The cover art for Book II of The Saga of Beowulf began much the same as for Part I, with a previously created render intended for an entirely different purpose. In this case, a small vignette was created for use as the title page of an illustrated edition of the novel, but was ultimately discarded due to the cost of adding full color art to interior book pages.
However, the image worked so well - with its rounded shape fitting snuggly beneath the Beowulf title logo - that it was resurrected for use as the central figure of a new cover for the second book. The vignette was fleshed out with additional foliage and a standing stone to continue the grave site theme around to the back jacket.This vignette was among the very first pieces I attempted using 3D rendering. At the time I had just acquired a copy of Poser 7 and was learning how to light and texture models to make them look more realistic.
The image was originally done just to test out some new sword and shield props I had purchased. I had tweaked the surface textures of the models, since I wasn't satisfied with their default settings. Here, both the leather shield facing and the metal of its rim, as well as the entire sword itself, have all been customized to increase the realism.
For those who may be interested, a brief overview of the 3D model texturing process follows.
3D models are built as a "geometry," which defines points in three-dimensional space. Each of these are connected by lines to create "planes" or surfaces that can be textured by applying color or an image, much like the leather skin would be stretched over an actual shield.
The image to the right shows the underlying geometry for the models in this vignette, each of which can be scaled, rotated, and positioned individually to create a scene. This "simple" scene is made up of 27 digital models, using 56 image "maps" for surface textures. This would be increased to 181 individual models using 62 image maps just for the front cover portion of the final image, adding another 192 props textured with 66 image maps for the back.
The image to the left shows this same setup with the surfaces of the geometry colored in a shade of light gray. Variable amounts of smoothing is applied to the model in order to round off the edges where the planes meet, creating an even surface.
These surfaces now catch light and cast shadows, and can be made more or less reflective, to mirror their real world properties.
The "texture" of a 3D object is a combination of several elements, which can be rather simple or quite complex. The first and most obvious of these is its color, or "diffuse" value. This is generally (though not always) applied as a simple image file that is aligned (or "mapped") to the coordinates of the geometric grid that makes up the model. The image at the right shows both the front and back side of the shield. Below, the image has been applied to the model.
This, however, only provides the color information of an otherwise smooth surface (any appearance of surface texture at this point is due to details in the image, not on the actual model itself). To add the actual "texture" to the model, bump and displacement maps are used. These tell the render software how much to modify each point on the surface either up or down, based on the brightness of the black & white image map - lighter is pulled up, and darker is pushed down, using a gradiated scale, as seen below.
"Reflection" maps are also used to add character and color to shiny surfaces, such as this colorized landscape image... ...which was applied to the metal sections of the model in the test render below. This was toned down to a dull bronze in the final image. The final sword render at left has a silver version of the same image applied.
This vignette was initially created with a thought toward using it as the title page for the first book when it was still conceived as a fully illustrated, single-volume novel. However, as the story grew it soon became obvious that a second book would be necessary to tell the story of Beowulf's downfall. This meant creating a second vignette for the title page of Book II, the result of which is seen below. Again, this was first created as a small vignette, and only later expanded to fill out a full landscape spread.
For this second image a standing stone was placed amid a mass of overgrowth, atop which one of Odin's ravens pays a visit in homage to our fallen hero (there is also a hidden frog sitting near the stone's base for those who look closely). Here, a standing stone is raised in monument to our fallen hero, whose epitaph is carved in Nordic runes that can be deciphered if you know your Futhark. While some lines are obscured by branches, enough is visible that those who know their "Beowulf" will understand its meaning.
The stone itself was originally plain, but gained an engraved epitaph through the use of a displacement map to create indentations of the carved runic writing. The inscription can also be deciphered using the Norse Rune Decoder found in the digital edition of the book, and in the Appendices section of this site.
Full color illustrations for the interior soon went by the wayside as the increased page count required black and white for the inner pages. The vignettes were subsequently reconceived as the jacket cover of the print edition for Book Two.
This required some manipulation of the previously created images, which were stitched together and filled in using additional foliage elements that were rendered separately in Poser using the same lighting setup, all of which was then laid atop an extended grassy ground plane. None of this received any postwork in Photoshop, aside from cobbling the disparate bits together.
The final wrap-around vignette below was then composited onto the same stormy sea and sky background used for the cover of the Complete Edition, and titled with the same custom lettering as Book I, thus tying it all together.