Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The cover story

When working on artwork such as book covers, we use the same tools, same techniques and same software that we use when working in video, so for us, it’s another great excuse to experiment with grading, compositing tools and CG FX while getting paid for it. For the E-book cover art project below, we also got to utilize (play around with) our DSLR camera.

Like most of our film projects, we start with a rough design. This is sent over to the client for his approval, and then it’s down to the real work…
It all starts with a rough mock-up
As the client stipulated he wanted photorealism, we decided the best approach would be to use real models for the characters in the illustration and photograph them against a greenscreen. However, the budget didn’t allow for us to cast and hire in models, so we decided that one of us would step in and strike the necessary poses and we would “graft” on the faces of models sourced from a stock library. We lit the shots just as we would for a video shoot, with an eye for creative lighting and atmosphere.

It took some trawling through Stock photo sites, finding not only the ideal faces, but the ideal faces at the ideal angle, in fact, we had to do a bit of work in Photoshop to get the angle of one of the face stock photos we used to completely match the body shot. 

Stitching on the head of one model onto the body of another...
Next we had to match the colouring and lighting of the faces and the bodies.

The props were 3D models, rendered in Vue and Poser. Before rendering each of the props, the lighting set up in the 3D software was positioned to match the lighting of the figures.

A 3D prop is rendered in Smith Micro's Poser Pro
The foreground set piece, which was a cliff edge started off as a 3D model in Vue. Vue is an ultra professional landscape generator - used by the big boys in the FX industry and has been used to generate CGI landscapes for pretty much all of the Hollywood blockbusters you can think of. But that's not to say it can't be used for more humble projects, such as an E-book cover... Plus it's surprisingly easy and intuitive to use - just how we like it.

Vue is the king of 3D landscape generators and it very intuitive to use. We start by sculpting our cliff.
Then it's into the Texture lab to give it some photo-realism...
The beauty of using a 3D program such as Vue or Poser is that you're working in a virtual world with a virtual camera and virtual lights,so you can position your view point and lighting to match the live action/photographic elements perfectly. However photo realism comes at a price,  rendering the final image can take a fair while, depending on how realistic you want it to look.

Once rendered, the 3D elements were brought into Photoshop and photographic elements were added.

The vortex cloud started off as a photograph of a stormy sky. Cutting parts of the photograph and pasting them on to new layers, and using Photoshop’s distort tools such as Liquify and the Zoom Blur filter, we created the effect of the vortex. 

The Liquify Tool in PhotoShop is a great way to distort an image - but you do have to use with caution.
We then applied Photoshop’s cloud filter to two transparent layers above the photograph, applied one in soft light and one in screen mode, and masked away parts of each layer and faded the opacity to get the effect we wanted.  

Next we took the Photoshop sky file into After Effects where advanced lighting effects were applied, mainly using Film Lab’s diffusion filters – which are a firm favourite for diffusion effects, and Trapcode’s Shine filter.

Working the magic in Adobe After Effects
Back in Photoshop and with all the elements now in place, we worked on refining the elements and making the composition as striking and effective as possible.

Our next step was to work again on the overall lighting and colouring of the piece.

Finally, the text is added. The 3D title was created within Photoshop using the native 3D tool.

The 3D tools in Photoshop are surprisingly good

Grass-Roots To Doing Business
The finished cover
Check out Bobby's book on Amazon...