Latest Commission: Meet the New Altaira

Forbidden Planet Art Commission

This is BY FAR the most difficult art commission I’ve ever done so far: My friend Paul Kimball texted me by the end of February, asking for a portrait of his lively friend Veronica portrayed as Altaira, the sexy space girl played by Anne Francis from the classic B-movie Forbidden Planet. He basically wanted the recreation of this black and white photograph but with an alien planet on the background:

A reference photo of Veronica

“Doable?” Paul asked.

“Sure thing” I naively replied.

Oh boy…

As always, I strove to make the best job I possibly could. I wanted to somehow copy the kitschy vibe of the original 1956 movie poster, which implied the use of garish colors like green skies and violet mountains.

Forbidden Planet movie poster

As always, I took the opportunity to experiment with all sorts of brushes and techniques. I used pastel brushes for the terrain to make it soft and sandy-like, and then I chose a digital paint brush for the mountains, so they would look as if they had been painted with acrylics or oil painting –digital paint brushes are very tricky because they are designed to simulate how the load of paint realistically moves and combines with other colors in the canvas. One of the hardest things was to try and understand how light would behave if you were illuminated on a green sky –I did want to retain some level of realism, especially on Robbie and Altaira’s dress.

Not sure if this is the original Robbie or a replica, but this image was a very helpful reference, even though I chose not to give my Robbie such a highly polished texture. I chose instead a more rugged look achieved thanks to the use of the ‘dusty airbrush’ found in the Autodesk Skectchbook app.

One thing I discovered is how useful the ‘dusty airbrush” can be in order to give nice textures. I not only used it for Robbie’s highlights and Veronica’s silvery dress, but also on the highlights of the skin. I also wanted to experiment with digital brushes for the body and face, but after I had spent too many hours finishing the landscape and the robot, I decided to ‘play it safe’ and use one of my favorite brushes instead –one that gives you a very soft and textured look, and almost behaves like a colored pencil, which makes it far more easy to control. I also chose Veronica’s skin not to be too influenced by my alien planet’s green atmosphere, for pleasing aesthetic reasons –ever noticed how people look like zombies inside offices illuminated by overhead neon lights?

I also wanted to give the parts of her dress that are not silky/silvery the appearance of thin linen. I found a good reference color photo of Anne Francis and deduced the costume designers had chosen a fabric very close to her pale skin complexion, so it would look as if Altaira’s dress was very seductive and almost translucent –I imagined the censor board back then would have objected for an actual transparent dress!– so I followed the same logic. I also combined the color of the legs on top of the fabric with one of the blending filters, soft erasing the top, and finally I also slightly erased the portion of the skirt that’s not behind the legs, in order to give that nice, thin quality.

And finally, when I was done with the background, the robot and my main character, I decided to throw in a ringed planet for extra ‘alienness’. Again, instead of the unrealistic garishness of the original movie poster, I chose for a more realistic approach and paid attention on how the atmosphere would make a nearby planet look. Like in the image below:

I confess that during the middle of the process I was stressed out of my mind, especially when I looked at all the things I still needed to complete. I also ran into a few problems because I ran out of layers with the Sketchbook Android app, and was trying not to fuse the ones I was using for the shades of the main figures, because I’ve noticed that oftentimes the ‘Linear Subexposition’ filter I use so much (I prefer it over Color Subexposition and Multiply) tends to ruin the edges of my figures once you fuse them with the main layer underneath –not sure if this is a bug in the Autodesk app or just an unavoidable disadvantage of the filter itself. It’s always a pain in the ass when you need to decide which layer you can discard in order to create a new one (sorry if all these technical details bother you, but I want to include them in case other digital artists get to read these entries).

So to wrap things up and make a long story short, after MAAAAAAAANY hours and sweat, I finished the piece and sent it to Paul, who then sent it to Veronica as a gift. I am happy to report they were both very pleased with my work 🙂


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