Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Putting Together the Whole

For this year's steelhead trout exhibit, I couldn't find many stock photos that showed the San Gabriel river, let alone ones that were large enough to cover the 40' x 4' space that I needed to cover for our steelhead mural. The initial concept from Bowman Design Group has the mural covering the journey of steelhead trout from the ocean all the way to the their freshwater homes in the upper watersheds. Since our exhibit speaks about our local southern California steelhead trout, the mural was designed to reflect that.

So, since I couldn't find any appropriate photos, I decided to take a few of my own. I visited several locations along the upper San Gabriel River and also around Malibu to take several panoramics that became part of the final image. The interesting takeaway for me is that you can never have too many photos. A lot of what wasn't used for the main part of the image was used in smaller sections of the final image, or pieces to transition from one scene to another.

The final section, from the estuaries to the ocean, was made of stock photos since I couldn't find any locations nearby that reflected what we were looking for. Making a composite image of stock photos of various sizes presented its own challenge, especially since that section was 10' tall.

Here is a short .gif showing the different layers of the final image for the section between the upper river and the estuary. It doesn't show how much work was put in to blend those layers together, but it does give you a bit of a glimpse of how many images are there to make a cohesive whole.

Here is the final image, though we did add more ocean to the left of it later. What surprised me about the final was that a lot of things I worried about, namely where transitions seemed to be glaringly obvious, were not as apparent on the actual printed mural. The 4' section goes behind the live trout exhibit, while the 10' section acts more like a backdrop for the rest of the exhibit. The total number of photos that make up this image is over 100. The final length is almost 100' wide.

One the ways you know it's a job well done is that no one really notices it and just accepts it as part of the exhibit. Mission accomplished.

New Challenges

This year, the Aquarium of the Pacific opened a new exhibit about steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss). Because I don't know a lot about steelhead, I had a lot of research to do, which mostly involved a lot of google searching. However, in this case, I had the privilege of working with the actual fisheries scientists from USFW and regional fisheries scientists, which meant I also was able to supplement my photo reference with images and input from the scientists.

One of the things I was tasked with was creating an image for the steelhead life cycle, which is exceedingly complex because all steelhead start as eggs in a freshwater stream and as they grow older they can choose to stay in the freshwater and become what we call rainbow trout or they can can transition—in a process called smoltification—into the ocean-going form known as steelhead trout. To make things even more complicated, steelhead trout transition in freshwater to rainbow trout colors, but don't become rainbow trout. And they can return to the stream year after year to spawn unlike salmon. So yes, the big takeaway is that rainbow trout and steelhead trout are the same species.

This process started out with a sketch from Rosi Dagit from RCDSMM (Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains).

The initial Illustrator/Photoshop image based off Rosi Dagit's design:

The initial design looked too complicated on reflection, so we simplified it.
Another part of the process was to send out an image of all the trout life stages to the scientists for their review. Here you can see the various notes that were given on an initial version of the illustrations and a later version of the illustrations after I'd made the changes.

Here's an image that shows a rough progress.
The first image is a rough sketch, in this case of the steelhead (ocean-going form of the rainbow trout). For the ease of changing the outlines and scale of the various stages of the trout, I did all the "inking" digitally. These are vector images drawn in Adobe Illustrator and colored in Photoshop. It's hard to see the difference between the first outline and the second, but there were minor changes in the mouth shape and a general slimming down of the overall shape, since steelhead tend to be more streamlined than rainbow trout.

Here, you can see the final image, where includes a change in the title and a more pared down look. The background of the image reflects the exhibit so I made minor modifications there as well.

Next post is a little glimpse of what it takes to create a composite photo, without it looking too Photoshopped. Visit the Aquarium of the Pacific to see the new Steelhead Trout exhibit and the new signage in person!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Giant Siphonophore

A giant siphonophore (Praya dubia) is a colonial Cnidarian like the Porteguese man-o-war. It can get up to 130 feet long and can be found at up to 1000 feet deep. Each of the small animals are connected together and have different functions like feeding, swimming, and reproducing. The "head" or swimming bell is the nectosome and the long "tail" is the siphosome. These guys can bioluminesce a blue color to attract their prey. The giant siphonophore is part of the Aquarium of the Pacific's new exhibit on Ocean Exploration called Wonders of the Deep. Since the images of these animals of their full length are mostly low-resolution ROV video captures and since the original designs called for a 40 ft image, I decided to illustrate the animal instead of going through the frustration of Photoshopping, cloning, and blowing up itty bitty pixels. Illustration gave me the flexibility to play around with the size of the image to fit the context and also to blur or clarify the parts of the image that overlapped or went behind other Photoshopped photos. This first image is the final image as it went to pre-press, with the images from the different sections and two walls put together. The illustration was built at 1/8" size.

Here's a close-up of the front of the siphophore, with the nectosome and some of the siphosome showing.

And here is the image in the context of the Wonders of the Deep Gallery. The projections above it show animals that live in the abyssal plains, 13,000 ft down. The siphophore isn't one of those animals, it's more an element to tie together the different panels. Sorry for the poor quality of the photo. It's an appropriately dark exhibit.

If you find yourself in Long Beach, come check out the new Ocean Exploration exhibit at the Aquarium of the Pacific!

Friday, February 08, 2013

Putting together the whole

I suspect that people working as illustration editors for magazines do this kind of thing all the time, but I thought it might be interesting to take a look at what I get handed before I start an illustration. This is a post touching on the process behind creating an illustration from existing materials.

While it's essentially a tracing job, it's not quite as straight forward.

What you get is this:

What they want is this:

I created this image for a forum on planning the use of marine space off the California Coast. It's officially called coastal marine spatial planning (CMSP). You can read more about the forum here. It's a vector image created in Adobe Illustrator with a map base created in GIS software and additional data added. I put reference links to the original image where possible.

This is the original map:

You can see the general shape of the land mass in the image. The shape of the coastline is directly pulled from this image. However, since the final image was reproduced at 8' wide, I added more detail to the map using other maps of the Southern California area.

 This is a reference image that I used to create the oil platform icon:

And this is the reference for placement of the oil platforms:

I used this map for the Marine Protected Areas (represented in green) and the state boundaries (represented in blue):

Federal boundaries (represented in purple) and shipping lanes (teal) were traced from a nautical map:
found here:

And the final layer was of Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS) represented by an outline of the Garibaldi (yellow):

Just a little look behind the scenes of everyday illustrations, making science and data more beautiful through art.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A Little Plein Air

Some entries from my watercolor Moleskin sketchbooks. Watercolors are some of the most portable art supplies, so I take my sketchbook on most hikes and outdoor trips. Here's a few from some of my recent trips.

This one is from a Joshua Tree camping trip last year in August. The moon was too full to really see the Perseides meteor shower. Painting the sunrise from on top of a rock at the Sheep's Pass camp site.

This one is from the Joshua Tree camping trip this year. With a sickle moon, the Perseides viewing was amazing! We camped out at the same campsite as last year. This sketch was also done at sunrise, but at a higher elevation. That mass near the foreground is the rock that I did the sunrise sketch from last year.

Another camping trip that I repeated from last year was to visit the Channel Islands off the state of California. Last year, we went to Anacapa Island and I sat down to do a longer sketch from a rocky outcropping about 1/2 mile from our campground.

This year, we went to Santa Cruz Island where I went on an 8 mile hike up to the radio tower. We wanted to get back before it got dark, so this is a much quicker sketch up on the MontaƱon Ridge of the cloud cover.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Compressing a City

The image above was for the TED conference when they came over for an event at the aquarium. I had some time to work on it so I was able to put in a lot of details in the cityscape. My only directive was to draw something that represented Long Beach. I knew that the ports would be an important element and that the Long Beach skyline would need to be included and of course the Aquarium of the Pacific had to be part of the image! Pulling together elements of what represents the city of Long Beach, I made a couple of quick sketches of the idea I had and then went to the internet to find images that would fit what I had in mind. Only on an illustration can you get this many disparate views and elements into one image! The original sketch is done in Adobe Photoshop, which was later vectorized in Adobe Illustrator. The gradient was added to reflect the idea of new ideas, green practices, and positive outlooks to represent City 2.0.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Hot Off the Press!

This past week I went to go visit friends and family over in Washington D.C. and New York. It was a museum/ memorial walk fest! This time, I remembered to scan in the sketches early on, so here's a few sketches from my journey through D.C. and New York.

A sketch of the Lincoln Memorial done in a cheap Japanese brush pen, a water-soluble Pilot pen, a waterbrush, and a pencil.

Very cute elephant shrews at the National Zoo. Ink pens and pencil.

The only full color image I did on my trip. Watercolor and pencil of Passenger Pigeons from the "Birds of D.C." display at the Smithsonian Natural History Musuem. The female is a little rougher since my arm was getting numb by then.

A giant sloth skeleton at the Smithsonian Natural History Musuem. Pens and pencil.

An Allosaurus skeleton at the Smithsonian Natural History Musuem. Pens, pencil, and a little watercolor.

A Sakhmet statue at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Pens and pencil. Her waist got a little truncated.

A quick sketch of the Greek mythology statue called "Andromeda and the Sea Monster" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with pencil and colored pencil. The hand is a little rough.

Ballpoint pen sketches of NY subway commuters. The lower lady got a little compressed, probably because of the way I was holding the sketchbook.

And the conclusion of the trip! Rough mountain sketches with the brush pen on the plane returning home.

Thanks for coming along!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Concept Art

In this post I talk about concept art, another example of why you would use an illustration as opposed to a photograph. Concept art is the physical form of an idea, used in my job to make a case for funding, for fellow employee's to visualize what they're planning, and for fabricators to visualize what the aquarium would like in the final product. The concept art that I do is usually quick and dirty and isn't as beautiful and thorough as that found in the breathtaking vistas of the concept art for games; it's mostly to have something physical to look at to get a better idea of what everyone is looking for. Most of the time, the final product doesn't resemble the original art and sometimes the image is as far as the idea goes.

To make the process faster, I've used Google Sketchup as a base for most of my concept art. Sketchup is very useful for plugging in real-life measurements and being able to get perspective lines and a sense of the space. The final art is mostly digital for the ease of revisions, but sometimes, I also get to use watercolor for that traditional architectural rendering look. Here's just a few of the projects I've worked on over the past few years.

This is the Sketchup version of our now open Ocean Science Center. Done 2 years before the actual space was opened.

Here is the Photoshop rendering, based on the Sketchup model. You can see that the overall layout and positions of most of the people are based on the model. I had a lot of fun trolling through the internet for fashion ideas to clothe the simple Sketchup models. Also, as requested, the people in the final rendering reflect the diversity of our guests. I had more time than usual to render this one, about 2 weeks. This image was used as part of the funding request and as a glimpse of the up-and-coming exhibit.

Another simple Sketchup model used as the base for the final rendering. This is of a potential otter play structure.

I've learned a lot about rendering rocks in this job. This one was a little experimental, trying out some Photoshop brush techniques that I first worked with on the Harbor Reef computer mural. This one was fairly rough, maybe a week or less to render with a few revisions thrown in. So far, I haven't actually seen this structure made.

Here is a Sketchup model of our new rock shrimp habitat. The Sketchup rocks gave me a rough idea of how much space a particular-sized rock would take up.

The final Photoshop rendering. I'm pleased with the way this one turned out because the real-life structure actually resembles my rendering.

We are changing out an existing exhibit to make way for penguins! Here is the Sketchup rendering that I used as the basis for my final rendering.

One of the few times I got to break out the watercolors. This rendering is done in watercolor and graphite and was shown at our fundraising event "Aquarium After Dark" to give everyone a glimpse of what the penguin exhibit might look like when it is finished next year.

I have a lot of fun with these concept renderings because they are a challenge to make sure I get everything the client wants in the image and because it's a little like making your own world in miniature.