I was recently commissioned by the wonderful people at Monte Cook Games to paint the cover for Predation, one of the upcoming sourcebooks for their Worlds of the Cypher System tabletop RPG expansion. In a nutshell, the Predation universe is described as follows:
First figure out how to survive the dark and dangerous world of the Cretaceous Period using the technology of the future—high-tech weapons, advanced science, and bioengineered dinosaurs—and then worry about the asteroid that history says wipes out all life on earth.
Dinosaur battles with high-tech weaponry! What’s not to love about that? The 12-year old in me was bouncing with excitement at this opportunity, especially after reading the art brief, which presented several options:
– person in power armor with a futuristic high-tech gun fighting a dinosaur
– person with cool futuristic gear riding a dinosaur
– one group riding dinosaurs fighting with another group without dinosaurs
– someone taming a dinosaur
– some dinos will be biotech, or part robot or ?
I got to work immediately with some digital thumbnail sketches…
Now, I thought #4 was pretty badass. I like the idea of a buff woman staring down a drooling predator with a look of pure contempt, getting ready to put that knife to work. They liked that one as well, and floated the idea of eventually using it for an interior illustration, but ultimately they decided on #1, the big battle. At this point they asked if I would go ahead and make it a double spread, front and back cover, with some action coming in from the left, like a person controlling a pack of smaller dinosaurs. We recalculated my fee, because that’s a significant addition to the art order, and I pressed on.
Now it was time to shoot reference photos. I broke out the most sci-fi clothing I could find, including my tactical vest I picked up at the army surplus shop, and had my friend Amy take photos of me running up and down the driveway like a jackass.
Then I donned some slightly different gear, including a cell phone holster to act as a wrist device, and shot some reference for the tech specialist. I moved to the inside to try to get some backlighting from the window.
The female characters I posed and rendered using Daz Studio Pro.
And again, it’s Daz studio to the rescue to acquire some reference poses for the pack of smaller attack dinosaurs. Daz has an extensive library of creatures, and for $15 I purchased the Monolophosaurus model. That money is well worth the time spent trying to build maquette models or fishing around for reference. Besides, I can change certain things in the anatomy to personalize the creatures.
I really wanted to nail down the composition, and the fastest way for me to do that, if I have good reference photos, is to cut/paste photographs and renders into one image so I can move, scale, skew, chop, and re-pose to avoid things like awkward tangent lines and proportion issues. I can also speedpaint the environment and add color adjustments as I see fit. This results in a very crude color comp.
Now it was time to get on the board. I started with a wash of FW Acrylic ink on cold press illustration board, blotting and dropping here and there, letting the ink do its thing.
Then when I was satisfied with the base I projected my digital color study onto the board with my Artograph LED 500 projector and traced (there’s that ugly T-word again) the pencil drawing onto the surface and inking in my darkest darks onto the foreground character with a mixture of blue and burnt umber. I want to avoid black if I can.
Working back to front, I brushed in the environment with acrylic paint. Sky, ground foliage, trees, etc. I broke up some of the dark shadow areas of foliage with warm oranges and reds. I added a dark ink base to the middle-ground runner.
I then worked on the left side of the painting, adding the moon and background flyers, the shaman character and her dinosaur minions.
Again, working back to front, I rendered the big dinosaur (it will need a lot more work) and added base coats to the remaining characters.
From there it was just a matter of adding detail and shading to the characters, sticking to a limited palette, and occasionally rendering with ink and colored pencil for finer details and outlines.
I then added some finishing details like stars and small detail fussing. For the final delivery of the artwork, I photographed it at high resolution, lighting it at an angle from both sides, and brought it into Photoshop for some post-processing and color correction.
There you go. I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product; my first major book cover!