Aaron Becker's "Journey"

Blog reader Aaron Becker created the bestselling picture book 
He told me that he builds digital maquettes before doing his finished illustrations in traditional watercolors.

I invited him to do a guest post explaining the process, so here it is:

"Journey began as this large scale drawing, completed over the course of two afternoons three summers ago."

"Once the story had been roughed out, I returned to the original drawing and built this 3D model in Maya as a proof of concept – to see if I could replicate the spirit of the drawing as a detailed digital model. I would use this to help with perspective and lighting, and went on to build similar models for other environments in the book."

"At this stage, I’ve added significant detail to the 3D model with a new scanned pencil drawing. This light overlay gets printed out onto 300 LB Arches watercolor paper using my Epson large format printer."

"This allows me to dive into the watercolors with the confidence that my composition and perspective is spot-on. I prefer the heavy stock for watercolor as it minimizes warping and allows for fantastic control over the amount of moisture while applying pigment."

"From there, it’s a matter of old-school pen and ink and watercolor. I do the pen and ink first, making sure to give myself the freedom to change anything from the pencil underlay should the spirit move me. That said, I find the more I’ve decided conceptually ahead of time, the more I can concentrate on pure technique at any stage of the image-making game."

"Watercolor is applied in several washes from light to dark and then finished up with shadow details. I try to minimize the use of any masking fluid as I find this changes the quality of the paper for subsequent washes. Gouache was used for all of the punchy red and purple bits throughout the story."
"When it came time to create the book’s video trailer (see below), I went back into the 3D model and camera-mapped the watercolor painting onto the geometry, like a virtual slide projector covering a foam-core model. After separating the painting into several layers (background, towers, castle walls, etc) I was able to move a virtual camera in Maya and bring the image to life."

"Some details, like the waving flags were hand animated and projected onto transparent “cards” in Maya. This entire technique is similar to how matte paintings are now done in feature films. Having come from a film background, I wanted to utilize as much of the tricks I had learned as possible, while retaining the hand-made feel of the watercolor paintings. In the end, there are no shortcuts when it comes to dipping a brush into pigment and placing it on the page. Hope you all enjoy the finished product!"

JOURNEY by Aaron Becker (official trailer) from Aaron Becker on Vimeo.

Here's the book trailer Aaron created.

Find out more about Aaron Becker's work at http://www.storybreathing.com or on facebook.

Be sure to read the comments on this post, which explain a variety of inexpensive software options, such as Sketchup and Blender.
You can pick up the book online at:
or Barnes and Noble
Or you can order a signed copy from Aaron's local independent bookseller, Odyssey Books.
Thanks, Aaron!
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