Saturday 24 September 2016

Painting 'Arrival at Furaha' I

I will try something new: I will document how I produce a painting, meant for The Book, as it develops. I always said I would not show new paintings, as that would probably ruin the chances of ever getting the book published. I decided to make an exception: the painting I have in mind is not a major one showing an animal or plant, but a minor one showing the human side of affairs. As you will see, digital painting uses a variety of digital techniques to help find a good composition, get the perspective correct, etc. I am not alone in this: If you read books on digital painting techniques, you will find that professional illustrators do this all the time. 

I needed a minor painting for the two-page spread introducing the chapter on the Nu Phoenicis solar system and the planetology of Furaha. These chapter introductions show a minor painting and a quote, usually from Souren Nyoroge, whose book 'Furaha and Earth: similar in their differences' elevated him from one from one of The First, to Furaha's foremost historical hero (I may slip from real life comments on the painting to 'in universe' remarks, so pay attention).

The quote was about Nyoroge, the scientist, and Bruyningh, the agitator, looking at the planet after arriving there and realising that from that point on it was not just a planet, but their World. That point in time seemed a good theme for a painting and I already had a scene in mind, with the two of them looking at the planet from their spaceship, silhouetted against the blue sphere of the planet. Over 20 years ago I photographed friends of mine in the Vancouver aquarium, silhouetted against the blue waiter of a large tank with beluga whales, with vertical window frames separating the worlds on either side of the glass. I would like to show that photograph here, but have no idea where it is. No matter: a Google search for 'Vancouver aquarium silhouette' will show you that many people took very similar photographs. However, there are no vertical window frames in the Vancouver aquarium, so I must have added the notion that there were any there to my memories at some time. Memory is  malleable.anyway, the mental image, with frames, looked better than the true view without frames, so I  went with frames. The design is simple: two silhouetted people, window frames, and a planet.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
I have always illustrated the sizes of Furahan animals by adding the silhouette of a human, and these humans do not just stand there, but usually do something (I have seen others take up the habit of having 'scale-humans' do something, which I like). I either draw these silhouettes by hand or base them on a photograph of someone posing, which is them modified as much as it needs to be. Above are two such recent silhouettes. One was hand-drawn from the start and the other is based on a photograph; guess which is which...

For the 'arrival' painting I could have chosen the same route, but quite by chance I came across the free program 'MakeHuman' that looked like it could be useful. It starts with a generic 3D human of which the age, gender, height, weight etc. can be adapted easily. I made a slender character (Bruyningh) and a stockier one (Nyoroge). So far so good. But then I found that you cannot change postures in the program itself, but have to use Blender instead. Unfortunately, I cannot work with Blender; I find its interface incomprehensible (it is free so is certainly worth having a look). That's the end of MakeHuman for me, then. Luckily there were some example postures included, so I used those to export the two characters. These were not what I wanted, but I could easily redraw their anatomy and pose later; the 3D objects only serve as scaffolding for the drawing anyway.

Click to enlarge
The next job was to import these persons into Vue Infinite and to construct a spaceship. Luckily, all I needed of that spaceship was a floor and window frames. I wanted very large windows to give a luxurious feeling and allow the planet to be shown as a large object. I used 'cubes' to built the frames, imported the characters, hung up a big blue sphere and added some lighting. After that, I moved the 'camera' around to play with the composition. Above you see a view of the Vue programme showing the characters on their tiny section of spaceship.

Click to enlarge; copyright Gert van Dijk
And here are a few images of the results of this early stage. I decided to go along with something like the third one. At this point, I haven't started to paint yet, and I will keep that for the next instalment. But there are quite a few things to think about:

  • I have to change the blue sphere into a proper Furaha model (I already have one). I will have to work out where the 'terminator', the line dividing night and day on a planet, should run. It has to look attractive but also has to be correct. This also includes working out how wide the blurred part of the terminator should look. The mathematics of calculating that should be easy, but I will check astronomical sources anyway.
  • The window frames look fairly boring; perhaps I should change their shape
  • The humans should get clothing; what does one wear during protracted space travel? Is it hot on a spaceship?
There are other implications: the image tells a lot about the Furaha universe. If people stand on a floor in a spaceship, they either have shoes that stick to the floor, or they have artificial gravity. I'll go with the last choice. So do almost all science fiction movies, so I doubt many people will even notice. 
  I already had a concept in mind of how people get around on Furaha: they use large lumbering vehicles that float in the air much in the same way that bricks don't (yes, Douglas Adams said that). They use a gravity-repulsing mechanism as a reverse zeppelin. A true zeppelin uses a great volume with very little mass to lift a few kg of mass; well, the repulsor zeppelin also lifts just a few kg, but using a great mass. Don't ask for blueprints. Not yet, anyway. This 'Leyden Mass Repulsor Net' (TM) works for spaceships too. Quite well, in fact, as its efficacy increases more than linearly with its own mass (I just made that up). Basically, you wrap the Repulsor Net (TM) around some mass, such as rocks, lots of water or a concrete-filled submarine, apply energy to the net and there you are.
  So all this explains why there is artificial gravity on the spaceship, why spaceship designers do not care about saving weight (the opposite, in fact), and in turn it explains why they can have large windows.