Artist of the Month is:
Be notified of site updates, subscribe to the newsletter.
Graham McKenna Interview
Could you introduce yourself?
My name is Graham McKenna. I am 29 years of age and currently living in Scotland. I first started in 3d related art in 1994 but it took about 3 years until I felt competent enough to create visually the ideas that were swimming around my head.
What are your main sources of inspiration?
I wouldn't really say that I had any main source of inspiration, I like traditional fantasy art created by good fantasy artist's like Vallejo or Brom. A lot of people have mailed me in the past asking if I am inspired by Ray Harryhausen and maybe indirectly I am, didn't everybody like the Sinbad adventures.
What's your favorite genre, theme?
Probably fantasy and sci-fi, anything with a strong styling like Bladerunner or Star Wars(In no way a Star Wars fanatic, just liked the movie). I do have a tendancy to like the gangster era, the Godfather movies were particularly well told, well the first two any way. From the older gangster flics I really like Edward G. Robinson, Jimmy Cagney, Humphrey Bogart the list is endless all very strong characters who know how to act convincingly without even uttering a word.
What are your strong points?
Strong points would be animating, I am being a bit bias here as it is the one area I enjoy the most wether it is a strong point I will leave this for others to decide.
Tell us a little about "Peace".
'Peace' really came about for a couple of reasons. When creating the Thay-Lore character his purpose was part of a personal project, this image and 'Thinker' was my opportunity to try out some environment issues. I was kinda working on the images simultanously at night and I had the two character poses firm and the main prop namely the log model where he sits. The shape of the tree log came entirely from the characters two poses, it had to form to his shape for lying down while also needing to accomodate the raised foot in the other shot. The 'Peace' pose came from a earlier render I did with another character that involved her reaching to the camera, I tried a similar approach for this render at first but felt it wasn't reading right due to the angle of the camera I was losing the hand in the length of the arm, that's were the peace sign actually came from, tweaking the gobo composition of the pose until it read right and ultimately looks better.
How many hours did you spend on modelling, texturing and lighting?
For the Thay-Lore character I spent a few hours every night for about 4 weeks, this was for modeling and texturing. The prop he lies on took about 1 night and the various other props were created as the composition developed which took about another 4-5 nights. With the composition developing so was the lighting, every prop that was added and checked with a render would spur another tweak to the lighting. Final setting of the lighting rig would be about 2 nights.
What kind of reference material did you have?
For the 'Peace' image itself there was no refrence material it evolved around the character. The character, Thay-Lore initial design came from a Vallejo image I had seen of a horned creature with wings. I started to model him trying to match the refrence source but as I was modeling I tried a few different tweaks which I liked the look of better. After the modeling stage he was quite detached from the refrence material and as I started to texture him he took on his own unique look.
How did you model Thay's face?
The face was the first thing I modeled, I had to be happy with this before developing him further. The points originated from a previous face model moving, merging and welding points until the form of the face appeared. From here the horns were created on a different layer matching points on the top of the head, cut to the same layer and merged to make the entire head model.
How did you model the rest of the body?
The rest of the body was modeled pretty much on the proportions of a human with slight changes to a few aspects namely the length of the legs in relation to everything else. They were intentionally modeled slightly longer, reason being I thought this appropriate for a creature with such a wing span would have evolved such proportions to aid in take off and landing.
What do you think of the Lightwave modelling features?
To me Modeler is Lightwave 5.6's best feature. It is definetly a strong point in contrast to animation or texturing tools that are supplied. Most things I model go through nurbs which is really easy way of modeling organic shapes, although it could be better. Most of my time modeling with nurbs is spent figuring out the best way to keep detail down in the areas that don't need it seen as it subdivides the entire mesh equally
How did you texture him?
The face model was split into two surfaces for texturing, one for the face and one for the horns. The horn textures were applied using a planar coordinate system while the face surface was unwraped to a flat image format for painting which allows the texture to be perfectly aligned using a cylindrical mapping system.(using Ernie Wright's unwrap plugin) For the rest of the figure it was split into torso, arms, legs, wings, hands and feet. What I had to keep in mind when splitting into surface groups was that they were going to conform to the unwrap plugin requirements. This plugin was neccassary seen as Lightwave 5.6 mapping system is practically non-existent. If I could get the surfaces to unwrap this would be the best base I could get for painting the textures. Any other the surfaces I couldn't unwrap were mapped using a planar syatem. The only tricky aspect this leaves is blending where the texture seams appear, with a few test renders and tabbing back and forth from your paint package usually fixes any problems.
Which coordinate system do you think is best to use, when dealing with characters?
For me cylindrical mapping is by far the best mapping coordinate system when dealing with characters (this is only based on what Lightwave 5.6 makes available) reason being that I always try to surface with this system in mind to enable me to use the unwrap plugin as it is the only way I know that gives accurate painting templates.
How did you model the nature elements?
For the branches and tree log was modelled using nurbs while the leaves were constructed out of flat planes that I would apply scans of natural elements with corresponding clip maps (to keep down overlapping transparancy rendering) With the texture applied to one plane I place a bone chain spine that allows deformation of each leaf. This solo leaf object is then parented to a null that will control the group and the solo leaf is cloned to form the plant. Because of the bone spine within each leaf it is also possible to control some sort of movement for the entire plant with the aid of an ik null.
What kind of lighting did you use in this scene?
The lighting setup consisted of 0% ambient, a fill hitting him from front and right side only affecting the diffuse of the surfaces and a backlight spot which was acting as the key. I also used three point lights one in each hole in the ground trying to achieve small fog pockets.
Tell us a little about "Thinker".
Thinker as I said before was on the go at the same time as the 'Peace' image. The main aspect I wanted to get across in the image was depth to the environment. With the nature of the 'Peace' image being a top down render isolated the image to a small piece of environment, with the 'Thinker' image I was able to introduce more depth.
What inspired you for this image?
For the environment the inspiration is from a photo I came across that showed morning breaking from inside a cave formation on the Yucatan peninsula. What the photo was missing in my opion was a foreground layer which I inserted in the form of Thay-Lore and foliage.
How did you get the pose?
Initially for this render I had in mind something more sinister but still happening around the tree log model but as things were taking shape with the image I was going off the idea more and more and finally reliased that I was spending to much time thinking about the pose thus the idea of 'Thinker'
How do you position your models so realistically?
I have no formulae for this other than if it doesn't look right then it isn't right. Sounds sort of logical but it's the only rule I follow. If there is a pose that I am having trouble visualising then I will use some sort of refrence, perhaps from magazines.
How did you do these superb wings and especially the feathers?
For modeling the wings I wanted to keep everything as simple as possible for the purposes of animation setup I had in mind. The texture was applied on a Z planar axis from a texture I had of a disected bird wing. I was lucky with the texture I had a few different types of bird wing to choose from. I touched up the image to suit the form of the wing I had built applying various bump and specular maps until I had a look I liked.
What's the modeling/textures ratio in the realistic aspect of this scene?
I would say 50-50. The model detail of some objects is quite high where as other elements in the scene have a low poly count but are balanced with a beleivable texture.
Do you have any special tricks in getting photorealism?
For the level of photorealism I am achievving I wouldn't say I have any particular tricks. I do have a certain post filtering style on most of my images but wouldn't consider this a trick. In some aspects of my images I do get photorealism from them and this is usually down to a photo scan that has been applied well. It is usually quite easy to tell if something has a hand painted texture if it sits next to the same object with a scan applied. Photorealism to me is creating something identical to the real world, most of the time my work isn't of this world but I do try and match real world textures to a degree. Some one once mailed me and called it photo unrealism where my work makes unearthly items look real. This to me is more appropriate to my style of work.
Do you draw all the textures yourself?
When ever I create a new texture for a surface and the look has to achieve a degree of realism then I always try and incorporate some sort of base texture from the real world. Often I will enhance, manipulate a scan to my liking and then there are times when scans are not appropriate and painted textures are the look you want. For the two images in question most surfaces hold a scan but there were some models which weren't easy to map with the Lightwave 5.6 system so I usually lean toward procedural textures for these items.
What are the maps you generally use the most for your textures?
Depends on the surface. If it is a complex surface the slots are bound to filled but not all surfaces need this level of texture. Most important texture slot for me would be the color then bump, the color initiates some life to the surface and the bump helps promote depth.
All your nature textures look very good, could you give us some tips on how to create such realistic textures?
Get out doors, take the dog for a walk, if you have no dog borrow one. Once outdoors you will find a multitude of objects that fit in the scanner.
What do you think about the Lightwave renderer?
In comparism to software in the same price range I think it is unbeatable and even holds it's own against higher end rendering engines.
What are the different environmental effects in this scene?
The main environmental effects in the scene is a cluster of volumetric spots to emulate the rays in the background and there is some linear fog setup to help give some distance cue in the image.
How do you plan the lighting for your scenes?
For any of my images I am always thinking of the mood for the image to determine the best lighting. More often than not I start with the same rig consisting of a key, fill and backlight. From this rig I tweak positions and intensity, sometimes I add some more to enhance the feel. This is if the image is entirely CG, if there is live action plate it usually determines the lighting for you to a degree.
What's the key in achieving such an atmosphere?
Any atmosphere achieved in my imagery comes from descent lighting complimenting a rich variety of texture. I strive to get across strong poses in a well balanced composition.