Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Tools and Techniques of Doug Chiang

Doug Chiang is a professional conceptual artist whom has worked for Industrial Light and Magic, working on many projects from "Terminator 2" to "Death Becomes" Her. In '95 Chiang left ILM to become Design Director for "Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace" which lead to work on the sequal "Attack of the Clones". Recently Chiang released the book "Mechanika: Creating the art of science fiction", which outline many of the techniques that the award winning artist uses including step by step processes on how he creates some of his pieces.

In his book Chiang out lines what tools he uses and why, these include:

Post-it notes (3"x3")
Premium white 28-lb. (105 gsm) colour copier paper, (11"x17")
Prismacolour Markers (black and cool grey: 30&, 50%, 60%, 70%)
8" 45/90 degree plastic triangle with inking edge
12" metal ruler
Airmarker system
Blueline pencil
Adobe Photoshop
Craft Knife
Daler-Rowney Pro Wite Opaque water colour paint
Fine tip black pen
Pointed round kolinsky sable brush 1/15"
Small and large ellipse guides (Sizes 10-80 degrees)
Spray adhesive
White vinyl eraser.

Chiang explains the use of his tools citing that his choices here are purely what he has found that works so brands of paper and marker are interchangable to a person's preference. He does recommend that when using a marker use the broader nib as they get a really sense of dynamics relating to the pressure you put on them, he also suggests paper that doesn't allow the markers to bleed. When using markers Chiang notes that it's best to work from the background to the foreground going from larger to small shapes and round to flat shapes. In Mechanika, Chiang is also an advocate of art tool modification citing "If what's on the market doesn't suit your needs, alter it" revealing that all of his Star Wars production paintings were completed with a ruler that had lego bricks glued to the bottoms to make a cutom "Artist's Bridge".
"An artist's bridge is like a ruler with a wedge underneath each edge so it doesn't lie flat on a piece of paper but stands above it. Resting your wrist or forearm on an artist's bridge steadies your hand. Or you can use the edge to paint or draw a straight line -- even if the paint is wet if the bridge isn't standing on your painting."

http://painting.about.com/od/artglossarya/g/defartistbridge.htm, 2011
When it comes to starting a design Chiang incorporates either of this two methods as his starting point, the first one (which he cites as his favourite) is by using marker sketches. Using a Cool Grey 30% marker 'as it's dark enough to see, yet light enough not to over power the final pen work' he focuses on the overal shape of a design, reassuringly he says not to be afraid of making mistakes as they could lead to new shapes which could end up being used in the final design.

I can definetly see the pros of this method as it allows for a quick design to be built upon in a short amount of time and by using the light marker you can just draw your design over it instead of having to get some overlay paper to draw it on to.

Chiang's next method for starting a design is by using post-it notes and the blue pencil. He cites this method as "a great technique to use if you don't have strong inital ideas". Due to the small size the post-it forces the artist to think in major shapes rather than details, chiang also cites that with this method theres less pressure and it allows an artist to create multiple ideas in a short amount of time. This method does come with a con though as the artist will have to re-draw their favourite idea on a larger piece of paper to work with.

I feel this method might be great for coming up with props, veichles and animals that may appear in a narrative rather than characters and it really is a great process for pumping out ideas, it's definetly one that I'll be trying.

It should be noted that both of these methods can be replicated via photoshop which gives me another choice when it comes to preference.

One technique that Chiang uses when designing is the use of foundation lines. These come in 3 types; Perpective, Sontruction and Action Lines, all of these line serve to guide the artist's hand to creating the final image but each have an individual purpose in their own right.
  • Perspective Lines serve to keep the object being drawn in proportion and proper depth. Chiang cites that he doesn't rigidly place these down but more approximates as he feels this keeps the drawing "Organic and alive". He also states that a firm understanding of two and three point perspective is esstial.

  • Construction Lines are similar to perspective lines but serve to help control and delinate the form of the drawing. More often they work as guide lines to tie two or mort componenets in the drawing together.

  • Action Lines guide the action of a stucture giving it thrust, a dynamic composition or just simply a main axis for the form.
Chiang's Mechanika is a treasure trove of information for those looking to seriously get into conceptual design and I feel I'll be using more of this book to draw information from. Just from reading the first few pages I already feel much more confident in my work, although most of Chiang's tips refer to mechanical structures I feel they could be put to organic designs as well. I can't wait to try some of the professional techniques for myself.

Get Doug Chiang's Mechanika from Amazon now!
Mechinka: Creating The Art of Science Fiction

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