The cover design for "The Saga of Beowulf" began with several concept tests, using classic works from the masters of fantasy with the titles cut and pasted over them. These were tacked up on a cork board and surrounded by notes and charts throughout the duration of the writing process to provide inspiration and much-needed motivation through the long hours ahead.
The first of these was "Conan the Magnificent" by Boris Vallejo, as seen at left. The original concept was to visualize Beowulf's final battle with the dragon, and this image came very close to what I was after. Note that the credit at this point is given as "Written & Illustrated by," showing that it was still conceived as a graphic novel at this stage.
A second concept was created using Frank Frazetta's "Kane on the Golden Sea" as the backdrop, as seen at right. While I liked the vivid colors of Vallejo's work, the intrepid spirit of Frazetta's piece had the right feel for an epic work of adventure such as Beowulf. The vision of bold men faring over sea to a land where unknown dangers awaited was exactly the feeling I wanted the cover to inspire. It was only left, then, to recreate it in a style of my own, since I could not use Frazetta's original, much as I would have loved to do so.
The title logo, incidentally, was among the very first elements created for the project, long before any visual images were considered. This was done using a custom designed letter set, which was hand-inked in both solid fill and outline versions and then scanned into Photoshop.
This provided the base elements for the gold setting and the interior jewel-like fill. These were created using fifteen separate layers for color and reflectivity, along with contour beveling and glow/shadow effects, just to get the gold setting correct. The final logo required over thirty custom layers to create. No pre-made styles were used.
Several additional layers were added for the polished gem inlay, which was done in many different colors before settling on blood red as the right choice for the main title.
This was laid atop a backdrop "plaque" created using custom shapes with texture fills and beveled edges, along with the newly appended super-title "The Saga Of" with rough-cut blue inlay to offset the red. Lastly, the ubiquitous "Written & Illustrated by..." was inlaid as an engraving in stone - although this was not to be, as both the plaque backdrop and the illustrations would be jettisoned before all was said and done.
The overall design for the Viking ship was based on the 9th century Oseberg ship, seen at right, while the headstock is patterned on the 5th century dragon prow above, found in a Dutch river bed. The Oseberg ship was discovered in 19o3 in a burial mound in Norway, and is now housed in the Oseberg ship museum in Oslo.
From this and other Viking ship research an initial rough sketch was done in light graphite, both as a design
concept and a perspective test, as seen at left.
This was then further refined to add details and perfect the composition and proportions for a more dynamic view, as shown below. The first initial character sketches were done at this point as well.
The headstock was initially conceived as a dragon prow, but evolved into a serpent of the seas. The horn concept changed after contemplating how a Nordic shipwright might have made it out of brass like a weather vane.
The sketch was then scanned into Photoshop and cleaned up before painting would begin. Initially I considered painting this in real world media, since this is what I was familiar with. But in the intrepid spirt of adventure I decided in the end to do it digitally instead.
Color was applied primarily in Corel Painter, with a Wacom Bamboo tablet, using oil and acrylic settings. This was built up in layers to produce the rich wood tones and quilted sailcloth. Additional shading would later be added for more depth. Notice that the headstock was changed in the final design to something more akin to a sea serpent with metallic fins.
In the end so much time was spent perfecting the minute details of the ship's prow that very little was left for painting in the characters, which out of necessity were left as little more than rough cartoons. In fact, only the Beowulf figure was painted in the end - the rest were cut and pasted in from a clip art collection!
All that remained was to composite the ship atop a photo background that had been retouched, and add some splashing waves and other flourishes to join them.
With the publication deadline looming, the figure of Beowulf was painted quickly as a cartoon rough in bright, bold shades of green and blue to stand out from the surrounding reds of the ship and sail. Having left too little time to complete the characters to satisfaction, the remaining crew were composited from clip art done by Angus McBride, well known for his illustrations in Dungeons & Dragons manuals. A number of subsequent book reviews ironically commented on the "D&D feel" of the cover art. And this is how the cover stood for many years.
All of the promotional materials created for the initial release campaign featured this rendition of the art, as did the cover of both print and ebooks for the first few years.
But I was never fully satisfied with the "cartoonish" look of the original Beowulf figure, nor was Icomfortable with having used another artist's work to complete my own. So in 2013 the characters were all replaced by a new crew created using 3D rendering. The colors were toned down and the shadows deepened to create a more realistic look that helps the ship blend in better with the sea and sky.
Nearly all of these new figures were built from the old
Michael 2 and 3 models, using the Viking costume and
texture sets created by John Malis in the early days of DAZ and Poser. Since the figures would be relatively small there was no need to create a lot of complex details for the render art. The bulk of the work was in creating individual facial features and hair - the braided beard for the "Hondscio" character took by far the longest. This is not in keeping with the cover art for Book I done by Dustin Neff, but it's something I had always wanted, and this was my opportunity. Beowulf, of course, gets braided locks, a stern expression, and a fairly massive chest for super-human upper body strength!
Once the character designs were complete the figures were posed and scaled to fit within the ship. Rendering was done in Poser 2012 with basic 3-point lighting. Note that only six of the crew are visible. The rest are either lying down or obscured behind the sail!
Running Time: 1:19 [21.9 MB]
The original full resolution Flash video of the book trailer from 2009’s blog tour promotion of The Saga of Beowulf. It contains nearly 100 different visual elements composited together with a variety of fades and animations. Music is “Morpheus Calls” by Pierre Gerwig Langer, licensed from the Shockwave Sound archive, along with some wind and thunder samples overlaid toward the end.
The skyscaper ad at left was also built in Flash and features a 23 second edit of the strikingly apropos Viking epic "Immigrant Song" by Led Zeppelin.