Friday, January 4, 2008

Elf Alien

In a previous post I suggested that you can make maquettes to help visualize realistic human or dinosaur characters. But you can also use 3-D miniatures for completely imaginary characters, too.
For example, Berkley Publishing asked me to design an elf-like alien for a science fiction book cover. To begin with, I sketched out the character in charcoal.

Then I sculpted a model in an oil-based clay. I was short on time, so I decided not to photograph the maquette (which meant a half-day outing to get the photos processed), and drew this study on tone paper instead. The clay maquette and the charcoal study together took about two days.

The study guided the form modeling in the final oil painting. You can see how it helped with the cast shadow on his left ear, and the reflected light under his left eyelid and cheekbone.

I also dug into the scrap file for pictures of frogs’ eyes. And I set up a leather jacket with an electrical clip and a zipper to give inspiration for his hat.


christy said...

i'd never thought of using maquettes for reference until reading your blog. brilliant idea! i do portraits and often times including children's bare feet, but my reference photos are not always ideal. sculpting a small foot and placing it in the needed light situation would be very helpful. thanks again!

BeatricCaldwell said...

I would love to see the maquette. Do you keep them or just recycle the clay?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Beatric, the elf alien maquette got sucked back into the creative vortex.

He now sits on the shelf as a featureless lump of clay, though he moves around a bit and mumbles when UFOs hover low over the house.

c.g.young said...

Fantastic Blog,...
awesome art and great information!

I've reently begun modeling both characters and enviorments digitally, so it's somewhat like using maquettes. I find that I get alot of use out of them as i can re-render the objects from diffrent angles, it's also a fantastic way to keep your perspective in check.


Justin said...

If your camera is largely for reference purposes, why haven't you gone digital and saved yourself the cost and processing time of film?

Assuming your current camera is a 35mm, then if it's Nikon or Canon you can just get one of their DSLR bodies and use your existing lenses; for all the shooting you do, you'll probably make back the cost in a short time. If your current isn't a Canon or Nikon, then the Canon has a couple of very good, quite cheap lenses that should happily fulfill your needs. is a good place to look for professional reviews of DSLR systems, but honestly, if you get a Canon XTi and a Sigma lense, you've got everything you need at almost the same quality level as film, and the work cycle is far faster.

Anonymous said...

Justin, you're absolutely right about digital photography speeding up the work cycle. I should have mentioned that I painted the elf alien before digital photography was invented, so I had to depend on the one-hour-photo processing.

Now I use a Canon Digital Rebel, and find that a digital SLR on a tripod gives me the best control of depth of field for shooting maquettes.

Justin said...

That's an excellent camera--I just sold mine to my sister to upgrade to the Rebel XTi.

Can I ask what lens you typically use? I've limited myself to shooting with the Sigma 30mm/1.4, which (with the digital focal length conversion) comes out to be 48mm, which roughly matches the apparent focal length of the human eye. Do you stick to a 'human eye' focal length for reference work, or use a telephoto to adjust the length depending upon where in the painting the model will appear?

Anonymous said...

I use the zoom lens that came with the camera. The zoom helps me to frame up the subject when the camera is on the tripod, but also I like to vary the focal length depending on whether I want to make the painting's POV look like a human perspective or to simulate the look of a photographic close-up or telephoto angle.