Niden EVE Artwork SpecialNiden
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(You can see more of my Niden artwork here.)
In all areas but one, I get by with sheer determination. My one saving grace, the one area that could be described as slightly more than talentless, is my sense of shape and colour. In other words, I’m easily swayed by shiny things. This may be rather shallow, but it also means I like to create, inspired by the beautiful things that have so moved me.
I won’t lie – it was the aesthetics of EVE that sucked me in. A very basal and familiar behaviour: ooo shiny, must have. I watched a friend undock his ship into the vastness of space, and the feeling of wonder I felt at the time still lingers somewhere at the back of my mind. So naturally, as with all things like this, I was not satisfied with just consuming—I had to create something.
I wanted to bring Niden to life, or rather, as the embodiment of my wonder and love for EVE, she gave me a good excuse to create and in my own way celebrate the game and the community. I don’t agree with the notion of identifying with the ship as our avatar in the game—the character fills this role, while the ships are an extension of them. This finally put me on the path of doing my own 3D renders, the result of which is the image you see above.
As happy as I was with the result, the response I’ve enjoyed to this work far exceeded any expectations I might have had. After two days, it had been viewed well over 100,000 times. That’s four times more than any other image I have ever created for EVE (to my knowledge). I don’t even know what to say to that.
It was suggested by Xander and others I write a Lowlife special, and tell you how this image was made. So, humbly, I present to you just that. Perhaps it will inspire you to create something of your own.
The need to move into 3D was born of the limitations I encountered when working with 2D images of Niden and other EVE stuff. I was getting ideas in my head of scenes that simply required more control. There is nothing in EVE that enthrals me so much as the Dramiel; just seeing that ship puts a smile on my face. I had done Niden with a Dramiel before, but that was a combination of a model, a couple of screenshots, some fabrication, and a lot of editing. Still, that setup did not allow the freedom I wanted. So, as always, necessity was the mother of (re)invention, and this necessity carried me through the challenge of learning new skills.
The most important, and difficult, step was getting Niden “out” of the client and into my control. I had to recreate her in Daz 3D Studio so I wasn’t limited by ingame renders on which to base my work. The obvious other route would have been to invest in a proper tablet (rather than the crappy, small, utility one I have now) and paint, but I elected to go for 3D. The beauty of Daz 3D is that a lot of the basic work is already done for you (such as a working skeleton and physiology, etc.), allowing me to focus on modelling her specific form and texture.
Niden is based on the Genesis 2 architecture, an extremely flexible base character. On top of that I have a combination of morphs, which are ways to shape the character – from global body morphs, down to tweaking things like eyebrows and nostrils by hand.
Once the body was sculpted, I needed a couple of things to make her her. I added piercings, and thanks to the help of Aurora on Tweetfleet Slack, I got ahold of her tattoo textures and applied them to her skin (using PS and some good old trial and error). I added long flowing black hair, which was a major hassle to get right because collisions don’t always behave like you’d want them to, and crafted the capsuleer plugs on her back (which, by the way, I tried to get away with not doing, but Ashterothi of Hydrostatic Podcast convinced me otherwise—something about a “dirty baseliner”).
In the world of sci-fi art, going the obvious route of high-tech looking clothing or armour didn’t suit my idea of Niden at all. She isn’t some clean-cut cadet out to save the world; she’s a dirty criminal, out to ruin someone’s day and take their shit just because she can. Less Starship Troopers, more bastard child of Ellen Ripley and Mad Max. I had the benefit of having defined her personality and style already, because I’d created her in EVE long ago with a very clear idea in my head.
So instead of a corny neon-lit bodysuit—the eternal plague of sci-fi art—I went with leather pants, combat boots with lace and a torn off husband beater. The outfit is quite similar to what she has in-game today. Niden may be of Amarrian origin, but she left that life behind a long time ago.
Making a Scene
I was not about to create a new hangar from scratch – that would have taken weeks and I didn’t really need anything custom in that department. For the portion of the hangar Niden is sitting in, I used a resource which I adjusted to fit my needs (moving stuff around and adjusting lighting). However, at the end of this hangar, I needed the view to to open up into a larger space where the ship would be. I used a screenshot of a Caldari station as my backdrop. It had the style I was looking for with its grey palette and hard angles. It also had a wonderful pair of light rays coming down from the ceiling, giving it depth.
I wanted a black Dramiel for my image to make it stand out and give it a personal tone—in order to make it really belong to her in the image (and truly hope I can make it so in-game one day). To get this, and the right angle, without having to undock and bank the ship to just the right lighting (not to mention the slow process of cutting the ship out of the screenshot), I used two-time CSM member T’amber’s wonderful Jeremy project. This online software allows you to take any ship in the game, apply virtually any faction texture to it (just like the bug there was so much fuss over), and then angle it, light it, and generally fiddle with it to your heart’s content.
At last, I had my black Dramiel, and it fit into the scene perfectly.
The chief problem with working with 3D is that once you have your scene roughly set up, you have to start rendering to see what you’re actually doing. Lighting doesn’t show up properly at all until you render, and lighting is half the magic.
The crux of the problem is that every light you have (there are 26 of them in this scene), casts both light and shadow and this has to be calculated. So a lot of the work consists of changing something in the lighting or pose of the character or props, and then rendering for 15 minutes or so. Basically: check previous render, tweak scene, hit render, do something else while the rendering engine does its best to kill your CPU, repeat. For two nights I would alternate between editing the scene and editing a piece for CZ while it rendered so I could see what new mistakes I’d made.
Once I had a render I was happy with (or, as Rixx Javix will attest, not as disappointed with), I brought it into PS to combine with the Dramiel and the Caldari hangar. Finally, I moved on to the last favorite part of the process: mastering.
It’s in this stage that it really comes together. From being elements in the same scene, a work becomes an image where everything belongs. The key part of this process is getting the colours, saturation, and contrasts working in harmony to create a feeling of consistency and depth. A lot of nifty tricks go into getting the right composition, and I’m not going to go through them one by one, because that would be whole piece on its own. This is the easy and fun part for me, having used Photoshop for almost twenty years and knowing it like the back of my hand. I must say, it was pure joy seeing it solidify into the final product.
There was Niden, sitting comfortably with her legs crossed in a fitting and prep hangar, her lithe ship in the background, hovering ominously in the vast space beyond, ready to kill again. I bought it. And if I did, at least someone else would maybe get a kick out of it, so I published it and dropped a link on reddit. Nothing fancy, I just wanted to share my love for this thing with someone else. I got more than I bargained for.
The response I got was overwhelming, to say the least! By the second day, I even had people who had quit EVE telling me that the image had rekindled their love for the game and that they were considering returning to New Eden. I can’t think of better criticism than that, and it makes me incredibly happy that my work was not just an exercise in vanity and making more “ooo shiny”, which I would have been perfectly content with.
An interesting side note was that people who knew nothing of EVE reacted positively to the image, owing to the presence of a person in focus. Apparently there are some who believed EVE was just ships, spreadsheets, and assholes (to many, this may in fact be true), completely devoid of characters. With a response like this, some might take this as an argument for CCP to reinvest in Walking-in-Stations. I remain divided on the subject, but I can clearly see how this would appeal to a wider audience than EVE enjoys today, and perhaps lower the threshold of entry to the world of ships, spreadsheets and assholes. It has clear and tested value in the realm of social interaction online, that can’t be argued; and God knows I’d probably use it from time to time. But just like everyone else who loves EVE already, I am terrified of what it would cost us for CCP to go down that path again.
I must say that I believe creativity breeds creativity. The best way to do something beautiful and moving is to let it inspire you. Let EVE inspire you to create, whether your medium be images, music, writing, podcasting, video, or something else. Someone else will be moved by what you have done, and we might all enjoy a richer world full of inspiration and shiny things.
(You can see more of my Niden artwork here.)