In 1998 I joined my family’s creative team. I illustrated my first book, The Christmas Adventure of Space Elf Sam.
The book was over two years in the making and it was a true family collaboration. My mom, Audrey Wood, wrote the story, I illustrated the book, and my dad, Don Wood, functioned as art director.
Space Elf Sam is unique in children’s books. It is the first picture book illustrated using complex 3-D sculpting software on a powerful computer — the same software used for high-tech movie special effects.
To create the illustrations for the book, I had to first think like a sculptor working in three dimensions — top, bottom and all sides.
The challenge is working in three dimensions on a two-dimensional surface, a computer screen for instance.
First I begin with a wire frame, in this case a simple sphere. The sphere is made up of little points all connected together to form the round shape. Now here’s the key to the way I illustrate. At any place on the sphere, a point can be grabbed and pulled out to change the sphere’s shape.
After days of work, sometimes weeks of pulling out points on all sorts of shapes and joining shapes together, a character finally emerges.
You are looking at a Gommer, a very important character in the book.
If you were watching me create this Gommer on my computer, you would see me spinning the character around, working on it from all sides, top and bottom. That’s what three-dimensional art is all about.
Now that the Gommer is the right shape and roughly “skinned,” it’s time to add texture and paint.
Before I had to think like a sculptor — now I have to use the skills of a painter. This is the texture and color palette I created. The green square is the Gommer’s skin, the pink stripe is his nose. The light areas on the green square are the Gommer’s cheeks. The white sphere with the blue dot is the Gommer’s eye — I think you get the idea.
Next, taking the paint and the textures from the palette, I add them to the wire frame sculpture.
And the Gommer is born!
This close-up gives you a better idea of the painting and texture details.
The Gommer lives on the planet Gom, so I had to create an entire three- dimensional world.
When you begin to build a character, you start with a wire frame. The same is true with building a world. You begin with a wire frame which must be “skinned,” textured, and painted.
Then I place the character, in this case the little Gommer, into the world.
But that’s not all. See the difference between the slide on the left and the slide on the right? To create the slide on the right I had to think like a lighting designer, lighting a stage for a play. The characters and the world they live in need dramatic lighting and adding it to the scene is one of the last and most complex steps. In some of the scenes from Space Elf Sam there are as many as seventeen light sources.
Finally, after all these techniques are brought together in my three-dimensional art piece, I face my greatest challenge. For every illustration to be printed in the book, I must decide which point of view to choose. Now I must use the skills of a still photographer.
I have to decide if a double-page spread in the book should be seen as a close-up? a distant shot? from a bird’s eye view or from below. Since the art is created in 3-D, the camera can fly anywhere and take a picture from any point of view.