Sharon Schatz takes a closer look at David Kirk's latest book, Nova's Ark, which was illustrated using both the artist's own paintings and CGI.
When children's author/illustrator David Kirk's best-selling Miss Spider books were first published, people marveled over how his images looked as if they were created with 3D CGI. This comparison to the process used in films like A Bug's Life and Toy Story led to the innovative idea of Kirk moving from illustrating his books solely with his paintings to including CGI images. Kirk's latest book, Nova's Ark is the first children's book illustrated using both the artist's own paintings and 3D CGI made in conjunction with a professional imaging house.
Nova's Ark is a futuristic tale about a boy robot named Nova who goes on an intergalactic expedition to search for the energy source that can save his home planet. To bring his stellar world and robotic characters to life, Kirk worked with Engineering Animation, Inc. (EAI), an interactive developer in Iowa. Currently the largest independent developer of computer games in the world, EAI specializes in 3D work of all kinds and produces custom animation, special effects and visual effects for a number of clients. Recently, the company produced A Bug's Life Active Play CD-ROM for Disney Interactive and also developed several CD-ROMs featuring the Animaniacs and Looney Tunes for SouthPeak Interactive.
Forty images were created to illustrate Nova's Ark. To create each image, Kirk began by sketching a black and white line drawing. Next, he made a color oil painting demonstrating the lighting and coloration for the piece from which the EAI production team interpreted an image. Kirk then worked with the modeling department building digital models of the characters and scenes in wireframe. The next step was texture mapping and lighting design. Finishing touches were applied in 2D paint software in areas where Kirk felt the 3D wasn't effective. "That's one thing that was different about working on a book," explains Robert Coshland, Director of Entertainment Production at EAI, "We did a lot of painting right on the image. That's how we were able to develop a look that was both 3D and illustrative at the same time."
It usually takes Kirk about a year to paint an entire picture book. Using the new technology, the process alone took only three months. Although expensive, Kirk feels the new method takes his pictures to the next level. "There are a lot of things about developing pictures that I got to exploit with the computer world," Kirk says. "You could change the lenses, look at the image from a different angle, and change colors and lighting by just pressing a button. In painting, you'd have to do the entire painting over. On the computer it takes just seconds."
Another reason why Kirk chose to use this process was to give Nova life in other media besides book form. As the characters and scenery are now available in digital form, Nova can easily be realized as a toy, interactive CD-ROM game, or as the basis for an animated motion picture. Currently, there is a Nova's Ark movie in development and Trendmasters is creating a Nova toyline that will debut in 2000.
Kirk has been building and collecting robots since he was five years old and was at one time a toymaker. He is currently in the planning stages of writing and illustrating another book about Nova and will use the same technique for the illustrations. Maybe it's his toymaking roots that give Kirk's illustrations a natural 3D quality. He compares the digital process with his old profession. "Making the models of the robots and animals, making them grow out of nothing.... It was very much like building toys."
Currently, a selection of twenty-five 3D CGI pictures from Nova's Ark are available for purchase on the web through Storyopolis' site or by calling (310) 358-2500. Each limited edition print has been signed by David Kirk.
Nova's Ark, by David Kirk. New York, New York: Scholastic Press/Callaway, 1999. 39 pages. ISBN: 0-590-28208-5 (US$17.95 hardcover)
Sharon Schatz works in the programming department for Fox Family Channel, and is a writer based in Los Angeles. A lover of children's books, she is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI).
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