Digital painting (as I like to think of this process) adheres to the same guidelines of composition, form, color and value as traditional art.
For me, the process begins with inspiration – usually a prehistoric animal that I want to see in a specific scene or posed a certain way. Within the computer, I use one software just to pose the 3d models of the animal. Great time and care is taken to get the overall pose balanced, dynamic and lifelike.
If there will be more than one animal in the scene, the models are posed together to make their interactions appear spontaneous and organic.
Next the skins of the animals are designed.
Decisions of pattern and color are made, always with an eye to living animals and what nature itself has created. But with extinct animals, and dinosaurs in particular – there are no living analogies, giving the artist great freedom in design.
The skins are ultimately created in an image editing software, and then imported onto the 3d models.
Once the animals are posed and wrapped in their skins, they are brought into another software that’s used to create the digital landscapes. One of the challenges of Mesozoic landscapes is that there was not a great diversity in flora. Ferns and pines dominated the landscape. So the challenge for the artist is in how to keep those redundancies interesting. The animals are positioned and the scene is composed – mountains, water courses, trees and rocks are placed. The point of view (much like looking through a camera) can be moved, rotated and raised up and down. A great deal of time is spent experimenting with the most interesting and dynamic angles. A digital atmosphere is created – clouds, fog, rain – which contribute to the overall mood of the piece and drive decisions of color and value. Finally, once everything is created in 3d, the entire scene, with the animals, is rendered by the computer in a process that could take days.
Once the rendered image is complete, it’s brought into an image editing software where it is fine-tuned. Adjustments to color, tone and contrast are made, and tiny details are hand-painted, giving the image its final, life-like appearance. Some people consider digital art “cheating,” and that it makes everything too easy and fool-proof. I’ve been a traditional artist (watercolor is my medium) for nearly 30 years, and I can honestly say that, while the technical processes are vastly different, the artistic process of creating digital art is every bit as risky, as complex and as exciting as producing an award-winning watercolor.