Thursday, July 2, 2009

Utopiales Poster, Part 2

We picked sketch #2 (Décollage nocturne) from yesterday, mainly for the light, color, and mood. I liked the idea of a giant insect vehicle departing at night, but I wasn’t happy with the design of the aircraft. It looked like a cricket with wings. It was too much like a real bug and not enough like a fantastic flying machine. It needed to look both more believable and more magical.

I studied a great book called Insects in Flight by John Brackenbury. It’s loaded with super high-speed color photographs of all sorts of insects in flight postures. With these photos as a starting point I did many pages of sketches. These sketches are made in pencil, fountain pen, watercolor pencil, and water brush.

At this stage I try to absorb as many new ideas as possible, and just draw the scene over and over again, looking for unexpected variations. Some sketches show two sets of wings working in opposing pairs.

The breakthrough was learning about the unique flight mechanics of butterflies. Mr. Brackenbury explains in great detail how they use a “clap and peel” (also called "clap and fling") system for generating lift. The wings are brought up together vertically, and the leading edges pulled down, creating a cone-shaped funnel that draws in a vortex of low-pressure air.

I was surprised to learn that butterflies, along with dragonflies, are among the most adept fliers of the insect world. They’ll maneuver in high winds that will ground other insects. I had to revise my notion that butterflies are capricious or random aeronauts.

Anyway, the butterfly breakthrough also helped with the problem of appeal. Everybody loves butterflies. Who wouldn’t want to fly in a butterfly ornithopter?—(OK, it would be a pretty bumpy ride).

So now my job was to draw up plans for the maquette. I looked not only at butterflies, but also flying fish, old trolleys, and WWI aircraft.

The next task will be to build a 3D maquette.

Part 1: Initial Sketches
Part 2: Researching Insect Flight
Part 3: Maquette
Part 7: The Painting


Erik Bongers said...

Just zooming in on one aspect:

I like that we get to see much of the decision making process as well.
I'm not going to comment on what I agree with or not, but I'm sure everyone will agree or disagree with certain choices here.
As a beginning artist, putting aside your own preference is also something you have to learn.
(But it's even more difficult to retain this as you become a perhaps very renowned artist!)

That I'm not giving my own choices here is not because I disagree with most of the choises here (which you might too easily assume), but more out of the awareness that in the end all artistic 'tastes' are different, personal and equal.
So every choice in such matters is arbitrary. A (humble) thing to always keep in mind as an artist when you tend to feel hurt by another persons view or irritated by it's apparent 'naivity': it's just a view. Nothing more. No better nor worse than yours. Latter implies of course that I do not believe that artist have a 'better' taste that others. Only a more 'knowlegdable' one.

Or, as one fiddler used to say. "There is only one thing that I regret about being a violin player. I can no longer listen to a beautifull piece of music without being aware of the technical aspects, like playing difficulty or the quality of the instrument".

So, 'we artist' actually have certain disadvantages in appreciating art!

And I love that last thought.

Daniel.Z said...

"I had to revise my notion that butterflies are capricious or random aeronauts."

Haha. That makes two of us.

Super Villain said...

i like the crowd scene in picture number two,

especially because of the guy who looks like he is toasting to the big bug flying machine for no reason, haha, yes like yes humans built this and it is great, and i just happen to have alcohol on me to toast its flight, haha, so funny!

Steve said...

In regard to butterflies being "capricious or random aeronauts": For several years my fourth grade students in Michigan collected Monarch caterpillars in August and September. We'd raise them in the classroom, through the chrysalis stage, and watch them emerge as adults -- which, incidentally, has the feel of being present at a miracle. Using tiny adhesive circular tags provided by Monarch Watch from University of Kansas, the kids would press a tag (we called them "license plates") on the wing of each butterfly before releasing it. Twice, we received word that one of our butterflies had been found by Monarch Watch volunteers in El Rosario, Mexico. For our butterflies, that was a very purposeful, focused flight of over two thousand miles! Millions of North American Monarchs head to El Rosario every fall from all over the continent.

I'm happy you picked "2", for just the reasons you gave, "mood" being foremost among them. It's such a treat to be given a window into your decision-making process.

Steve said...

I also meant to add that seeing the number of sketches you put into this inspires me to get past my own laziness when working on a piece.

Björn said...

Interesting seeing the process. You're like the fantasy Syd Mead in many ways, working this hard to bring a concept to finished illustration to land is very inspiring to see. Makes we put another gear in my work:)

Sean Craven said...

In one of my old attempts at SF, I used the term 'lepidopter' for that kind of vehicle. I also had coleopters...

Andrew said...

That would be a very bumpy flight indeed, especially if it mimics the up and down bobbing nature of a butterfly.

I imagine some luggage would have shifted during takeoff and landing!

I'm really excited to see the maquette step tomorrow...hope you don't spare details!

Brian Floca said...

I'm enjoying watching the design process, wishing I was going to France, and can't wait to see the maquette.

Moai said...

This looks like a very cool and fun project! Thanks for sharing your process with us.
It's inspiring how much work you're putting into the research portion of this job. There's a lot of truth to the saying "you can only draw what you know," and it seems that you now know the subject very well.
Rather than "butterfly ornithopter," I think a simpler and more accurate term for this vehicle would be "lepidopter."

Unknown said...

This process is ultra helpful - thanks so much for sharing it!

Jon Hrubesch said...

I just watched a program recently where someone flew a small model of a double winged bug-like plane. I wish I could remember what show it was on. It was amazing how well it flew.

I can't wait to see your model. I think it's cool that you put in the time to build a 3D model of your concept.

You should also show-off the model of waterfall city you built some day. I remember seeing a picture of it in a magazine a few years back. I think it was the "Smithsonian". That was awesome.

Roberto said...

I thought you might find this of interest. Thanks for the Journey -RQ

“A team of Dutch and American scientists from Wageningen University and Caltech measured the flow of air created by swirling seeds by creating plastic models of the seeds and spinning them through a large tank of mineral oil using a specially designed robot dubbed "Robofly."
The scientists used light from a powerful laser to measure the motion of tiny glass beads in the oil as the model seed spun through the tank.
The images the team obtained showed that a swirling maple seed generates a tornado-like vortex that sits atop the front leading edge as the "helicopter" spins slowly to the ground.
This leading edge vortex lowers the air pressure over the upper surface of the maple seed, effectively sucking the wing upward to oppose gravity.

The mechanism is remarkably similar to the trick employed by insects, bats, and hummingbirds when they swing their wings back and forth to hover.

Thus, the new study, detailed in the June 12 issue of the journal Science, shows that plants and animals have converged on an identical aerodynamic solution for improving their flight performance.”

More at:

Matthew Gauvin said...

I have to tell you, these process posts are my favorites because I learn so much from them. I usually end up using that information soon after in my own illustrations work. I'm currently doing a children's book in which the main character is a train. We wanted to stay away from the Thomas look so I ended up with an engine that had characteristics of a horse head and was styled after a mallard steam engine. I can't tell you how many times I wish I could have you in my studio telling me how to solve the perspective issues I've been having.

Brine Blank said...

As I looked at this it brought to mind being at an air show that had a the time (about 20 years ago) I guess they were less concerned with safety and the crowd was VERY close to the jet (as were multiple tents) the engines fired up it was funny to see tents, clothing, and lighter people getting blown all over the included...second is the downdraft caused by helicopters and all of the 'particles'/small items getting blown around. Since you discussed the way the flight is accomplished I guess my question is...with the crowd around will we see the effects of the wing-beat drafts on the surroundings??? Someone chasing a hat? 'Particle' effects on the lighting? I enjoy the way the illustration brings the viewer a 'feeling' of being there as does all of your work...

Roberto said...

Here are a couple of projects/models to build…

…and for a bunch of really cool links…

Enjoy! -RQ

ko said...

This super slow motion of a lady bug taking flight reminds me of a Transformer toy. The "doors" open -think Delorean- open; the wings slowly unfold; pause...; take flight. Would make for a neat insect car I think ;-)