Thursday, October 24, 2013

Sorcerers of Avalon - Warrior Ikenga Version 1

The latest in my Sorcerers of Avalon series. I was able to evolve the process for rendering skin tones. I'm using the textured brushes a bit more in the backgrounds too, which are fun. I want to use them more extensively in the near future. 

 I haven't been able to come up with a detailed background for this character. But he's named after the Igbo horned deity. It's a popular symbol among the Igbo people of Nigeria. The Warrior Ikenga is one of the most popular. In my vision of the character, Warrior Ikenga's special talent is the hunt. Once I figure out the other specifics I'll include them with the second version of this design. 
Created using a Nexus 7 (2013 version)
Sketchbook Pro and a Bamboo stylus

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Sorcerers of Avalon - Save or Sacrifice?

This is the first in a series of illustrations inspired by the PSVita title, Soul Sacrifice. It has a really detailed story with interesting characters (with great illustrations throughout) and the choice to save the soul of a defeated enemy, granting them salvation thereby increasing your Vitality and Defense. Or you can sacrifice their soul for power. My current character is 90/10 in Power/Life level. Nom nom for soul sacrificing. I'm a big fan of the game achieving the platinum trophy in August. I hope Sony sticks with it and gives the title time to evolve into a key portable franchise. I like the title so much that it turned me away from Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate after playing that series for 7 years.

This piece is also the first I've created using the new Nexus 7. Message boards and blogs talk of a number of problems with Google's new 7 inch tablet. Luckily, I've only had minor wonkiness.  If I experienced the dealbreaker problems others have experienced, I would have never been able to finish this piece. Beyond that, the 2013 Nexus 7 is a fantastic device that will allow me to push my current creative process even further.

Sorcerer of Avalon - Final. Created using Sketchbook Pro for Android

Sorcerer of Avalon - Variant

Sorcerer of Avalon - Roughs

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

"Woman's Work"

This is my latest work. I spent time evolving my technique for rendering locked hair to show more texture. I also modified my palette a couple of times to get more realistic tones. I used a variation of an old watercolor technique to achieve the background and curtain. 
I'm very happy with the results and the evolved process gives me ideas for future projects. 

Created using a Nexus 7 (2012) and Sketchbook Pro for Android
Close up of the locked hair using a modified rendered technique.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Queen of the Ravens

I'd imagine, when my time is up and the reaper comes for me, this is what she'd look like. This piece is continuing to explore rendering techniques using Android tablets and Sketchbook Pro with a capacitive stylus. There's much more that can be done using/refining the current process and creating these works are putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Process. There's nothing that can't be done when a good process is in place. 
Queen of the Ravens
Created using Nexus 7 - Sketchbook Pro

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

You have the tablet, but which app should you use?

Created using Sketchbook Pro and
Photoshop Touch on a Nexus 7
Since the debut of the new Nexus 7, I've seen quite a few posts asking "Which apps are good for it?" This isn't always an easy question to answer. As you'll notice in my previous entry, I use Sketchbook Pro a lot. It has been my daily driver for over 2 years. The tools within the app are varied and allow for a good degree of customization to get the desired effects.

 Although Sketchbook Pro is capable I use it in conjunction with Photoshop Touch. Sketchbook Pro is a great app for sketching and rendering, but there are key features it lacks that Photoshop Touch supports. For instance, Photoshop Touch supports more layer effects. It also gives more options and controls for layer manipulation, image processing superior text support, lighting effects and warping options. Photoshop also supports the magic wand tool which is invaluable for making detailed selections for editing areas of a piece without affecting the unselected areas. There isn't an equivalent in Sketchbook Pro. Photoshop Touch has limitations that prevent it from being my first choice for sketching though. 

The Photoshop Touch toolbar isn't as extensive as Sketchbook Pro's. The number of available tools at any given time in Sketchbook Pro are 20. The toolbar can be completely customized out of selections that span 11 menu pages. Photoshop has four main tools with variants and customization settings for each. What Photoshop Touch lacks in the toolbar it makes up for in layer effects and filters but there are still limits. As I mentioned in a prior post, Sketchbook Pro has a zoom level of up to 2500% for extremely detailed work. Photoshop Touch maxes out at 400%. Nowhere near enough to truly work in fine detail and control. Sketchbook Pro also handles anti-aliasing better than Photoshop Touch. *Anti aliasing is when the application blends pixels to smoothen the edges of a line or object to prevent the jaggy look of bitmap images.* At a 1 pixel size brush or pencil, the thinnest line possible, Photoshop Touch turns anti aliasing off resulting in a very jagged, very messy line. 
Each app has its pros and cons. But it comes down to personal preference as to which app is right for you. I've found, for my needs, it's better to have both apps as Sketchbook Pro is better for sketching and some rendering. Photoshop Touch is better for image editing, image processing and background creation. 

Quick sketches created using ArtFlow
ArtFlow is a creative app I recently started using that's phenomenal. Thus far it's been as good as Sketchbook Pro and in some regards, better. ArtFlow has all of the tools you'd expect, smudge, pencils and pens with opacity and sizing options, HSV coloring options, export as a PSD, jpg or PNG file. It's very similar to Sketchbook Pro. But a few areas put it over the top for me. The ArtFlow layout just seems to be easier to navigate. The app supports layer manipulation options (Sepia, Hue/Saturation, Solarize etc) that Sketchbook Pro doesn't support at all.  It also offers unlimited "undo" levels whereas Sketchbook Pro tops out at six "undo" levels. The negatives I've found so far are ArtFlow doesn't have as many brush options as Sketchbook Pro and the zoom level maxes out at 1500%. 

Created using Sketchbook Pro and
Photoshop Touch
Other apps that are worth trying are Infinite Painter, Infinite Designer, Sketchbook Ink and if you can find it, Adobe Ideas. Infinite Designer and Sketchbook Ink are vector based apps *Vectors unlike bitmaps will never look jagged no matter your zoom level.* These apps are really good for icon and logo creation and for pieces that require a very clean, stylized look. Animation Desk and Animation Studio are two other apps that should be mentioned although I'll go more in depth in a future blog. These apps allow for 2D animations to be created on your tablet and exported as mp4 files. If you ever wanted to recreate the end of the DragonBall Z Cell Saga, these apps are a good place to start.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tech are tools. It's the talent that makes it all work.

Dawn of a new beginning

Created using a Nexus 7 (2012 version) with
Sketchbook Pro and a capacitive stylus
"Tablets are only good for media consumption. If you want to do real work, buy a laptop." How many times have we heard this or even thought it ourselves? I have heard similar statements many times over the years but that line of thinking has always been hard to accept. I grew up in the era of the Commodore Amiga series of computers that could handle multimedia, animation (2D and 3D), music production and image processing with resources that were so limited by comparison to current tablet technology, it's laughable. Something is very wrong if a tablet in 2013 that is equipped with a quad core 1.5GHz CPU, 2GBs of RAM and 32GBs of internal storage can't perform functions that a Commodore A500 with a 7MHz Motorola CPU, 512KB of RAM and floppy drive could do in 1987. This reminds me of a quote I live by.

"Just because you don't understand how it's done, doesn't mean it can't be done. Learn."

That is the inspiration for this blog. To discuss and share work that is tablet generated. The benefits of portability and cheaper entry cost when compared to a laptop, Wacom tablet and creative desktop applications are clear. Obviously, tablets aren't going to outperform a dedicated laptop or desktop creative environment (yet), but they are a great complement and in some, on-the-go situations, a better alternative. 

Xoom in a Nexus

Created using a Motorola Xoom
In 2011, the Motorola Xoom debuted with much fanfare. It was a collaborative effort between Google and Motorola and the first official Google tablet. The Xoom had a tough act to follow in competing with Apple's iPad and rightfully so. Apple's device quality and hardware/software integration are world class, the best. But, iOS has never been a good fit for my needs. I needed an alternative which led to the Xoom. 

Well, the Xoom had a debacle of a launch and Android 3.0, Honeycomb was potentially good but ultimately flawed. I learned this after purchasing the Xoom at a premium. But the one area where the Xoom excelled for me was sketching. In the midst of trying to deal with the lackluster aspects of Android 3.0 and Verizon's questionable consumer service (unfortunately, I signed up for a data plan), I installed Autodesk's Sketchbook X on the Xoom and purchased a capacitive stylus from Bamboo. I instantly saw the potential and decided to conduct a bit of an experiment. I decide to put away my sketchbooks, pencils and paints to work entirely from the tablet. Shortly after this, Autodesk releases Sketchbook Pro for Android. I bought it and the experiment was underway. The Ironman image is one of the first finished pieces I created using the Xoom and Sketchbook Pro. I didn't use a lot of reference for it but liked the final result.

Growing Pains

Created using a Nexus 7 (2012 version) and Sketchbook Pro

The first hurdle I came across was the Sketchbook toolbar. It featured quite a few tools that I would normally never use. Fortunately, Autodesk had the foresight to allow mobile users to customize the toolbar to suite their needs. I was able to do this to mimic the supplies I use when working with traditional media. I was able to incorporate the pencils I normally use (3H-3B), adjust the opacity and pencil width (pixel width) of each to my liking and adjust the hard edged and soft edged erasers as well. This allowed me to reproduce the hatching technique I use with traditional media, but digitally with results that are just as good if not superior.

Created using a series of
 3H-3B pencils on paper
The next hurdle was the stylus itself. I liked the feel of the Bamboo stylus but the soft tip wasn't durable. I bought three of this brand of styli and all three suffered from a split soft tip after a few weeks of use. I tried Targus brand of styli and although the tips were a bit more durable, for some reason they just didn't flow as well. My lines were a bit inaccurate with Targus brand. I tried Just Mobile brand of capacitive styli for the iPad and found that, even though they're a lot thicker than what I was used to, similar to drawing with a thick crayon, they were also a lot more durable and as accurate as Bamboo brand.  I'm sure there are other options available but this is the brand I currently use today.  

The final hurdle was the lack of pressure sensitivity. There are scores of people that live by the Samsung Galaxy Note, the Note II and the Note 10.1. These devices are popular in part because they feature Wacom digitizer technology for more robust stylus support and pressure sensitivity. Even though the additional features would be great to have, I do not support these devices. There are two main reasons for this. 

1) Samsung does not support their devices well after purchase. Their track record for providing timely updates to their Android devices are dismal. Recent Samsung devices won't receive the latest version of Android 4.3 for at least another two months. They've never officially received Android 4.2.2. In contrast, I received Android 4.3 on my Nexus 7 two weeks ago. 

 2) Samsung's UI skin Touchwiz. I never liked it or its design. Earlier versions of Touchwiz before the Apple lawsuit were colorful and childish. Current versions are uninspiring. Samsung added functionality that wasn't entirely necessary and would have been better served by making a custom launcher instead. Change just for the sake of it isn't innovation. 

The lack of pressure sensitivity was dealt with in the toolbar with the customization of the pencil set layout I mentioned prior. This solution serves me well as it simulates how I work traditionally. But I understand not every creative can work without pressure sensitivity. The other issue I've come across early on was the feel of drawing on glass. Specifically, the lack of feel or resistance one would sense while drawing or painting on canvas and paper. It takes some getting use to but that came with practice. 

After 2 years, I love it more... 

Ironman variant created using Sketchbook Pro,
Photoshop Touch and Pixlr Editor on a Chromebook

Working with
 tablets for creative work has upgraded from experimental to tested and proven for my needs. What started out as a theory in 2011 has become a daily driver by 2013. Working with tablets has become as natural as working with pencil and paper or similar to when I learned Photoshop in 1993 or when I learned DeluxePaint in 1992 and Brilliance in 1994 on the Amiga systems. I can't imagine working without them. 

Created on a Motorola Xoom with Sketchbook Pro
Photoshop Touch and a capacitive stylus
Future updates of this blog will share other discoveries, apps and ideas as they come. Ultimately, I'd love to see a mobile era similar to the heyday of the Amiga/Mac days in the late 80's early 90's when, animators, artists and game designers were truly pushing new technology to create incredible work. It's happening today but there's still a lot of disbelief to the idea of creating series work with tablets. The potential is there waiting to be fully realized. Adobe has helped by releasing their Touch series of apps for iOS and Android. Photoshop Touch, for example, isn't as complete as Photoshop CS but it offers enough power to perform quality image processing all the same. I believe Autodesk has been more effective in supporting tablet specific creative applications. Sketchbook Pro is a more complete product than Photoshop Touch and their vector illustration app Sketchbook Ink is far better than Adobe's equivalent Adobe Ideas. There are other apps that are worthy of mention that I will discuss further in the next blog entry. 

*Just as I was finishing up this blog entry, my 2 year old Motorola Xoom updated to JellyBean.