This is “The Inspired Animator”, a newsletter about my adventures in animation, illustration & the creative process! Discovering new tools, experimenting with them, talking about failed and proven workflows with occasional tutorials, or behind the scenes of my animations and techniques.
Dear Inspired Animators,
Welcome back to the third issue of the year. First off, all the news this week were disturbing and are causing a lot of anxiety. This newsletter is supposed to be a safe haven. I will not dwell on what has happened, there are other outlets for this.
Instead in this newsletter, I am going to talk again about my illustration process of 2 paintings in the series of the ancient civilization. Then this leads me into an exploration of patterns with symmetry tools in Procreate, which then inspires me to go into Blender and put the patterns on some ancient stone bricks!
Let’s dive in!
Illustrating Ancient Civilizations, Part II
Last time I shared my process for the first of three pieces in my Aztec/Mayan civilization illustrations. Now I finished the other two pieces and I will take you through my exciting process!
I have to say, after struggling through the first one I felt very confident to complete the other ones much faster. Spending only one day per illustration instead of 2 or 3 days.
It nearly worked out — I spent around 1.5 days on each, including initial sketches to full color. Along the way, I had fun with some Procreate tools I rarely used before. Continue reading for a full breakdown.
My high-level process in all three illustrations looked fairly similar.
Initial sketch & composition
Values (Highlights, Midtones, Shadows)
Final coloring (in layers)
In the initial sketch for the warrior, I was exploring possible postures that were dynamic, interesting, and ultimately not overused.
The second thing I was trying to figure out was the outfit, that is, the masks and headwear, and also the clothes they wear. I got inspired by a Tlaloc mask for one of them, and the wild cat helmets for the other.
In the end, I decided to go with two figures, instead of one, to have two poses in one shot.
The next step was to figure out the values. In contrast to last time, where I had a fairly bright scene that was inviting and friendly, I wanted to elicit a more menacing feeling to go with the theme of warriors.
That’s why I chose to go with a generally more dark background and a harsh light source with the fire in the foreground! I also tried another variant, where the scene is just being lit by lightning. Now looking back I realize that I could have even combined them by putting the lightning as rim light on the other side of the scene.
Next came the color exploration. With the fire in the front, I knew I want a warm color as one of the main colors. And the night would have some cool colors. I went with orange and dark blue.
On the first attempt, I used a lot of colors and thought it looked very muddy and uninspired. I restarted trying to stick to two colors only. These two colors would be the base of the final coloring work and all others would result from slight hue and value shifts away from it.
With this technique, I ended up with the following result. I can already see many things I could have done better, but I still think it’s a presentable piece.
Drawing the Shaman painting was a whole other beast. I wanted to create a mysterious atmosphere and also have more intricate designs for the outfit and space he is in. Thus, the first things I started experimenting with were patterns and shapes.
The different cultures of the Americas had a very unique style. I especially like the pottery designs of the Nasca people.
I did not end up using any of the designs of the Nasca, nonetheless it’s my favorite style. It would even work on contemporary pottery, vases, and plates.
My experimentations went in different directions at first…
…it ended up being a lot of fun and led to further things down the line (like using the patterns as 3D materials in Blender).
It’s the first time I used the symmetry tools of Procreate. What can I say—I love them!
It’s almost a meditative experience drawing things with the symmetry tools. Especially the rotational symmetry. It almost feels like magic. You don’t exactly know what you will end up making. You just follow your instincts.
It feels more like you are discovering designs, rather than inventing them yourself.
All of that experimentation led me in the end to design this Shaman King throne room. (Not to be confused with the Manga “Shaman King” 😉)
Out came this impressive throne room. I used some skulls to create some references to the death cults that were supposedly prevalent during those times. Then, there are also a couple of other details thrown in that I gathered from architecture and statues I saw.
What I wasn’t so happy with was the static pose of the Shaman himself. It’s a result of the symmetry used. People that are drawn with symmetry never look quite right or exciting. So the next thing was to get him into a more interesting pose.
I even took some reference pictures of myself to ideate better poses. In the end, I went with the one at the very bottom.
The next step — you might have guessed it — is the value and color exploration.
The idea here from the start was to have the light come from the bottom, to throw ominous shadows on everything, including his face. The throne room itself in the background would be mostly dark.
I had a hard time here, deciding on the colors. I wanted to bring some gold colors into the picture to show maybe that the whole throne is made out of gold, or at least parts of it.
I also decided to make the fire green, to give it a supernatural, almost ghostly character. The result ended up looking like this:
I am quite happy with it!
Before I could arrive at this though, I went through a major struggle making it look good on a normal computer…
Procreate Export Problems
I don’t know if you ever experienced this, but I went through this already a couple of times.
The iPad Pro screen is a blessing and a curse. It has awesome colors, and is amazingly bright! If you are illustrating on it for a long time, your eyes get so used to it that you make really fine nuances and detailed work and slight color variations and shading.
But, once you export it and view it on a regular screen… all these details seem to be lost and your image ends up being a dark illegible mess. And your details are somewhere hidden in the dark values that “normal” screens don’t even show.
I even made this whole little meme about it:
And then it was really hard to make the colors look like they initially looked on the iPad with some adjustment layer magic in Photoshop. I don’t think it ended up looking the same as I saw it on Procreate, but well. I tried.
Is the solution to just work in sRGB? Write in the comments if anyone knows a good solution on either end of the problem!
Patterns, Patterns… and Blender!
As I was further experimenting with patterns in Procreate, I thought it might be cool to try using the patterns as a bump map or normal map in Blender.
Bump and normal maps can be applied as texture to 3D objects to simulate more details on the surface of the object.
One of the patterns I created was this one:
I imagined it to look cool on a stone plate. So I made a very simple cube and added a bunch of geometry to it for the normal map to work. And in a couple of hours ended up with this:
As always it was nice to play around with material nodes and I created this procedural sandstone material. For anyone interested, this is how the rock material ended up looking like in the node tree:
And then I did a gold version, just by sliding the metallic slider completely to the right.
And then I thought…. what if that cube was instead in an ancient tomb. And would start glowing mysteriously in the dark?
I had fun doing it!
I’m thinking about giving the Blender materials away on my Gumroad page that I needed to create for this little short clip. What do you think?
📖 Book: I started reading Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”. I always doubted my ability to make it as an artist and this book is supposed to help people overcome this. I’m still on week 1. I will tell you my experience with it afterward.
🎨Another artist’s newsletter: A major inspiration for me to start this newsletter in the first place was “The Line Between” a newsletter by Coleen Baik. She lays out her process well, which is what got me inspired to write a newsletter that is a bit more personal and goes into my process. Which is sometimes even messy… but that’s life. And hopefully, it will help me to focus my efforts in the future.
🕹️ Game: Eldenring came out, and the world was waiting for it. I was a fan of the previous FromSoftware games and I made it a big event with my friend to play it on the weekend. And we spend 30h in 2 days playing it. Which is a crazy amount of time and it was equally tiring. But the game is pretty great I must say! A lot of fun. Still, pretty hard… we only beat 3 major bosses in that amount of time. Anyway, if you’re a fan of rewarding games, with mysterious lore then this could be for you!
Thanks for reading, see you in 2 weeks.
What a fun read! And thanks so much for the kind words + shoutout 🙏☺️