He is dirty. Mean.

And mighty unclean.

Ok, AC/DC were actually never a part of the soundtrack while I worked on this piece, but Harvester of Sorrow was. He’s standing arrogant and proud right next to this diesel-powered machine from which he’d been harvesting his favorite prey again.

This image is a part of my retrofuturistic body of work, but the inspiration for it actually comes from a very real and quite unnerving scene from our past, which I found some years ago:

 

 

This photo was taken in 1870 and it depicts a pile (personally, I’d call it more of a hill) of bison skulls waiting to be ground up and made into fertilizer.

The westward expansion in the USA during the 19th century nearly wiped the bison from the Great Plains. Settlers slaughtered some 50 million for food and sport, nearly driving this species to its extinction. By 1900, there were less than a thousand left in North America.

This dark story (and the ray of light being that due to the common effort of many people from various walks of life these giants now thrive as a species) inspired me to create the image above, but put in the visual context of my series.

I imagined it situated in an alternative past, when people conquering the wilds were equipped with diesel-powered engines with various means for killing the prey and the most successful ones were praised highly, boosting their reputation even beyond the range of their hunting grounds.

When I first got the idea for this image, I instantly knew that finding a landscape which would be suitable for the look and feel I was after was going to be difficult where I live. But I rarely give up just because something would be tough, so I decided to actually create it from the ground (pun intended!) up. I used a number of different photorealistic soil and sand photoscans, which were mixed together in various proportions in order to achieve this rocky-muddy-watery look.

The images below show the progression of this landscape.

 

We first begin with the muddy ground as a base for everything above it.

 

 

We then add the rock and gravel layer, which is blended with the mud below it in a proportion of choice – I decided to keep it visible mostly in the lower parts.

 

 

We then proceed to add water to cover the lower parts of it as well…

 

and then add up a layer of rippled sand of top soaking it up.

 

This way we get to achieve a realistic and diverse look for the base of our scene.

Next, we load our base we have created in our software, along with this heavily modified model I used for the machine. Its base is a concept vehicle by Bohdan Lvov, which I further developed by making it ride-able in a more traditional, motorcycle-like way:

 

..and then adding some more meanness with the blades, the cowcatchers and the mascot skull up front:

 

Speaking of skulls… throwing them around the landscape might sound a bit of a dark enterprise, but in reality it was quite a lot of fun:

 

Here’s our textured scene:

 

 

The lighting for this image wasn’t too complex – I used a sunset HDRI, which I further enhanced by adding a couple of warmed softboxes above the machine and on the left of it to get some more light accents there, as well as an artificial sun pulled quite away from the main scene in order to further improve this sunset-y feeling after his tiresome day.  Throw a couple of black flags here and there for local shadow contrast and voila – our dark, but somewhat comforting sunset scene is done.

After I had this (somewhat) ready as a base layout, it was time to get shooting.

Chudomir was the obvious choice. His brutal talent in working with metal can be seen at Looneytools, but it was his attitude and his somewhat maniacal look (which perfectly fits everything he creates) that really helped spice this image up.

The lighting we used was one that would basically emulate the logic of the scene here. A fully-gelled small beauty dish quite far behind him for the sunset punch was the most powerful source in the scene. I also added a couple of larger and a tad weaker sources in front to simply add additional detail to the body, combined with a very low-powered strobe, also warmed up as another rim light, because I felt his face could benefit from that as well. All shot on a clean white background for easier compositing in the scene.

 

Alas, these past few months somewhat limited my resources in terms of available clothing and accessories due to the 2020 pandemic measures, so I had to get a bit creative on this side as well.

And I think we all love a nice, strong boot (adding it in the scene using the original lighting made it very easy to composite it in the post afterwards):

 

I actually used his original boots we photographed him with as a reference point for the CG created ones – in terms of angle and alignment.

 

Next, I felt I needed some additional detailing on his body. So I thought a leather belt would fit nicely there (again, using the same lighting for easier post):

 

And then came the axe.

 

The thing was build from three different parts – one decorated steel blade, the wood handle and an ancient ritual knife on top, keeping just the ornate part of it.

 

But even a good and strong axe like that simply wouldn’t suffice, alas, if it was to hunt larger prey without some additional power enhancements.

So I built a mechanical arm, which would ensure he’d possess the strength necessary to harvest incessantly and efficiently.

 

 

All of this basically gave this antihero the basic tools he needed to be the roaming bad-ass I initially intended him to become and while it would definitely be possible to get a hold of most of these items in terms of production, due to the situation in the world right now, that would mean delays in my picture’s schedule I simply wasn’t inclined to allow, so I decided to go with the harder route like this.

 

After that, it all came to good post-production and compositing, which was a relatively faster task, because when every element and part of the image has been thought-through and taken individual care of, it all comes to life better and with less of a fuss. The total file ended up with about 75 layers, which falls in the relatively mild category when it comes to heavier post.

 

 

And then it was done.

As done as only a man could feel at the sunset of a good harvesting day and a job well done, be it even this dark.

This image was brought to life by:

Chudomir Dragnev – model

Ralitsa Koleva – photography assistance

Kiril Stanoev – props and special thanks

Ivaylo Petrov – concept, photography, CGI and post-production