Course overview Course overview
Develop drawing & rendering foundations
Drawing & Rendering Techniques for Hardware Design covers the benefits of ideation sketching, perspective, visual language, rendering and presentation techniques, and design intent. Focusing on the fundamentals of drawing and design, student will learn a process to deliver stronger designs using established concept design processes. Focusing on designing for production, students will learn how a concept artist fits into a production pipeline. Subjects include: developing design themes, thumbnails, visual vocabulary, believability applied to literal and fantastical subjects, materials, rendering, lighting, and presentation. Students will design both vehicles and mechs from thumbnail sketches through full concept illustration.
Drawing & Rendering Techniques for Hardware Design WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
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Feb 8, 2021 - Apr 26, 2021
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Dissecting the Design
Interview with Travis Couch
Concept artist Travis Couch reflects on the design process and the value of references when creating his mech in Drawing & Rendering Techniques for Hardware Design.
My name is Travis Couch and I live right now in Toronto, Canada, originally from Montreal. I`ve been in the mobile industry since 2008 as a 2d artist and concept artist. I have worked in companies such as Ea Mobile, DHX media and Big Viking Games. My study was in classical animation so I’ve had the opportunity to check out different unique avenues of art. I looked into the course ‘Drawing and Rendering Techniques for Hardware Design’ because I love world building, crafting all facets of how players and viewers can experience a world. Vehicles and technology was something I hadn’t been formally taught and it was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. It helped that I’m a fan of Michal Kus’s artwork!
WEEK 1 & 3
Going into this course my expectations were to acquire the skills to be able to design ships and technology. I love Sci-Fi but I often felt stressed when I had to start on a project that needed more robust designing of sci-fi pieces. It surprised me how easy it was to use real world items to help with designs and by the end of the course, brainstorming tech was so much easier. It’s very important to use perspective to give a feeling of space to tech design. Often these machines are huge and they need to feel like they have weight, even if they are flying. Furthermore perspective helps with making realistic design choices that strength the look of your tech.
The design for my space ship was all about flying beetles, specifically the way wings of a beetle come out of its open back shells and span out to fly. I liked the silhouette and how tank like it looked. This way of creating tech was a game changer for me. I always use references but I never thought to use animals for ships and mechs. It helped with formulating good nature based design choices and helped give that familiar, realistic touch to my designs.
My biggest challenge during week 5 was actually designing tanks. I was getting lost in making cool looking designs instead of thinking how those decisions affected function. As a tank is a completely utility sort of vehicle, balancing these new ideas with realistic choices was difficult to balance. As I focused on a desert environment, I leaned heavily on using references from real world tanks in the field and used their specifics to help custom make a design. This taught me that researching is very important. When you know the specifics of a vehicle, what it needs to function and why these parts are important, that is when you can bend a bit reality and create something new while still keeping grounded.
WEEK 7 & 8
My design reference was insects, specifically 6 legged insects with antennae. I wanted a mech that looked alien like but still could look like you can still see them in the battle field. My mech was a recon based build. My biggest challenge was having an understanding on how legs would fit into the base of the mech and how they would move. The 3D modeller would need to re create it so I had to make sure I was as clear as possible. I looked at my references and worked from simple big shapes to details. Taking it slowly worked for me because there were so many moving parts. It was a challenge but a lot of fun.
I had 2 designs I was most proud about that take equal importance, my ship from week 3 and my mech design I finished in week 8. The ship was the first ship I made that had clear design choices and follow thru and I was happy that I understood what works and what doesn’t. My mech design was something I never thought I’d be able to do as I never really thought of ever doing a mech. The experience was amazing. Michal Kus’ demos helped me with my rendering mostly watching him go in depth into how he paints and what works for him. It gives you hints on how to approach your own art and experimenting with new skills. His feedback I’ve utilized in my own work like painting metal and rust as well as refractions and when to use them. He specifically helped me during week 2 and 3 on how to design realistic scifi ships using real world logic such as how pieces fit together and how gravity or speed can affect structure. My ship got a lot bulkier during those weeks.
The assignment that was the most fun was week 3’s space ship assignment because that was the gateway where I started to wrap my mind on designing tech. The idea of balancing function and cool factor helped me a lot with designs in general. The hardest assignment was the mech design as I never thought I’d do one and the challenge was real. It felt great when I finished it and was one of my favourite assignments.
I would definitely recommend the course because it helps connect the dots to so many aspects of design. With tech design you have to think of balancing function with cool factor. That transcends to character and background design and helped me out with my other projects. It was just a lot of fun!
Learning the Language
Interview with Chang Wei Chen
Concept artist Chang Wei Chen talks about his design process and how he embraced the shape language of mechs over the 8 weeks in Drawing & Rendering Techniques for Hardware Design.
Hi everyone, my name is Chang Wei Chen. I come from Taiwan. I’m a concept artist currently working in a VR studio based in Taiwan. I enjoy doing both 2D and 3D concept for any project.
I graduated from National Cheng Kung University in 2013 where I studied industrial design. I’ve always been more interested in the entertainment industry so after graduation I went to Singapore and learned concept art and design at FZD school of design. After graduating, I joined ACME game studio (Taiwan) as a full time concept artist working on an unannounced PS4 game project. It was a great experience there to understand the whole process of making a game. Then in 2018, I switched to a startup VR studio because I was interested in making content for this new technology. I also did some freelance illustration work for some board game projects, such as Monumental by Funforge SARL.
I wanted to learn hardware design from Michal kus so I took this class. I’ve followed him since 2014. I like his mech designs because they look creative and still grounded to the real world so I wanted to learn his design thinking and process.
Using Effective Reference
Week 2 homework is about designing something manmade which is inspired by nature. Michal taught us that it’s better to use the reference by extracting design elements and shape language from it and then apply these on the design.The demos in class showed me how to actually apply the idea from the class to your work.
I chose a WW2 aircraft and mantis for reference. I wanted to apply the organic and aggressive shape from the mantis onto the WW2 aircraft. I think nature references helped me to be more creative and manmade references helped me to keep the design more grounded and believable.
Design Language & Style
The biggest challenge here was keeping the same design language on each tank robot and also making sure all parts of the robot somehow made sense or were believable. I decided to use a similar pose but different design style on each design. The first one is based on a NASA spacecar and the second one is based on a WW1 tank.
The second one was quite hard for me because I wanted to make my robot look like it was in the WW1 era but still advanced enough. The feedback for this week is great. He usually draw on top of our homework and tells us why he'd change the design. So it’s quite easy for us to follow and fix our designs. As a designer, I need to make both the exterior and interior of the robot appear functional, so I changed the cockpit of second design later.
Introduction to Rendering
I usually start with base color. Then I add shadow layer, texture layer, and an ambient occlusion layer on top. Finally I paint on top of these layers for a more detailed and hand-painted look. I think an important tip Michal provided is knowing what light hits which surface-- how these lights affect those surface materials. This helped me to think logically while I was rendering this mech. Also, to pay attention to the darkest darks. I usually don’t paint dark enough so my renderings sometimes look unfinished. These tips help me a lot.
Finishing and Rendering Mechs
I became fascinated with WW1 tanks by playing battlefield 1. I like the heavy and strong look of these machines. So I decided to do a WW1 tank robot. I gathered many animals references for its pose and started sketching. In the beginning, I couldn’t find a balance between shapes I like with the WW1 shape language. Then I started to look at the reference carefully and started designing with my intuition. I finally came up with something I liked. This homework let me know that I should really “use” these reference than just put them on the reference board. I also found a material reference while I was rendering the robot this time.
Overall I like my week 6&8 homework. They are more refined and have more thought behind them. Week 6 was pretty fun because I got to just do rendering which is easier than designing new stuff. I think week 7 & 8 were hardest because I needed to use everything I learned from the course and apply it to these designs. But for me, I guess putting more time in and thinking carefully in each step can overcome these challenges.
Yes, I think this course is good for people who want to learn how to design and the process of creating a mech. I got more confident in designing hard surface stuff after this class. Michal also shared his design thinking and his opinion of concept art industry which helped me a lot.
Reference is Everything
Interview with Adam Fitzpatrick
Concept Artist Adam Fitzpatrick shows us what he learned about effective references as he breaks down his work from Drawing & Rendering Techniques for Hardware Design.
My name is Adam Fitzpatrick. I’m an American artist currently living in Singapore. I currently work as a concept artist for Omens Studios - an animation company that creates children’s shows. I’ve always enjoyed art and design. I became most interested in art from comics and animation and wanted to be involved in the process of telling stories. In my spare time, I work on comic book projects. I took Drawing and Rendering Techniques for Hardware Design because I really admire the work of the instructor, Michal Kus, and really wanted to study the subject matter.
Introduction to Hardware Design
Mastery over perspective is a huge benefit to any subset of concept art (characters, environments, props, etc…), but in the case of vehicle and mechanical design, it comes across as less of a benefit and more of a must-have. Vehicles are fully grounded in space and are built up by connecting various forms together within that space. Understanding perspective and using that understanding to slowly combine simple forms into complex forms is a fundamental skill. It’s hard to learn (at least it was for me!) but it’s honestly a game changer when you “get it.”
Using Effective Reference
How to use references was one of the biggest takeaways from the class for me. Effective use of reference is key to a great design. The more diverse the well of inspiration you're pulling from, the higher the chance that you’ll make something unique. While your imagination is a great place to start for exploring ideas, there will always be gaps in your imagination and that's where effective reference can fill in or expand. The assignment this week was to come up with a design that has a unique influence from nature but still has recognizebale manmade forms like hardware or vehciles. The animal I chose was a grasshopper and praying mantis. I did some sheets of studying their forms.
Michal’s demos were very easy to follow and the class felt structured well. I think his demo on how to use reference was one of the most influential things I had seen up to that point. I had been taught to “use reference but don’t copy it” before, but the way Michal explained it and demonstrated it finally made that statement make sense to me.
I render in a very similar style to Michal, so his teaching really resonated with me. I don’t use many layers, and constantly merge down my layers when I do. One of the huge things that Michal helped me with was pushing my contrast of colors and value, as well as the overall execution of the piece. I think it’s a common problem to not be as dynamic as possible with your values or colors, out of fear that it’ll be “too much.” However, often times your “too much” is someone else’s “not enough.” Michal was never satisfied! It’s a good thing to learn, though. You can always polish things more.
I really love Asian culture and architecture. I was talking to my neighbor at the time, who was a cobbler, and I was telling him about my plan to have a mobile merchant store. He wanted me to make it a moving shoe store. Unfortunately, that didn’t come through too much in the design at the end, but I did take a lot of inspiration from his store front and it helped kickstart my idea.
I’d say I had the most trouble with making the mechanics more complex, while retaining beauty. I’m sometimes a pretty impatient guy, so I tend to go with my first answer to things. I’ve had to learn to continue to explore and, through iteration, expand upon my initial ideas. This class was really helpful for showing me how you can further develop simple ideas into more complex ones.
I’m probably most happy with my final week 8 design. Looking back on it now, there’s a lot of stuff that I’d change and work on further, but for my current skill at the time, it was a big step forward for me. I think the most fun assignment to me were the roadsters that I designed. I gathered references of insects and did studies of their form language. I then tried to incorporate some of these aspects into my design. I didn’t nail it perfectly, but it was one of the first times I had been intentionally trying to inject a specific formula into my design, so I had a really great time trying it out.
Adam Fitzpatrck portfolio: https://www.fitzfactor.com/
Mechanical Concept Design: Suspension of Disbelief
Interview with David Moretto
Concept Artist David Moretto talks to us about his experiance in Drawing and Rendering Techniques for Hardware Design and what he learned about creating belivable machines.
My name is David Moretto and I am a digital Artist for 2d and vfx and I am self-employed with my company “Jollycat the art department” since 2001 in Sankt Augustin near Cologne, Germany. With this background I did a lot of jobs on different projects including compositing and 3D animations, concept art and designs. Shortly after graduating in 1994 I created the first pixel graphics for computer games, including advertising games for the Swiss Bank.
At my first permanent employment I started my career in a small postproduction and film house. There I created motion graphics, 3d animations and concepts as well as supervised green screen scenes and 2D graphics. Later I switched to postproduction in Frankfurt and created vfx animations on a “Smoke” system from Discreet Logic. At the then still young "Animago Award" in 1998 my own 2 minute animated short film was awarded with a prize. It was a completely funny 2d animation about a spot in the face.
Since the beginning of my freelance work in 2001 as a motion designer I have developed steadily. In the meantime I’ve trained employees for the then company Discreet on the high-end system "Smoke". Even when I was a little boy, I dreamed of a job in the film or games industry. The film industry in Germany was still in its infancy at that time, but I never moved to Hollywood.
Introduction to Hardware Design
Why is it important to use perspective when designing your vehicle concepts?
Each drawing consists of different shapes, such as triangles, squares and circles. All objects in our environment have a three-dimensional shape. In order to be able to draw these graphically, one must be able to draw these correctly. Only when you have this knowledge can you approach more complex three-dimensional drawings. And most importantly, only through a correct perspective are drawings readable. After all, our brain or eye should be faked out based on a drawing from a real object - only to find that the vehicle or flying object does not exist!
What was your expectation for this course? How did it surprise or challenge you?
At age 45, it's a bit harder to get into the feature film or game industry. Hoping to gain new opportunities, I decided to perfect my existing drawing talent at the Computer Graphics Master Academy. Especially in the film or games area, designs for vehicles are used again and again. I just wanted to do something new, but getting into the movie would be very hard on all the young talents. So a few years ago, I decided to perfect my talent in drawing and possibly get an introduction to the cinema or games industry. So I enrolled and perfected my concept art skills in Drawing & Rendering Techniques for Hardware Design. Before this I already participated in the courses Environment Concept Design, Analytical Figure Drawing, Costume Concept Design, Creature Design for Film and Games and at the moment in Keyframe for Production Illustration.
Among other things, Michal Kus has asked us to design a Mech. He works often for the game industry and he likes drawing armoured vehicles, most notably Mechs - I think everyone has heard of these things. But have you ever tried drawing one? It sounds easy at first, but it's very hard to draw if you've never done it before. A Mech is not real, no real references, but there’s a lot of concept art on the internet. Actually, such a device does not work-- at least, one that should run on 2 mechanical legs and stand correctly. It is based only on our idea of what is right and what is wrong. I think that anatomical knowledge and a good imagination also help here.
Using Effective Reference
Tell us about your design. How did your references help you create a design language?
Through the 8 week course I slowly developed the idea of creating something fantastic. However my piece of hardware would not be a full armoured space ship. No, it would be something really crazy.
During the first two weeks I studied animals, airplanes, and how their shapes could be integrated into my own piece of hardware. I got stuck on turtles and spent some time gathering references – thanks to the internet that was the easy part.
The hunchback is special on turtles and I included this idea in my first drawing.
One scribble shows an airplane/spaceship combination, the second one a ground based vehicle. But in both ones I included some turtle elements. After spending some time gathering the reference and scribbling around, I slowly found my own line and design language. Also feedback and exchanges with the other students formed new ideas. During the second week, I focused on what assets would be made, my basic shapes, and I also was inspired from my classmates projects.
Introduction to Mech Design
How did exploring animals/ animal poses influence your designs?
Michal wants us to draw variations of a mech walker with strong poses. As I mentioned before, it is not easy to create something as unreal as a Mech. In my opinion, the silhouette of a mech came closest to that of a chicken. Michals mechs, which he created for games, are mostly combat robots with very wicked weapons systems, inspired by WWII tanks. My research therefore looked at chickens for the silhouette as a reference and russian military driver from World War II as a form language. The crude mechanics, the thick screws and rivets in combination with a chicken ... crazy! My first attempts would hardly exist in the real world, as the focus was completely disregarded. References with spiders came a little closer.
Was this exploration a helpful tool for future projects?
In any case, I realized how important it is that the objects conceived really work. So shape, design and function must always be consistent. Above all, it must be clear that shapes should repeat themselves in design. As Michal pointed out, for example, when square and round screws are used as rivets for bolting, it speaks against a cohesive design. Tanks are constructed for effectiveness, not to look good, but they still have their own design details.
Form vs. Function
What form did you choose for this week?
I knew what I wanted to do as final work in this course. I wanted to create something that could exist in a fictional world. Inspired by Jurassic Park, I designed a transporter to capture dinosaurs, a sort of giant mousetrap-- dinotrap. I wondered how a hunt for really big animals could happen. And since my actual transport vehicle is rather slow, and serves the transport, this vehicle had to get support from smaller vehicles. So I got the idea for SUV, which serve the hunting with different constructions.These smallwer SUVs should be small, agile and yet robust. So a kind of armor or protective construction around the vehicle had to be created, without however restricting the mobility.
How did you express function in your design?
I created vehicles that could be used in the fictional movie "Primal World". And since it is concept art, various functional ideas were integrated. I created these as if under real workplace conditions-- like for presentations or deadlines of a feature film. The vehicle of my dinosaur trap once had an oversized cage with a transport crane. The crane could also be unloaded.
The second design was more of a traditional transport cage for high altitude creatures. My main idea was a trap that was secured with a laser electric fence that could adapt to the size of the captured animal.
Where there any designs you rejected? What was the reason?
I always try to design something that is not armed with weapons or just a model for the war machines. Whenever one thinks of spaceships or flying objects for concept art, they are mostly armed objects that come out. It is a challenge to design something for salvation or transportation and so I do not like my armed machines so much.
How did the limitations of one setting challenge your design process?
By default, limitations allow you to focus on the essential. Without limitations, I would probably have tried to implement many ideas at the same time and would not have achieved my goal. Michal has put us on the right track. Now it's up to me to take the idea further and you can already start to recognize my own style and design. The Dinosaur Transport Helicopter (I called the vehicle “Götterdämmerung”) was mainly inspired by the feature movie Iron Sky. I wondered “what if the germans had the knowledge to construct helicopters and go searching for dinosaurs in the amazon jungle. A really confusing story I know.
I developed this piece of hardware design during Michal Kus course through CGMA. For gathering reference, I took a trip to the local airbase and took some photos of helicopters and machine parts. I got my first impression of how the mechanics worked. I tried to take photos from multiple angles focusing on the mechanics. For the transport boxes I was inspired by wildlife documentaries and how people were catching really big animals like elephants. I also remembered the big enclosures in the movie Jurassic Park.
Introduction to Rendering
Tell us about your rendering process. What tips did Michal provide and how did you incorporate them?
One of my friends has a big collection of combat airplanes from the second world war. That was exactly what I searched for. Combining the design of airplanes with a helicopter that had never existed. After spending some time gathering the references, I started to make a style guide.
One technique I like to use to create really fast scribbles. On of my favorite concept artists Bobby Rebolz (creature design for film and games) told me, that the best inspiration is to let the ideas flow. So I started scribbling some ideas, spending not much time on each. I think it was about 5 minutes on each idea. So I did up to 30 sketches. Then, after I filled out the sheet, I took a look and selected the best ones. That doesn’t mean the best drawn but rather the best ideas that flowed.
I returned to some of the first ideas and developed them with more details and spending some more time on them. After some sketches I draw line art of my idea. The line art is the best step before continuing to develop the idea because no color or shadow distracts my eyes. And in this step I can easily correct perspective and details.
My setup is a helicopter in the deep jungle, so the color palette will be green. But also my flying object reflects the green world and thus was also given in this color scheme. I started to color the helicopter and of course took advantage of the layers of Photoshop to try other colors.
However, I realized very quickly that it makes sense first to create the environment, since that is where light and shadow influence the main object of my design. So I collected references of jungle pictures for my environment and studied light and shadow on the clearings in forests. As my object is made of metal it not only reflects the floor and its surroundings but also reveals color changes. Thus, the brownish soil at the bottoms of the wings is mixed with the green of the metal. The sky does not appear completely blue in the glasses of the cockpit, but there are interesting color mixtures. Finally, a few rays of sunlight came through, which shines through the tall trees on the clearing.
After this design, I tried in the last 2 weeks to use my experiences feedback to create another machine. Again, I wanted a draft without weapons. I thought, Ok, let’s combine a race car with a robot. As always, I tried to imagine a little story in which my design might occur. I imagine that in the future the race cars will race against each other on two legs.
To get a first idea, I looked at different prostheses from runners. These come very close to my idea for a racing mech. I let my ideas run wild --page by page, scribbles were drawn and discarded again.
To get the perspective right I created a very rough 3D model. With that I was able to work better and also rotate my drawing 180 degrees. I use cinema 4D for my 3D modeling and animations because I grew up with this software.
Is there a design you have done that you are most happy with?
I most like my transport helicopter to the dinosaur. I think that it’s something I could see in a movie.
How did you apply feedback from Michal to your designs?
I think there is no specific week, Michal helps me to move forward. Every week I saw progress in my drawings, largely due to Michal's clear messages and great feedbacks. As a result, my drawings could be adapted directly in the homework assignment for the following week, or sometimes I had to completely rebuild them.
Would you recommend this course?
My experience with classes at CGMA has been fantastic. Maybe I have a talent for drawing and concept art, but it's hard to finish some own ideas without a goal by myself in my own rooms. The CGMA courses gives me an incentive to finish my ideas. And on the other hand: to get the one-on-one feedback from industry professionals every week is absolutely priceless. For every single course I have learned new techniques and was inspired by the professionals. Also with the age of 45 I never stop learning and and discover something new. During the years I have developed much further and I hope I can join the world of feature film in the near future and get my first gig.
You can see more from David in the links below: