Tuesday, May 24, 2016


Hi kids!

Put down the remote and join us this Thursday, May 24 at F8 Bar in San Francisco for yet another night of art and merriment. I will be a guest artist for this month's TV Shows-themed event. I've had the guy with the TV head from FLCL on my mind recently, so I think I know how I might interpret the theme...

Buy some locally-sourced art created on the spot, or just hang out and draw with us. There will be a DJ, raffle and drink and food specials for early folks.

Quick Draw SF was the birthplace of my Karju series, and continues to be a favorite "test bed" for new ideas.

QUICK DRAW SF #24: TV Shows!
Thursday, May 26, 2016
6:00 PM

1192 Folsom Street (@8th)
San Francisco, CA

Bye kids!

On the Z-Axis

I first saw a demonstration of ZBrush during the Insomania workshop in San Francisco. Someone had a laptop and an unusual control device that looked like an advanced silver and black paddle controller for an Atari 2600. As artist used the tool to digitally sculpt on a demonic head, he explained how the process was a lot like painting in Photoshop, except that the brushstrokes could add or subtract from the model surface.

Years later, I had a recent graduate audit my digital drawing and painting course at Dominican University who was already very well-versed in the ins and outs of ZBrush. It was another opportunity for me to get my feet wet with the program but I was already overloaded with my MFA coursework and teaching part-time at two schools. How could I possibly find time to learn another program?

The first ZBrush (organic modelling) course offered at AAU ran during my final semester. I convinced myself that a semester of Autodesk Maya with an experienced instructor might give me a better 3D foundation that I could then take into ZBrush. Maya turned out to be way more than I could handle at the time, but surprisingly, I was able to use some of what I learned on some concept work for Faroukh Virani's sci-fi short "Vimana". To date, I am still haunted by a deep yearning to master UV mapping, rigging, building controls, setting up a turntable, and pulling off a basic walk cycle.

Enter a generous perk of teaching at City College of San Francisco. The vast libraries of online video tutorials got me back into exploring 3D with Maya's nicer cousing, Blender. I even managed to rough out models of a few of my childhood vehicle creations like the Bladestreaker, Double Dodger and the Green Axe Eruptor. However, I knew that ZBrush would get me where I wanted to go with my work much faster. After finding an offer with a modest academic discount, I placed the order and started with the tutorials included with the installation disk. The first hurdle was learning how to navigate the interface. The second even bigger hurdle was wrapping my head around the difference between the tools, brushes, projects and the canvas.
A ZSphere sketch with Adaptive Skin applied

A recent study using ZSpheres

A layered sculpt based on the Julie.ztl model
 So far, it has taken a lot of repetition and review of several basic concepts for me to be able to start building things with more confidence. Ryan Kittleson's essential training videos gave me a good foundation for using tools and brushes. I am currently working my way through another series where Kittleson develops a racing android from an existing model.
A creature sketch using ZSpheres
While a lot of these studies have been fun, I find that it is really easy to forget about design and get lost in details or overusing some tools. That said, there should be a happy medium between sketching things out by hand and doing so in ZBrush with a similar level of thought and spontaneity.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Back in the Arena

It's official! There will be five of my original illustrations from Ophidian 2350 included in the Ophidian 2360 CCG Kickstarter relauch. Many thanks to Jason Robinette, VP of Marketing and Design at Hack and Slash Games. Keep up with recent developments in this amazing project here:

The original sketch for Cybersnipe (Unpublished).

There and Back Again

I recently came across a copy of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Chronicle Companion: SMAUG - Unleashing the Dragon at the Ingleside branceh of the San Francisco Public Library. The branch is within walking distance of City College of San Francisco where I currently teach a beginning and intermediate section of Adobe Illustrator in the Visual Media Design department. I drove there, and intended to return yet another science fiction novel that I just couldn't get myself to read consistently enough to finish. "A Darkling Sea" by James A. Cambias had wonderful echoes of my favorite deep sea films from the 80s and 90s including Sphere (1998), DeepStar Six (1989), The Abyss (1989), and even Leviathan (1989). 1989 was a particularly good year for the genre. I was a senior at Berkeley High School and deeply enamored with the idea of doing practical effects and design work for feature live-action films. I would buy issues of Fangoria and Cinefex and imagine one day working at a studio building models or sculpting creatures.

My subscription to (which is also, I learned recently, free to SFPL patrons) and recently decided to dive into learning ZBrush. The learning process has been slow and frustrating thus far. And yet the idea of at the very least sculpting one of my own creatures keeps me going. Little by little, the basic concepts are sinking in as I take in the information in short, 2-3 minute video chunks. The possibility of one day using ZBrush for paid illustration work seems a long ways away, but even the steepest learning curves can be surmounted.

When I saw Weta's Smaug book on the shelf, its small size reminded me of the popular film reference books I sometimes see in the children's section. But then it occurred to me that there just might be some valuable insights into the thinking and digital tools that went into the design of Smaug. The book did not disappoint.

The book is divided into sections that focus on various phases of the design process such as previs and concept art, sound, motion capture and texturing. Various team members describe their roles and experiences working on the project. I appreciated the balance of artist, technician and supervisory voices in the book that compliment the images. Both the 3D and 2D work was phenomenal; smart design choices, dramatic compositions and unique problem-solving.

The book took me back to my first issue of Cinefex may have been the one with a vibrant shot of the U.S.S. Enterprise D from Star Trek: The Next Generation on the cover. In high school, I was a huge fan of the show, and even tried painting every panel and window of the model issued by AMT around the same time. The color was a mystery. The instructions suggested grays that were not available at my local hobby shop, shots of the model in magazines appeared to have a soft, blue color that differed from the TV show. A mishap with my spray gun led to the underside getting a stippled texture while the top remained smooth. I think I got as far as painting the entire saucer, including little tan rounded squares that represented the ship's lifeboats. Cinifex was never an easy read for me. Maybe it was the industry jargon. But what struck me about the Smaug book was how easy it was to read. Knowing a bit of the language of visual development and the special effects process really makes a difference. (Thanks, AAU!)

Ever since the early 80s, building scale model kits was one of my favorite hobbies. I had a subscription to Fine Scale Modeler, Air and Space magazine and even got random monthly kits from Monogram®. The pastime peaked when Revell released several Japanese robot and vehicle models under the Robotech imprint. They were marketed with no backstories and the diorama photos on the box tops took liberties with color and decal placement on the kits. This introduced me to the idea of modifying kits and kit-bashing. The biggest kit I ever took on was a 1/48 scale B1-B bomber that took up my entire dresser. Kit building got me to finish things and taught me the value of patience and careful planning. My ability to visualize a project from start to finish comes right out of modeling. While I was never into cars and mechanical toys like RC racing, something about seeing how things are put together, part by part, fascinated me and directly informed how I drew vehicles from my imagination. The kits were also notoriously delicate which forced me to invent repairs for broken posts, antennas and joints. My discovery of Friendly Plastic® at a Amsterdam Art in Berkeley led to a few mildly successful attempts at sculpting my own characters and vehicles. Years later, I would take a chance on Super Sculpey® which opened up even more worlds of possibility. All the while, I continued to harbor a strong interest in doing that stuff for a living, or creating and sharing my own universes.

Last night, I accidentally brought up the cover to the high school yearbook I worked on as one of five the artists. (We never called ourselves "illustrators" back then. I might not have even heard of illustration as a career.) "The Hitchhiker's Guide to Berkeley High" had an anonymous helmeted astronaut on the cover and throughout that 1990 edition of Olla Podrida. We each had our own styles, loved sci-fi and comics and created our own corner of chaos on the yearbook staff. The work was decent, and we were all very happy to contribute to the project. Sadly, I never got a copy of the yearbook.

Something deeply ingrained in me compels me to create. I've known this from an early age and I was lucky to have been born into a family that never discouraged my creativity. That drive may ebb and flow but it never leaves me. Something tells me that none of it was ever meant to be a hobby or a "side thing".

Thursday, May 5, 2016