Sunday, August 30, 2009

And now for something completely different.

It should be known that I have a folder in my work directory especially for dragons, I do so very many of them. Between working for Marc Aranha of War Spider Games (who bring you Shalkith at and soon enough, the sequel Dragon Clash), the family buisness being rennaisance festivals, and a healthy exposure to D&D at a young age, I have somewhat of an affinity for that which is big, scaley, and flying.

That said, when I saw the new WoW expansion with Neltharion/Deathwing rising up from the earth to carve a bloody, burning path through Azeroth on his quest to get himself some dragon wimminz...well...that just demands tribute.

Stormwind doesnt stand a chance XP

Hopefully the piece will be done soon, I've been working on it as a warm up peice off and on since about Blizzcon ended. Just need to bring the rest of the piece up to Deathwing's level and populate the city and earth some :)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

There's more than one way to skin an owlbear.

So...after some amount of work, this is the musculature and face shape I went with. The feet were possibly the hardest part. I kept wanting to give it what basically amounted to owl feet but frankly they just arent that great for bearing 15 feet tall owlbears around on the ground all day, nor are they particularly well suited to bludgeoning. So...after talking with some good friends and throwing some works in progress around on instant messengers, I went with a combination of the flat, sturdy bear paw, thick but gangly ostritch toes and big meat hook predatory bird claws. If I wasnt trying to come up with something that still had the old timey D&D flavor in addition to being less cut&paste fantasy, I think I would have made it far more spindly and bird boned. I've fought these in D&D though, and they're definatley not spindly. Oh, as a footnote, I used the most normal head shape (pretty close to barn owl anatomy) in order to keep the original concept more visible. I ended up deciding that out of the three I liked best, this one would give me more freedom with the creature's skin covering and patterns and such before players started going "Whaaat is that?!". We gamers tend to be a finicky bunch. We'll groan about the busted old stuff but when it gets updated/changed too much we'll pitch fits. I'm looking for that happy medium.

Here's the first round of possible fur/feather/scale/whatnot layouts for the Owlbear. They're a little hard to distinguish without color and line weight, bear with me. No pun intended.

A. This was actually the last one I did..I think I labeled these backwards. Anywho, this one has short stiff fur that sticks out straight. I thought a short striped tail might be fun for signaling and such. I shouldent technically be thinking about pattern too much at this stage but I did anyhow. Aside from the back of the neck the fur is pretty much svelt and form fitting compared to the classic owlbear.

B. I thought mabe some large plates or scales might be fun. Really the difference between feathers and scales is very small, it's all just modified hair; or rather hair and feathers are modified scales. There are a few other scaley designs in here. The blank areas denote smaller scales.

C. The head ornamentation is based off of a bearded vulture! This one also has fairly floofy front claws, which is basicly me thinking about whether or not I want to echo wings with the front arms. Seems risky, you lose a lot of form that way but I kinda like this one.

D. In retrospect I wish I had have made the hanging fur that runs from the chin to the tail much longer. This is another fairly simple offering.

E. Wildebeeste! This one I like also...maybe it's just the beard though. :)

F. Shaggier that E but more cropped than some. Also this one would keep the disc like face shape of the owl parts intact. Apparently the beak is thin and the two disks are shaped that way to better channel sound over the owl's ears, and beaks (which are technically a type of horn) evolved because teeth are too heavy. Also beaks are very fragile, much like fingernails. I LOVE SCIENCE!

G. Cockatoo! Hey there is a lot that can be done with a crest like that, all kinds of signaling and displaying and badassery, did I mention headbanging? Also I'm digging the floofy tail, reminds me of a giant anteater.

H. I rather dislike this..I think I was thinking about Macaws, but, it's so wretched I'll just move on XP

I. here's another scaled one. I think I was trying to play up how scales are so similar to feathers here, especially around the head. I'm either very anal or very loose with scales, so, this is more of a reminder to myself of the concept should I choose it and dive in more seriously later..there's a lot of scale(size) and layout issues I'd devote more thought to.

J. Bird of Paradise! The back half is ctually very unadorned compared to the massive back floof. I think this one has some potential..but I think it might also be too far from 'owlbear'. Still, I dig :)

K. This one seemed like a good idea at the time. Another BoP.

L. This was the second one I did actually. I wanted to have a go at the feathered raptor bit, which I later retried. Lots of bare skin/scales on this inbetween the patches of feathers. He looks fast :)

M. So, this I like also. It's all skin flaps, which I thought could be fun as they could in theory be raised like feathers, so, it could have the laid back face where everything is pressed tight to the body, and then it could have these big threat displays where the skin flaps stand up and flush with color, and also give the face that owl-y flat look. This could be done with the scales and fur to a degree as well, but this idea tickles me for that.

N. If you're sticking your head into corpses to pull out the deeelisssious organmeats, having gore stock to your beautious and delicate plumage sucks. So here's one that's bald. There's a lot that could be done here in terms of coloration- just look at Cassowaries.

O. Another go at the feathered raptor bit. You can tell I'm getting tired >.> It might work out though.

P. Te classic Owlbear. Shaggy, floofy. Probably some extra floof. Oh you can also see an artifact on this one that I forgot to erase on the back feet >.> Glad I didnt keep those!

So...Of these, I'm most excited about the skin flaps and the scaley ones, E, F, C, G, and...well, the classic might hold merit. Dangerous waters though. It now becomes a question of how much I can play with the recipie before my pie becomes..uh...something not wholly pie-like. Yeah okay my analogy-thinking part of the brain went to sleep. Good night!

Owlbears, part 2

Starting to work on designs for the beak/snout. The back half anatomy needs tweaking still but I wanted to get /something/ down today and start working towards a concept I liked. Oftentimes the face of a critter really determines the patterns the rest of the body follows, little nuances in texture and features around the eye often show up on prominent places of the rest of the body in creatures both fantasy and real.

So far...I'm leaning towards the crested/hornbill-y ones. The upper left was a stab at using teeth to mimic the beak shape, but in the end that's somewhat likley to go south I think. Maybe. Who knows it could probably use another shot.

On the subject of heads.. how a creature is equipped to eat tells us a lot about the creature. One of the things I kept finding about own skulls was that their beaks always seemed thin and fragile compared to their big talons, and I'm guessing that's because most of the damage they inflict comes from the feet and not the head. That leaves the mouth to become specialized for delicately picking things apart and eating the juicy bits, and can also make it a good place to display what a good mate that creature could be with flashy colors and patterns.

I had thought about making the beak more ...prehistoric. But then I felt that I might be skipping out on something that could make my design unique. After all, I'm going to be giving this thing claws like meathooks and formidable size. As long as I dont make the beak too fragile, I think this might help set my design apart. We'll see.

Hmm. You know, I think it needs a tail.

Of Ursa and Strigiformes, part one

So, there's a challenge on Art Order at the moment on redesigning the Owlbear, a classic D&D monster that suffers from what I call Cut&paste Fantasy Syndrome and what many others call Flipbook Fantasy..that is to say, it has essentially been a bear body with an owl head for the past decade or so since it's creation.As much as I have a dislike of Cut&paste fantasy (probably from years of hearing the less educated members of our north american society try to stammer out exactly what they were looking at [usually a centaur..] in my mother's shop at various rennaisance festivals over the years) I do actually like the owlbear...I mean, more often than not it has been portrayed as, well, a fuzzy round thing with HYOOGE EYES. I mean, that's just a recipie for cute. There have of course been plenty of more ogreish depictions. In the end though, it is essentially still an owl with a bear body tacked on.

Now, I've been doing studies in my sketchbook for the past couple weeks of various skulls and body layouts for various owls and bears, trying to figure out what it is that really stands out to me about each. I've also contacted various friends of mine with experience in things like wild bird rehabbing, biology degrees and a passion for all things bird-y to help fill in my embarrasing lack of knowledge about owls. What can I say? I'm all about the lizards and great cats. Here's a three factoids I've learned.

  • 1. Despite the steriotype, owls are rather dumb. They're very good at what they do in the wild, but they tend to be ragefull and stompy and hard to deal with in a falconry setting.
  • 2. Owls have amazing hearing..partly because one ear opening is slightly lower than the other. This allows them to triangulate the origin of sounds more exactly..and as my friend and vault-of-knowledge on all things bird Jennifer Miller put it, "nothing's better at hearing mouse farts".
  • 3. If you study skulls, you'll find that owls have extraordinarily pointy faces. There's a huge mass of feathers that covers up all but the tip of the beak. This might translate in interesting ways over to a redesigned owlbear.
I also did some research on nocturnal predators spurred by a random thought I had one night- why isnt everything that hunts at night matte black? Well, turns out that somebody did a study on just that with orb weaver spiders recently. The scientists took two groups of spiders and painted one group black, and left the others alone. The group with the yellow spots intact far outperformed the altered group. What this means is that color, even striking patterns like on the Orbweaver, is in fact beneficial to these spiders. I cant make a huge statement and say that panthers need big yellow spots (though I suppose that's been done to the reverse in the panther's cousins) but in a fantasy setting I think I just found my justification for bold markings on an ambush predator.

As for bears, I've decided to indulge in my love of all things prehistoric and study Cave Bears, which I previously didnt know so much about. The wonderfull thing about this is that A; they are allready very optimized for fantasy proportions, and B; most of my refrence is bones, so I wont be influenced too much by floofy bear parts. I've done a few cave bear skull + skeletal studies to start off and get a familiarity with the anatomy I'll be weaving, and I cant help but feel I found the right place to start. There's even photos of bones of the juveniles, who look adorable and will be fantastic for keeping my proportions straight.

So that's step one.
Now I need to play with sillhoettes and figure out some proportional stuff, and then decide what to do about the skin of the creature. I dont know that I'll use feathers, that seems like a slippery path right back to people seeing this creature as an owl headed bear. We'll see! Next time, I'll post pics :)