Saturday, May 31, 2008

Visual Creative Process (images) 2008

Yesterday, I posted around some images for a series that I've been putting together loosely based both on the upcoming Y project, and Fallen Nation. A lot of time I find these short intermediary sketch or exploratory projects help unearth inspiration, and help clarify what might otherwise remain opaque, or under the surface. Initially, subQtaneous served as that kind of exploration, as an interlude between Join My Cult! and Fallen Nation, through it kind of got away from itself and became a sprawling studio project that seemed like it might never end. I thought this time it might make sense to instead bring some images together- certainly far less demanding than a concept album.

The question has been raised in a couple forums of what my process has been in building these images- in one case it came up because someone wanted it removed from a "digital art" community because these were "clearly photographs," when, as you'll see, that distinction isn't really quite so clear. It's a difficult process for me to talk about, both because even after a decade working in Photoshop it is still such an experimental process, and that it is so subconscious that I don't generally articulate what I'm doing- I just do it. But I'll give it a shot.

For the series above, the process was fairly uniform. I was hanging out at the Fall studios, and a shoot was going on in the other room with Key, (the model who graces the cover of Fallen Nation, among other things.) I hopped in on the shoot and got some shots. However, those initial shots were pretty simple- I didn't touch the lighting setup that was already in place, and it was all shot to a black cloth backdrop. I take pictures, and look at them as "source material." I don't consider myself a photographer.

I took those into Photoshop, and after cropping and picking the ones that were worth working with, I made a copy of the original and then colorized the image. (Which makes it monochromatic- essentially like black and white except there is a single base color as opposed to black/gray.) The process differed somewhat from here but usually involved picking a background image, and then cropping the entire image out from the black background and placing it in another (scene) photograph. The first step of bringing these together involves blurring it with a paintbrush based on focal distance from an imagined camera, and blending those various layers.

After that's done, there's still a lot of fine tuning involved in bringing the foreground and background together, a lot of which these days I do with paintbrushes and layer blending. Then, the most important and probably time consuming part of the process: creating a layer that is set to color, and colorizing the image by hand so that it is uniform, then creating another layer set to lighten or screen and using that for lighting or atmospherics. Sometimes a more transparent colorize layer with a gradient matched to the general light balance that you're going for can help bring things together a lot, as well. From there it's just a several hour process of bringing in other textures and images, blending, and repeating.

The one image in this series that went above and beyond this process is the one that has the Batailles quote ("...the widow laughs..."). In that image I added a couple layers where I did a "painting by numbers" literally on top of the photograph using a variety of different digital brushes that I've collected and made, and then blended it back into the photograph, color and lighting layers under it.


This earlier image (c. 2004-2005?) was more of a collaboration, which I initially helped bring together when we were doing early concept work for Fas Ferox. It became conceptually relevant to Fallen Nation as well, so I brought it over into there. (It's such a shame that you can't bring full color images into a novel in a cost effective way.)

The photograph came from a shoot done by Jeff Cohn with model Adrianne Anderson. I sat down with Jeff one night and went through his images- he literally has thousands of them- for a couple that I could work into an image. This was one of the ones I picked. At the same time I was working with Jessika Kaos, giving her basic direction on this idea we had of New York being partially submerged, and what that would be like. She modeled the city in 3d studio max, sent me the basic structures, I gave a little input, then she went back and did a digital painting on top of the basic geometry. From that point on it was a process much like with the Key series- bringing the images together, bringing in other elements (like the clouds in the sky, the mist, and so on), and doing color and light matching by hand when necessary. This is really not unlike the process that I've come to take on when moderating any project, whether it's an image, music, or collaborative writing. I prefer collaboration, despite the occasional difficulties that can arise- usually because of poor communication, inability to deal with the benevolent dictatorships that production requires, or when people take disagreement as personal criticism, (or make personal criticism out of a disagreement).

Well, that's a quick run-through of my process. I hope it was in some way useful or insightful. If not, file your complaints with management.

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