my personal review. 

So, dear reader - I will just assume you're like me and you have already consumed all the professional reviews... therefore I will skip the part where they go into the specs or the general explanation of what this gadget does and will jump right into the interesting stuff.

Hardware

As you'd expect if you have used Wacom products before, the hardware is very sleek and well made. Working with an iMac, I too ran into the often discussed issue of the missing adapter to go from HDMI to the thunderbolt/display port of the Mac. I could easily purchase the adapter in the local Apple Store and it set me back some $30. So if you decide to buy the Cintiq, make sure you get the adapter or the unboxing will be as far as you get with it...

In contrast to the more expensive new all-in-one hybrid versions of the Cintiq, which come with their own operating system and battery, the 13HD still requires to be hooked up to your computer and plugged in for power. The power cord is quite massive and a bit annoying to have on your desk. However, once I had it all hooked up that was really the last time I ever thought about it.

 My Cintiq setup (I need a bigger desk!)

My Cintiq setup (I need a bigger desk!)

In some reviews people describe having issues with touching it with their wrist while drawing, causing the Cintiq to disconnect from the computer with a blue screen. I have not experienced this once and even when I intentionally wiggle the cord I am unable to create that effect. It sits in there very tightly, so its not a thing to worry about in my opinion.

The full 1080p HD display looks good. When looking back and forth between it and the excellent display of the iMac, I notice that the overall picture is a bit darker and a bit less contrasty, but it is a ver good looking screen. One thing you will notice, is the fact that there are additional layers on top of it - most likely to allow for the screen to track the Wacom "Pro Pen" to get the on-screen drawing experience. So while it does not feel like a "retina" display in terms of sharpness, it looks good and does not strain one's eyes (more than any other screen) when doing an 8 hour painting marathon. To me the 13" size is perfectly sufficient. I was worried about this quite a bit, but I find this size very comfortable and don't feel like having a 24" version would largely improve the functionality.

Talking about the Pro Pen - it too looks and feels very nice. It has received a  bit of a design refresh in comparison to my Intuos 4 pen (which does not work with the Cintiq, in case you wondered). Its weight does not seem to have changed and it can be held comfortably for extended periods of time. In fact, I really like its textue and feeling. Though I dont know this for a fact, it feels as though the surface of the screen has a finish layer on it that gives it a bit of "teeth", which gives it an awesome, natural feeling when the pen's nib (10 extra ones included) glides across. The 2000-odd pressure levels work like a charm and feel great.

The express keys on the side of the tablet are very useful, easily accessible and easy to distinguish and find, even without looking at them. Configuring them is easy and allows for a high level of customization to whatever functions you frequently use. The only thing I am sort of missing here is the touch wheel that I am used to from the Intuos, which, depending on what mode you put it in allows you to quickly zoom in and out, rotate the canvas or change brush size. (similar to an old-school iPod click-wheel) However, the rocker ring can be set up to cover those functions as well, just without the smooth scroll feeling.

Using the Cintiq

Now, thats all good, but what's it like to use a Cintiq? 
I suppose the answer is highly subjective. I for my part enjoy it substantially more than working with the Intuos 4. Drawing immediately on the surface, seeing the brush stroke appear right there under the pen's tip, without any substantial delay, just feels incredibly intuitive. Its what I am used to, ever since I started to draw as a child and I find the experience way more satisfying than the Intuos-style hand-eye coordination I previously had to train myself to adapt to.

With the Cintiq there is no getting used to it for an extended time period. You pick up the pen and go.

Another advantage of having that second screen is having that second screen..! It can be set up to mirror the main display or, as I prefer, to work as an additional screen. So the way I love to work now is to paint on the Cintiq and put image references, photoshop panels or just some youtube videos on the main screen and make use of that additional space to either free up space from my painting canvas or to simply entertain me in the background while I paint or draw. Its totally awesome, useful and if used right can speed up the working process. 

Many reviews I read mentioned that the Cintiq will not make you a better artist and in general I agree. However, what I definitely feel is that it allows me to better tap into my artistic capabilities and is helping me to get out the things I want to do more easily, simply because of the more intuitive workflow that lets me focus on what I want to do, rather than on coordinating my hand on the tablet surface or pushing the right buttons. Its all there and it works great!

Final verdict

Whether you should spend a thousand bucks on the Cintiq depends on how you like to work. If you're new to digital painting there are ways to get the Cintiq experience in a way without making a huge investment right away. If you have an iPad or another tablet, I recommend buying something like the great sketchbook pro app and buying a good stylus pen like the "Jot Pro" for example which, despite its lack of pressure levels gets out pretty precise, nice looking lines. So if you're uncertain and you happen to have a tablet, I recommend you try that out for a while first and see how you like it.

Alternatively, get a Wacom Bamboo or an entry level Intuos model. Many professionals seem to prefer those over the Cintiq version or at least use both. So maybe the Intuos will work just fine for you and it can also be seen as an advantage of not covering part of the image with your hand. 

That being said, if you are considering buying the Cintiq and you have the cash to spend, I absolutely recommend it.

I hope you found this review useful. I'd be happy to hear your thoughts and experiences with the Cintiq. Feel free to like and comment!

Digital painting

Inspired by the many great video tutorials and images by Mr Feng Zhu I started my first try in digital painting. After starting with a series of quick sketches I chose the most interesting scene to take to digital.

Asian style castle designs

After taking the scan to Photoshop and spending a few hours getting used to proper painting with the Wacom Intuos 4, first progress was visible. I was especially happy with the way the clouds turned out.

Black and white to check values, as the master taught...

The lanterns were an important element of the design. They were put in place to draw the viewers eyes to the tower as main selling point first. Initially the guard standing by the doorway was supposed to be the reference for scale of the structure, but was later replaced by our hero arriving at the tower.

Adding in the lanterns as indicated of the original design

Unfortunately there are no more progress images. Between the previous and final image, the overall size of the composition was increased to fit the standard movie widescreen format and the canvas flipped. Also, I discovered some nice tree and grass brushes that helped to add more detail to the grass and trees. Also, it seemed more suitable to introduce the massive oak door for this defensive structure, rather than the open entrance. The hero was introduced last. Finding the right design was a bit of a struggle and the thing I am least happy with. However, it helps to establish the scale and a bit of story. For a first shot I am very happy with the design.