MPC 'Alien Cloudscape' challenge
Thank you to everyone who took the time to enter. This wasn't an easy brief - clouds are always tricky to pull off in a realistic way, particularly if they need to follow unusual patterns. Getting the huge sense of scale that this painting required was something a lot of people clearly had trouble with, and is one of the things that clearly marks the more sucessful entries.
Realism is very important in feature film matte painting, so believability was the first thing we looked at. Accurately following the layout we provided was also something we were looking for, but as a more secondary consideration.
Overall, we were judging the entries as if we were going to show them to a client - if they deviated a little from the brief, but still looked great - that's fine. If they went WAY off brief, they would be difficult to justify, so we discarded them.
We've chosen the top three, who will receive prizes from the contest sponsors - MPC, cmiVFX and environment-textures.com. The third place was a very close call, and we've also included some 'honourable mentions' which we still rate highly, but didn't win.
1. Jadrien Cousens
This is definitely a case of 'less is more'. There is a temptation with a shot like this to put small cloud details EVERYWHERE, which makes the image a bit chaotic and confusing. By hiding a lot of the scene in shadow, and only adding select pieces of detail, the sense of realism is actually increased. This also has a great sense of scale - it looks like a full size planet, with clouds stretching away to a distant horizon. It's gone a little bit further away from the concept than we would like, and it would have been great to see some indication of 'whirlpools' of cloud, but this is a deserving winner.
Jadrien wins an Apple ipad, an annual premium membership to environment-textures.com, and access to ALL training videos in the cmiVFX.com library.
2. Tuomas Korpi
This entry has also avoided the trap of trying to add detail everywhere, and has dealt with the brief in an interestingly stylised way. It's got a great sense of form and scale, and a very elegant approach to the design of the clouds. It's one of the few entries that managed to pull off depth cueing with dark haze (like the concept), which is a tricky thing to make convincing.
It's a bit more illustrative than we were ideally looking for, and some of the cloud surfaces look unrealistically smooth and solid. Without those issues, this would probably have been the winner.
Tuomas wins $250 of Apple Store vouchers, a standard annual membership to environment-textures.com, and three videos from cmivfx.com.
3. Bryan Sola
Third place was a tricky one to call - there were five or six contenders. In the end we have chosen Bryan's entry, since it's one that most accurately adheres to the brief. We particularly like the cloud vortices on the lower levels - they feel dynamic, without looking contrived. The haze level is subtle and very well handled, and there is a nice contrast between soft and hard cloud formations. Like many of the entries, the more painterly elements are not helping the level of realism, and some of the cloud details are a bit too busy. The lens flare is also a bit odd - anamorphic lens flares would always appear parallel to the frame (and wouldn't normally be painted in DMP in any case)
Bryan wins $100 of Apple Store vouchers, six-months membership to environment-textures.com, and one video from cmivfx.com
Well done guys!
Honorable mentions (in no particular order)
A lot of these entries are very monochromatic, so it's great to see some attempt to add colour variation like this image. We also liked the variations in cloud type, and particularly the cloud density - something that is typical of realistic clouds, but was missing from most entries. It's a bit 'muddy' in places (unclear, overlapping forms), and it could do with some more contrast to bring it to life, but it's a largely successful image.
This image also has some great colour variation, and the contrast level is about right. The lens flare is pretty over the top, but it's also something I can imagine a client really liking! The highlight on the planet has been blown out too much, and a lot of the cloud textures are rather stretched or smudged, but it's a very attractive image with a good sense of depth and scale.
There's a huge amount of very detailed, realistic looking texture and detail here that must have taken a LOT amount of time to create. Unfortunately, there's so much of it that the overall image is too busy - it's difficult to read the simple forms, so there is no place for our eye to comfortably settle. A detail crop in almost any area of this image looks more realistic than the image as a whole - a bit counter-intuitive, but it's often harder to work out what to leave out than what to put in.
This is extremely successful in creating a feeling of scale, and the clouds are interestingly chaotic (i.e. natural), without being confusing to read. Unfortunately, there are some issues with the black and haze levels that are flattening out the distant forums, and makes the clouds look like they are on a series of cards. If the clouds could be given more volume, while maintaining the sense of scale, this would be an awesome image.
Like Jan's this also has a LOT of great detail, that unfortunately blurs into a slightly confusing image overall. The lighting on the clouds (particularly the upper layer) is fantastic, and the receding texture scale is handled very well. It's difficult to judge perspective with clouds, but the impression is that the cloud layer curves UP to the horizon, when we would expect it to curve DOWN (around the planet surface).
The perspective in this one has worked very well - it definitely feels like we are high up in the atmosphere, looking down onto a planet miles below. The cloud variation has also been handled very well. I'm struggling with the depth cueing, though - there is no reason why the clouds in the mid layer should be darker than the clouds nearest to us, and this makes the overall image a bit unbalanced. Shouldn't be that hard to fix, though, and it would help the realism greatly.
Congratulations to our winners, and thanks again for everyone who took the time to enter. If Jadrien, Tuomas and Bryan could PM me their contact details, I'll pass them on to the right people, and get the prizes sent out.