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» Timeframe: April 2004 - June 2004
» Status: Still in production, I'm just taking a bit of a break...
» Software used: Flash MX 2004
While an idea may mull around in my head for a few weeks (or months in this case), most of my creative projects officially start off with one or more extremely rough sketches. The sketches are usually done in the crappy Windows Paintbrush, then formalised in Flash later on... The idea for this project began for me near the start of 2004, although it took until April to find the inspiration to take the concept out of my head and into a form which everyone else could appreciate...
Because I had almost four months to think about the challenges of the content (details & features, composition/blocking, etc.) and how I would approach the technical hurdles of creating this piece, I didn't really have a need to Paintbrush a general plan; my work started straight away in Flash.
Basic facial shapes are blocked into Flash and refined until they look as I imagine them. For this project I knew the outlines would probably be used as reference guides throughout the production so I took my time getting everything right, especially the facial proportions & the shape of the eyes and the nose. The four months of 'in-my-head' planning ironically was so focused on her head, there wasn't anywhere near as much thought put into the body or clothing to be used.
An incredible amount of adjustment is needed to get things looking right, especially as the shader plates start being combined together. Say if a gradient between the cheek and the curve of the nose doesn't quite look right, it means I have to go back and edit several different layers of outlines, recreate and reposition the shader plates and so on. If the changes didn't work, the process begins again. A lot of this is just pure luck and a lot of patience. There's often a big time gap between creating the shader outlines and seeing how the gradients actually turn out (and to see if they're successful or not).
My working canvas is 2000x2000 pixels; every canvas plate has two or more fairly complex vector shapes, each with different levels of transparency, which is normally not a problem for Flash. When you stack eleven of these shader plates on top of one another, Flash needs to draw 25 or more of these detailed shapes all at the same time and on such a large canvas. Complicated stuff.
I started experimenting with the inner shader lines (near the middle of the cheeks) with using some random spikes or 'horns' for some plates. The idea was that these minor random bits would add a bit of noise (or roughness) to the skin to make it look less smooth and a bit more realistic. I didn't really continue with this as the lines grew outwards, but it's something I might start again when I go back to the smoother areas of the face (wherever the shader lines are fairly spaced apart) to add more bands of shading.
I also tried changing each black/white/grey shader plate to a different skin-tone colour (second image), to see how they would all combine together. It was a horrible disaster, but it was purely a technology test out of curiosity; my original plan for the project was to keep it all monochrome.
And with that little break, I return to the shader plates as I begin the work on her hair. As previous projects have taught me, I'm trying to keep the hair relatively simple with Amber: flat hair, simple shapes and easy highlights. It's mainly random shapes at the moment, but it is organised chaos because I know roughly where the shader plates need to add detail.
The other tree list (in the lower-right corner of the screenshot) is the Flash asset/symbol library. Each shader plate is converted to a symbol so I can easily recreate instances of it or adjust the colour and alpha/transparency settings on the fly. I'm running a multi-monitor setup so often my secondary monitor will be running a second copy of Flash, usually displaying my detailed outline sketches or other useful reference stuff.
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