I wanted to interject a bit of the creative process in this week's blog. Reference material is something I stress in my how-to series. For example, in my third book, Shrunken Heads: A Workshop with Russ Adams, I talk about the importance of finding reference photos to help guide you through the sculpting phase, but how they can also help you in the painting and finishing phases of the creative process.
Reference photos are a major contributor to a successful project, whether it’s sculpting, painting, or furring a creature. Humans sometime add or change elements in their mind’s eye that are nothing like our subjects. We all know what a skull looks like. We are bombarded with them almost daily. Movies, tattoos, drawings, advertising, cartoons, etc.—they seem to be everywhere.
If you were asked to draw or sculpt a skull from memory there would be a lot of missing details, added information, or distortions. Certainly, if you showed that drawing or sculpture to people they would immediately see a skull, but it may lean toward a cartoon, have a facial expression, or look like a Picasso. You will do a much better job of drawing or sculpting that skull if you have references in front of you.
It’s always important to have something to refer to even if your creature or character is completely fabricated in your imagination. Even an imaginary character has elements based in reality—feathers, hair, teeth, body shapes, etc.
I like to have my bases covered when I am sculpting. I like to have those elements in front of me to refer to so I don’t mistakenly veer off track. I look for as many angles as I can in my reference. Profiles, straight-on shots, the top of the head, and the bottom--I grab whatever I can.
I need to be clear, you are not copying these images. You are using them as a guide to ground you in the reality of the character or creature you are making. They are a guide. So, you aren’t cheating by using materials that most special-effects artists use. I would say all special-effects artists. There is always one person out there that just has to say, “Well I don’t. Never have never will.” There is always one.
My advice is to do a Google search for the creature you wish to create. Click on Google Images and print the photos that closely resemble the design you most want to incorporate into your creature. Make sure you get lots of angles. My favorite references come from unpainted or raw photos, like “In Progress” Z-Brush photos. Often the paint and hair can hide details and structure. I want to see those, so many of my reference images lack paint and décor. That said, I also want to see images that do have paint schemes, decor, or hair styles that I will incorporate into my project after I have molded and cast it. But, that’s for later, during the finishing stage.
I keep all my references and put them into file folders with similar creatures. I have a werewolf file, basic reptile file, a troll file, and so on. I keep them because I know I will keep using them. There is no sense printing them out again. They may get a bit torn up and dirty, but mostly they still serve their purpose.