Piedmont Airlines Boeing 767-201/ER

Sometimes whenever I start working on a project, I get really into it and end up doing a lot more than originally intended. These Boeing 767-200 illustrations are a perfect example of that. My primary reason for creating a 767-200 template was so that I could render up one with Delta’s old widget livery – one of the best looking airline liveries of all time if you ask me. But once I finished, I thought that it would be cool to do one for American Airlines in their polished aluminum scheme. And if I was going to do that, I thought that I might as well create at TWA version too. But that’s when I really started getting nostalgic, finding myself in Photoshop laying the colors for Piedmont Airlines onto another copy of my blank template. Oh – and I almost forgot that there was a USAir version created somewhere in between all that as well, which I’ll post it up on the blog soon.

The silly part? All of this happened in one 24 hour period. Sometimes my drive to create gets the best of me and it’s difficult to let go of what I’m working on.

Anyway, back to this Piedmont 767 rendering. Piedmont Airlines was a small(ish) US airline based out of Winston-Salem North Carolina founded in 1948, and they eventually merged with USAir in 1989. I personally found it interesting that that they were solidly a US domestic airline with mostly short-range flights, but they did operate one single international route from Charlotte to London (Gatwick) utilizing Boeing 767-200 aircraft. Kind of an odd route for such a niche airline.

My illustration above is an exact representation of one of those 767’s. As with all aircraft liveries of the 1980’s, it sports a super-cool cheatline intersecting the windows right through the middle of the fuselage. Too bad we never got to see this brand evolve, as I do like their brand colors and logo quite a bit.

Long live the cheatlines!

red and white TWA 767 drawing

Here in the US, there aren’t many airlines that have as much history as TWA (Trans World Airlines). They started flying way back in 1925, and lasted all the way until 2001 when they merged with American Airlines. That’s a long time – certainly longer than most of the other airlines flying around in the US today. That said, I’ve only flown with them 5 times – all of that in their last months of 2001 before disappearing from the skies for good. I wish that I could have experienced them in the late 70’s to early 80’s (arguably their “prime” years) just to see what they were really like. There’s just something about the thought of being served freshly-carved roast from a tray while sitting in a paisley first class seat from STL to LAX (or LHR, or FRA, or….wherever) that gets this aviation geek excited. Hey – I love this kind of stuff!

As far as an airline goes, I remember them as being an old (crusty?) established brand. They certainly weren’t known for being a flashy airline and their corporate branding was quite stiff if you ask me. No flashy colors, supermodel stewardesses, or gimmicky products – just a solid, world class airline serving destinations all around the globe.

Their liveries did nothing to convey the opposite, as most of them were safe and sterile – including the version I’ve illustrated above. This was their second to last livery, with the last one unveiled only a few short years before their death. But this one is my favorite. Nothing screams “1980’s” more than thick red stripes running down the side of a white fuselage – it totally reminds me of the A-Team van (with different colors obviously), and I swear I can hear Wham or Madonna playing in the background. Its way cheesy. And I love it.

Southwest 737-700 side view

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Southwest Airlines have always had bold liveries that have drawn attention. The original “mustard rocket” colors were unlike anything else in the air at that time, and the current blue, yellow, and orange get-up is in a league of it’s own as well. So yeah – the designer in me naturally gives them a lot of credit for bucking the trend and doing something different than most of the other airlines (who prefer stark-white fuselages with small splashes of color here and there).

I’ve been putting off illustrating a Southwest 737 for a long time and wouldn’t you know it, soon after I finished it,  Southwest threw everyone a curve ball with the announcement of a brand new livery which placed more emphasis on the “Southwest” titles. That means I’ve got to play catch-up now and illustrate a version of that one. That’s the trouble with doing airliner art – the industry moves fast and it will never be possible for one person to draw them all. At least I have something to keep me busy until I die…

Really though, I’m not bugged by it. I actually like documenting the old airliner liveries the most, and since I eventually plan on creating renderings of every single Southwest color scheme, this means one less I’ll have to do later on. The mustard rocket colors are most interesting to me though, so you’ll likely see that one first.

DL 767-200

As a child of the 80’s, the iconic Widget livery is the one that I think defines Delta Airlines. I can recall with great clarity the advertisements in newspapers and magazines featuring photos and illustrations of Delta L-1011’s and 767’s (just like this one), and I had scrapbooks full that stuff. So yeah – this widget livery is burned into my brain pretty good. The current livery just isn’t even on the same level, IMHO.

As far as the illustration goes, I there were a couple areas that ended up being more difficult than I had planned them to be. First was the exposed aluminum section on the bottom half of the fuselage. This is a highly-polished section of the airplane in real life, and the reference photos I used to make this illustration showed that it was highly reflective and mirrored whatever was underneath it at the time. It’s difficult to replicate that effect when rendering these over white backgrounds (because there’s nothing to reflect other than white), so I had to take a bit of artistic liberty and render it a bit more generic than I would have preferred. The other issue was the typeface for “DELTA” – in real life, it was not the same on both the tail and on the fuselage. Interesting! But a royal pain in the butt…it took me a bit of time to realize this and make these titles look like they should.

Anyway, most of the airliner art I’ve created so far have been depictions of current airlines and aircraft, so it was fun to take a step back in time and create a true “classic”. It was so much fun that I did a few more on the 767-200 – so stay tuned for those.

mercedes 300sl line art

I was a car-drawing machine when I was 10 years old, and by the time I turned 18 I was getting pretty good at it – as a matter of fact, I even started college with the intention of becoming a car designer. My freshman year was all about cars, but I found the work that the product design students were doing to be really interesting – enough so that it ultimately persuaded me to change focus. Despite that change, my passion for cars has never fizzled over the years.

In mid 2011, I set a personal goal to get back to drawing cars (by hand) as much as possible. Automotive art can be a beautiful thing with varied pencil strokes, subtle gradients, and hard reflections – none of which can be captured so artistically in a computer-generated 3d rendering. It had been years since I had put pen to paper and actually created art, so the desire was strong to get back to the basics and learn how to draw all over again.

The good news is that I’ve been sticking with it, drawing and sketching cars between meetings and late at night. I’m still not anywhere as good as I want to be – but I’m pushing on knowing that it’s going to take years to master. In the meantime, I’ve decided to start posting some of this automotive art here on the blog.

First up is a vector line drawing of a Mercedes Benz 300sl – one of the most beautifully designed cars ever IMHO. Deciding to draw this out was a bit of a spontaneous thing, as I was just browsing a car forum one night and I saw that someone had posted a picture of this beautiful Mercedes. I just had to draw it!

Creating the line work for my car illustrations is actually the easy part for me. I start by sketching it out by hand (using SketchBook Pro), export it to Illustrator to do the vector line work, and then I bring that into Photoshop to render it. It’s the rendering part that I feel like I still suck at.

It ended up being a lot more sloppy than I would have preferred, but the only way I’m going to get better is to keep practicing. If you want the vector source file for the line drawing posted at the top of this post, you can get it by clicking here.

I don’t normally like to write “rant” posts, but today I need to vent. :-) I’m currently in the middle of a really complicated project with my primary client, and as much as I enjoy working with those folks on a daily basis, they are slowly driving me mad. It’s been eating away at me for some time now, and this entire experience has made me start to think about how visual designers are often the most abused members of any creative design team. It’s something I’ve personally experienced since I started with my first job back in the late 90’s, and it’s also something I’ve seen my peers struggle with as well. Why is it so much fun to poop on the visual designers?

The exact scenarios are always different from client to client, but the issue I’m facing now is that I’m being asked to solve an incredible amount of creative visual problems within very short timeframes. To make matters worse, the requirements are constantly changing so I’m having to redo the same work over and over – which really hurts after staying up late at night trying to finish concepts, only to have them made irrelevant by last-minute changes that come first thing the next morning. It’s maddening!

This particular client has the mentality that being busy is necessary for success, and that nothing is ever finished until the very last second before it’s shipped out the door. They work blindingly fast towards self-imposed super-tight deadlines, and I’m stuck in the middle of all that. Non-creatives don’t really understand how much effort goes into creating something visually perfect, and it’s very difficult to be creative when trying to race the clock. Every single day over the past few months has felt like a non-stop emergency from sunrise to sunset, so to say that I’m a bit frustrated with the process is a bit of an understatement.

With this frustration rattling around in my brain, I’d like to take this opportunity to offer some friendly advice to all you busy-body project managers out there who have visual designers on your team.

The consequences of working with a frustrated visual designer:

  • It can be detrimental to your product or brand. They are the ones that are creating the customer-facing assets that define your business, so if you aren’t protecting them and keeping them satisfied they won’t be willing to go the extra mile to design an award-winning solution for you.
  • The word will spread that you are difficult to work with. We visual designers are a gossipy, well-connected bunch. It blows me away how often I run into other designers who know someone I used to work with way back when, and we usually have a lot of fun talking about the things we’ve done and the companies we worked for. It really is a small world…
  • You won’t be able to retain top talent. I’ve worked side by side with a great number of visual designers over the years, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that most don’t put up with overly-demanding clients. Working in a high-pressure environment is not good for anyone’s creativity, and designers thrive on being left alone (and given time) to do what they do best.

Despite how frustrated (and blunt) I may sound, writing out my thoughts like this helps to purge that negativity so I can focus on the positive. The client of mine who inspired this post knows my stance on this issue, and I am happy to say that they have admitted to being difficult. Whether they change their ways or not is yet to be seen, but keeping the lines of communication open is certainly a step in the right direction.

Thanks for letting me vent. Now back to work…

One of the most enjoyable things about being an illustrator is all the toys we get to play with. I’m a tech nerd through and trough, so my tools and toys are probably more high-tech compared to artists who prefer to work with more traditional media. But it doesn’t really matter how we do our work – there are always neat new tools to work with that can inspire us to create amazing things in ways we never considered before.

Since I am often asked how I produce my illustrations, I thought it would be fun to write about all of the design tools that are currently in my arsenal that I absolutely cannot live without. I’ve used a lot of different software and hardware over the years, and there are a few products that have stood the test of time and will remain a core part of my design studio for a long time to come:

Wacom Tablet

I’ll admit that it took me far too long to get comfortable with a drawing tablet, but it’s been the biggest game-changer of them all for me over last 10 years. I bought my first Wacom tablet in 2006 (a white Graphire 4), and the frustration I felt after playing with it for the first 20 minutes is something I remember quite well. The hope of creating super-cool drawings with my computer was washed away like a tsunami as soon as I realized the necessary coordination involved, and I tossed it back in the box in a fit of frustration.

It sat untouched for the next 4 years, but I pulled it back out in 2010 determined to make it work because…well…all the other cool illustrators use them, so there must be something that makes the learning curve worth the effort. Right? Long story short, I stuck with it and I’m at the point now where using a mouse seems weird to me. I’ve since upgraded to a medium-sized Wacom Intuos 5, and I’m pretty confident when I say that my aircraft illustrations wouldn’t be possible without this thing. Manually applying soft shadows to complex surfaces in Photoshop requires a delicate and precise touch, and the Intuos 5 is the perfect tool for the job.

PhotoStore from Ktools.net

Jeff and Jon at Ktools.net have built an incredibly powerful photo store script that is something I have grown to depend on over the years for the distribution of my images. I started selling my own illustrations with PhotoStore 3 in 2007, and back then, I was a bit apprehensive about running my own store and dealing with all the potential headaches that might be associated with that. Server issues, corrupt files, updates…ugh. I am a designer who hates to dabble in code so I was very pleasantly relieved when I realized how stable the PhotoStore platform was. I’ve since upgraded to version 4 and I couldn’t be any happier – everything runs smoothly and exactly as it should so I never have to spend time tinkering with annoying technical issues. And even if I do run into a problem, the ongoing support they offer is top-notch. I’m a customer for life.

Sketchbook Pro

As I developed the hand/eye coordination to use my Wacom tablet, I grew more and more excited about rekindling an old passion of mine: drawing cars. I quickly found Photoshop to be too clunky for free and loose sketching, and that led me to SketchBook Pro by Autodesk. It was exactly what I was looking for in a drawing tool: a simple and clean interface, the ability to switch between pens and pencils quickly, super-fast brush size changes, and the ability to freely rotate the canvas as I worked.

Although I don’t post any of my sketches here on my blog, I’m trying to draw by hand as much as possible. Just seeing the app icon for SketchBook Pro sitting in the dock at the bottom of my screen every day has been an inspiring reminder for me to step away from the technical 3d stuff whenever possible and get back to my roots (drawing by hand).

FormZ

I’ve been a FormZ user since 1999, and I’ve grown to love it’s simplicity and ease of use for creating rich 3d content. It doesn’t get much love and attention from others in the 3d world (outside the architecture realm), but I’ve found it to be one of the tools I depend on the most in my day to day activities.

Even though I recently mentioned that I want to be using Maya as much as possible to create images for my Royalty-Free image collection, I’m starting to realize that might not be as realistic as I had hoped. Maya is incredibly powerful, and offers an awesome assortment of tools for building complex models. But the downside is that rendering times are often too long for high-volume production work. And that’s where FormZ shines.

FormZ is a powerful 3d modeling program without all the nauseating complexity that you’d find elsewhere (like Maya), and that allows me to create 3d content quickly (from rough geometry to final rendering) without much fuss.

The fastest computer I can afford

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this business, it’s that time is a valuable thing. Clients tend to demand things as fast as possible, and I like to move fast so that I can have more personal free time to do the things I want to do. Since I spend all day in front of a computer, it behooves me to be using hardware that can keep a fast pace and won’t leave me sitting and waiting for it to catch up.

That may seem like common sense, but for years I had a hard time justifying the cost of a powerful computer built for heavy visual design work. I’ve always been a bit of a tightwad, and the thought of spending a ton of money on hardware that would be obsolete in six months sent shudders up an down my spine. But two years ago, while working with a very complex 3d model that was bringing my years-old iMac to it’s knees, I decided enough was enough and went big on a beefy multi-processor Mac Pro. It was some of the best money I’ve ever spent in my life. Lesson learned.

Because I’m a sucker for hot new technology, I am always on the lookout for products that I think will allow me to grow as a designer. The list above is what I consider to be my “core” toolset – likely to always be there out of familiarity and alignment with my own design process. I am sure the list will keep growing as I advance in my career, but for now, I’d be lost without any of them.

How about you? I’m curious what other designers consider to be part of their core toolset, so please leave a comment and let me know!

soap box illustration

Are you totally sick and tired reading about me gushing over Maya yet? 2 out of my last 3 posts deal with my recent (er, ongoing) transition to this new modeling software and I’m here once again to let you know that still loving every minute of it. Mostly – though I’m not going to lie when I say it can be frustrating at times.

Most of that frustration has come from trying to figure out how I can keep using all of the 3d models I’ve built in FormZ over the years. Before I started using Maya, it scared me to death that all that work I’ve done over the past 8 years might be rendered obsolete by switching 3d platforms. You’ve probably noticed that I reuse a lot of my existing content to create new illustrations for my royalty-free stock image collection, and the thought of not being able to use any of that content anymore was keeping me up at night. Of course I still (and always will) have a licensed copy of FormZ in my creative arsenal, but that’s not the point – I want to do the bulk of my work in Maya from this point forward and reverting back to FormZ to create my stock illustrations is not what I want to be doing.

That said, figuring out how to import .fmz files into Maya has been a high priority for me. Early attempts were not good – Maya doesn’t like smoothed solid geometry very much, and simply exporting generating an OBJ file and then trying to import didn’t work well at all. A lot of geometry ended up getting lost in the translation, and the parts that did make it were often broken beyond repair. I was frustrated, but the optimist in me knew that there had to be a way.

It took me a long time of old-fashioned trial and error to find the best method of exporting solids-based smooth 3d models from FormZ to Maya, and I’m happy to report that I found a workable solution. To show you how that works, let me take you through the steps using my soap box 3d model as an example:

Step 1:  Prepare your model for export

In FormZ, open the 3d model you wish to export and delete all the lights, cameras (views), and unused shaders. It’s also smart to delete any geometry that is unrelated to the model you wish to export.

wireframe mesh

All unnecessary components (lights, views, unused shaders, etc) have been deleted in FormZ. Only the mesh wireframe remains.

Step 2: Export to DXF

Once you’ve deleted all of that unnecessary data, go to File > Export and select DXF. You would think that a more common format like OBJ would work better, but trust me on this – I tried them all and DXF works the best. Give it any name you like and save it anywhere – it doesn’t matter.

Once you press Save, a popup window will appear presenting you with a series of options for exporting to DXF format. The settings I typically use are as follows:

DXF export settings

DXF export settings in FormZ

You can choose whatever you prefer for Units, as well as the Grouping Method. It just depends on how you like to work.

Step 3: Import into Maya

Jump over to Maya and go to File > Import and choose your DXF file you just created. I should mention that you can import 3d content into an existing scene if you’d like, but I like to import models into an empty scene so that I can quickly identify and fix any issues that may come up.

import dxf file into maya

Navigate to where you stored your DXF file, select it, then press Import

Step 4: Cleaning up your model within Maya

It will take a few seconds for Maya to process the DXF file (especially if it’s a complex model) so don’t worry if it takes a bit of time. But once it’s finished, you will probably get something that looks like this:

reversed normals

Imported model with reversed normals

That doesn’t look all that great, does it? Yes, it appears that the entire model imported correctly, but there are obviously issues with the some of the geometry. Some parts look ok, but other parts are black. Once again, no need to worry! The problem is that the normals on those surfaces need to be reversed, and it’s an easy thing to fix:

A. Select all of your geometry

All geometry selected

All geometry selected

B. Go to Modify > Convert > NURBS to polygons

converting NURBS to polygons in maya

NURBS surfaces need to be converted to polygons

This is what the resulting mesh should look like.

Resulting polygon mesh

Resulting polygon mesh after the conversion

Note that you can select how dense you want the polygon mesh to be in the options panel before you actually do the conversion. For the sake of simplicity, I just went with the default settings.

C. Before reversing the normals, we need to delete the old NURBS surfaces.

The best way of doing that is by going to the Show menu and turning off all the geometry EXCEPT for the NURBS surfaces. Once only those surfaces are exposed, select them all and delete (or save them to another layer if you want to keep them).

Using the Show menu to hide all geometry

Using the Show menu to hide all geometry except for the NURBS surfaces

D. Reverse the normals

Once you delete the NURBS surfaces, go back to the Show menu and turn on all the geometry (the way it was before you turned them off). You should be left only with polygons at this point, so you can select all the black pieces individually or all at once and reverse the normals by going to Normals > Reverse.

Reversing the normals

Reversing the normals

Once that is complete, all of your geometry should look uniform and clean – just like this:

All normals reversed

All normals reversed and ready for texturing

Of course every model will be different, but of all the FormZ to Maya file conversions I’ve done so far, the reversed normals issue is the biggest problem. It did take me a while to figure out that I had to convert to polygons first (hey, I’m still a noob) but I’m feeling much better about my archive of FormZ models that will live on for years to come in Maya.