Creatively speaking, the Steampunk Door was a very logical next step from the Illustrated Building. Where the church project had blueprints and a physical location, this new project had dynamic rock walls and did not actually exist. I still wanted to hold onto the concept of ambiguity leading to clarity, but I also wanted to greatly contrast what I had already done. As one important aspect of this project in particular, I paid special attention to time management. I saw the Illustrated Building as a failure of time management, seeing as it took months to complete for one reason or another. I vowed, after that project, to try to enforce a two week maximum timeframe for my projects, and I can happily say that the Steampunk Door successfully adhered to the limitation. I began and completed the project in two weeks’ time. The specific origins of this project lie with video games: particularly the Elder Scrolls series. I had always admired Bethesda for creating such magnificent games, both in terms of story and most definitely art as well. Both of these, combined with Jeremy Soule’s truly incredible soundtrack make everything about the series immersive. While I am generally one to focus a lot on the lush outdoor landscape scenes, I also greatly appreciate how they handled their caves: very low light setting, allowing it to stream in through holes in the ceiling to illuminate the setting. I took this concept and began to create a cave scene of my own.
There is always a challenge of taking in a great deal of research whilst still holding on to one’s own individuality. Different schools of thought push for various methods, some embracing the works of other artists, others encouraging a hermit-like attitude—shielding one’s self from all other works so as not to detract from true creativity. I believe you can look at the works of others and the natural world around you to develop a base of ideas, but still bring forth the creativity and uniqueness of the individual. From the very beginning I had a definitive idea of some of the elements that would make up my project: cave, lever, door, light from a hole above, and gears. How these various elements were implemented was a matter of research and pushing the project forward. My art teacher would always say that certain aspects of a project reveal themselves when you are ready to receive them—almost that the project has a mind of its own. For instance, I did not consider the final arrangement of the gears until I had placed them in my scene. I did not know how I would implement the lever into the rock until it was time to do so. In the Illustrated Building, I did not notice the smaller windows in the back of the room until I had most of the camera and logo animation completed. I looked to the genre of steampunk because I have always been very interested in its very distinct feel. It also complemented the original Elder Scrolls: Skyrim setting I had in mind, seeing as the game deals with a race known as the Dwemer, who often utilized technology and architecture closely resembling that of steampunk. I looked to these various research elements, as well as doors, gears, and caves in general to get a base by which I created my concept art.
I never considered myself to be a stellar drawing artist, but I can happily say that the concept art I drew ended up being the framework for my project (as it should). While there were certain elements I had to forfeit, for the most part, I executed just what I had set out to do. Along the way I ran into a number of problems, as is common in these types of preliminary projects. There were a few important concerns to address: dynamic looking / feeling gears, low lighting with visibility, and implementing the lever in the rock. Creating the natural, dynamic rock forms ended up working better than I had intended. I had originally tried stacking rocks that I created using NURBS modeling, but they did not seem to mesh well together; there was too much visible overlap. While I could have eventually solved the problem, I ended up using a different approach to NURBS. I instead started with one large flat structure that mimicked the shape of my drawing and rotated and transformed the vertices to get a dynamic looking transition on the rock face. I did that all around the setting until the floor, ceiling, walls, and stalactites were one cohesive, dynamic form. This gave me what was, in my eyes, a very dynamic scene at the cost of complete flexibility (I could not too easily adjust one specific rock in the wall without adjusting the area around it). Most other concerns were simply solved through sitting down and working out the problem until it was solved, that is, except for the problem of the gears. I researched creating Cinema 4D gears and found a great deal of information on the subject, as well as a number of different ways to implement it. Simple animation key frames were one way, but it would be too hard to give it the dynamic feel it needed. Using Xpresso (Cinema 4D’s node based scripting system) was another option, although I was relatively unfamiliar with its intricacy, having limited knowledge of programming. I ended up using Cinema 4D’s dynamics engine, using motors and connectors to give the gears a very dynamic feel. The only problem was that they seemed to fail after a few seconds of churning, regardless of how powerful I made the motor. After hours of trials, I finally turned off the program’s simulated gravity, which completely solved my problem (apparently it had been unable to compensate for the mass of the gears, and created problems for the amount of gears I had in the array).
Among my peers, there was a dispute as to whether or not the final composition was too dark. I would argue that the piece is supposed to be dark. It would not make any sense if the cave was too artificially bright, and it would take away from the cohesiveness of the piece as a whole. Of course I would be happy to showcase more prominently the stalactites I modeled, but I did not think it to be appropriate keeping the feel of the piece in mind. Toward the end of the project I had decided to implement a suggestion of a friend, and that was to add particles and fog into the scene. After obtaining a nifty free particle rig online and using volumetric lighting to create fog, I found that the two elements did indeed seem to give the scene more immersion and life. The two week timeframe gave me restriction but a comfortable sense of direction. I knew what I could and could not do as I went through the project. I admit that certain elements lack a distinct polished feel (the texture on the door, the incorporation of the fog and particles, and the initial transition between the cave and the door) but taking into consideration the time that went into it and my hitting the deadline, I am content with the work.