Recently I was approached to paint textures on an animated short celebrating KFC's 40 year anniversary on Trinidad & Tobago. Yes, paint textures. Not project photos. Being a huge fan of stylized cartoon animation, I leapt at the chance. For this particular project Producer Nicholas Maxwell and Director Adrian Nurse wanted something stylized and painterly with visible brush strokes. A point of reference was the excellent Meet Buck by the Steak Kollective.
- First pick a base colour - the local colour of the object
- Take that base colour and change it into two variations: One slightly lighter and one slightly darker - both with a slight change in hue as well. These two will serve to break up the base colour, add visual interest and take it towards that painterly look. To that end, it is important that these two colours are so different (both in terms of hue and value) that the brush strokes can be seen, but not so different that the brush strokes will appear noisy or jarring.
- Use a brush on reduced opacity, in order to build up your brush strokes as you go. This allows you to get a lot of mileage out of the relatively few colours you work with. (My go-to brush was basically feltTip from the basic brushes tab set on 0.350 opacity.) By mileage I mean that instead of adding the necessary variations in colour and value to your textures, which is needed to add richness to that organic painterly look, by picking umpteen different colours to paint with, adding brush strokes on top of brush strokes for different combinations of opacity, will give you those levels of variation you need.
- We needed to paint a fair bit of light and shade into the textures. Working again from the base colour you pick a colour of a slightly different hue and a good bit lighter or darker. These are used to paint in light and shade, as well as in places help shape the model by suggesting details in the geometry.
- In addition to this, on the face of hero characters you want to add the classic golden (from forehead down to eyebrows), red (from eyebrows to tip of the nose) and blue (from bottom of the nose to the chin) zones of the face.
- Finally, as this animation would include the actual likeness of the KFC founder Colonel Harland Sanders, we couldn't quite push the style as far as Meet Buck.
This little story consists of a young boy and his father over the course of the 40 years KFC has existed on Trinidad & Tobago. They grow and age together, with local historic events from the past 40 years in Trinidad & Tobago as backdrop. The animated short was split into a 15 seconds teaser and a 45 seconds full short.
Victor Georgiev, and the animators breathing life into the characters, to the lighting and shading by Vanessa Thieffry and the compositing by Adrian Nurse.
Since this is a story about fried chicken, let's start with a drumstick prop. Sharing my work in progress with another long-time texture artist we marvelled at the opportunity to paint a piece of fried chicken; Doesn't happen every day. Or ever, to most texture artists.
So you start by blocking out the colour of the drumstick. This colour was sampled from a photo reference of a fried piece of chicken. Simple.
Then you bring in a darker variation of your base colour and add some variations to the base. At first you literally just lay down random brush strokes to break up the base. Once the first few brush strokes have been put down, you can do more conscious ones. It may not look like much so far, but keep the faith and follow the recipe and we'll get there.
To recap, please note that I have changed the hue of the colours I work with on each layer. That as well as the lower opacity brush, I think are the key parts to building that variety which is needed to sell a painterly look.
Let's try this on for size on a character. Here is the mesh of the (youngest version of the) father character:
By far the hardest asset to get right, was also the most important: Colonel Harland Sanders from KFC. It was daunting to get his likeness right, but at the same time keeping him true to the art style of the rest of the film. Regardless, I set out determined to see how far my "recipe" could take me with the Colonel.
I was helped greatly by the model (please excuse the intersecting polygons in various places). Already a good likeness was there:
So I blocked in the colours. How do you paint a white shirt inside a white suit? Pure white is of course anathema to texture artists. I decided on playing with very light pinks, blue and crèmes to create the illusion of the white suit.
Then comes the light brush strokes for variation of the base colour.
And the dark ones...
And in all his rendered glory...
When we started on this project, I had some doubts whether Mari would be the best suited tool for a job like this. I knew that the Steak Kollective guys had used Photoshop for the textures for Meet Buck. I have always admired the very painterly output you can get from Painter, with its excellent ability to mimic real world art materials and surfaces. However Mari was more than up for the task. Mari was clearly created for VFX use, but in my opinion its toolset goes much further than that.
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