Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Phantom Limb - Zbrush Sculpting

As is always the case, things are busy. Recently, I've started working with the talented sculptor / artist Phill Hosking to develop some new ideas. There are things in the works, and ideas being explored, but we've started it all by creating CG assets for sale. The idea being that we sell high quality 3d models on Turbosquid in order to fund our own personal art projects. Things are developing a bit further from this, but I'll talk about that more at a later date. For now, here is a look at some of the stuff we've been making.

Firstly, a head sculpt I completed recently, to add to our library of models. It's been great working with someone who has such a keen eye for detail and anatomy. I'm learning a lot just by seeing new sculpts and finishing a model to completion. This was fully sculpted in Zbrush and then taken into various other software ready for upload. We purposefully chose this generic look for ease of use. It can be morphed, resculpted and retextured to help create various outcomes. From this, I'm currently making a set of heads that all originated from this base.

Phill has also sculpted a bunch of other awesome things for the site. My job was to turn these Zbrush sculpts into something flexible; either working on detailing and polypainting, or getting the models cleaned up and put into Maya. That has meant lots of retopology, UV mapping, texture painting etc but it's really helped make the models usuable in a variety of available formats.

At the moment, we are developing the library of objects in our spare time (which you can check out here.) But it will perhaps one day become a way in which we can fund more ambitious and artsy projects. More of which I shall discuss soon.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Character Thumbnails

Here are some more thumbnails for a personal project I'm working on. I'm really liking where this project is going, but at the moment it is still very early days so I'm not going to discuss what it is all about. More things of this nature soon. I actually update my Twitter more often with sketchbook doodles etc, so feel free to check it out here for more regular updates.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Character Thumbnails

Last week I posted some character thumbnails from a lunchtime paint session. This week, I have more. But this time they exist for a different reason. I'm working on a project with a best buddy of mine and I'm finally starting some development painting to get things kicked off. So, this page of character thumbs are a bit more specific to the project. These thumbnails exist almost completely as silhouettes, with just a few details to suggest some form. The project is a no budget, personal thing, but the scope is huge so there is a lot of exploration to be done. I'll talk more about all of this as things develop.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

untitled characters #02

A few months ago, I posted a page of character sketches that were produced as exploration for a new animation. That animation is still in the works and probably will be for sometime. It's a bit of a side project so I'm seeing where things go, rather than worry too much about making anything to a deadline. Here are a few more sketches for the same animation. More soon.

Thursday, 2 October 2014


A new concept piece which, for a long time, just looked awful. This was originally a thumbnail that I just couldn't translate into a finished piece but always had some promise. So, after some time away, I went back and managed to make something I'm happy with. I'll make a post soon to describe just how it went from a crappy failed painting, to this.

Blogger isn't the greatest platform to look at artwork, so I've cropped a couple of areas to see them up close. I've had emails about prints of my work on a few occasions, but at the moment I don't have anything organised, so here is a link to a high resolution version for print or download if you'd like it. Outskirts High Res Download

More work coming soon. Plus, I'll be posting about how this went from a disaster, to a finished piece. I'll talk about some of the things I'm trying to do in my work and some new techniques that I'm finding helpful.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Character Thumbnails

Here are a few character sketches completed this lunchtime. I think I may try a few more of these this week. Will also upload some sketchbook pages soon.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

It's been a while...

Apparently it's almost September 2014. The last post on this blog was July 9th. That's not good is it. Since then, a lot has happened. Good things have happened. I moved into a new flat, which was pretty lovely and might I say, bloody grown up. I worked on various freelance thingy mabobs and I also started teaching again at UCA. The biggest personal achievement has been the new flat. It sounds pretty dumb to any normal adult, but working as a freelance CG artist can be tricky. I was certain I'd be living in a basement for most of my life, but somehow I've managed to earn a living. I've got my own space now, I have an office and a kitchen. I can make tea and work in my pants. I am a truly modern being!

And with this new move in life, work is also moving forward. I'm working on a few really great little projects with some really great people. I've been super lucky in finding really awesome people to work with. Some of the artists I get to work with have taught me a lot and I can feel the influence of the London art scene taking its toll on me. All these bizarre projects are having a good effect on me and in a few years I hope I can look back at my own work and see why it improved.

At the back of my head, I'm ready to make a new animation, but I'm in no rush. The ideas are starting to churn away, but this time they are a bit more complex. It'll probably be a lot more surreal and dark in the future, god knows my animation needs a big dose of opiate.

Meanwhile, I've also been painting...

When I look back at old work, I can almost see my previous state of mind. A lot of work last year was hugely refined and rigid. I spent too long trying to create these perfect images that ended up feeling soulless. Recently, my sketchbooks and paintings are starting to loosen up. I'm trying to be less anxious about everything and just see where things go. I've spent my entire life worrying and as life progresses, I'm trying to turn that tide. The constant battle with anxiety has been infuriating, and I feel like it's time to talk about it a bit, as well as use it in my work.

So, here's to the future, one filled experimental art and working in pants. I'm going to do my best to get this blog beating again. I've got a ton of sketchbook pages to post and a long article about how an animated TV series called Monkey Dust changed my life.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

untitled characters #01

I may make a new film. If I do, it will probably involve something a little different. We'll see what happens...

Friday, 20 June 2014

New Blog Articles / Composition Studies

As often happens, I've not been keeping up with personal work recently. Over the last month or so I've been working on a few freelance projects that have led to a slowdown in studies It is great to be working on new things, but it is also about time I get back into the routine of painting and sculpting. So, to kick things off, here is a recent set of studies created to test out Wacom settings. 

My next big goal is to develop style. I've spent a lot of time practicing technical execution (perspective, colour theory etc) but the biggest issue I currently face is simply genericism. Most of my paintings have been incredibly lacking in art direction or depth, so it's about time I tackle that problem head on. In the quest to improve technically, I've largely forgotten about the actual content of my work. It can be disheartening, knowing that a lot of my work is kind of crappy. I look back embarrassed, whether animation or painting, a lot is just boring and ill conceived. But this is to be expected when you are learning new skills. 

I think these feelings are natural. There is a common misconception that artists are gifted with some marvellous talent, blessed by the gods. A romantic notion that they are special from birth, The reality however, is that it just takes a lot of fucking work. You will be disappointed and worn down by it, but eventually, you'll start moving forward. So when students ask "How do I improve?" there is a really simply answer..."start making stuff." You won't wake up and be a master immediately, no one has ever done that. It takes years of work and it will be a struggle, but the rewards are tremendous. The only way to get to that goal, is simply by making as much work as possible. The Ira Glass quote concerning this process has always been a guide...
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You've just gotta fight your way through.” - Ira Glass 

This has led me to rethink what I want to show on my website. A few months ago, I redesigned the site in an attempt to freshen it up and rethink what I'm actually trying to do here. I came to the conclusions that I'm really just trying to show my development and talk more about the things I like. So, now that I know I've been a generic, boring husk for the last year, I can start attempting to try new things. This has led to a series of blog articles under the above headings. Each will tackle, discuss and display ideas and work surrounding a particular topic. For example, The Lightbox will be my exploration into 2d animation in Photoshop. I'll be showing examples and tutorials to not only improve but hopefully help others. Let's Paint will be a series about me painting, both traditional and digital. Whilst Talking Game will be a little more editorial. Simply more discussion about video games whilst also documenting my progress with game development. With any luck, this will give some structure to my often random blog, so keep tuned for a fresh approach to this blogging lark.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Composition Studies

A set of studies I completed recently. All very quick and loose. Trying to not get too stuck on details these days and instead just get back into the flow of painting.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Colour Studies

I've not posted for almost three weeks because I'm an idiot, so here is a study from a while ago. I'm working on a couple of big projects at the moment so things are nice and busy but I've been trying to paint as much as possible so I shall show more this week.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

More Thumbnails

I've started working on a new project this week and I always find thumbnailing the best way to get things rolling. It is a good way to loosen up and get ready for the batch of work that needs to be generated. If all goes well, I should have some more developed concepts within the week.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Bank Holidy Thumbnails

It's a bank holiday weekend, which gave me some time to get back to painting. I thought I'd start with some random thumbnails and see where they went. I'm starting a new project this week which will probably mean these won't be developed, but the new work should be concept art based and it's exciting, so hopefully I'll have some lovely concepts to post over the next or so. Stay tuned.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Marmoset Toolbag - Test #01

Of late, I've really become interested in interactive experience and video games as a potential medium. I've always loved games, but in a kind of guilty pleasure way. I'd always have to justify the interest or ramble on about the potential of the art form. "No, they aren't all about killing people, there are good games about other things. Adults can play them too." It could be said that the video games industry is plagued with the problems of its audience, still fascinated with the same conventions and tropes that have been used for so long. As this audience diversifies, ages and expands, the work that comes from the industry becomes more unique, varied and ultimately more interesting. And so, in recent years, rather than turning away from video games because of their juvenile nature, they seem more and more like the area in which interesting things can be done. Whether it's the emerging, interactive narrative of Gone Home or the sublimely quiet and beautiful atmosphere of Journey, there are experiences out there that stand out as artistic achievements of a complete unique nature.

So, this potentially marks the start of something new. A new set of experiments and tests, exploring game engines and how my own work may evolve down a different route. Something interactive and experiential, rather than rendered, passive narrative. I'll also be trying to talk more about video games, both the good and the bad.  There is a lot to love concerning the art form, but there is also a whole lot of shit that needs to be talked about. Therefore, in an effort to dip my toe into the waters of video games for a CG artist, I've started with some super simple Marmoset Toolbag. Oh look, that old crying bloke makes an appearance again!

The Lost - Marmoset Test from Jordan Buckner on Vimeo.
Music by Kevin MacLeod

Essentially, Marmoset Tool bag is a real time renderer for 3d artists to test and explore games models. Lighting and materials can be changed and viewed immediately, rather than the usual render that us animators are used to. It's a rather incredible change, being able to load normal maps and models into one scene and see them instantly as a rendered image is a huge benefit from the usual Maya render wait. Obviously it's a very different approach, with an appreciation of polycount, texture size etc, but this one aspect is exciting nonetheless.

The image above is the basic breakdown of the scene setup. It's real simple, you start with a base model, add a normal map and a diffuse map and you're done. The normal map is generated from a higher polygon sculpt and in this case, the diffuse map was a Zbrush polypaint. In short, the complicated stuff is just making the model and making things look good. The next step is to start exploring Unity game engine. And then, from there, I don't really have a plan. I'm just going to make things and see what happens. You can get a 30 day trial of Marmoset or buy the software here.

Whatever happens, it'll hopefully be a break from this cycle of suburban output. This mix of worlds (animation, film, video games and contemporary arts) have collided and I look back at past work with a critical eye, so it's time to step up and make something good.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Monument Valley

Here's a trailer for Monument Valley, an exploration puzzlery game thing that seems a mix of surreal ambient meditation and an M.C. Escher inspired platformer. Think Fez meets Echochrome. Made by UsTwo Games, it released on iOS devices on April 3rd and will arrive later this month on for Android users. Unfortunately, I'm on an Android device, so I've yet to play the game. But the trailer and visuals below already promise some atmospheric and memorable moments.
"An illusory adventure of impossible architecture and forgiveness"

The mobile space seems to be hit and miss these days, a mix of spam, free to play con games or strange little artifacts of genre or style. Monument Valley seems to fit into that last category. Its nostalgic roots for a different era are apparent and heartwarming, with the soundscape of something lost on previous platforms. I'll pick the game up when it comes to Android and update with impressions, but from these glimpses, it looks like an interesting and beautiful little experience.

Concept Art - Ken Wong

For more info, visit the website, or follow the UsTwo Games blog. Keep an eye on my blog in the next month or so for my impressions and more.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Animating in Photoshop - Test #01

I've been meaning to start experiments with traditional animation in recent months but hoped to test out alternative methods digitally. Flash has never quite clicked with me aesthetically and since I use Photoshop so often, it seemed like an obvious test bed. So, here's the first test sequence.

The method of animating in Photoshop is actually really simple and super intuitive, despite some of the hatred I'm sure it garners from the internet Flash enthusiasts. It has a lot of the benefits of traditional light box animation but with the pros and cons of digital media. My 2D animation skills need a lot of work but this is the start of some experiments in something new. And it may be worth noting, if anyone would like a more in depth tutorial on how to use Photoshop in this way, let me know in the comments and I'll try my best to put something together.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

The Blog Returns / What Am I Doing?

In the last few months, my blog has become strangely quiet. In fact, since graduation, my posts have dropped rapidly. In many ways this has simply been due to the constraints of freelance projects. Much of the work I do these days is unavailable for display on the web or is on show in some other form, making it difficult to really talk about much. It's about time I started to change that and so this marks the start of something new.

Firstly, I've redesigned my site. The old blog was a bit of a mess, so it was time for a spring clean. This allows me to start collecting all of my work in one space and also provides me with a platform in which I can share projects, discuss filmy arty type things and hopefully post some tutorials.

I tried to be clever with a poster at University of Portsmouth...I think it failed.

This year has started with an explosion of work, seeing me finish projects for multiple artists and teaching at UCA, University of Portmouth and University of Brighton. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience; finally being as busy as I'd always hoped and working on a broad range of projects, from sculptural pieces generated from ochestral music to photo-realistic, refined animation. Now that I'm getting the hang of working on multiple projects at once, it's time to start making my own things again. This won't necessarily be anything specific, but will hopefully cover a broad range of mediums. Whether it is 2d animation, CG models or good old fashioned oil painting, I'll be trying my best to document more of what I do and why I do it.

This also means I'll be trying to enter into a discourse on the subject areas that I work in. So I'll use this space to talk more broadly about things I feel need discussion, from video game design to film impressions. All the things that I am influenced or outraged by will probably make an appearance. This will hopefully lead to more writing, more discussion and more critique of the mediums I hold dear, if not just to enter into these discussions, but also to clarify and develop my own understanding of certain issues.

Coming soon...game engines, zBrush sculpting, painting tutorials and more.

My own ideas and thoughts concerning animation have changed greatly in the last year. Maybe it is the effect of the art world taking it's toll on me, or maybe I'm just fed up of spending so long on personal projects, only to be disappointed by how watered down and safe they become. I've had a lot of ideas and projects that feel very big at the time, but now looking back, seem so bland and uninspired. Almost as though made with the expectations of an audience in mind, or with fear of breaking from formula and process. I don't know what the answer to this problem is, but I'm prepared to explore it by making different things and seeing where they go, rather than worrying about who this should be for or what step is best for the career. 

So, this isn't really a post. It's just me saying, keep looking at what I do. I'm going to try and make some good things and hopefully show a lot more behind the scenes. So, please take a look around and stay tuned for much more.