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Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Battle of Five Armies: Beorne

Other than Gandalf, Beorne has always been the most memorable character from the Hobbit for me. Yes, even more than Biblo. Sadly, as a child my understanding of the Hobbit was essentially that long ago, a wizard and a number of short people went looking for gold and got mixed up in some bad business with a dragon. 

Bilbo actually got lost in the dwarves for me until I reread the story later on in life. And while the host of characters in the story were vague from when I first read it long ago, the big hairy guy who got so angry that he turned into a giant bear and killed everyone was pretty unforgettable for me. It blew my childhood mind. Later on I would read it again, and by then having read some history and read about berserkers, I found that his character made more sense and became even more fascinating.

It was exciting for me that, in the darkest moment of the Battle of Five Armies, when it seemed that the goblins were sure to be victorious, Beorne shows up in a rage and destroys everything. But that he then rescues the body of Thorin and carries him back to safety before returning to destroy the goblin hosts is absolutely wonderful.
Tolkien said that he loved the moment in the battle when Biblo cries, "The Eagles! The Eagles are coming!" But for me, it has always been this moment, where Beorne crushes the goblins in a fury and rescues Thorin.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Battle of Five Armies: Digital Steps

This week, I have begun working on the digital stage of the Battle of Five Armies. I was not as pleased with the overall results of the watercolor painting and have begun using the digital tools more than I had originally intended. 

"Blaggard! Gerard, you foul villain! You said we wouldn't be digital this time!"
Now, I know that earlier I may have implied that this piece might be rendered more traditional than digital, and so some of you may cry foul at seeing the amount of digital painting that I fear may make its way into the final piece. While I think that some of you will appreciate the results, others of you may not find them as quite as charming...


And some of you will think, "it's all a sham," and "why couldn't he just leave well enough alone and stop monkeying with everything on the computer." 

This new method that I used on this piece has offered some really interesting accidents, but overall I think I prefer the method that I have used on the previous Hobbit pieces.

To elaborate on the difference of the 2 methods, the previous illustrations utilized the watercolor stage only as an underpainting, which meant that the pieces would be incomplete without the digital stage where I would do the final rendering. I found this offered greater control and played to the strengths of both mediums, while minimizing their weaknesses. The other method, which I used here, was a straightforward attempt to render the entire piece as a watercolor, avoiding any digital work altogether. 
Unfortunately, this did not work out. In the end I couldn't help myself and after rendering the whole piece to final, I found that I had to use a lot of the digital tools to fix problems in the painting anyway. The digital tools offer so much versatility and save so much time (for me) that it seems almost absurd handicap to try and work without them. At this point, it may be too late for me to go back to working in watercolor alone. I would value your feedback on the matter.

"Gibblegrok Gnok!... 
Throw us down his computer, so that we may eat it!"  

Friday, February 20, 2009

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Battle of Five Armies: Process, Day 3

I don't usually work in this method of object by object execution.  But I am taking a lot of notes from some other artists to try and learn something new on this one. I prefer to work in broader washes of color and tone and then work backwards from larger swaths of paint to smaller. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Hobbit: Reference Hunting and the Mad Dwarf Workshop

Earlier this week I went through the exhausting process of hunting down reference for this piece. (By that I mean that I sat on my couch and watched Kingdom of Heaven on mute and ate a very rare steak.) The people who worked on the costumes and weapons for Kingdom of Heaven literally could have invaded China with the manpower and resources they devoted to trying to keep everything historical and real. I really admire Ridley Scott's fantastic attention to detail in this film and I hope to learn from his example. 

One great source that I am using for reference on this piece is from a few really amazing swordsmiths I know who also have a penchant for detail. For the Lord of the Rings fans out there who are not familiar with them, let me introduce you to The Mad Dwarf Workshop.  Comprised mainly of the phenomenal talent of Andy Davis and David DelaGardelle, the Workshop hand-makes epic-inspired weapons with a phenomenal attention to detail. They also recreate historic examples from Viking and Celtic history. I really love to see artists really dedicated to their craft in this way.  

Their talent with Viking and Dwarvish weapons is really inspiring. I asked David if they ever made any goblin weapons, I was really curious what real swordsmiths might come up with if they were to put their efforts into the crooked weapons the goblins might have used.  He sent me the following image from a performance of the Hobbit that the Workshop was involved with. 

You can check out more of their work on their flickr gallery.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Battle of Five Armies: Process, Day 1

So it begins....

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Battle of Five Armies: Color Comp

The color comp for this scene is important because it will set much of the tone of the piece. The Hobbit, by and large is a more charming story than the Lord of the Rings, mainly because it is narrated by a charming individual, in Bilbo Baggins. The Lord of the Rings is narrated from several points of view and flows more like a historical narrative. Because of this it gains a epic quality that The Hobbit lacks. The Lord of the Rings is really scary in moments. When Tolkien begins talking about Sauron and the coming battles, the writing takes on a terrifying, apocalyptic quality that reminds the reader of William Blake's ominous writing. 
That being said, I don't want this scene to be too dark, or as seriously scary as some of the moments from the Lord of the Rings would be. I want it to be pretty bright, and to have the brightly lit feel of a classical European battle painting.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Battle of Five Armies: Sketches

Layout sketch.  

I have had this image pretty clear in my head for some time now, so there isn't much need for a variety of thumbnails on the overall layout of the image. Usually I will do a dozen or so from different angles to get the feel of the scene and find which fits the best. This is a rare exception where the layout is already perfectly clear in my head. What is not clear yet and what will need a lot of development sketch work is the individual figures, and the general havoc and stupefying mayhem.  

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies

The Battle of Five Armies.
 This is for me the quintessential battle of fantasy literature. While it lacks the apocalyptic quality of the battles that take place later in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it has within in it a truly wonderful classical feel blended with just enough fantasy to keep it both captivating and believable within the framework of the world. As a child, and even now when I read the Hobbit, I find myself wanting to see this moment happen when I get to this point in the story. Tolkien hints at it just enough that you find yourself imagining what it would be like to be in a battle between dwarves and goblins. And just when all these things have come together in your mind Tolkien presents this perfect scenario. The perfect fantastic battle. Wolves, Goblins, Goblins riding Wolves, Dwarves, Elves, Bats, Eagles, Men, a mountain of treasure and a gigantic, furious bear.

Tolkien does this same thing later in the Lord of the Rings, when the fellowship crosses through the Mines of Moria. He suggests the long-standing feud between the dwarves and the goblins. He lets the reader wonder on their own for pages, imagining that goblins are going to come out of any door at any moment. He lets the reader imagine the terror of the situation. Of being trapped underground, in the dark, with creatures that want to kill you. But he also lets you imagine the strategems that might have existed and that the dwarves might have used to defend themselves from the Goblins. The gatehouses, the bridges, the deep chasms. And then he even gives you a brief glimpse into the final moments of the last stand of the dwarves of Moria. And then, when your imagination has already run away with the idea of hordes of angry goblins storming the tunnels and things fouler than orcs in the deep places, he delivers that very thing we have been waiting for. The drums sound in the deep, and the Fellowship has to fight their way out of the same aweful place the Dwarves of Moria were killed in.
Moria is one of my favorite moments in Tolkien's writing and much of that is because it has such a wonderful build up leading up to it.

The Battle of Five Armies is very similar for me. By the time it happens, it has become everything you could hope for. Tolkien is also brilliant for how much of it he leaves to the readers imagination. How much restraint he uses. He sets it up, and then takes Bilbo, our narrator, out of it rather early on. The rest of the events we learn second-hand, and after the event, delivered by Gandalf, who tells it in a straightforward, wholly-understated, British manner. It reads like a Naval report from the Battle of the Nile. Or a battle scene from Le 'Morte d'Artur. By taking out the narrator early on, and then only telling the most necessary moments of the battle, he lets the reader to fill in the gaps with their imagination. He gives you just enough to go on so that you can imagine the rest of the world on your own.

I would venture that the lack of this sort of restraint was one of the chief reasons the new Star Wars were disappointing to many. In the first trilogy the worlds were only hinted at, and the viewer had to use their imagination for the rest of it. The viewer was given more of an opportunity to take part in the story. The space between the teller and the receiver was bigger and more interesting because more was left to the imagination. But in the new ones, it was more heavily weighted on teller, and less on the receiver, so the space between, the space where imagination is demanded, was diminished. I suspect that this was because in the new ones they could finally fully realize everything. They had the technology, the budget and the ability to show you everything. Now, as opposed to talking in ominous tones about the spice mines of Kessel and letting you imagine the horrors there, they would actually show you. I think that the restraint that the old films had by necessity actually made them more charming and is why they struck such a wonderful chord with everyones imagination in a way that the new ones, visually stunning as they are, don't quite seem to do.

It is mostly because of Tolkien's expert handling of the Battle of Five Armies, that it leaves me with all kinds of moments that I want to depict in this scene. He uses a great deal of restraint in his telling, and I think that makes for better art. But it will be difficult for me to do likewise. My temptation is to do what Lucas did, and to try and fully realize everything without leaving enough to the viewer's imagination. There are so many moments in this part that I want to depict. There are soo many great possibilities. It will be very difficult to pick which moments to include and which ones to leave out.