• CGSociety :: Reader Project:
    The Making of 'Monkey Girl: The Chase'
    Jonny Duddle, 2nd August 2005
    I created the ‘Monkey Girl' character for the Machineflesh challenge. After reading the brief, I started out with the vague concept of a girl who looked after the animals in a derelict zoo in a post-apocalyptic world. The animals were in various states of ‘disrepair', so she'd made them part mechanical to keep them ticking. Then I changed the zoo to a circus. And then the animals became monkeys. ‘Monkey Girl' had a Mechanical Monkey Circus. And then I decided that ‘Monkey Girl' had escaped with the monkeys from a ‘Sultan' who ran a much bigger circus. Or maybe he was a Tsar?

    I developed this story in my head of ‘Monkey Girl' and her escapee circus troupe traveling around a frozen world of crumbling cities performing circus acts for trudging, grey desperate folk who needed a little sunshine in their lives. And all the while, the Sultan and his menacing baboons were chasing her. I received a honourable mention in the contest, but wasn't particularly happy with my picture. I was still excited about the characters, the story and even the subject of the image, but didn't think the image embodied the fun and the energy I saw in the story.

    So I had the idea for ‘Monkey Girl: The Chase'. I wanted to produce a piece of work that was stylised, bold and ‘messy'. I was also keen to give a sense of movement and excitement, and hoped that the composition and mark making would reflect the urgency of the chase. I planned to get it finished in time for submission to Exposé 3, which gave me a fairly short timescale, so I decided to pile into the piece and see where I ended up.
    The initial concept was a simple doodle on A4 notepaper that I scribbled whilst working in Photoshop on something completely different. I often find that I generate my best ideas when I'm working on unrelated images. And I really liked the idea of a big chase. I found some nice reference for the scooter and the van online. The Internet is an incredible resource!

    I started a second concept based on my initial scribble, but it seemed to lose all it's energy, so I decided to stick with the very rough version and head straight into Photoshop. This was a new process for me, but one of the criticisms I had of my ‘ Machineflesh ' entry was the tightness of the drawing. It was too stiff. I didn't want the same thing to happen with ‘The Chase'.

    I scanned the drawing into Photoshop to add missing or unresolved characters into the illustration. I used Hue/Saturation to knock the drawing to greyscale, and then adjusted the levels to fiddle with the tone of the lines. I've got a set of brushes more suited to the drawing stage. So I used these brushes to start working into the drawing. The most obvious absentee was the big orangutan. The great thing about bringing an unfinished sketch into Photoshop is that you can fiddle with proportions and compositional elements until you're happy, and you don't have to start a new drawing every time you mess up. I didn't want the drawing to be too tight, so when I had all the main elements in place, however rough, I started coloring.
  • The first thing I do when I'm using a sketch as the basis for the image is to make it a layer and set the layer to Multiply. This keeps black opaque but everything white is transparent. This layer then sits somewhere near the top of the layers palette, although I do some color work over it. Or sometimes paint over it completely. In this image I wanted to retain some of the black lines. I usually start a drawing by blocking in some base colors, so that I get an idea of the palette of the image and, more importantly, so that I can clearly see the silhouettes and shapes formed by the composition.

    I jumped the gun a bit on this one and started painting the orangutan's head in some detail, mainly because I'd found some brushes that I thought would be good for fur and wanted to try them out! After a bit of self-indulgence with the new brushes I decided to get back to a more methodical approach and blocked in all the characters and vehicles with a deep de-saturated blue. I was aiming for a fairly limited palette of blues and greys, which I thought would work with the snow on the ground and contrast nicely with the orangutan's fur. I also decided very early on that I wanted to keep the chasing baboons as a unified mass of eyes, hands, fur and movement.
    Once I've got my base layers, I start blocking in the ‘top coat'. In this case, I started adding the white elements of the van, the red of the scooter and some of the bigger shapes such as the orangutan's hands. I wanted to balance the red of the scooter on the far left of the image, so I painted in red eyes for all the baboons. I wasn't fussy about accuracy; I just wanted the impression of lots of pairs of red eyes. The flags were also put in place to balance the composition and the bounding mass of baboons. I started off with multi-colored flags but soon decided to keep them all red to maintain the limited palette. The multi-coloured version just looked too fussy. The flags also helped frame the vehicles and Monkey Girl by forming a loop with the baboons. I decided I wanted to keep the baboons fairly abstract, so kept them black. With the stylisation of the piece, this heavy swathe of black didn't bother me, and I thought it'd add to the drama…
  • Once the main colors were in place I started working on the detail. I love this stage. On this image, there were lots of separate characters, so I could flit about as my interest in certain elements surged and waned. I got out the scooter reference and worked up some of the detail, whilst trying as hard as I could to maintain the ‘painterly' feel. I created a separate layer and started adding shadows to help define the form of the scooter, van and characters. Sometimes I paint the shadows into my color layer as I work, and sometimes I draw them into a separate layer. Having a separate layer gives flexibility on the color of the shadows, their opacity and also their blend mode. In this case the blend mode was set to ‘normal', but ‘hard light' ‘soft light', ‘vivid light' and ‘overlay' can all be useful. It's a bit of a cheat to put shadows on a layer, but it makes life easier and can work very effectively.

    It also means you can modify the shadows easily by painting and deleting, although there's always aspects of the color layer that are painted in conjunction with the shadows. Another common trick for me is using a layer mask. I ended up using a layer mask on nearly every layer in this image. Layer masks let me play around with what's visible on a layer without actually deleting pixels. So if I've painted a nice texture, or intricate details, then I can mask and unmask with a stroke of the brush. With so many separate elements in the image, I was very aware that too much defined detail might detract from the messy, painterly feel that I originally envisaged, so I tried to keep the strokes fairly loose and didn't shrink my brush too small. It's very easy to get carried away with the detail when working digitally, because you spend so much time zoomed in to the canvas with a restricted view of the whole image.
    It's always difficult to decide when a painting is finished. It's the easiest thing in the world to keep fussing and touching up and pontificating over minor details. So I kept up the pace and whizzed around the canvas adding small details in the snow, giving the monkeys party hats, throwing some rough clouds across the sky and erasing areas of baboon to define nuts and bolts and teeth and mechanical elements. And that was it.
    I was very happy with the final image. I work in a variety of styles in my day job as a concept artist, but don't get much chance to work in a style that's more personal to me. And I thought that ‘The Chase' reflected my personal style more closely than my Machineflesh piece. I was delighted with the response it had on CGTalk, hitting the front page and receiving a Choice Award. I entered it for judging in Exposé 3, but it didn't make the cut. So I've decided that I'll just have to do something that bit better next time…
    Jonny Duddle: I've been working as a concept artist in the games industry for the past six years, following brief ‘careers' as a secondary school art teacher, a children's entertainer, a gallery warden, a painter and a square rig sailor (Ooooh-argh!). I try to do as much of my own work as I can when I'm out of the office, and currently have lots of book, comic and story ideas swamping my little brain. I live in Buxton, in the Peak District National Park, with my lovely partner, Jane, and our beautiful baby daughter, Daisy.
    CGTalk thread for Monkey Girl: The Chase

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