Dissecting the Design

Dissecting the Design

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 strengthen 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 backshells 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.

Week 5

My biggest challenge during week 5 was actually designing tanks. I was getting lost in making cool-looking designs instead of thinking about how those decisions affected function. As a tank is a complete 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 of 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 on the battlefield. My mech was a recon based build. My biggest challenge was having an understanding of how legs would fit into the base of the mech and how they would move. The 3D modeler would need to recreate 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.

Final Thoughts

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’s 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 the 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 the cool factor. That transcends to character and background design and helped me out with my other projects. It was just a lot of fun!

You can see more of Travis’s work on Instagram and Artstation.