• John Matthews

McDonnell F-101B Voodoo (Next Stop, North Dakota!)

Hi everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and that your New Years was a safe and happy one.  

Last time I posted was to announce I added a profile illustration for the Happy Hooligans' Voodoo. Since then, I started creating an in-flight illustration featuring the Hooligans.

In the first rendering I've taken my 87th FIS Voodoo as a place holder of sorts while I began working on lighting, atmosphere,clouds,and terrain and the textures for the Hooligans Voodoo. No real variations in ground elevation, and just clumps of rather generic broad leaf trees with some lower level, small cumulus clouds with some cirrus up higher in the sky. Not a bit like what I wanted the end result to look like, but a start. Problem was, there was little to no detail in the low cumulus clouds with the sun at roughly a mid-day position. Clouds are beautiful things, but these were just blobs that extended all over the place. At this point, everything was just "filler" until I sorted out the pieces.

In the second rendering I've played around with the terrain a bit to add subtle variations in elevation. I also added some pine trees, and a ground texture that's a bit more northern prarie-ish. It's a bit more effective, but only just. And the trees are really, really tiny. They look like they've just been splattered all over the place with no regard to elevation or clumping. Not terribly natural looking, just a lot of little trees on the prairie (wasn't that a TV show starring Michael Landon?). Same boring low cumulus clouds as well. They'd need a lot more definition, and changes in lighting and atmosphere, before they'd really look nice. In my mind's eye I could see the planes climbing toward the clouds anyway. So, the clouds, and a whole lot of other things, were about to change.

In the third rending I've made new terrain that's larger and has quite a bit of variation. Very hilly. And, it's North Dakota, so there should be lots of snow, right? Check! Everything got a healthy covering of snow, which had to then be adjusted so it wouldn't 100% cover everything and you'd be able to see patches of ground here and there, depending on the slope of the terrain. The trees were scaled up so they didn't look like a bunch of dots, and adjustments made to their placement so their location was effected by ground slope and elevation, too. Still too dense though. And with all that snow on the ground, they were still too green. I'd have to place snow on the tree branches for them to look right. I raised the clouds up above the aircraft. With the sun in its current position more detail and definition can been seen, but they were still too dense and opaque, with not enough sunlight traveling through them. And they extend too far... everywhere. I set the atmosphere up for volumetric lighting, so we'd see nice shafts of light through the cloud openings. Still, it was too dark back in the distance and some further atmospheric changes would have to be made.

The fourth rendering is my "sketch" being pretty close to being finished. The overall snow texture on the terrain was tweaked just a bit. "Snow" was added to the tree branches by adding white to the tree textures themselves. Not a ton of it, but enough to suggest they've been snowed on. Their density was reduced and I made them a bit more clumped, so their placement appeared a bit more natural looking. Reducing the density of the trees helped out with the total render time as well. Each of those trees takes time to render. A forest can slow things down to a crawl, especially when you're trying to render something large enough for a poster-sized illustration. So, reducing their density, while keeping them from looking too sparse, was important. The program I use to create my landscapes will place a layer of clouds over the entire virtual globe unless you create them in just one section. So, that's what I did. No longer would small cumulus clouds cover my virtual earth. Just one part of it. And after making lots of adjustments to their detail, coverage, and opacity levels, and tweaking how much sunlight can get through them, I like to think I came to an agreeable medium. Not so one would notice, but I re-did the whole atmosphere in the scene. The quality of the upper atmosphere, mid-level haze, and the lower levels were all changed. I also created more terrain, which extends farther away from the camera. All of the textures and the trees had to be adjusted for the new terrain as I did for the foreground terrain. Overall, much, much closer to what I had originally envisioned.

The first of the four images was rendered on December 10, 2019. The fourth one was today, January 1, 2020. And it's likely not the last work-in-progress render before it's finished. I'd like to play with the highlights on the planes a bit since they look just a bit... flat. Either they do, or I'm just being too critical. Either way, there's only so much more one can do considering the angle the sunlight is striking the planes.

That was a really long-winded post, but you get an idea of part of the creative process, and an idea of what I do when I create one of my illustrations. Ideas. Changes. More changes. Then finally something pops out of the oven I'm happy with. It's a lot like creating a work with a brush, paint, and canvas (tell me it isn't, American Society of Aviation Artists), just a different medium. It's the same process I go through with all my work (which doesn't include the time spent researching to aircraft, creating the 3D model, or painting the textures for the model).

Next? Tomorrow I'm going to release a 24x18 profile illustration of the 87th Fighter Interceptor Squadron Voodoo. I'll post that here once it's been uploaded to the website. I'm also likely going to begin rendering this as an 18x25 300 DPI image to put into a border and render it as the final illustration.

I'm still planning on doing a few more Voodoo profiles (Texas, Oregon, Alaska, and a few others), but I'd really like to begin working on a B-52. I'm also feeling like circling back to the Thunderchief because the B model needs to be painted as a Thunderbird, and the D model needs to be set into action in a combat scene or two. Then possibly an F-4 Phantom, or an F-84 Missouri Air National Guard plane, or... well, you get the picture.

Lots to do!

Cheers everybody!


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