Three Worlds, One Image: Adding Color

Work In Progress / 10 March 2022

After getting the basic structure down, I wanted to quickly add in some color to get a feel for the way each of the spaces would work together. I was going purely for the local color of everything, not wanting to get bogged down in considering lighting or texturing. Working with original material that was already so brilliantly designed and iconic made it easy to set each of the 3 worlds apart and make them immediately recognizable.

Adding color immediately made me aware of a problem area that took me quite a while to solve. I had liked the idea of showing Ben Kenobi turning off the tractor beam from my initial sketch—I immediately visualized having him sort of sneaking around in the shadows, a figure you may not initially notice with everything else going on, so having him to the side or a corner made a lot of sense. I had placed him on the left side of the original sketch, away from the other Star Wars parts of the image, which at first seemed like a good way to do a “Where’s Waldo?” kind of thing with him but the placement felt awkward. 

When I started designing the basic structure, I moved the tractor beam all the way up into the top left corner, thinking that having it close to two edges that could potentially crop out areas that didn’t work together would help. It was definitely an improvement from my initial sketch, but my eyes kept going back to that corner. The elements just weren’t living with each other as comfortably as they were in other parts of the image.

Another problem with the placement of the tractor beam was the distortion caused by the extreme perspective. With most  2 or 3-point linear perspective that attempts to simulate real world space, at least one horizontal vanishing point is usually pretty far off to one side or the other of the image, while the other point is either closer to the edge of the image area or even in the image area itself. In this case, all 3 vanishing points are equidistant from the visible part of the image and that makes things get weird FAST, especially near the edges of the image. In trying to place the tractor beam in the top left corner, the perspective distortion became so extreme that what was supposed to be seen from the side could only be seen from below. I did some vertical scaling to “cheat” my way into a side view of that space but it didn’t feel like the problem had been completely solved. The only way to determine if that solution would work at all was to figure out a way to get some reference figures into the image to see if they could “live” in the space I’d created so far.

Three Worlds, One Image: Creating the Underlying Structure

Work In Progress / 03 March 2022

The thumbnail sketch I’d created got me really excited about the direction the project was going but it also brought into focus a quality to this image that made it distinctly different from anything else I’ve ever worked on.

The primary thing the thumbnail reminded me of were the “prison” etchings created by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, architectural fantasies where the figures were dwarfed by the spaces they were in (if there were even figures included at all.) I’ve spent most of my illustration career drawing figures, with the surrounding space being nothing more than the setting for them. The stars of the show were the figures and the background was just that: background.

With this image, the background was going to be the star and the figures were going to be relegated to a supporting role, primarily there to give a reference for the scale of the spaces as well as indicating what direction their particular world was facing ( a consideration that never has to be made in a conventional image.) I’ve been continually surprised by how challenging that conceptual turning-inside-out has been for me to deal with as I go through this project.

With the primacy of the space in mind, I started going about hammering out the overall architecture. I’d already established that I wanted the final image to be done in Adobe Illustrator, very clean-edged and graphic, possibly with a limited palette that would make each of the 3 worlds distinct. One of the benefits that I immediately experienced as I got to work was being forced to become thoroughly familiar with Illustrator’s perspective grid. I’d occasionally used it in previous illustration assignments whenever I needed any “quick and dirty” perspective work, but anything that got too 3D was easier done in Blender, a program I’ve come to love in the 5+ years I’ve been using it. By comparison, Illustrator’s 3D tools can be relatively clunky, but the more I got to know them, the more enjoyable using them came to be and the more possibilities they opened up. Because they aren’t trying to accurately reproduce real world physics (as Blender tries to do) the kind of shapes that come out of Illustrator’s 3D tools are more graphic, emphasizing line rather than volume, which was more in keeping with the kind of look I wanted the finished image to have.

My plan at this stage was to create a basic structure in Illustrator, which I could then use to place reference figures in the correct perspective after importing it into Blender. I wasn’t thinking in terms of color yet—it was all about getting a clear structure in linear perspective to use as a scaffolding to hang everything else on.

The lower right quadrant of the image was going to be the egg chamber from Alien and there was really no way I was going to be able to "rough in" the kind of alien architecture Giger created for that space, so I just added a floor grid for the time being, to give myself a clear idea of the depth of the space, so I could "Giger it up" later on. I added a reference rectangle in the upper left corner Transporter Room from Star Trek, to give myself an idea of the relative size the figures were going to be. The great thing about Illustrator's perspective grid was that I could slide that rectangle around in 3D space so I could see what size a figure would be at any place in the image.

The next step was going to be filling it all in with some local color to see if each space I’d chosen to include in the image worked well with all the others.

Three Worlds, One Image: Preliminary Sketches

Work In Progress / 24 February 2022

A 3D artist I saw on blenderartists.org had created a 3D CGI version of M.C. Escher's image, Relativity. Escher has been an inspiration for a lot of my personal non-published work for a long time--it wasn't long after I started making digital art that I tried my hand at creating tessellations--so seeing the digital version of Relativity stayed with me for days.

I started wondering, "what if, instead of having 3 groups of people oriented to each of the 3 vanishing points in the image, a different world originated from each vanishing point?" That led me to think of the ways I could make those worlds distinct, yet have them all coexist within the same image.

As I was kicking ideas around in my head, I spent some time studying Escher's image to make sense of the perspective. The vanishing points form the vertices of an equilateral triangle, each edge of which is used as an horizon line, with the vertex opposite the edge serving as an upper or lower vanishing point. It’s actually a lot easier to see than explain:

As I studied Relativity, my eyes kept going back to the figure walking up the stairs at the bottom of the image. I loved the way that figure seemed to lead the viewer into the image (at least that’s what it did for me.) I suddenly had a flash mental image of Luke Skywalker walking up the stairs to begin the climactic fight with Darth Vader at the end of Empire Strikes Back and I knew I had the beginnings of an idea.

It took a while to fully form, though. At first, I thought I might try to show the same moment from 3 different viewpoints (one idea was to show Luke’s hand being cut off from below, above and relatively straight ahead) but it seemed too confining and I still really loved the idea of there being 3 different worlds.

Thinking about Star Wars led me to think about all the other sci-fi/space fantasy stuff I grew up loving and how much influence it had in making me want to draw pictures for a living. It wasn’t too long before I wanted to try combining Star Trek with Star Wars. Star Trek has such a distinctive design that I thought it would be immediately recognizable and distinct while still complementing the Star Wars stuff coming from the other vanishing point. That left one more vanishing point to inhabit!

I’ve always been a huge fan of the original Alien. The movie itself is great and there is so much great design work from H.R. Giger, Moebius, Chris Foss that it’s always stayed with me. I had my third vanishing point.

I created a 3-color perspective grid in Adobe Illustrator and started playing around with adding quick thumbnail characters to it after importing it into Photoshop. The focus was primarily on the characters at this point, but what I soon found out is that the space is the star in this kind of image. That ended up reinforcing my choices for the 3 worlds—each of them is so immediately recognizable in their own right that there was plenty of material to draw from in the ships, environments and interiors from all 3 of them.

The result of this stage was a quick thumbnail that already enabled me to visualize the way everything could work together:

The next step was to create an underlying structure that would work being seen from 3 different directions.