"VUE is the tool that helps me refine and execute my visions!"
Please meet Christian 'Tigaer' Hecker, Freelance digital Artist in Germany. In this article, Christian describes his latest work, creating environments for the acclaimed interstellar strategy game Galactic Civilizations III.
Who is Christian Hecker?
I started playing with Photoshop more than 10 years ago. In the beginning I was limited to doing some basic manipulation work and experimenting. I eventually discovered 3d and what is possible in that field. The slow learner that I am, it took me some more time to fully dive into the material and eventually discovered VUE (I originally started with VUE 8!). I always had a love for vast landscapes, vistas and sci-fi. VUE was the tool that helped me refine and execute my visions.
Over the past couple of years, VUE managed to earn an integral spot, in the arsenal of my most used digital art tools. Many professional digital artists nowadays use a 3d package to help with perspective and lighting in their digital painting work. I'm no exception. Instead of sketching, drawing or doing quick rough concept art, I find it very helpful to work with VUE, finding a good atmosphere, camera angle and composition.
The work-flow to my illustrations almost always starts with VUE. There I set up the scene and do quick test renders for quick overpaints in Photoshop. Once I'm (or a Client) is happy with one of the quick concepts, I move on to refine the scene in VUE. Add more detail and try to develop additional ideas to enhance the quality of the overall scene. The next part is the render process. There I'm heavily dependent on the Multipass options VUE offers. Even after rendering out a final plate, I constantly go back and re-render small parts of the picture, to fix elements I'm not happy with yet. So the 'Render Area' and 'Multipass' feature support me in quickly going into the scene and adjust smaller details to make it look right. The rendered channels help me to quickly replace already rendered areas in a picture. That's a real time saver.
Much like any other 3d tool out there, VUE allows the user to be really creative. I have seen some fantastic and creative use of the Ecosystem feature over the years. There is some inspiring stuff out there, may it be on the social networks or the internet itself. And while VUE itself isn't exactly a 3d modelling heavyweight, I frequently use its Boolean operation feature to quickly fix elements in my scenes.
VUE has one specific advantage over other tools and that is the 'Resume Render' feature. It allows you to stop a render, save the already rendered data and continue rendering at a later time. I love that feature and not many other 3d tools have something like that. I only wished that there wouldn't be a limitation (when the file size reaches around 4gb size) where it stops saving the Resume Render Info. I tend to have very large scene files and frequently manage to break that wall, where it does not save all the data any more, that enables me to continue later. Aside of that I'm fairly happy with VUE. Maybe speed up cloud rendering a little more. :-)
I'm excited to see where VUE will go, how it improves over the next couple of years and hope to be a part of it through working and creating new worlds with it.
Galactic Civilizations is a really nice and deep strategy game for everyone who is in love with space. It's up to you if you want to defeat your opponents by diplomatic strategies or open conflict. The Scifi fan that I am, I was very interested when Stardock Entertainment came to me and asked for a couple of illustrations. At first I was hired to create 4 scenes to depict events that happen in the game. I had my doubts if I would be able to pull it off, but it ultimately worked fine and we got some nice results. When the four scenes were done I got hired to create additional three images for a skillscreen. Where players can choose new abilities for their empire.
From a technical aspect I started with 3d and moved the rendered material into Photoshop to refine it. The 3d stage happened in VUE. There I laid out the scene and looked for a good composition. For the 3d material I used models from DAZ3d, modified these and also added my own 3d work. Then I rendered some rough concepts from where it developed to the final render of the scene. In Photoshop I added visual effects, fixed things and reworked the overall atmosphere to make it all pop a little more. Every scene is rendered with multiple passes and the first thing to do in Photoshop was to combine them. Some passes that VUE is able to render out for you, really help in bringing out details in the darker areas of the picture. And it can help you create masks for highlights or shadows you want to specifically tweak. A lot of freedom that really helps efficiently work out the scenes and a feature I certainly don't want to miss any more.
For the first scene I was tasked with creating an abandoned city. Something bad happened there. So I tried to create a city, with some hints that it's ancient in parts and is partly devoured by its surrounding forest. An example event in the game would be:
“The atmosphere of this planet, thick with poisonous particulates, does have the side effect of causing beautiful, even spectacular sunsets, and word had spread through the galaxy of their beauty. A burgeoning tourist industry has developed, resulting in many coughing tourists, ignorant of the dangers of this planet. Your colonists are getting tired of stepping over their bodies.”
For the second scene the topic was that particular plants constantly cause accidents in your colony. Due to spores that have a drug like effect on the colonists. I instantly had the idea of an industrial environment with a sign somewhere that states when the last accident happened. You know... the shields/signs you often see on construction sites. It's an old idea that perfectly worked for this event. Everyone agreed that the idea with the sign was a witty thing to have. The event description would be:
“The flowers of a specific plant on this planet are a powerful intoxicant when ground up or smoked or inserted various places. The drug provides an intense feeling of contentment to all those who consume it, although in a few cases people have been content to walk directly into powerful machinery.”
This one was a little tricky. Up to this point I had not done a lot of ice/snow scenes. So I had to invest quite some time into getting the landscape right. Overall the experimenting was fun and ultimately gave me good results I was able to work with. The task was to show a scene with a giant ship, that's trapped in the ice for a long long time. I used multiple renders and combined them in Photoshop to get best results with the snow and the partly destroyed ship. Had to try some new techniques that will be handy in future projects. The event description for this one would be:
“Upon landing on this world, you quickly realize that it has been inhabited before. Beneath the northern ice, explorers have found an ancient starship. They believe they can free the ship from the ice, but the resulting melt will flood much of the arable land on the planet, and the climate change will kill most of the unique native species.”
This was probably the most tricky one. Even though all of the scenes required some trying this and trying that. Here the task was about giant worms that are a danger to your colonists. Not being the most talented creature designer I had to find a workaround that still leaves an impression. Of course the first and maybe best step would be to show the worms in action. Due to my limitations I decided to go a different route that, so I hope, still works and even engages the imagination of the players. Giant holes in the ground that don't show... but suggest what massive creatures we are dealing with here. Ultimately I put some of the creature's silhouettes in the background so we have at least something creature like in the pic. The event description would be:
“The location of our colony on this planet is apparently the prime hunting grounds for a species of massive, building sized worms. This is by far the most fertile land on the planet, so we don’t want to move if we don’t have to. But on the other hand, massive building sized worms. What are your orders?”
The following three pictures were created for a skilltree that allows players to choose from a number of specialized skills. The skills will allow your race/empire the utilization of certain bonusses to gain an advantage over your opponents. The skillsets are divided into three very different approaches. These approaches are Belenvolent, Malevolent and Pragmatic. Benevolent for players who want to go a more peaceful and positive direction. Malevolent for players who have a more reckless playstyle in mind. Pragmatic for players who favour a middle way between the first two. Of course each of these skillsets demands a visualization that distinctly differentiates from each other. The best way to approach these pictures was through showing cities.
City 1 - Benevolent
The first one I tackled was the scene for Benevolent. Goal here was it to show a brighter world/place with a clean, more flowing architecture and open space.
City 2 - Malevolent
For Malevolent we wanted something dirty. So I tackled the scene with a more industrial approach. Something that instantly makes the player understand that, whatever skill he's chosing here, represents a more aggressive choice.
C3 - Pragmatic
Here we wanted something neutral. A golden middle way, quite literally. A more golden atmosphere was requested right from the beginning. For the city I did go with a rather neutral architecture as well. It's also a little more dense/populated than the Benevolent piece.
This concludes my little article and I hope this collection of material gave an insight how the pics were created. Maybe it spawns some inspiration to my fellow artists and thanks a lot for your attention.
To learn more about the Galactic Civilizations III game itself please check out their Store: http://www.galciv3.com/store
Christian 'Tigaer' Hecker
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