• CGNetworks Reader Project
    The Frog King
    Chris Beatrice, 15 March 2005

    The fairy tale world is one of extremes. Sure you’ve got cute princesses and benevolent fairy Godmothers, but parents also abandon kids in the forest, who become imprisoned by a killer who intends to cook and eat them! The fairy tale world is one of magic and hyper-reality, and that’s how I sought to represent it in my painting, The Frog King!

    Style and Approach
    When I approached the Frog King image, I wanted my picture to look like a painting, and to do that I approach the final image in the same way I approach an acrylic or oil painting. I decide how I’m going to paint each area, mix a small palette of colors for the given area, then apply brushstrokes with as much freshness and economy as possible. Stylistically, for a piece like this I’m walking a line between the water colorist in me versus the oil or acrylic painter. The former wants to create work that is atmospheric, loose, textured and transparent, while the latter wants something solid, tangible, where it feels like you can pick up objects in the scene, and walk in the scene, yet without it being photographic.

    Usually when I read a story I am instantly hit with a vision of how I want to depict it. I then need to get that image on paper quickly and clearly. I do lots and lots of tiny thumbnails. Working this small allows me to focus entirely on the big picture, without getting bogged down in details.

    Next I do a few slightly larger sketches to provide a little more detail and resolve any remaining questions. I'm still not working very large (4 x 5 inches), and not looking for a lot of detail at this point, I’m just trying to establish the basic elements quickly. This is as far as I go with sketch work before starting to paint. I don’t do tight pencil drawings, because I want the brushstrokes and shapes in the final painting to be as fresh and dynamic as possible. I don't want to be simply filling in, coloring or tracing over existing line work, as this often results in the final image looking more like a colored drawing than a painting. I scanned the sketch, brought it up to the right size (2,100 x 2,700-pixels or seven by nine inches at 300dpi), and made it a Multiply layer in Photoshop so all the white areas are transparent.



    Planning the Palette
    Under the sketch layer, I create a layer for planning the colors, which will ultimately become the final painting layer. Using the Lasso Select tool and the Fill tool in Photoshop I lay out a few shapes, and fill them with color. This forces me to think only of big, simple shapes, and flat, solid colors. To avoid unsightly haloing between the different areas of color as I adjust them I don't use any anti aliasing. I’m not going for photorealism in a picture like this. I don't want lots of deep black shadows and desaturated colors. I want bright colors, and in order to do that I need to get them under control not by simply subduing them but rather by setting up extremes and the connecting colors. The final color rough, with the pencil sketch overlaid, conveys most of the feel of the final picture, yet it takes only an hour or so to get from thumbnail to this stage.

  • CGNetworks Reader Project - The Frog King - Cont'd  
    Above: Progression of The Frog King from color blocking to final image.

    Rough Painting
    The hardest part of the process for me is turning that flat, textureless color rough into a vibrant, living surface that has texture and depth. To get over this I quickly paint in rough forms for the entire picture, then make one more pass at adjusting the colors.

    I use Variations in Photoshop for this, and also the color balance adjustment tool. To achieve even finer gradations of adjustment than the variations tool allows, I duplicate the layer, apply the variation, then fine tune by adjusting the transparency of the layer, and finally merging it down when I’m happy with it. I never paint on different layers, though. The pencil sketch stays on its own layer as a rough guide for the painting. I never incorporate the pencil sketch into the final image.

    I want my digital marks to look like real paint - opaque paint to be specific. I use Corel Painter 8, and spend a lot of time setting up just one or two brushes for the given picture. In this case the entire picture was done with a single brush, adjusting only the grain slider and size, for different parts of the scene. I sometimes drop into Photoshop to resize or shift compositional elements, adjust levels and colors, and so on. When I'm painting the process needs to remain very dynamic, so I want all the control on the stylus and a couple of quick keys that I can hit without looking at the keyboard. I keep my left hand on the lower left area of the keyboard, where I constantly hit the ‘Alt’ key to switch to the eye dropper for color picking, and ‘Ctrl-Z’ for Undo. In this way I can make quick, spontaneous and lively brushstrokes without having to worry about mistakes slowing down the process. Periodically I jump to the bracket keys to change the brush size as well.

    I never paint using dodge or burn, or transparency. It's all opaque colors painted in finer and finer gradations, with a lot of bleed for smearing and blending. I set the Resaturation in Painter very low (around 20 percent) and the bleed very high (80 percent). Both are tied to stylus pressure (bleed is reversed) so the harder I press down the more coverage I get. The lighter I press the more smearing is produced. Opacity remains at 100 percent. This results in a brush that is simultaneously an opaque painter and a blender. I use the Grainy Hard Cover subcategory so I get some texture as well. Grain (and sometimes Squeeze) is the only variable I change for different areas of the painting (between 10 and 20 percent), but it is not tied to stylus pressure.

    Reference and Studies
    A couple years ago I made up my mind to stop using visual reference when I make pictures. Even if some of my forms are more stylized because of this, I feel it results in a picture that is both more uniquely my own, and more internally consistent. The process is: study, internalize, digest, germinate and finally (re)create. This in turn allows the work to remain fresh and lively because the ‘studying’ aspect has been removed from the painting process itself.

    Images (right): Rough paintings reveal detail already starting to emerge from Chris Beatrice's Frog King image. Chris only uses opaque colors to achieve the desired 'painted' effect, reflecting a traditionally painted artwork.



  • CGNetworks Reader Project - The Frog King - Cont'd  
    Above: More works by Chris Beatrice.

    Adjusting Characters
    One of the great things about working digitally is that as long as you have your basic shapes and value relationships right, you can fine tune and experiment with different adjustments to push the image further. In some cases you can actually change the apparent material with just a few simple adjustments. I did a whole bunch of quick painted studies for the main character of the girl. In keeping with my approach to the rest of the painting, I essentially ‘practice’ painting the item in question until I feel I've got it, and then I lay in the actual final representation quickly and dynamically.

    Facial Expressions
    I came to feel early on that the expression on the girl's face was going to be pivotal in telling the right story with this picture. In the end, to achieve the desired effect I had to take some liberties with the chronology of the story. In the story, by the time the frog has retrieved the ball, his proposal has already been made, the girl has gotten over her shock, and in fact simply takes off, breaking her promise. I chose to combine their initial interaction (where the frog proposes his ‘deal’), including the girl's reaction of surprise and disgust, with the presence of the (retrieved) ball, since it is the central object of their exchange. I created around ten different versions of the expression on the girl's face, before settling on the final one.

    The big challenge with this picture was to establish ‘mini paintings’ within the painting, each with its own light and color palette. When you isolate these areas (some are shown at right) they almost look like thumbnails taken from different pictures. Each has its own color palette. The trick is connecting these areas into a cohesive, larger whole. This is something I'm likely to continue exploring in my next few pictures.

    About Chris Beatrice
    Though my formal art training was in sculpture, most of my professional artwork has been 2D and 3D character design, illustration and animation for computer games. Initially I fell in love with using 3D software for creating artwork, but now I am much more interested in the stylized and hand crafted look of 2D painting and drawing. I use Corel Painter and Photoshop. I live in Natick, Massachusetts USA with my beautiful wife, partner and best friend, and our beloved little daughter.

    Related Links
    Chris Beatrice


    Facial variations on the girl - what is she thinking?

    Close-up mini-paintings of the Frog King image, showing the completely different palettes, light and color, yet blending to form the final image cohesively.

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