Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Amazing John Blanche cosplay outfit

DeviantArt member alberti has uploaded this amazing shoot featuring a cosplay version of John Blanche's Queen Lachryma III of Sepheris Secundus.

Stunning - I wish I had this outfit!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Huntingdon fort

I have been spending a bit of time in Huntingdon recently and was shown the site of a Saxon fort. Although this structure has been reduced to a series of hills closer inspection reveals the outlines of the encampment. It is amazing to think that after a thousand years traces of human activity are still visible by the scarification of the land.

The fort was 'motte and bailey' in design meaning that it sat on a hill (the motte) and at the foot of this a ditch had been dug (the bailey). The combination of incline and ditch effectively raised the structure even further from any invading hordes. The Huntingdon remains show there was a causeway of sorts running into the keep, which would have been bounded by a wall of wooden stakes.

Huntingdon was founded by the Anglo-Saxons and Danes. The area regularly flooded until the 17th century when it was drained by Dutch engineers. The fort, therefore, would have stood above the surrounding fenland and formed an island during the wet season. You can just imagine visitors plodding through the marshes to be greeted with an imposing structure rising majestically out of the damp mist. They would then climb up the causeway and into the settlement, safe from any marauders on the flatlands.

Map image from this site.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Opulent logos: some favorites

Following my last post about the rise of the opulent logo, I though I would share some of my favorites. I have picked these because I think they exemplify one or more of a number of important attributes. They might be well-rendered, have great typography or perhaps be very evocative of the world depicted in the products they grace. This list is by no means complete, so please feel free to suggest others.

Amazing colours and a design which evoke the aquatic Art Deco city of Rapture perfectly. The subtle water effects are brilliant too. Watch out for the Bioshock: Infinite logo too.

This logo captures the big, brash treasure-hunting excitement behind the MB/GW crossover title. The chrome effects are great too.

Amazingly playful typography crossed with 'classic' 80s chrome shading. It really evokes the glossy razzmatazz of the IP.

Realm of Chaos
Ian Miller did the artwork for this logo. More illustrative than the others in this selection, it is a marvel of pen-and-ink and captures the anarchic atmosphere of GW's Chaos faction.

Jurassic Park
Though it's not massively ornate, the King Kong-like font to the wonderful T-Rex silhouette used means this logo encapsulates the themes of the movie perfectly. I also love the "double bluff" that this logo is also the logo of the fictional amusement park depicted within the film.
The Dark Crystal
Amazing typography evokes the fantastical world depicted in the film. Here the text logo is seen on one of Froud's astounding pieces of artwork for the movie.
Iron Maiden
Something I should have mentioned in my post was the importance heavy metal band logos played in the development of the opulent logo. They were one of the first commercial ventures to invent more time and money in logotypes,. Arguably this was because their audience was young and visually aware, and because bands wanted to stand out in line-up posters.

Friday, 24 June 2011

New work: Sedition Wars; Battle for Alabaster presentations

Following yesterday's post with the Battle for Alabaster logo here are two presentation pieces I did for some of the game's concept art.

The illustration of the airlock is by the very talented Jonas Springborg (who did the cover art for Mantic Games' Dwarf King's Hold). Alas I am unsure who did the character sketch in the first piece (it might have been Jonas as well).

I'll post more of my work for this new game from the excellent Studio McVey over the next few weeks.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

New work: Sedition Wars; Battle for Alabaster logo

Below is my logo for the recently announced and hotly anticipated new sci-fi game from Studio McVey; Battle for Alabaster. This game is set in their Sedition Wars universe.

Stay tuned for more details and more of my work on what is proving to be a really innovative and exciting product!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Opulent logos

It was a couple of years ago now that I decided that I needed to carve myself a niche in the gaming-graphics industry. I settled on logos and, thankfully, this seems to have proved successful. This choice was not entirely random. I really love the logos found on fantasy and and sci-fi products - they way they incorporate typography and full-blown artwork and are a fractal of the worlds represented in the products they grace.

This kind of logo, which I shall henceforth call an 'opulent logo', emerged in entertainment pop culture in the 1980s. They began to grace the covers and box art of music albums, comics, computer games, toys and role playing games. Before this, 20th century logos were typically Modernist in approach and were mostly fairly flat typographic treatments. They complemented more detailed and fully-rendered cover artwork, which is where the money and effort went. In the 80s this began to change. It's hard to say what the cause of this was, but perhaps it was the rise of the video game, the prominence of action figures or the increased profitability of the fantasy (in the wake of D&D). An early trail-blazer was TSR. The opulent logos the commissioned for their AD&D campaign settings are some of the most innovative and still some of the best.

Whatever prompted the rise of the opulent logo, they were here to stay. They are now de-rigueur in the tabletop, toy and computer games industry and are often one of the first pieces of artwork to be released as a "teaser" for a product. They have even encroached into the movie industry, with most big-budget sci-fi and fantasy releases sporting gorgeously rendered logos (think Transformers and Lord of the Rings).

In future posts I will be listing some of my favourite opulent logos, and I will write more about how pre-20th century design has inspired the opulent logo. In the meantime I leave you with a couple from TSR's AD&D system.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

New work: Severed Union logo

Below is a newly completed commission for Brian at Gordon & Hague Historical Wargames for his excellent American Civil War game Severed Union.

Thanks for being such a great client Brian!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

New work from John Blanche #6

John Blanche is a man whose output never tires. That said, if it did, the sleep that followed would breed many monsters and little reason. He has kindly allowed me to post the new work below.

In contrast to those images which have appeared on this blog recently, this illustration harkens back to his more usual composition. The cadaverous, demoniac female is granted a head-to-foot portrait while a second character, a twisted arboreal monstrosity fills the background. A sickle moon sits in a brooding sky and a thousand skittering horrors rampage across a surface that might be bracken, shells or bone. The lady (for there can be no doubt about her sex) poses for the viewer and, if she had eyes in her skull's sockets, one feels her expression would empowered, confident and a little sullen. She sports a lamb's skin on her back, for she is a covenant of sorts. The piece as a whole, with the mutant tree and skittering things, reminds me of The Ash-tree by M. R. James - a horrific little tale where the tree in question becomes a breeding ground for a colony of truly grotesque hive-creatures.

My advice to anyone who might expect a visit from these denizens of Blanche-dom is: don't sleep with the window open.

The image was offered to the band The Ark of the Covenant as an single cover. Click the John Blanche work tag at the bottom of this post to see other new works from The Master on this blog.

Friday, 17 June 2011

New photos

I have uploaded lots of new photos to my Picasa account - check them out here. These are just a few of the best shots I have taken over the years.


Thursday, 16 June 2011

Satrgate helmets

One film which has had a massive influence on me is the original Stargate movie. Released back in 1994 it was one of the first of the 'new wave' of sci-fi films which persists to this day. Before it (and the Star Trek film released around the same time), the genre was not seen as being commercially bankable cinema fodder but the success of these two movies helped to change this perception. That said, I am quite willing to admit that Stargate is not a work of staggering genius (like, say, 2001: A Space Odyssey is). However, despite some god-awful acting and a predictable plot it does boast some stunning and well-thought-out production design by Patrick Tatopoulos (who I have mentioned before).

The premise of the movie is that earth was visited thousands of years ago by an alien race who influenced the Egyptians. Hence, the Egyptian aesthetic style is derived from that of the invading extraterrestrial culture. These aliens, led by the disturbingly androgynous Ra, pose as gods in order to manipulate primitive races. To this end they sport mechanized zoomorphic headdresses which are responsible for the Egyptian myths about animal-headed deities. Tatopoulos rationalized all this and produced some of cinema's most beautiful props and costumes. He has done a wonderful job of twisting real Egyptian motifs into alien designs and the use of oiled metals and verdigris finishes is stunning.

The images below were grabbed from an American site which sold some of the original props recently. Alas, they went for tens of thousands of dollars each. Both Horizon and MPC produced more affordable model kits the the alien protagonists. Although both series are now out of production, they do pop up on ebay and I think garage versions of the former are kicking about. The Stargate movie spawned a long-running TV show which I hate with a passion because they bastardized Tatopoulos' designs beyond recognition. Honestly, google "stargate jaffa" and you'll see what a fucking travesty of a costume the actors who played the aliens had to paraded around in.

Patrick Tatopoulos has gone on to do stunning work on many films, but sadly his website has been 'under construction' for well over a year now.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Project management

As some readers may know, I am a trained project manager. Recently I have completed some large commissions for the game industry, and I wanted to talk a bit about how I used my management skills to organize my work. I will use my recent work on Black Scorpion’s game Cutlass! as an example. It was a relatively complex project, which had strict deadlines to ensure it was printed in time.

A project is defined as an endeavor which happens once, has ‘constraints’ (typically time and / or money) and has a definite end result and end point. Humans have been running projects for thousands of years but it was only in the 1950s that formal methodologies evolved and ‘modern’ project management was born. There are several approaches to project management, some of which are industry specific. I am trained in what is called ‘product-based project management’ which is appropriate for a fairly broad range of endeavors. It seems to work pretty well for my role as a freelance graphic designer.

The central tenant of the methodology I use is ‘no surprises’. Ideally there should be nothing which emerges in the lifetime of a project that proves to be a bolt-out-of-the-blue which stops the project. In practical terms, this can happen, but a lot of effort is devoted to scoping and planning so the chances of an unexpected catastrophic occurrence are reduced. I began Cutlass! by listing all the things which needed to be produced (the ‘end products’). For each product I then list the tasks or sub-products which need to be created or done to produce it. Timescales and relationships are then mapped and eventually all the tasks and products are plotted on a time chart as bars. This is called an Gantt chart, named after Henry Gantt (one of their first major uses was to plan US ordinance operations in WWI). This can be quite a lot of work, but is essential when you have a large, complex project. Without planning the overriding temptation is to do the ‘fun’ bits of work first, but this ad-hoc approach inevitably leads to problems.

The first graphic is a process flow chart showing the planning which is needed for the release of a boxed game. Typically a process flow precedes a Gantt chart. It is a list of products and the tasks to achieve them without timescales yet assigned. The second image is the Gantt chart I produced for the Cutlass! project. You can see there is a period of time built in at the end of the plan for contingency. This is essential to accommodate the unexpected occurrences which inevitably arise. I would send Adam at Black Scorpion this Gantt periodically. It allowed him to see the progress being made, and would inform him of the things he needed to do as the client (such as the time he was allowed to review and comment on products so I had enough time to make changes).

I would highly recommend reading about (or even doing a course in) project management for any creative who works on large or complex commissions. It will give you tools to tackle common problems and impress clients.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Dwarf King's Hold 2 - Tile preview

I have recently completed work on the tiles and tokens for the sequel to Mantic Games' Dwarf King's Hold. The new game is suffixed: Green Menace. Below is a preview of one of my tiles.

Green Menace is a new, stand-alone game for which you do not need a copy of the first DKH. The box features two different races - the orcs and elves so you get two new sets of minis. Mantic were keen to make the second tile-set distinct from the first. Hence the orange glow and tan colours of the first DKH are now replaced with a cooler palette of greens and blues, with water being the theme which runs (sorry!) throughout the set.

Thanks to observant reader Minitrol who has prompted this post.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Warpath all over Beasts of War

Those lovely fellows at Beasts of War have done a grand job of of incorporating my Warpath logo into the latest design for their wonderful site.

I am not sure my work has ever had such good exposure. Thanks guys!

Monday, 6 June 2011

The best free applications

As a busy freelancer there are a number of free applications which, frankly, I could not live without. These range from storage options to note-taking and image library tools. I thought I would share my list of ‘must haves’ with you and spread the word about how useful they are. Download and be productive, my little imps!

Picasa – this is ‘the bomb’. Picasa is effectively the iTunes of images. It indexes all your images (JPEGs, PNGs, PSDs, TIFFs etc) according to date, file name and, most usefully, folder name. You can search by any of these categories, plus camera type. If, like me, you have thousands of images this kind of app is essential. It also has basic image manipulation tools for editing and exporting images, which is really good when you want to chuck out web versions. It will add watermarks, sync with online albums and upload images to Blogger too. An utter must-have for a graphic designer.

Dropbox – This is an online storage tool. I was dubious of its usefulness at first but soon learned its value. You’ll never send a file by email again (you just send the dropbox link), you’ll put everything you might want to access remotely in your dropbox folder. Most importantly it’s dead simple to use as it acts like any other folder on your hard drive. Genius.

Evernote – Again, it took me a while to appreciate the value of this app. In this digital age we inevitably amass a vast quantity of tiny bits of information. The name of that brand of pencils you saw, the code you got for your train tickets, that snap of that sculpture you happened upon, the list of project you’ll never have time to do. All these notes can be categorized and searched iTunes-fashion. The notes are synced and can be accessed online, on your smartphone and on any computer where the full-fat (and much faster) Evernote app is installed. Though I never have, there are paid-for upgrades which give extra features useful to businesses and students.

Google Calendar Sync – I want to access my calendar everywhere and I don’t want to be tied to one device to do so. Google Calendar allows this. The only draw-back is that full sync to my iPhone is only available with a purchased app. Boo!

Xmarks – I use about three machines on a daily basis. Xmarks allows me to sync my bookmarks on them all. I always have a ‘to download’ folder of bookmarks, which I update on a daily basis with stuff I want to save (using the add-ons below). Xmarks means I can access this list from any of my machines.

Downloadthemall and Save Images – These Firefox Add-ons both do the same thing. They make it easy to harvest images from the web. As a graphics junkie I always want to download images at high rez and these add-ons make it easy. DTA has a wonderful ‘one click’ ability while SI has a great ‘open-all-links-in-one-tab’ function.

Screen Capture Elite -  It was only recently that I moved to Mac, and I still work on PC so I have never mastered the Apple keystrokes to save a portion of the screen as an image. I don’t need to, because I only ever want to do this with web pages and SCE adds a handy icon to Firefox which facilitates this. This kicks Flash images into saving territory.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Warpath - the Cat is out of the Bag

Beasts of War's Turn 8 Live show last night revealed that Mantic have indeed been working on a sci-fi game called Warpath. I am proud to say they engaged me to do the logo and you can see it in all its glory below.

The show also briefly showed my new tiles for the follow up to Mantic's game Dwarf King's Hold (called Green Tide). I am sure I will blog about these soon, so stay tuned.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Mantic on Beasts of War tonight!!!

Tune into to Beasts of War's Turn 8 show tonight at 10pm BST to see news about the latest plans from Mantic. The tiny image below is from the Mantic e-newsletter and hints at what's in store. I don't need any hints though, as I am proud to say it's my work that's been redacted!