Mechanika: Creating The Art Of Science Fiction With Doug Chiang (book review).

I should point out from the start that this book, ‘Mechanika: Creating The Art Of Science Fiction With Doug Chiang’, is the 2008 edition and that there is a revised edition available since then.

Doug Chiang has worked on two of the ‘Star Wars’ prequels and a lot of other films, winning awards along the way, so should know something about art. Through the five sections in this book, he shows how he draws and digitally enhances his artwork for many SF subjects. The last section shows how he incorporates everything into a background which isn’t always shown in these kinds of books.

Unusually, he likes to use grey as the colour of his main marker in laying out the strokes, finessing with a fine pen line on this so literally building out of a texture. He also keeps his marker pens in airtight bags and so probably prevents then drying out. I’m not so sure if that’s applicable in the UK but if you live in a drying atmosphere, something to consider. Although Chiang uses PhotoShop, it looks like more of his choices are available on cheaper software like PaintShop. He also uses post-it notes for quick scribbles which would save a lot of you from using larger paper. Oddly, although I suspect this is for only this edition, he does use a scanner there’s only one mention of whether he enlarged any of these to the scale of these to the final picture. Then again, it might depend on the size of the post-it paper.

I did have a further ponder on his use of grey marker as I read his book and see it as a great underlayer for machinery and transport. Relying on normal pencils and you are effectively using grey anyway. Although I’m less sure about using blueline pencil for drawing with because it isn’t supposed to scan in photocopiers or scanners unless you really raise the colour density, trying different colours has given me some thought, even if it means digging out my pastel pencils.

Although he shows how he draws things, there is some insight into structure, especially in machinery and transport that are universal. I like the way he observes our own type of machinery for swipes in the way of joints and so forth. After all, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just understand how to incorporate into the design.

With digital painting, it’s now properly sunk in how to use ‘dodge’ and ‘burn’ effectively. Lay the colour in, ‘burn’ can darken the colour, ‘dodge’ will lighten it. That should save looking for a slightly darker tone all the time.

Finally, at the back of the book, Chiang notes how long he worked on his sketches and final drawings and paintings which can vary from days to weeks. Bear that in mind when you’re doing your own work, it’s all a matter of working at the pace that suits you. I can tend to work in spurts but that is often because I have to find the time to fit the hours in. The gaps can also allow the sketches to mature before I turn to painting them.

There is also comment on how to present your various portfolios if you’re looking for work. Pay attention to this because it might raise your chances of getting a job.

As one of the ‘Star Wars’ designers, I suspect he will be of interest to some of you there. Bear in mind, his designs here aren’t taken from the film. He does display a lot of pointers that will probably have you reading this book more than once.

GF Willmetts

January 2018

(pub: Impact Books, 2008. 143 page illustrated indexed large softcover. Price: about £ 4.00 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-1-60061-023-3)

check out websites: www.impact-books.com and www.fwcommunity.com/


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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