Monday, June 10, 2013

Anatomy of a Scene - Baobab Tree - Part 1

An update on "Cradle the Sun" is long overdue, but rest assured I've been working on it. I thought I'd take this opportunity to delve into both illustration and animation.

Today, we're going to start tackling the Baobab tree sequence of the story. This is where the boy finds the source of the ancient music that pulls him out of his sadness. My aim here was to really give the tree a reassuring presence from first sight. The reader/audience is discovering this place along with the boy, hand in hand.

I started off with several different iterations of this tree, the composition and finally settled on the Baobab. It's known as the tree of life and is positively mythical looking in physical size and grandeur. This was the sketch I was finally satisfied with.

1. Using this sketch as a template, I started to lay down the major shapes of the tree in solid colors in Photoshop in different layers. I do this upfront so that I have options when I start animating the scene in terms of z-depth.

2. The reason why I lay down solid colors is because it allows me to utilize them as masks for texture, shading and lighting. I model and use various brush strokes and varying opacities to approximate the feeling of a Baobab trunk. Most importantly, I use a lot of visual reference here while still making it my own.

3. Next up, I worked on creating a rounded hill for it rest on.  I wanted it to feel a surreal and water like, so I chose a very specific brush to ground everything. The long term benefit of this choice is that it also allows for the water themes of the other story to seep in subconsciously. I chose to tone down the hotness of the tree, so everything could feel more unified. I still have to do more work on the color of the grass, but all in good time ;)

4. The sky had to feel different here from the previous frames, for the same reason that I said earlier in regards to the water theme. It also serves as a counterpoint to the punishing heat and violence to the earth, like a literal break in the clouds. It was really fun to paint these fluffy little clouds, Bob Ross style!

5. Time for some warmth and rim lighting. Light to me, is nature's way of speaking to us, which is probably why I place such an emphasis on it in my work.

6. Last but certainly not least, our little boy has to make an entrance. If you look at the original sketch, the pose is different because I felt it was too stilted and staged. I wanted there to be a little lilt in his body, listening intently on the music. A few birds never hurt to break the landscape either.

7. Although I previously cooled down the tree, I wanted to bring some warmth back into the overall plane, but sparingly so your attention is still focused on the two central characters.
(Sidenote: The funny thing is saving versions of this file, I almost lost it altogether and was weirdly wise enough to back up a nearly done version on a USB drive. That's why if you look at this shot, it looks slightly different. I actually prefer it.)
In the next few installments, I will be working on illlustrating/animating the abstract music notes coming from the conch, filling out the field, and making this puppy sing!

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