Three Examples Of How To Take Inspiration Properly

Well, although I’ve already talked about how to take artistic inspiration before, I thought that I’d look at it from a slightly different angle today. This is mostly because taking inspiration properly usually involves creatively “reverse engineering” things that you’ve seen, albeit in a very specific way.

It means seeing something and then breaking it down into it’s generic non-copyrightable elements (although I’m not a copyright lawyer, it is a general princple that “you cannot copyright an idea” [eg: copyright only covers highly-specific details]). Then, after you’ve done this, finding a way to use those generic elements in a new and original way.

But, if you haven’t done this before, then it can be difficult to know what to do. So, I thought that I’d provide a few examples of the process by looking at three images from various films/ games/TV shows, then commenting on and reviewing the generic features of each image and then creating a quick piece of original “inspired by” digital art that includes those generic features.

But, before I go any further, I should point out that you really should HAVE MULTIPLE INSPIRATIONS! I cannot emphasise this enough! Although I’ll only be (mostly) taking inspiration from one thing in each example, the more inspirations you have (and the more different they are), the more original and interesting your work will be.

Example 1: “Ghost In The Shell” (2017)

This is a screenshot from “Ghost In The Shell” (2017 Remake). Let’s break it down into it’s generic elements.

This scene from “Ghost In The Shell” (2017) contains many features common to the cyberpunk genre, such as high-contrast lighting (eg: where the background is darker, so that the lights stand out more) and a dense urban setting. In addition to this, this scene of the film makes expert use of complementary colours – with a slight emphasis on red, green and blue lighting (echoing the colours used in computer monitors/display screens).

Plus, it also makes very clever use of composition and negative space too – by showing the film’s main character silhouetted in the close foreground. Compared to the riot of lights and colours in front of her, her dark silhouette stands out in a very distinctive way.

So, what are the generic elements here? They are a dense futuristic urban setting, high-contrast lighting, red/green/blue lighting and the clever use of silhouettes and negative space.

So, an original inspired painting that used these elements might look a little bit like this quick piece of digital art.

A piece of digital art that uses red/green/blue lighting, silhouettes & negative space and a dense futuristic urban setting. As you can see, it also looks nothing like the screenshot at the beginning of this example. This is also partly because I’ve also added general elements from both the horror genre and other cyberpunk works too. As I said earlier, more inspirations means more originality.

Example 2: “Resident Evil: Director’s Cut” (1997)

This is a screenshot from a horror game called “Resident Evil: Director’s Cut” (1997). Let’s break it down into it’s generic elements.

This screenshot from “Resident Evil: Director’s Cut” (1997) makes excellent use of composition and perspective in order to create an ominous sense of dread. The camera perches above the player, with a candelabra and a stag’s head in the close foreground to emphasise the height of the room. Likewise, the lighting in this room is fairly gloomy and the room itself looks slightly old and run-down. Again, this is done to create an atmosphere of dread.

So, what are the generic elements here? An overhead perspective, objects in the close foreground, gloomy lighting, an atmosphere of dread and old/disused locations.

So, an original inspired painting that used these elements might look a little bit like this quick piece of digital art (which was also inspired by another part of the game [involving a hole in the floor] and a couple of other games too).

A piece of digital art that uses an overhead perspective, includes objects in the close foreground, has gloomy lighting, involves old/disused locations and contains an atmosphere of dread. As you can see, it looks fairly different from the screenshot in this example. Again, I’ve used multiple inspirations – as well as taking inspiration from another part of “Resident Evil: Director’s Cut”, I’ve also taken inspiration from two other games- “Alone In The Dark” (1992) and “Hotline Miami” (2012).

Example 3: “Murder, She Wrote” (1984):

This is a screenshot from season 1, episode 4 of “Murder, She Wrote” (1984). Let’s break it down into it’s generic elements.

Although this scene isn’t really typical of the show, it provides a stunning visual spectacle. Bright neon lights are contrasted against ominous gloom, with the garish neon lights contrasting irreverently with the sombre seriousness of the graveyard. The character in the foreground looks instantly “1980s”, thanks to the show’s costume and make-up department. And the open gates in the close foreground beckon the audience closer.

So, what are the generic elements here? 1980s-style fashions/hairstyles, neon lighting, the theme of death, an intriguing composition and a slight degree of irreverence.

So, an original inspired painting that used these elements might look a little bit like this quick piece of digital art.

A piece of digital art that includes 1980s fashions/hairstyles, neon lighting, the theme of death and a slight degree of irreverence. As you can see, it looks very different to the screenshot in the example. Like with the other pieces of digital art, I’ve also taken inspiration from other things too – such as gothic art, the music videos for a band called “Creeper”, the cyberpunk genre and other 1980s-style things.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

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Today’s Art (20th May 2018)

Well, this digitally-edited painting was kind of random and slightly uninspired. Still, it gave me a chance to practice painting distant backgrounds and adding more realistic shadows/shading to my art with digital tools.

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“At The Ruins” By C. A. Brown

Review: “Ghost In The Shell (2017 Remake)” (Film)

Well, I thought that I’d review last year’s remake of “Ghost In The Shell” because – the day before I originally prepared the first draft of this review- I got a copy of it on DVD as a birthday present 🙂

Surprisingly though, I only really watched a remastered version of the original 1995 version of “Ghost In The Shell” back in 2016, when I was going through (another) cyberpunk phase. Needless to say, I was impressed enough to end up watching almost all of “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex” on DVD, as well as both the second and third anime movies. So, yes, I’m a fan of the franchise.

Needless to say, when I first heard that Hollywood was remaking the original film, I was somewhat sceptical. Although I was amazed to hear about 1980s/90s-style cyberpunk films being made again, my scepticism was further enhanced by the fact that the remake had a 12A/PG-13 certificate upon it’s release. I was worried that it would be some kind of simplified Hollywood remake that would miss the point of the original films. Of course, as soon as I started watching it, I realised that I was wrong about this.

So, that said, let’s take a look at “Ghost In The Shell (2017)”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS for both the remake and the anime film that it is based on.

The UK DVD release also has a really cool-looking reflective sleeve too.

“Ghost In The Shell (2017)” is set in a future where cybernetic enhancement of humans is common. However, a government-funded company called Hanka Robotics wants to take this even further by transplanting a human brain into a cybernetic body. They try this technique out on an orphaned refugee called Mira who it is said has drowned. The transplant is a success.

A year later, Mira is a Major in the elite “Section 9” counter-terrorism unit. However, following a mission to prevent the assassination of the president of Hanka robotics, the Major comes into contact with a mysterious cyber-terrorist called Kuze whilst analysing one of the hacked robots from the crime scene. Needless to say, she begins to investigate…..

And, yes, this is slightly more of an action movie than a detective movie.

One of the very first things that I will say about this film is that it isn’t an exact remake of the original anime. Stylistically and narratively, it is very much it’s own thing.

But, this is hardly a bad thing. Although there are a few homages to scenes from the original anime, this film tells a somewhat different story – which is still just about within the traditions of the series (if anything, it’s probably a tiny bit closer to “Ghost In The Shell II: Innocence” and “Ghost In The Shell: Solid State Society” though).

For example, this scene is fairly close to the original anime, even if the film’s main story diverges somewhat.

In short, the film focuses a lot more on the Major and her history. An important theme in the film is whether our memories define who we are and, like in “Blade Runner“, there’s also a sub-plot about artificial memories too. Whilst this works as a homage to “Blade Runner” it is also in keeping with the themes of the original anime and also slightly topical in this age of fake news etc… too.

This focus on the Major also allows for much deeper characterisation than in the original anime. However, this comes at the expense of the characterisation of the other characters. Even so, we still get to – for example – learn why Batou has artificial eyes. But, the team-based storytelling that is so key to the original films and TV episodes is missing somewhat here. But, this allows the film to be a much more focused thriller in some ways though.

Yes, Togusa still has his Mateba revolver. Although there’s no explanation for it here, and we only see it for a couple of seconds.

Batou still has his pet beagle, although the beagle only appears in a couple of scenes.

Still, this focus works. In an age where Hollywood films can be bloated things that can drag on for two hours or more, the fact that this film has a relatively slender 103 minute running time (at least five minutes of which is taken up by the end credits) helps to keep it focused and compelling. Yes, the pace isn’t as “relaxed” as the average cyberpunk film – but it’s hardly an “action for the sake of action” film either.

And, yet, although this film contains more action than the original anime, it’s still very much in keeping with the tone of the series. Although this is an action movie, it isn’t a mindless superhero-style action movie. There’s still some philosophical and/or science fiction stuff going on within the film.

However, since the film is very much about the Major’s quest for self-understanding, the philosophical issues in the film aren’t explored in quite the depth that they could have been. Still, they’re still there, which is reassuring.

Yes, there’s actually some serious character-based drama here, rather than just a series of mindless gunfights.

However, one slight change between the Hollywood remake and the original film is that some of the main characters seem a little bit more vindictive. This mostly takes the form of several members of Section 9 occasionally summarily executing disarmed criminals/terrorists, rather than arresting them. Whilst this is no doubt meant to be a depiction of how dystopian the futuristic setting of the film is, it perhaps adds a little too much moral ambiguity to otherwise sympathetic characters. Especially since these scenes are often presented in a slightly “badass” kind of way.

When the film originally came out, there was some online controversy about the fact that the Major was being played by Scarlett Johansson (since, in the original anime, the Major is Japanese).

Whilst the idea of the Major’s cybernetic body looking significantly different to her brain is very much in keeping with the themes of the series (and the ending of the original anime film too), it still caused a lot of internet controversy in America and Europe (although it was apparently much less controversial in Japan).

But, controversies aside, the cast is a lot more international in this film than in the original anime. Plus, one cool thing about this film is that people realistically speak different languages (with subtitles for the audience and, presumably, translation software for the characters) rather than the typical Hollywood thing of everyone just speaking English.

Best of all, despite the “12” certificate, the film still thankfully manages to retain a fair amount of the grittiness and uncanny psychological horror that made the original films so good. The robots and robotic elements of the film all look suitably creepy and, although a lot of the action scenes are eerily bloodless, they still manage to be surprisingly intense too.

Despite the relative lack of blood, the fight scenes still seem appropriately impactful and dramatic.

Likewise, there’s still some creepy robot-related stuff here. Albeit not to the extent of, say, “Ghost In The Shell II: Innocence”

Plus, the film also still – sort of – manages to show how realistic robots have affected people’s attitudes towards nudity in the future too. In other words, it’s absolutely no big deal whatsoever. I’m kind of surprised how much of this the Hollywood remake managed to keep – albeit with a few slight “robotic body suit” changes in order to stay on the right side of the censors. But, even this works really well – since it ensures that the robot nudity is “functional” (rather than comedic or titillating), which is much more in keeping with the spirit of the original films.

In terms of set design, lighting design and costume design, this film is outstanding!

In addition to taking influence from the original anime, the set designs and lighting here also take a lot of influence from “Blade Runner” 🙂 Not only that, they’re also their own unique thing too – with brightly-coloured holograms and some truly outstanding lighting. Seriously, anyone who has seen some of the art I’ve posted here will know, “colourful cyberpunk” is my favourite type of cyberpunk 🙂

Seriously, this street looks really awesome 🙂

Seriously, this is both it’s own thing and a homage to “Blade Runner” 🙂

And, even the background characters here have a slight “Blade Runner” look (eg: the transparent jackets etc..)

In addition to this, the setting has a fairly Hong Kong-like “look”, in a similar way to the original film. Plus, whoever designed the sets obviously took some inspiration from Kowloon Walled City too.

As well as Kowloon Walled City, this also reminds me a little bit of an awesome film from 2012 called “Dredd” too.

Likewise, the costume design here is surprisingly good too. Not only does it take a bit of influence from “Blade Runner” (with regard to the background characters), but it also manages to be both “realistic” and “futuristic” at the same time.

For example, one of the most interesting costume designs in the film is probably the strange cagoule/trenchcoat/biker jacket hybrid that the Major wears at the beginning and end of the film. Seriously, it looks really cyberpunk in both an 1980s-style way and a modern way.

Seriously, this outfit manages to look both retro and futuristic at the same time.

Plus, like in any good cyberpunk film, the background characters often look at least slightly futuristic too 🙂

In terms of the music, it’s reasonably good. However, the only truly stand-out musical moment in the film is the fact that a version of the background music from the awesome Hong Kong montage in the original anime (which, sadly, isn’t included in the remake) plays during the end credits.

Even though the awesome montage scene (aside from this brief visual reference) doesn’t appear in the remake, the music appears in the credits.

All in all, on it’s own merits, this is a really good cyberpunk movie. It looks really cool, there’s some good characterisation, there’s a bit of intellectual depth and the pacing is reasonable good too. Yes, it isn’t as good as the original anime – but, for a Hollywood remake, I’m genuinely surprised at how good it is 🙂 It’s kind of like “Ghost In The Shell lite”, but this probably still makes it better than many modern movies.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four.

Today’s Art (19th May 2018)

Today’s digitally-edited painting was originally going to be a cyberpunk painting. However, about halfway through making it, I realised that it wasn’t going to turn out as well as I’d hoped. So, I took the rare step of abandoning it halfway through adding paint to it and starting a totally new painting. Since I happened to be listening to Cradle Of Filth’s “Darkly, Darkly, Venus Aversa” at the time, I realised that I was more in the mood for making some gothic/heavy metal-style art. And this painting was the result 🙂

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Upon The Rooftop” By C. A. Brown

Four Tips For Adding Some 1990s-Style Silliness To Your Story Or Comic

One of the endearingly nostalgic things about the media during the 1990s (TV shows and computer games especially) is that it wasn’t afraid to be completely and utterly silly at times.

This is one of the distinctive qualities of media from the decade and it was probably caused by a number of factors, such as the fact that the 1990s fell between the end of the Cold War and our current post-9/11 world, so the general mood was a bit more optimistic.

But, regardless of what caused it, media from the 1990s often has a certain joyous silliness to it that modern media often lacks. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips about how to add some 90s-style silliness to your prose fiction and/or comic projects.

1) Focus on some other element and work backwards: Technical limitations aside, one of the reasons why computer games from the early-mid 1990s were often so gleefully nonsensical was because the story was often something of an afterthought.

Usually, the designers would focus on coming up with a fun game and then add the story at a later point. This, of course, led to some hilariously random – but extremely fun – games.

This is a screenshot of a 2D platform game from 1993 called “Bio Menace”. This scene involves climbing a giant tree and fighting slime monsters, sentient balls of fur etc…. Yes, games were a bit more random in the 90s, since fun gameplay took priority over storytelling.

Even more “serious” games from the time, like “Doom II” (1994) [pictured], would often be considered somewhat “random” or “silly” by today’s standards. Again, this is because the designers primarily focused on fun gameplay, rather than storytelling.

So, one way to replicate this silly randomness in your story or comic is to come up with an interesting idea, find a totally random subject and/or come up with a silly gimmick. Then, once you’ve done this, try to see if you can work backwards and add a story to it. The main thing here is not to come up with the story idea first, but to find some other thing and then try to shoehorn a story into it.

2) Take a concept to the max: One trend that lent the 1990s some of it’s distinctive silliness was the fact that there were relatively fewer “serious” issues in the news. As such, if someone wanted to create a thrilling, scary and/or dramatic story, then what they would sometimes do would be to take some idea or concept (the more random and/or “ordinary”, the better) and then just take it to a ludicrous extreme in order to extract some melodrama from it.

A good example of this can be seen in a gloriously cheesy mid-late 1990s TV show called “Sliders“. This is a sci-fi show which revolves around the characters visiting a different parallel universe every episode. Often, these universes would be based on some idea or another being taken to a hilariously silly extreme.

For example, in this episode from season 1 of “Sliders” (1995), the main characters end up in a timeline where the American Revolution never happened. Even though it’s the mid-1990s (when the Spice Girls etc.. were popular in Britain) – everyone dresses like they’re from the 1950s, speaks in received pronunciation and drives old cars. There’s also a hilariously silly band of rebels and a few references to “Robin Hood” too.

So, one way to add some 90s-style silliness to your story or comic is just to find an ordinary idea (eg: try looking for some slightly “silly” stories in the newspaper. Yes, in an actual newspaper) and then just take it to some kind of silly extreme.

3) Assume your audience know less: Although people were no more or less intelligent during the 1990s than they are now, there was one crucial difference. The internet was a lot slower, a lot more expensive and a lot less widely-used than it is now. As such, the writers of mainstream things like TV shows couldn’t just assume that their audiences had instant access to all of humanity’s knowledge.

As such, things from the 1990s often tended to rely on much more “timeless” commonly-known references and source material. Likewise, sometimes, TV shows would occasionally spell things out to the audience that modern shows rightly assume that contemporary audiences already understand. This slightly patronising “stating the obvious” element often drains all seriousness from what the show is trying to say and turns it into unintentionally hilarious melodrama.

As great as “Star Trek: The Next Generation” is, this screenshot from the season 7 episode “Masks” (1994) provides an example of what I’m talking about. The characters state the obvious sometimes and the episode uses a lot of fairly generic Aztec-style settings.

So, one way to add some 90s-style silliness to your story or comic is simply to state the obvious a few times and to rely more on “timeless” cultural references – however hilariously incongruous they might be with something made in the present day.

4) Chaos and anarchy: One of the easiest ways to add some 1990s-style silliness to your story or comic is just to contrast some “ordinary” characters with some silly and/or chaotic characters.

There are at least two hilariously silly movies from the first two years of the 1990s that do precisely this. So, this type of comedy was obviously a bit of a trend back in the day.

This is a screenshot from “Gremlins 2: The New Batch” (1990). In this film, a state-of-the-art office block is taken over by anarchic, hedonistic Gremlin creatures, after the main characters’ pet creature Gizmo is accidentally fed after midnight. Hilarity ensues.

This is a screenshot from “Drop Dead Fred” (1991), a film where the main character’s childhood imaginary friend (Played by Rik Mayall) suddenly appears in her life again and causes all sorts of hilarious chaos.

This is something that isn’t really seen as often in the modern comedy genre, and it is kind of a follow-on from the comedy horror traditions of the 1980s (eg: movies like “Beetlejuice”, the original “Gremlins” and “Elvira: Mistress Of The Dark” also include elements of this). So, adding some anarchic slapstick humour (involving slightly weird characters) can be a good way to inject some 1990s-style silliness to your story or comic.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Today’s Art (18th May 2018)

Today’s 1990s-themed picture is actually a digitally-edited drawing, rather than a digitally-edited painting. This was mostly because I wanted to experiment with slightly more “realistic” art and with digital editing tools, but also had less time/inspiration/enthusiasm to do this. So, making a digitally-edited drawing (with the line art drawn by hand, but everything else added digitally) seemed like a good compromise.

Although I probably messed up the shading in this picture slightly, I still quite like how it turned out.

As usual, this picture is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Retro Moment” By C. A. Brown

Two Basic Ways To Use Reference Images When Making Art

If you don’t know what a reference image is, it is any image that an artist uses as a guide when making a different and original piece of art. It can be a photo in a magazine, something on the TV, the results of an online image search etc…

But, before I go any further, I should point out that reference images are NOT something that artists should copy directly! Generally speaking, most reference images are copyrighted. So, unless you own the copyright to the reference image, direct copying isn’t a good idea.

However, although they shouldn’t be copied directly, reference images can still be incredibly useful to artists. But, I should obviously point out that I’m not a copyright lawyer, so any of my comments about copyright shouldn’t be considered legal advice. So, do your own research!

1) Building up a “3D model”: If you are painting a real place or a type of animal or something like that, then it is important to remember that there’s often no rule against drawing or painting such things (Again, I’m not a lawyer, so do your research here – rules do vary from place to place.).

For example, in most jurisdisictions, actual real places can’t be copyrighted (although there are or were some silly exceptions, like – until relatively recently- the Atomium in Belgium or – potentially- the Eiffel tower at night).

However, each individual photograph, piece of footage etc.. of the thing in question is probably covered by copyright. You can’t directly copy, say, a random modern photo of London that you found on the internet. However, you can look at lots of different photos of that same part of London and use the information you’ve gained from them to build up a “3D model” of the location in your mind.

Then, when you aren’t looking at any reference images (to lessen the risk of inadvertant copying), you can then use the “3D model” as a basis for a new and original piece of art that looks different to any of the photos you’ve seen. You can use artistic licence, you can use a perspective that you think looks dramatic etc… The thing to remember here is that whilst individual photos of a place, animal etc… are often copyrighted, the actual things in those photos usually can’t be copyrighted.

For example, a photo of a shark you’ve found online is probably copyrighted. But, this doesn’t mean that no-one else can draw or photograph sharks. It just means that this one specific photo can’t be directly copied.

Of course, this gets a little bit more complicated when it involves – say- photos of a city that include lots of copyrighted art on billboards etc… (and it’s usually a good idea to change these and/or make them generic and indistinct in your art). But, on a basic level, using multiple reference images to build up a mental “3D model” of a location is a really good way to use references.

2) Learning general rules: If you want to make a particular style or genre of art, but have no clue how to do it, then try to find as many images of it as you can on the internet. Watch DVDs and Youtube videos that feature this style of art, read comics that include it and play any computer games that include it. Try to look at as many different example of it as time, money etc… permits.

As you are looking at all of these examples, see what they have in common with each other. Look at the colours, look at the style of lighting, look at the art styles, look for common themes and visual features etc…

For example, if you wanted to make some “film noir”-style art, then you might do an online image search for “film noir”.

This will, no doubt, show you lots of greyscale pictures of people in 1930s-50s style clothing, often in gloomily-lit urban locations. There will be clever use of shadows and silhouettes. There will often be a high level of visual storytelling (eg: people brandishing guns, couples kissing etc..) and the perspective will often heighten the drama in some way. There will be cigarettes, typewriters, whisky bottles, pistols, trench coats and trilby hats aplenty. Almost all of the windows will have blinds instead of curtains. I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea……

So, if you wanted to make some “film noir”-style art, then you could just make sure that your art includes some or all of the general elements in this list.

Once you’ve worked out a common set of “rules” that most pieces of art in a particular type follow, then it’s just a simple matter of following these rules when you make your next piece of original art.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂