Earthian: The Cover Project Explained

That’s right, my friends… all the shocking secrets will finally come out. All the hurt… the lies… the betrayal. This is a tale of pathos and woe, a tragically true story that took place in the heady days of a few weeks ago, back when someone-or-other’s music ruled the airwaves and kids just couldn’t get enough of whichever vaguely offensive dance was all the rage.

Ahh, I remember it as if it were yesterday. Let me regale you, my friend… but be prepared, for I fear this tale is not for the faint of heart. Gird your loins.

Or… ya know… sit back and relax, maybe with a beer or a glass of something red. This is a harmless article in which I recount (hopefully with ample humor) how I ended up with a cover for Earthian before I started writing the dang book. It’s not that mysterious really, but it should help illustrate how scattershot my creative process can be sometimes, and maybe also give some (spoiler free) hints about the story.

A little preview slideshow…

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Ready? Then allons-y!

A couple weeks back, I was working on some pieces for my portfolio when I stumbled across an old project from 2009. It had a funny mini-fig style astronaut with his arm raised (triumphantly, at the time), and I thought it was cute, so I started messing around with it. I made the pose more dramatic and then ran into a couple of happy accidents that I decided to keep. The first was the suit’s texture, which I just stumbled onto while mixing different procedurals (i.e., computer generated pattern doo-daddies). One of them looked particularly striking in a Jim Steranko sort of way, so I kept it. The other was a failed attempt to map a starscape to the background, which instead looked like he was rushing through space at sci-fi speeds. Add on a bit of post processing goofiness (because I was testing out a new version of my software), and you get this.

AstroInPeril_20140310_01Goofy. Let’s go with that word for the time being. It was produced quickly, and primarily just to play with new tools, so I didn’t have any illusions about it looking particularly good. It was nevertheless fun to play around with, though, especially since I so rarely work with human figures. I then started ritually torturing the image in Photoshop until I ended up here:

AstroInPeril_20140310_01_PostStylized

The astute observer will notice that this is also a mess. In fact, it’s an even bigger mess than the original. Much like the initial model though, I was really just playing with the software, trying out new techniques and effects. I had a vague idea of trying to push it in a ’60s psychedelica direction, but I didn’t have a specific goal in mind.

When I looked at the layout and the general concept, though, the thought occurred to me that it could make a decent book cover… if it wasn’t such a bloody mess. Truth was I’d been in a little bit of a writing lurch, with a Vengar story that needed to be partially torn down and rewritten (still does), and a sci-fi adventure that I was having trouble starting. Oddly enough, the cover looked like it’d work pretty great for the sci-fi story (which involves the hero, Jason Yun, travelling between star-systems in a clunky space-suit), so I started to take it more seriously.

The first step was to improve the source art (the render). I went back in, adjusted the pose and camera position, drastically revamped the lighting, and changed a few other small details. The result was this:

AstroInPeril_20140313

It’s more dramatic and looks considerably less flat (foreshortening! occlusion!), but it’s still got its problems. It was nevertheless a much more sound base to work from than the original messy version. Next up… I did everything else:

Earthian_Cover_20140313

This was produced the same day as the render above, and probably involved 4-5 hours of work. It’s not bad, but the typography was obviously an afterthought, and the colors are too… just altogether too much. On the bright side, it incorporates pretty much all of the techniques I’d made up while working on the sloppy original, but executed better. That’s why I always like the second time doing something better. :)

Earthian_Cover_20140314

With this next pass, I started pushing toward a more purple overall cast, and flattened the contrast considerably. The title typeface was also modified heavily… I wanted to give off a mysterious alien vibe, but it ended up looking like a ’90s grunge band’s t-shirt instead.Earthian_Cover_20140320And here we get to the (near)final type-treament. The typeface is Gamecuben (available at Dafont.com), a knock-off of the one originally used for the Nintendo Gamecube. It gave off a more high-tech and adventurey feel, which seemed more inline with how I want to present the story. If it comes across as fun and exciting, then I’m doing my job.

Here’s a fast-forward through a series of small alterations (which are actually giant piles of really subtle ones)…

Earthian_Cover_20140320_02

Earthian_Cover_20140320_05

Earthian_Cover_20140323

And those culminate in the final cover image, presented here (hopefully) for your viewing pleasure:

Earthian Cover

I would’ve gone into more detail about how I actually accomplished all of this, but the article’s already quite long and the work was complex. How complex? Here’s about half of my final layer stack in Photoshop:

Layers

The entire process probably took more than 20 hours of work, but a lot of that is due to the fact that I was just playing around and experimenting at first without a goal in mind. Had I come in with a plan (or a client’s specific requests), the same probably would’ve taken less than 8 hours total.

And here we come finally to the end of our story, which is just the beginning of another. I suddenly found myself with a finished cover for a book I hadn’t written, and the only option left that made any sense was to start the book. Now, I find myself keeping the image open next to my text editor to keep me inspired and on-message, and I think it’s something I might like to do again in the future.

Talking about the future, I should have the first chapter of Earthian (titled Arrival) ready for you folks to peruse sometime in the first week of April… so, this coming week. I’m already about 5,000 words into the book, but I’m  still feeling out the characters and want a few days to go back over and make sure things are at least a little consistent.

Until then… keep it jazzy, hep kats.

~Chris

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