Category: Practice 1 Media: 02 Place In My Mind

Development Project – Places of the Mind

So I was onto a really strong design of a carnivorous fungal colony that used toxins and light lures to draw prey towards it before consuming it. I had a really complex concept that I knew would be a big challenge for me to get my head around realising in 3D.

Here’s my original biro drawing with some notes:


I did a quick environment paint to set the scene. I tried to keep this fast and loose, using photobashing and texture brushes as a quick proof of concept. This helped me separate the forms in my head to prepare me for modelling.


Going into ZBrush I broke down the concept into the main block forms and rotated them into place on the base. Working this way was very logical and step-by-step – I found it a very methodological way to analyse my design in 2D and make some slight tweaks to it. I knew that I now had a solid base to sculpt details onto.


Isolating the block forms as separate subtools I worked through each one and sculpted up the detail into them. I really enjoyed carving into the different fungal textures with various alphas in ZBrush so that each subtoolhas it’s own ‘fungal language’ based on my 2D studies at the start of the project.


On to the technical aspects now! I knew this would be really challenging to unwrap for me because of all the separate elements of irregular shapes – but I’m always up for a challenge! Taking a low poly version of the mesh into Modo I focused on the UV unwrap process that I’d learnt about on the Zen project where I (disastrously) hacked away at my low poly owl model. Needless to say, I really had the hang of this by now and it was nice that the only real obstacle was that it was time consuming (especially for all the small gas flutes at the front).


I now had a workable model that I could take into Substance Painter. There were some slight issues with the unwrapping process where I had not relaxed some elements as much as I should have, but overall it was good enough to work with. The model had emissive light elements (the lures), as well as a glossy/wet particle effects around the mouth openings. The gas and ground roots were then painted over in photoshop.



After watching Peter Koinig at the 2016 ZBrush summit I wanted to have a go at one of his workflows. Peter is a concept artist for mainly film projects, so the low poly/unwrapping process is not really integral to his workflow – it is all about creating a final single image that illustrates a concept very well.

In the video he discusses taking a highpoly model and rendering out different material passes in Keyshot, then using photoshop to stack up these renders and mask them out onto individual parts of the model.

I knew that this was something that I wanted to try, so off I went!


Stacking these together and masking out the elements was a very powerful tool to create something that would have taken hours more to have done via. the other workflow (unwrapping, import to substance, baking etc.). As my practice is primarily concerned with the creation of a final image, this working method is more valuable to me and will be something I will be using much more of in the future.

My final design for the creature has this sort of corrupted oily secretion that runs off into surrounding water, infecting wildlife nearby and drawing them in towards it. This was something that could be realised fairly quickly by me because of looking at this keyshot/masking/paintover process and I’m happy with the result.

Default state:


Emitting toxic spores:




Place in My Mind – Inktober

So, managed to break the art block today. I figured that it was perhaps too much time staring at screens, so I decided to go back to basics and tackle this problem traditionally. As I’ve been seeing so much wonderful and inspiring work with the #Inktober trends on social media, I thought I would join in and ditch the tech to develop the concept stage of my mushroom… thing.

Inktober is an initiative started by artist Jake Parker in 2009 as “a challenge to improve my inking skills and develop positive drawing habits”. You can find out more about it here. Basically, you make an ink drawing every day for 31 days. [REFERENCE]

Although there are daily prompts (and today being the 19th the prompt is ‘Flight’), but I have my own work to be doing, and nobody is going to haul me in front of a judge – it’s for fun your honour!

I decided I wanted a nice strong structural image that could later be developed into a 3D model. I have already spent hours doing studies of various different fungus shapes and silhouettes, dedicating a lot of those to my ‘visual library’, so I already have a rough idea of a design in mind, which I’ll usually scribble out onto a post-it note to briefly refer to, along with any notes.

So, following the masterful techniques of Scott Robertson and the ‘Drawthrough Method’, featured heavily in his book ‘How to Draw’ [REFERENCE] I began with a perspective grid which I could see through some low stock marker paper. I blocked out the basic forms, making sure it was all in perspective (the most important stage to really selling a drawing is this part I feel, everything else is secondary).

Scott does it much better than me in this drawing of his here [REFERENCE – CGtalk forum link], but there’s a reason he’s considered one of the best!:car_11

Organic shapes aren’t very beginner friendly for this sort of thing, it’s generally advised to stick to more basic forms, but this ain’t my first rodeo and I’m kind of a masochist when it comes to this sort of thing:


So once I had that down I started to use a combination of some staedtler pigment liners and a series of grey markers to build up line and value. However, I wasn’t quite happy with the consistency and flow that the pens were giving me (for this drawing at least), so I decided to switch to GOOD OLD CHEAP BIRO (standard bic) as I really prefer the variety in line weight that you can get from it.


Sadly, the drawback with biro is that it’s not resistant to bleeding with the alcohol based letraset markers that I was using to block in the value, so I had to ditch that and do all the shading with lighter strokes – which I think is testament to the variety of the medium!

14666122_10153960770447011_4885080145755406313_nFinishing up the design, here photographed with pens (for scale). It’s not a huge drawing, but it is fairly intricate as I wanted to use the line weight as much as I could to denote the different textures. It was fairly time consuming (no photo texturing in photoshop allowed in Inktober!), but I think I managed to pull it off okay.

As my professional route is as a freelance concept artist, within an industry pipeline* I would be expected to produce images like this for production by a 3D artist, so it is important that the different elements within the design read well. This is why at the top I’ve done some quick notation sketches for anyone coming across this to understand the basic shapes they would need to break this down into to model. I do remain optimistic that I will be modelling this myself at some point in the future!

(*Although in a real pipeline for time constraint purposes this would most likely have been done digitally)

Today was a good day for two reasons:

1) I discovered that I can switch medium (digital/traditional) as a fix that seems to work for me for getting over having a ‘bad creative’ moment. We’ll see how effective that method is when work really piles on!

2) And on a completely unrelated separate note, I also got back my stolen bike today, so that was nice!

Place in My Mind – Art Block

Soooooooo I had a little bit of a strop today as I couldn’t seem to get the ‘creative juices’ flowing (happens to us all), and was really struggling. In the end I cranked out some fairly mediocre work, and I was debating not showing it at all, but it’s a learning process, so I feel that reflecting on this might help.

So I had a load of really great and high-energy thumbnails  ready to be developed into a nice big environment painting from the FZD tutorial that I followed before. I selected my favourite one (bottom right I feel had the most potential).


For some reason I was really not getting the fidelity that I liked or wanted and was really struggling in 2D, so I thought I would refresh myself and try a different technique and just have a go at blocking out an environment in ZBrush, with a view to importing back into photoshop and painting over it.

I was interested in some of the wonderful geometric rock formations of the giant’s causeway in Ireland, as well as similar rock formations in Iceland, and was striving to replicate something like that in an underground cave, with lots of bio luminescent fungus.

This was my first ever attempt at doing anything like this, and I was really having difficulty with creating height maps in photoshop, and then applying them in ZBrush.


Sadly this was only adding to my frustration, but rather than descend into a sobbing mess (as we artists are very sensitive folk), I decided to have one more push at this.

I really liked the idea of the bio-luminescent fungus, and I knew that I wanted some sort of ‘fungal feature’ to be in my piece as I had spent some time doing studies of various forms. I anticipated an environment whereby a fungus creature might have to create some kind of lure to draw in it’s prey, and so I did a quick sketch in Photoshop:5-pimm-mushroom-sketches-6…and then blocked out a quick model in ZBrush:6-pimm-refine…and another unused concept that played a lot more on the ‘mouth’, and would perhaps wrap around a tree… but I didn’t really like:6-3-unusedSo I took my preferred version into Photoshop and did a quick paint-over with some photo references (not my photos, see my reference board on Pintrest for credits) as a rough idea for texture reference:6.2 PIMM refine 2.jpg

Alas, I remain unhappy with this, so I’m going to just leave it for now as I’ve already spent a considerable amount of hours on this and tackle the problem fresh-minded again tomorrow. Onwards and upwards!

Place in My Mind – development sketches

Environments time!

Started up by generating thumbnails in a very much ‘ordered chaos’ type of way. Used a technique detailed here in this FZD tutorial. Basically a mash up of photographs all blurred into nonsense, that I started to paint over and form shapes with.

It’s the first time I’ve done that, so that was interesting to play around with.


So I’m not 100% why, but some of the forms that came out were reminiscent of fungus, so I started looking at that and building up a visual library of the various forms that I could use.

I came across the work of Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), a German Biologist, who had a book entitled “Art Forms in Nature”, which explored symmetry in organisms, and is full of beautiful illustrations.