Behind the scenes: the concept art of invisible things

Making Of / 01 August 2020

I found a bunch of my old sketches and thought it'd be interesting to show the "before & after" of how Quanta Magazine artworks transform from concept art to illustration.

(Trent Kaniuga's video is helpful if you're unclear about the difference: Illustration VS Concept.)

These thumbnails aren't pretty; their job is only to convey an idea quickly and clearly enough that editors can approve and artists can follow. I don't do these for every project I assign, but always for my own work. They're especially helpful when the subject is difficult/abstract/esoteric — as Quanta's often are!

Left: my sketch
Right: artist's illustration
Chronological order


Multiverse / Olena Shmahalo

  

Class Numbers / Olena Shmahalo


Anti-de Sitter Space / Mike Zeng (Zaoeyo)


Wormhole / Tomáš Müller


Quantum Computer / Josef Bsharah


Flame Front / David Szakaly (DVDP)


Wormhole with Cauchy Horizon / Maciej Rebisz


Bacterial Populations / Timothy Reynolds (Turn Left is Home)


Earth's Hidden Water / Olena Shmahalo


Wheeler's "Smoky Dragon of Quantum Physics" / Olena Shmahalo


DNA in a Nucleus / Chris Phillips (Crispe)


Quasar / Jessica Rossier


Dark Matter in Minerals / Olena Shmahalo


Embryonic Cell Fate / Darius (BakaArts)


Quantum Darwinism / Olena Shmahalo


Thank you to all of the artists who worked with me on these wonderful images.

If you'd like to learn more, comment & let me know!

Links 👁

General / 26 July 2020

Main:

To follow my latest work:

Quanta Magazine:

  • Quanta Submission Form
    Interested in creating art for Quanta? Send portfolio submissions here.
  • Quanta Artwork
    My illustrations published on Quanta Magazine, sorted by most recent
  • Pinterest: Art Direction
    As Quanta's art director, I've worked on nearly every feature story since Fall 2014. This includes direction of illustration and photography, editing, concepting, visual development, storyboarding, etc.

Selected talks & interviews:

  • SVA Creators Feature (video, 2:40)
    A short video about my photography, artwork, & approach to social media
  • Adjust Your Margins Interview (text)
    About my work; synthesizing art, design, science, and gardening
  • SciViz 2019 Talk (video, ~20 min)
    "Galaxy Leggings, Truth Serum, & the Visibility Cloak"
    How I approach creating & directing scientific/editorial illustrations at Quanta Magazine

Photographic & botanical:

Other:


Ref File: Sculpting a humanoid character & basemesh in ZBrush.

Tutorial / 28 May 2020

I've never (digitally) sculpted/modeled a full, human character before (not counting mushroom-people and warrior-creatures). When I started I must've assumed this would be easier? "It's stylized" after all.

But (as you know if you've done it) there are loads of little technicalities with 3D: sure, you can approach it like clay, have fun and pile stuff on willy-nilly, but good luck using that sculpt! Even for a still illustration, try exporting a mess of millions of intersecting polys to an external renderer: it's not a good time.

So, I like being methodical and efficient. I HATE doing something only to find several hours later that "Wow I really should not have done that 100 steps ago and now I have a mess to fix."

I've been collecting refs and videos by ZBrush artists who know their stuff and learning from their techniques. Thought I'd share my PureRef file with you. (And I'll try to keep it updated.)

FREE in my store.

Disclaimers:

This is a compilation of links for easy reference. Most of the content is free and nothing in this file "unlocks" or shows content in any form that's not already freely accessible online. Includes some images of purchasable models; not an Ad or endorsement.

Art by: Follygon (Ben De Angelis), Danny Mac, Alina Ivanchenko (FoxFromBox), Olya Anufrieva, Michael Pavlovich, Fynn GB, Shane Olson, Ashley A. Adams (A Cubed), & others.

P.S. if you have a good resource to add, leave a comment!
See also: Collections > Tutorials

Tutorial Review: ZBrush for Absolute Beginners

Tutorial / 09 April 2020

Typically, I wouldn't show tutorial work because it's a bit paint-by-numbers: opportunities to show your creativity, originality, problem solving, and style are limited. However, I like how this turned out (and I took those chances to inject a bit of myself into it, so it's not entirely a replica). Most importantly, there's much I loved about and learned from the course. Instructor Nikolay Naydenov did a lot of things well that I found missing from or frustrating about other lessons, so I wanted to review it.

Tutorial by Nikolay Naydenov:
https://www.artstation.com/artwork/1nz1A2

Original concept by Bu Zhou:
https://www.artstation.com/artwork/oqNzL

This is one of the best tutorials I've ever encountered, and I've watched a good number of them! Specifically for ZBrush, I've followed videos by Flipped Normals, Maria Panfilova, Zhelong Xu, Tyler Smith, Danny Mac, Follygon, Michael Pavlovich, and Pixologic's own ZClassroom and #AskZBrush series, among others. (A secret: some of these are oddly soothing and I've fallen asleep to those playlists many a night.) I feel a bit embarrassed listing so many, as if I should be an expert by now — far from it.

But I'm not totally new to ZBrush either: I've completed a few sculpts and fully-realized artworks, and even wrote my own (free!) mini-tutorial: ZBrush to Cinema 4D & Redshift (Dealing with Displacement).

So why would I spend 30+ hours or so on a course titled "ZBrush for Absolute Beginners"?

  1. There's always something new to learn. Everyone uses tools idiosyncratically, so you might discover an interesting technique or an easier way to do something. [1.5: It was on sale on ArtStation and since we're all quarantined I don't have to feel bad about being a hermit.]

  2.  ZBrush (like most 3D software) is so feature-rich that you could work in it for years and never touch many of them. It's pretty easy to get started and sculpt, but I wanted to learn about tools and processes that I may not have discovered on my own, or that appeared daunting, and to get more comfortable with it overall.

  3. In my own projects I tend to shoot for a goal that's a bit more complex than I know how to deal with, so I struggle through them, have to learn a lot along the way, and am not always satisfied in the end. That approach has its benefits, but it's great to learn calmly, formulaically, and without a deadline!

To the point: what's so great about "ZBrush for Absolute Beginners"?

  1. It's a ZBrush tutorial that covers sculpting rather than an art lesson that happens to employ ZBrush.

    An important distinction and the most valuable aspect for me.

    Artists tend to spend a lot of time talking about art and sculpture fundamentals and why they make certain creative decisions. That's great if aimed at students who might not have been to art school or never had those lessons. But when you want to learn the software specifically, imagine that you have no idea which buttons/tools/brushes they're using or why: you're listening hoping to find out, but they keep talking about form and anatomy. Especially if you've already done your Art ABCs, it's frustrating.

    This course and Michael Pavlovich's free "ZBrush for Ideation" intro on YouTube are the only lessons I've found that are truly software-focused: they both talk through absolutely every click, button-press, and tool-change. If you're considering this tutorial, do Pavlovich's also — they complement one another well and it's best to learn from multiple people so you can get a well-rounded understanding and can make your own decisions rather than copying a single artist's habits.

  2. Nikolay talks the entire time.

    He even brings this up in one video: when you're following along with a tutorial, you're sometimes working and listening rather than watching. So if the instructor keeps talking, it's still useful to leave on in the background and rewind as needed. But if there's prolonged silence, it's pointless. Even if you're actively watching you might not understand what they're doing. It's not easy to monologue (helpfully, at that) for ~30 hours and I appreciated it.

  3. Nikolay is funny and informal.

    Sometimes the way he talks is so reminiscent of my own internal monologue when I'm working; it's funny to hear out loud and relatable. His personality makes the course enjoyable and relaxed, and it's kind of a relief to see a professional who doesn't maintain a "perfect", "marketable" facade.

  4. Nikolay is, however, a perfectionist.

    There are a number of times in the course when he'll say "ah this doesn't look good, but it's ok, we can leave it..." but then he goes back and fixes the thing! I'm so grateful for that. Oftentimes, it's a problem you might have in your own project and maybe you don't know how to fix it, so it's super helpful.

  5. Nikolay's English is good. It's the perfect English, really.

    He jokes about this a lot and it is kind of subjective: he mentions that people who aren't native English speakers tend to like or be more tolerant of his accent, especially Eastern Europeans. Maybe I'm not the most impartial reviewer, then: English is my primary language (but wasn't my first) and I'm Ukrainian. So for me his accent, sentence structure, and even the way he jokes sound familiar. But as someone who speaks and thinks in English 95% of the time, it's totally comprehensible.

  6. Nikolay chose a great project.

    This character was a lot of fun to make. The original design is simple enough that it didn't feel overwhelming but complex enough to cover variety of techniques (like hard-surface modeling, cloth, and basic posing), and "rough" enough to allow some room for creative interpretation.


This tutorial is definitely worthwhile even if you're not an "absolute beginner". I recommend it alongside other resources like Michael Pavlovich's "ZBrush for Ideation" and Pixologic's #AskZBrush.


#NotAnAd: the above is entirely my own opinion, volunteered freely. Tutorials mentioned are free or I purchased them myself.