Interview with Stephen Thut and Michael Taylor about the creation of the cover for Motive Games 2: Death Down Under.
In designing the cover for Motive Games 2: Death Down Under, in what ways did you maintain continuity with the first Motive Games book?
Stephen: There were a few decisions that were made that maintained a consistency between the first book and the second.
I suppose one of the more obvious was the use of the same figure in both books as the main subject through which we were trying to convey a compelling image.
The overall tone of the cover had to be dark. It was important for the setting of the scene to be at night in order to convey a mysterious ambiance.
There wasn't an exact colour palette used, however, I tried to keep some tones in the cover character's suit and fedora the same, or similar to, the first book.
The use of typography on the cover was also a direct carry-over from the first Motive Games cover. Some of the shading techniques on the type were altered slightly, however the use of the same font weights and basic lock-up helped to convey a sense of continuity.
How was the character created?
Michael: The focal point of the character is the head and fedora that were created and rendered in 3D. By using this type of technology, we were mirroring how most videogame characters are created: an art form that gets a lot of mention in the Motive Games story.
The 3D work was done by game artist Guillame Mollé who works at UbiSoft in France. The rough shape of the head was sculpted first, in a software package called 3D Studio Max, and then colour and extra layers of fine detail were painted onto a flat surface and then wrapped around the 3D shape (a process called texture mapping). The fine wrinkles and other skin bumps were painted as a black-and-white image where the light parts of the image are bumps and the dark parts of the image become valleys (a process known as bump mapping).
Finally, I adjusted the head and texture map to make the character more youthful looking than the original.
What were you aiming to communicate stylistically with the cover?
Stephen: It was important for me to take what I had thought of with the first book as an 'establishing shot' and evolve the cover somewhat for the second book.
More than anything I wanted to create both a mood as well as a sense of place and to set a scene for the reader.
The books are murder mysteries, and so early on some design decisions were made that leaned in a modern noir direction.
The cover looks quite stylized, did you use any stock photography?
Stephen: The cover is a composite of layers of the 3D character and fedora placed within layers of stock photos, textures and shading. While the typography is a design element, I really considered the gathering and compositing of all of its various imagery to be a very illustrative process. When I use stock photography it is important to me to use elements from that stock piece, altering that element somehow, creating something new and unique.
The suit jacket for example had to be cut out of what appeared to be a scene set in the past and made to fit with what I wanted to be a scene set in a more modern or timeless period. So, I cut out the jacket and suit (essentially the body for the figure) and applied textures and shading to them, altering their look somewhat, making it my own.
The Auckland cityscape is another example of a stock shot, with tonal filters applied to it and many layers of texture and shading digitally applied, to again, make it unique to this particular piece of art, and also new and fresh and a part of a whole new illustration.
What are the key tools you used to achieve your look?
Stephen: I worked completely digitally on this piece. Aside from the very first rough sketches in the earliest concept stages with pencil and paper, everything is run through Photoshop CC. I tend to work seamlessly, building up my artwork from rough stages through to final art directly within Photoshop. It's a process that's become quickest and most comfortable for me over the years.
The type for the back cover and spine compositions are created within InDesign CC, and a print-ready file can be exported from there to send to the printer.
What was the biggest challenge in achieving the look you wanted?
Stephen: One of the biggest hurdles that had to be overcome with the second cover was capturing the subtlety of colours and textures I wanted present, but to still keep the overall tone enveloped in darkness.
I was finding that on-screen, everything was working, but when it came time to print the work on actual paper, a lot of the tones were turning muddy and washing out.
So, I did an extensive series of colour tests, altering the brightness and saturation levels, not only of various compositional elements, but of the background sky texture as well, and sent a random to a print house in order to best see how far to push the colours to get what I wanted on press.
Do you enjoy designing book covers... and if yes, what in particular do you find interesting?
Stephen: Working collaboratively with an author on a book cover is ultimately very gratifying. From choosing compositional elements to the main subject matter itself, it is quite fun to work out. Creating what is a still frame that says everything it needs to say.
Covers are art. They use design, illustration, and are marketing tools. There are an infinite number of permutations of what a book cover can be, which is very exciting for a designer.
Stephen Thut is a graphic designer/art director based in Toronto Canada. Stephen works for an award-winning design firm as well as taking on freelance projects—the most recent being Motive Games 2: Death Down Under. Stephen, who also designed the first Motive Games cover, talks a bit about the process of creating his latest book cover.
Michael Taylor is the husband of the author of Motive Games, and the technical editor of the story. Michael's day job is creating 3D software programs, for the entertainment and medical visualisation industries. This work has earned Michael an Academy Award (ie Oscar).
Thanks also to LD Taylor, the author of the Motive Games Series who helped compile this interview.