Saturday, January 31, 2009

Cirrus Over Water

Originally, this image was going be the cover of my book, but my publisher figured it would be better to use an assortment of images that better suggested what the book was actually about. And, though I do like the cover they came up with (see it in the right margin of this page), I still really like this shot.

So, what is the Cirrus doing flying so low over the water without US Air insignia? I know, because I was there when it was rendered, but I won't tell. ;)

Friday, January 16, 2009


I tried to get just about every navigation concern I could into this image for AOPA. Pilots will probably recognize the various little VFR waypoints and such that we use when making flight plans. The more natural things are in there too, like weather, terrain, lakes and coastline. Did I miss anything? ;)

This image was more scenic than most of my work, which made it fun to do. It was also a full spread (two facing pages) in the magazine, which is always great, because it gives me a nice wide-angle aspect to work in--lots of real estate! Unlike most situations, here, the high-wing of the Cessna 172 actually worked better than the low wings of the DA40 and the Cirrus. When looking at the airplane from below at this angle, the low-wing airplanes were all "bottom." In other words, the wing obscured too much of the fuselage.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Landing Gear Load at Touchdown

This was for a a piece in AOPA Flight Training or Pilot magazine (I can't recall) on landing gear. I think the focus of the article was the load strain that's put on the gear the moment of touchdown. I used the Cirrus for this because the low wing worked very nicely for the composition, leaving the sky nice and clear. I could have used the DA40, but the nose wheel on the DA40 is mounted slightly off center, which didn't work too well here because it looked like the pilot missed the runway centerline. Plus, the Cirrus' landing gear fairings are a bit more stylized, which I really liked. I think this image is as close to a Pink Floyd album cover as I've ever gotten!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Inversion Layers

This was for an AOPA piece on "inversion layer" weather patterns. The idea was to show the same scene in daylight and darkness, in order to show how the fog appears. (Or something like that!) I figured I'd use a graph line that depicts an actual inversion layer as the separator between the two scenes. (In case you were wondering what was up with the odd line.) This image differs slightly from the version AOPA published, in that the fog is less exaggerated. They wanted me to turn up the volume on the fog effect to drive home the point, but I preferred it this way. :)

There was also an animation for this that shows the fog accumlate as the sun sets, and shows windsock reflect the changes in wind. I'll post it as soon as I get some sort of a production line in place to turn my anim stuff into blog-ready stuff that still looks acceptable.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

GPS Failures

This image was for an AOPA article on the various things that can go wrong when using GPS for navigation. Among the problems illustrated are loss of satellite signal; drained batteries in a handheld unit; and confusion over the spelling of a way point. If you look carefully, you can see the GPS satellites on the horizon.

This image was particularly fun because I don't typically get to do evening scenes. Having flown solo at night many times, I recalled what can be a very lonely feeling. There's not much to see at night from an airplane, and the hum of the engine can be all you hear for long periods of time. I wanted the massive horizon and featureless ground to convey that sense of loneliness. I exaggerated the transition from dusk to dark, because I wanted the blackness to hang over the scene, as if it was the pending GPS failure.

What do you think? Did I over think this one? ;)

Originally, I did the image using the Diamond DA42, which looked really nice! But AOPA didn't think the space-aged little twin appropriately represented the airplanes flown by most of their readers. Oh well! I'll get the DA42 into a published illustration one day!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Engine Parts: Starter and Alternator

This models were produced for my book. I'm not sure what possessed me to think that 3D models of aircraft engine parts were a necessary addition to a book about flight training, but there you have it!

For those familiar with 3D development, I built these with a NURBs modeler, which made all those Boolean cuts and the welding and rounding of all those edges quite easy. Building these models (especially the alternator) using polygons wouldn't have been much fun! The program I used is no longer available, so when a job calls for NURBs modeling today, I'd use Moi 3d, which I think is a great NURBs modeler. It's easy to use, and it produces models that work nicely in Softimage XSI, which is my main 3D app. I wrote up a review of Moi for the CG Channel website.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Magnetic Compass

This model and render, created back in early 2001, were breakthroughs for me as a 3D designer. I had never before tried to achieve much photo realism in my work, because I figured neither I nor the program I was using at the time were up to the task. But when the pieces of this puzzle came together, it really changed the way in which I approached 3D.

The difference was that I started paying considerable attention to the shading process of models, as I had first done with this one. (Shading is the process by which an object that otherwise looks like a gray cylinder can end up looking like a tree, or even a magnetic compass, when rendered.) And while shading has mostly to do with the appearance of an object, to me the trick is to shade the object so that the viewer can "feel" it just by looking at it. In this image, I wanted to make viewers aware that the compass casing was metal, and I wanted them to be able to imagine how that metal feels to the touch. I wanted them to be able to feel the edge of the compass card holder, and I wanted them to be able to imagine what I would feel like to pick at the compass card paper, further damaging it.

Of course, now that I think about it, perhaps magnetic compasses aren't encased in metal after all. ;)

E6B Flight Computer

When I first heard about a "flight computer" early in my flight training, I was excited to think that basic flight planning would involve a computer. I am a child of technology, after all. When I first saw an E6B, however, I was a bit confused. This was a computer? Where was the mouse?

I did this model for my book (see sidebar). What I like best about it is that you can actually use it for flight planning! I made sure the markings were spot-on accurate, and the geek inside of me was thrilled to be able to animate the entire process of using the E6B. No, in case anyone asks, I don't use this 3D model for flight planning. ;)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Take-Off Rotation Speed

This is one of my favorite scenes that I've done. The images is meant to illustrate that moment when the airplane becomes airborne. (I first tried using the Cessna 172 for the image, but it was just too boxy looking. I tried the Cirrus next and, while it looked nicer than the 172, it still looked too "fat" to fly. There's something about the graceful bird-like lines of the DA40 that just made it appear to be leaping off the ground, which was just perfect for this composition.

During a conversation with (fantastic) aviation photographer Mike Fizer, I learned that when composing a shot, he also deals with issues such as the "boxiness" of a 172, or the massive wingspans of these Diamond aircraft. I thought it was kind of interesting that as different as our mediums are, we deal with similar issues with regard to the subjects and how to make them look nice on paper.

Cessna 162 "Skycatcher"

Here's a render of my Cessna Skycatcher model in the colors we see on the actual prototypes f the airplane. As mentioned in another post, I created this airplane for use in some King Schools programs. They wanted to use this familiar "paint scheme," but when I use the model now, I use the blue color scheme, which I like much better!

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Engine-Out After Take-Off

I have to admit that I didn't like this image too much when I first did it for an AOPA article. I think it was the combination of the red sign and the blue of the attitude indicator that sort of clashed in my brain. But AOPA asked for rights to reuse it so much, that I guess those colors aren't so bad to others! (I also can't stand the light blue/brown color combination so unfortunately popular these days!) The topic was what to do when you lose your engine just after take-off. The answer is, of course, to push the yoke forward, so you don't lose airspeed and stall.


The topic here was stalls. I wanted to convey the way the airplane feels during a stall, so I tried to go for a vibrating/shuttering sort of illusion. The airflow lines depict how the airplane stalls first at the root of the wing, which enables the ailerons to maintain some authority. Then, after all that work, the story the illustration was intended for was canceled. So, this image remains unpublished.

Holding Pattern Entry

It's not often I get to do a scene that doesn't involve an airplane, but this was one of those times. The client wanted something that would illustrate the concept of all that should go through an IFR pilot's head prior to entering a holding pattern. The first thing that came to mind for me was the concept of street signs. This was great for me, because street signs are relatively easy to make in 3D!

Engine-Out Procedures

This was a full spread (two pages) that I did for AOPA Flight Training magazine. (Imagine the title and text in he upper right "sky" area. I really liked this image because it's so "in your face," which is how I imagine a full engine-out experience to be! (Note the "upgrade" to the three-blade prop in this image, as compared to the "Propeller Torque Effect" image. The two-blade prop just didn't work as well in this composition, so my DA40 officially became the "XL" model!)

Propeller Torque Effect

If I remember correctly, this was my DA40's illustration debut. It's also a good example of how my mind leaves "pilot mode" when I do this stuff. I had finished the image and sent it to the client, who responded: "It looks great, but the propeller is going the wrong way." So much for my pilot experience! This is the fixed version.

Where it all started for me...

This was the first illustration I ever got published. It was commissioned by AOPA, now a longtime client of mine. I can't describe how exciting it was for me when I opened the magazine and saw it! Nowadays, I just open magazines and bitch about color reproduction.

I did the image in a 3D program I used to use, which partially explains the difference between this and my more current work. (Of course, I'm to blame for it looking cheesy too.) I'll post some other stuff from that era, but not too much, for obvious reasons. ;)

Friday, January 2, 2009

Cirrus SR20

This airplane came on the market and really shook things up for a while. I think it's fair to say had it not been for the success of Cirrus, we wouldn't have seen Cessna get into the composite-body aircraft business like they did when they bought out Columbia Aircraft. I got to fly one of these a few times, and they sure are nice...and expensive!

Diamond DA40 "DiamondStar"

The question I get a lot about this airplane is "any relation?" Sorry to say, no. I have some time logged in the DA40's little brother, the DA20, but I've yet to sit behind the stick in one of these. It's a gorgeous design, but it's often hard to fit that massive wingspan into a single image!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Rockwell 690B "Twin Commander"

This airplane made its debut in the January '09 edition of AOPA Pilot. It was lots of fun to build, because I usually work only with much smaller aircraft. I was lucky that there was another Commander sitting (lifeless) at the airport I fly from (OAK), so I was able to get the reference photos I needed for the landing gear and the other miscellaneous parts that aren't very common in "beauty" shots of aircraft.

Diamond DA42 "TwinStar"

The folks at Diamond Aircraft were kind enough to get me the three-view drawings I needed to build this model before the DA42 was actually released. It's fun to build a model before I ever see the real thing. That way, when I do see the actual airplane, it seems like someone manufactured an airplane based on my 3D work! :)

Cessna 172 "Skyhawk"

My Cessna 172 model is the most popular 3D model I have. I've used it in illustrations for just about all my clients. Most of my flight training took place in a 172, so I've spent a lot of time in them. But it's funny that when building a 3D model, I find myself having no recollection whatsoever of what certain parts of the airplane look like, even though I've seen them thousands of times!

Cessna 162 "Skycatcher"

My Skycatcher 3D model was originally created for a King Schools training course, but I've since used it in at least one AOPA article that comes to mind. I'm sure once the airplane is actually put into production, I'll get more requests to use it in illustrations. My contract with King grants them usage rights for the 3D model, so you might see it in many of their future projects too.

John King, Martha King, and all the rest of the King gang were wonderful to work with! I learned a lot from their videos during my flight training, so it was a honor to help them out on this project.