Wednesday, October 01, 2014

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!

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