Thursday, 18 December 2014

My Illustrated Children's Book about Autism 'Why does Sammy do that?'

Why Does Sammy Do That? cover illustration
Cover illustration
This is my first self published illustrated children's book. It explains the problems a child with autism can face.  My partner Melanie Janz wrote it and I have been working on the illustrations. The story is about our son Sammy to help his class mates and other children better understand autism and Sammy's behaviour. The book is called 'Why Does Sammy Do That?'.

Why Does Sammy Do That? Interior illustrations proprioceptio
A couple of pages from the interior dealing with proprioception:  the perception of movement and spatial orientation

Sammy was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when he was four years old. ASD made sense of much of why Sammy was different from other children, and in some ways it was a relief. Once we had been given some insight into why Sammy behaved the way he did, we found ourselves explaining what autism was to others. We did find that it was difficult to explain to other children of Sammy's age (also older and younger), but that they were often the most direct about asking "Why does Sammy do that?".

Melanie had the idea for a story, which would simply explain some of Sammy's behaviour to his class mates, particularly issues with sensory perception. She came up with it, while she was stuck in bad traffic. Her plan was to put it together with photos and print a couple of copies for Sammy's school and maybe our daughter Becky's pre-school. I suggested I could illustrate it and was also thinking about self publishing. I have published my cg models through online shops before so I thought a book would be more straight forward. Illustrating a children's book is something I've daydreamed about for years. I did a style test, a simple illustration of Sammy looking lost, and Mel was keen for me to do the project.

Why Does Sammy Do That? style test
Style test for Why Does Sammy Do That?
We were influenced by Ellen Notbohm's book Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes You Knew which we both found very useful and inspiring. I started working on the book in mid July, and we published it on the 12 of December 2014. The illustrations were finished by the end of October. November was taken up with bug fixing, proofing and tidying up loose ends. My father proof read the book for us with his years of experience marking students working as an English teacher.

Why Does Sammy Do That? trampoline girls

 It has been a very different project to what I'm used to. It's very close to my heart and was extremely hard to work on at times. With many illustrations of my son and some of my daughter it was personal. The book often deals with scenes I find very difficult and upsetting. It's hard for me to see people judge Sammy without understanding him, but at the same time understandable. If I didn't know Sammy, as an outsider I might see Sammy the same way.

For the illustration I worked in Photoshop. I worked up the lines quite roughly and tightened them over time. The color is quite simply blocked in with a shadow and highlights pass. The color is layered under the line work similar to cell paint in traditional animation. You can see in the style test that I was thinking of a more loose finish, but when it came to the book I tightened it up. The format for the book is 8.5"x 8.5" at 300 DPI I created the originals at 10x10 and shrank them down for the final version. I had a palette layer that I passed from file to file to keep my colors consistent.

Why Does Sammy Do That? WIP group Hug
Work in progress on one of the illustrations for Why Does Sammy Do That?

Why Does Sammy Do That? group Hug

 We used Createspace for this project. It was relatively straight forward to work with, there was a hiccup with the resolution being too low. I unfortunately didn't spot the problem until we had a printed proof.  This went round in circles for a bit until I asked on the site forum and was told by other users to re- upload the file, which magically solved the problem. I used photoshop and uploaded the final print files in PDF format. I would probably use createspace again, but it seems if you get stuck, the forums where you can talk to the other users are the best way to go.

The pictures in the book are mostly children we know. The most obvious is our son Sammy, but my daughter Becky also pops up in a number of the illustrations as do our neighbors, a cousin, various children from Sammy's school and our cat Ember.
Why Does Sammy Do That? Becky & cousin
Becky & cousin, interior illustration

We have had wonderful feedback about this book from friends and family, the other parents from Sammy's school and also the teachers and support workers who work with Sammy.

"I love this book. A perfect book to explain autism to children. It made me cry."

"This is a must-have for anyone who wants to help their children understand the world and mind of an autistic child. Beautifully written and illustrated, and very moving."

Why Does Sammy Do That? Sammy smiling
It's now available on Amazon in the UK Why Does Sammy Do That?
Also in the US Why Does Sammy Do That?

Please can you share plus and like to help us increase the awareness of autism!

Thanks to everyone who has supported us with this project!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Z-Brush Horned Green Dragon

Horned Green Dragon main
Screen grab of Zbrush sculpt with polypaint.
I've been thinking about making a dragon model for a very long time and actually started doing something about it. I decided to just open up Zbrush and go at it. I think sketching in 3d is sometimes easier than on paper. You need to put more effort in to get a decent looking 3d model. However a drawing  can give the illusion of a nice form with out true substance. You find the flaws of the drawing only when you try to build it.
Horned Green Dragon Side View

Horned Green Dragon Low angle

 Inspiration For The Dragon's Head

I've painted dragons here before and read up on descriptions of what dragons look like. They are described as having elements of the horse, camel and dog. A very broad mix to play with and part of why I enjoy making fantasy creatures so much. I have some pictures that live in my head when I think of dragons, I can remember seeing Smaug by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt on the cover of the Hobbit when I was probably 8 or so. Strange to see two brothers credited for the same picture, I had no idea it was by two artists. That picture echoes round the web as well as the inside of my head so I expect many of you will recognize it.

Another big influence for me was lead figures for fantasy games like Dungeons & Dragons. I actually went looking for some of the miniatures I used to have and found The Great Fire Dragon, there's clearly an influence there. I couldn't find the artists name but it's fair to say that the artists who made those figures had a big influence on me and I learned a good deal of what I know about painting from painting miniatures. More recently I saw the cover art of John Jude Palencar for the novel Eragon and that stuck too.

Horned Green Dragon montage

 Making The Dragon's Head

I screen grabbed the dragons head at intervals as I was working so you can see how the dragon developed. The dragon started as a poly sphere and I remeshed round about every time I did a screen grab. Remeshing prevents the polygons from being overstretched when you are putting detail into an area which  lacks the required number of polygons.

This model was intended to develop ideas and have fun. I would normally build a base mesh in Maya with a low polycount with the intention of having a fully poseable skinned model. I may still do this but I enjoyed just focusing on sculpting for a change. Low poly modeling is a very different process and not as good for developing ideas. Zbrush has a much more organic feel which very much suits pulling around fantasy creatures.

Horned Green Dragon WIP #1
 I start with basic shapes which I pull around using the move tool.

Horned Green Dragon WIP #2

Horned Green Dragon WIP #3

Horned Green Dragon WIP #4
 Once I had the head shape looking the way I wanted I put the details in.

Scales are quite easy and fun to do using Zbrush.

If you have a nice form to start with the scales almost draw themselves.

That was where I stopped on the sculpt.

Early polypaint, I experimented with some materials too.

Almost there, this is an outliner material that helped the texturing.

Painting The Dragon's Head

I painted the model using polypaint in Zbrush. It's probably the first time I've used it so much and it worked out quite well. Because I  painted directly onto the model in the same way I sculpt, it's much easier than painting an unfolded map in photoshop. I did use photoshop to tweak a little but for the most part it's polypaint. The best part is not having to guess how it's going to look. When you're painting the flat map what you're looking at is a peculiar pancake version of your dragon that looks like it has been skinned ready for stuffing. This is not a rendered model, all the images are just screen grabs so this model could look even nicer with the right lighting.

If I develop this model further (which depends on how much attention it gets) I think I would start thinking about more of a crest of horns and a larger mouth with more prominent teeth. I would also texture the eyes as they are currently just placeholder spheres with a material applied.

If you would like me to develop the dragon further please like, +1 and/or share this post and I will get the message. Thanks to all the plussers on my last post I very much appreciate active readers, this blog welcomes and needs your support.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Animated audition a short slap stick test

Here is an audition I did for a job at the start of the year. The mail came out of the blue on the 3rd of January "We would like you to complete the audition ASAP".  I was given a version of the model to work on by the company but the rigg didn't work and the mesh had errors and too much subdivision to skin easily so I had to rebuild and re-rigged it. It was a bit of a mad rush to get it done in time but good practice. I always liked cartoons like Road Runner and the Pink Panther so it was fun to do something slap stick. One of the best things about it was I showed it to my kids and they loved it. I  really enjoyed doing the animation and hope you enjoy watching it , I haven't done something like this for a while so it made a nice change.

It's a little bit like the style I used to work in when I worked for Kuju on the Eye Toy games, I have an urge to try doing some more work like this as it came very easy to me. The swords and sorcery stuff I'm working on at the moment is a bit of a battle at times. The funny green thing I animated for the audition was much easier to set up and build than the characters I've been making recently. With a bit of Z-brush fiddling it could look really cool I think.

The clip above was a style test I did for Kuju.
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