Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Original Pop Art Paintings: Half-Life 2 and Hitchcock

These two original paintings are my depictions of Mass Popular Culture as Art.

Join the Rebellion on a 24" x 24" gallery wrapped canvas
Exhibited April 25 - Aug. 2, 2008 at JOG Gallery 
723 Chestnut St. 4th Floor Philadelphia:
The Effect: A Big Pop Art Exhibit” Mixed media on 24" x 24" gallery wrapped canvas. 

Why did I paint Half-Life 2 to represent mass popular culture?

Because it is one of the best first-person shooters ever made and I believe it is a great representation of  video games. An article called Half-Life 2: 10 Reasons It’s Still The Best First-Person Shooter Ever on best explains some of the reasons it still reigns:

  • Gordon Freeman is the most enigmatic character in the world of art and media that never utters a single word.
  • Learning to tame the Antlions from Vortigon
  • Physics; Half-Life 2 is a beautiful world with textures and animations that are natural and seamless make the video game timeless.
  • The Gravity Gun: "Pick stuff up, fling it full- pelt at enemies and become a master of your environment and its physics, what can be better than that?"
  • The grim, dystopian fate of humanity that builds tension as you are constantly confronted with the Orwellian messages of the Combine
  • The narrative and gameplay are like no other first-person shooter because they slowly build as you become more and more immersed.
  • Ravenholm is a dark place that is brimming with horror and you feel so much relief as you see the light at the end of that mine shaft.
  • Alyx Vance is a genuinely charming video game character and a good friend to you on your adventure.
  • The content. This is a great story.
  • The Source Game Engine. Like it's name, it is the Source of all the greatness in this world.

Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window 18" x 24" canvas with ornate frame
Starring Grace Kelly and Jimmy Stewart

Rear Window is often considered one of the best movies of all time, and I will agree. I believe this 1954 movie is one of Hitchcock's finest. It is a psychological thriller that grabs the audience because Hitchcock makes us an accomplice to Stewart's voyeurism. The movie explores our fascination with people watching and the mysteries that can ensue when we draw conclusions... especially when there is a murder involved.

These paintings represent my love for fine art and digital art. As an artist who works in both mediums I do not draw a line between them. I believe an artist can achieve artful mastery of digital techniques like 3D modeling, graphic design and game design. However, when I am painting there is a different kind of focus. There is an effortlessness when the media touches canvas that comes from my soul. Therefore, I have combined the two mediums often through out my career.

One day I hope to paint my next Pop Art masterpiece of the classic movie, Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Orange Energy Chamber and Boss Enemy

Today I am unveiling a glimpse of the Orange Energy Chamber from my current game project. 

Below is concept art for the Orange Energy Chamber. Can you guess which tool will solve this riddle?

Also below are animations illustrating some enemies and allies. In each level there will be different enemies with different AI and different behaviors. 

The Bugbot animation below is showing a concept of a Boss Enemy that guards tools in each Energy Chamber. As the player advances in levels the Bugbot will morph into a svelte, aerodynamic, killing machine that the Shotbot must battle.

Orange Energy Chamber
(Please click to enlarge)

(Please click to enlarge)

A PowerUp
(Please click to enlarge)

An Enemy
(Please click to enlarge)

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Headset On Sale 2016 And The Possibilities!

Photo original
The Rift Kickstarter
In August of 2012 The Oculus Rift virtual reality headset was successfully launched on Kickstarter.

As almost everyone knows, Oculus VR, the company that makes The Rift, has taken an incredible journey from a maverick homegrown project to a multi-hundred million dollar juggernaut after being purchased by Facebook in 2014. 

A first look at what the world can expect in Q1 2016.

Now, it appears that the massive investment in providing the company with more brainpower and hardware is paying off. Last week, it was announced that the Oculus Rift will go on sale in 2016 and pre-orders will kick off later this year! After years of only the "development kit" prototype headset being available, a true consumer grade model is actually on the horizon. I plan to pre-order the device because I am excited about the possibilities of combining the Oculus Rift with the Unity Game Engine.

The top 12 virtual reality movies of the 1990s
We were promised "virtual reality" in the 1990s, but the technology just wasn't ready at the time. Poorly implemented headsets, rudimentary graphics, and slow computers made for bad experiences that turned off consumers to the idea of virtual reality, and the concept was shelved for decades.

Now, the industry as a whole and Oculus VR, in particular, is keenly aware of this and they don't want to make the same mistake twice by rolling out a half-baked device.  I am optimistic about The Rift when I see so much excitement and so many industry heavyweights (like John Carmack of Id fame) endorsing the product and saying that this is the real deal.

Beyond the obvious impact on the gaming industry, some other exciting potential applications of the technology include things like:

Controlling Robots

By combining Oculus Rift with the Kinect camera motion tracker researches in NASA made a system allowing for control of a robotic limb by using the motion of the operator's own limbs. According to Gamespot, this system is intended to be used to operate rovers on mars with the Oculus Rift displaying the environment in 3D.

NASA also wants to use a similar setup to control "Robonaut 2" on the Space Station. This robot is designed to work along side humans in space.

Virtual Reality Simulation

When Facebook bought Oculus VR, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had more uses than just gaming in mind for Oculus experiences. According to Live Science Zuckerberg said, "Imagine enjoying a court side seat at a game, studying in a classroom of students and teachers all over the world or consulting with a doctor face-to-face — just by putting on goggles in your home."

Or imagine learning how to pilot a plane with virtual reality Flight Simulation. Here is a video demonstrating Mike Aker's plug-in software for Oculus Rift that make the goggles fully compatible with the X-Plane flight simulator:

EON Sports is revolutionizing the training process for football players by using Virtual Reality to help players get better:

Guided Visualization

3D Interactive Kitchen Design
I have long since used Unity game engine for Architectural Visualization. My clients love being able to walk through spaces before they are built and being able to make informed decisions about the design of their spaces. Click here to see a kitchen interior design that I brought into Unity game engine so that the client could walk through it during the design process. Here is a link to a trade show booth design that I brought into Unity game engine so that the client could walk around in it during the design process.

However, I think the most powerful use for visualization is in medicine. According to the Academy for Guided Imagery using medical visualization can help alleviate symptoms, stimulate healing responses in the body, modify health endangering behaviors, and provide effective motivation for making positive life changes.

Apparently, imagery is the world's oldest and most powerful healing resource, and now some companies are tapping into the transportive ability of virtual reality to help us de-stress and find better health.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Blue Energy Chamber

Tonight on my blog I am unveiling a glimpse of the Blue Energy Chamber from my current game project. 

Below is concept art for the Blue Energy Chamber.

Also below is an animation illustrating some of the Tools that you will need to discover during exploration of the game environment. These Tools are necessary to solve the puzzles in the Energy Chambers. 

While exploring the environment you will have manual control over the Shotbot such as barrel rolls and increased special moves as you advance. 

Blue Energy Chamber 
(Please click to enlarge)

(Please click to enlarge)

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Turquoise Energy Chamber

Tonight on my blog I am unveiling a glimpse of the Turquoise Energy Chamber from my current game project. The game is a Star Fox inspired 3D shooter except not on rails because it is open world with exploration. 

To solve some of the riddles in the Energy Chambers you will need special "tools" that you must discover through your exploration.

Below is concept art for the Turquoise Energy Chamber and animations of the Shotbot exploring an early game environment.

Turquoise Energy Chamber 
(Please click to enlarge)

Shotbot exploring an early game environment
(Please click to enlarge)

Shotbot exploring an early game environment
(Please click to enlarge)

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Green Energy Chamber: Sneak Peak at My Magnum Opus

Drum roll please...

Tonight on my blog I am unveiling a glimpse of what I have been tirelessly working on with a  small team of people since August 2014. It is a third person "space-type" shooter video game. However, this game does not take place in outer-space.

There is more meaning to this game than I will communicate today, but I will delve deeper in future posts. 

For the next few posts I am going to share
  • 1 piece of concept art 
  • 1 animated GIF made from early 3D modeling footage 

Each level has a meaningful riddle to solve in a place called an
Energy Chamber.

Below is concept art for the Green Energy Chamber.

Green Energy Chamber 
(Please click to enlarge)

Technical Drawings of the Shotbot
(Please click to enlarge)

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Welcome to the Uncanny Valley... or not?

The uncanny valley is the theory that when we see artificial traits that do not look exactly natural we feel distaste or aversion. This idea applies to examples created in the field of robotics and computer-generated imagery (CGI). 

The reason this theory is called the uncanny valley is because when the data is illustrated the graph plunges downward where data indicates observers feel uneasy looking at the artificial subject.

Here is the graph illustrated by yours truly with images that I think correspond with the graph:

According to Wikipedia a number of films that use CGI to create characters have been described by reviewers as giving a feeling of "creepiness" as a result of the characters looking too realistic.

Polar Express characters
Wikipedia: reviewer Paul Clinton wrote,
 "Those human characters in the film come across as downright... well, creepy..."

However, the 2011 animated movie, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, got great reviews even though it is CGI. Wired Magazine wrote that the film "passed beyond the uncanny valley into the plain of hyperreality."

Praised by reviewers for avoiding the uncanny valley

According to Wikipedia good design can lift CGI entities out of the uncanny valley by adding cartoonish features to the entities that had formerly fallen into the valley. 

David Hanson, a robotics designer, has shown that the uncanny valley can be flattened out by adding cartoonish features to the entities that had formerly fallen into the valley.

Following is a link to an article that explains how Expressive face helps robot bridge 'uncanny valley'.

I don't know, I think her movement looks a little weird.
I do not get uneasy from the action figure of War Machine (image from

War Machine Joins The Age Of Ultron Merchandise Party
This image from shows how artificial the figure is but I do not feel uneasy.

Some people claim the Uncanny Valley does not exist. I would agree that 2D static images do not make me feel uneasy. Instead, I think the uncanny valley happens sometimes when artificial traits are animated. 

For example, I remember seeing the movie Clash of the Titans for the first time as a child and being a bit freaked out by the character of Calibos. I now understand my reaction to Calibos must have belonged in the uncanny valley:

As a kid the stop-motion animated character of Calibos
from Clash of the Titans freaked me out.

However, I am not creeped out by the animated CGI in Tom Clancy's The Division Video Game Trailer even though their CGI may be pushing the line. Below are three examples where the CGI may be pushing the uncanny line but I do not feel disturbed. 

Am I not disturbed by the image of War Machine and Tom Clancy's Characters because they are so real? Is it because their faces are expressive?

2:40 in Tom Clancy's The Division Video Game Trailer

3:07 in Tom Clancy's The Division Video Game Trailer

3:48 in Tom Clancy's The Division Video Game Trailer

Tom Clancy's The Division Video Game Trailer

Interestingly, according to Wikipedia the uncanny valley may be generational. Younger generations, more used to CGI, and robots may be less likely to be affected by this hypothesized issue.

Do you think there is an uncanny valley? Do you feel an aversion to some of this CGI?

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Gaming Can Make a Better World

Epic Win
Transcript from video below: 
"This picture [above] pretty much sums up why I think games are so essential to the future survival of the human species... This is a portrait by a photographer named Phil Toledano. He wanted to capture the emotion of gaming, so he set up a camera in front of gamers while they were playing. And this is a classic gaming emotion... This is a gamer who is on the verge of something called an epic win... An epic win is an outcome that is so extraordinarily positive you had no idea it was even possible until you achieved it. It was almost beyond the threshold of imagination. And when you get there you are shocked to discover what you are truly capable of. That is an epic win. This is a gamer on the verge of an epic win. And this is the face that we need to see on millions of problem-solvers all over the world as we try to tackle the obstacles of the next century -- the face of someone who, against all odds is on the verge of an epic win."

Games like World of Warcraft give players the means to save worlds, and incentive to learn the habits of heroes. What if we could harness this gamer power to solve real-world problems? Jane McGonigal says we can, and explains how.


Jane McGonigal asks: Why doesn't the real world work more like an online game? In the best-designed games, our human experience is optimized: We have important work to do, we're surrounded by potential collaborators, and we learn quickly and in a low-risk environment. In her work as a game designer, she creates games that use mobile and digital technologies to turn everyday spaces into playing fields, and everyday people into teammates. Her game-world insights can explain--and improve--the way we learn, work, solve problems, and lead our real lives. She served as the director of game R&D at the Institute for the Future, and she is the founder of Gameful, which she describes as "a secret headquarters for worldchanging game developers."

Several years ago she suffered a serious concussion, and she created a multiplayer game to get through it, opening it up to anyone to play. In “Superbetter,” players set a goal (health or wellness) and invite others to play with them--and to keep them on track. While most games, and most videogames, have traditionally been about winning, we are now seeing increasing collaboration and games played together to solve problems.

Jane McGonigal

Game Designer Profile

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Three Castles Award: Excellence in RPG Design

I am proud to say that I designed the The Three Castles Award. This award is for true excellence in RPG design and it is given out each year at the North Texas RPG Convention (NTRPGCon). The NTRPG Con focuses on old-school Dungeons & Dragons gaming as well as any pre-1999 type of RPG produced by the classic gaming companies of the 70s and 80s.

Rob Kuntz was responsible for the original idea and development of the award (his blog). Rob is a game designer and author of role-playing game publications. As a D&D player, Rob developed the famous character of Robilar, and because of Rob's imaginative play of this character Gary Gygax"the father of roll playing games" awarded him co-Dungeon Master status for Gygax's original Greyhawk home campaign. 

Rob first started the development of the award by commissioning a 2D artist to draw standard views of the three castles used in D&D's play-test, 1972-1973: BlackmoorGreyhawk and El Raja Key. Then he contacted me to take the drawings and put them into a 3D design of the award. I sketched out ideas and emailed them to him:

Rob told me to move forward with the dragon on a mountain design and he gave me many specifics about the final design. I then modeled out the design and created technical drawings from many angles so that the award could be sculpted. Below are my technical drawings and render.

Then Rob approved the design and NTRPGCon had the sculpture made:

Last Year's Winner:

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Beagle Character Design Process: Big ears or small?

First, I took photos of my own beautiful beagle. I tried to get her from several angles and really study her shape. One thing I love about beagles is their big huge beagle ears! So when I started sketching I found myself enhancing her ears and exaggerating her eyes... and then her whole beagle head started to enlarge in my sketches!

Immortalized as Game Hero
After I sketched my real beagle, I decided on the proportions for the character beagle and drew technical drawings of it from the front and side. This is called a character model sheet.

I brought the technical drawings into Autodesk 3ds Max and "traced" the drawings in 3D from all angles. I typically model just half the body and then use what is called a "symmetry modifier" that will create a mirror image to complete the model.
Once I was happy with the model, I then "unwrapped" it so I could texture. This means that I basically flattened the 3D model as if flattening a box or unwrapping a gift. After that, I took my photos of my beagle and made textures in Photoshop.
The textures look great on the model, however, I cannot decide if the beagle character should have big beagle ears or not.
Big Ears   Small Ears
Then, in order to really assess how I want the beagle's ears to look, I cropped the small ears even more and brought both models into a game engine. This way I could walk around the character, interact with it and see it from the player's perspective.
Since this is just a development build, this model will go through several more iterations and then I will create a low-poly model to optimize for the game engine!
So, what do you think? Big ears or small?