Mitridate – Illustrating an Opera, Part 4

12 Feb

Picking up where I left off last week, I now return to talking about what goes into one single photo. Of all the pictures that I have taken for Mozart Project, the photo for Mitridate, Act 3, is the most well documented and this is the photo that I will be describing.

You can read Part 1 if you want to learn the story, music and design.  Part 2 recounts the full photo shoot. Part 3 talks about the various pictures I took that were needed to make a composite.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

This is the photo that I will be showing you how I made! Mitridate, Act III, by Tyson Vick.

In this fourth post, I will share with you how I made the two prison towers featured in the background of the photo, which is a great deal more technical, and leads us quite a long ways away from Mozart before making its way back.

Conquering The Prison Tower in Miniature

From the get-go I knew that there needed to be a prison tower in the background of the final composite image for Mitridate, Act III. However, I was unable to find a satisfying tower in real life. The largest free standing brick tower in the world does actually exist in Montana.  This structure is the abandoned Anaconda Smelter. My cousin, Elizabeth, and I went out to photograph this tower. We weren’t allowed to get too close (It’s a superfund site), and after I took the pictures and looked at them for a while, I was not convinced it was what I wanted.

Then, one day, I played Final Fantasy XIII on Playstation 3, and everything became clear…

Anaconda Smelter, Taejin's Tower Concept Art

On the left is the Anaconda Smelter, the tallest freestanding brick structure in the world. On the right is concept art for Final Fantasy XIII’s “Taejin’s Tower”.

Final Fantasy XIII is a fantasy role playing game which tells the story of a group of young people who are permanently “possessed” or “compelled” by a monster to do its bidding. However, when it dies and the curse still continues its hold on them, it becomes distressingly uncertain whether the monster’s intentions were good or evil. The characters are forced to decide whether they want to fulfill their “focus” or to make their own choices. Everything is complicated by various forces, including intense racism, genocide and a fear of the outside world – which the characters are eventually expelled to.

In this outside wild world, I came across Taejin’s Tower – perhaps the coolest 3-D modeled landscape I’ve ever encountered. While playing, I would sit for minutes on end just looking at it, making that grumpy old Lightning move here and there to look at it from different angles.

Taejin’s Tower, for my readers who don’t have 80 hours to spare to play Final Fantasy XIII, is an excessively tall tower (miles high) that for some unknown reason, time has caused to fall over across a canyon, making it into an excessively long bridge (now miles long!). The strange thing about it is that the break in the tower is miles skyward, meaning, in order to cross the chasm, you have to fight your way to the top of the tower to slide back down its broken spine.

It was in this location that I found inspiration.

Here was a fantastical tower that was infinitely interesting and quite frankly, awing and inspiring to me.

Taejin's Tower from Final Fantasy XIII

Lightning, Final Fantasy XIII’s main character, looks at Taejin’s Tower, contemplating its awesomeness. It looks even awesomer in HD.

I decided to build a model tower.

When I built the tower, I tried to imitate some of the aspects that I found impressive in Taejin’s Tower (namely the stripped wall where the break occurred.)

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned from the “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” special features, is how the filmmakers utilize tiny models for cityscapes rather than using computer generated cities. If anyone out there is interested in production design, set design, costume design, armor design or prop design, they ought to get the extended “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars III” special edition for the very informative bonus features. (Star Wars III is strangely the only episode with truly engaging and informative documentaries for some reason. The rest do cover a lot of ground, but they seem more like cliff’s notes in comparison.)

Of all the things that I do for Mozart Project, building a model of a tower is the most difficult to explain. The process is mostly intuitive. I can break down what materials were used, though.

Mitridate Act III set sketch

Initially, it is important to have an idea of what I want to make. Because of my initial sketch of the Act III prison set from Mitridate, I knew roughly what I was looking for.

To make the Prison Tower, I used a Post Office mailing Tube which had been damaged. I cut part of the damage away, then ripped the rest, creating a hole. This hole was then partially covered, and partially inset, with balsa wood spires and girders. Next, I took a sheet of white construction foam and wrapped the tower, cutting to my taste, a shape of suitable crumbling and decay, around the hole. I also added some raised areas out of strips of foam as well.

After this, I decided to add a top to the tower, with columns.  This is a paper towel tube with wooden dowels attached with both a thing strip of wood and craft foam. Next. I took the back of an exact-o knife and carved lines into the foam to resemble bricks.

The last step was to paint the tower. I used acrylic paints in Black, Grey, Burnt Sienna, and Taupe. First I laid down a dark color to fill the holes on the tower, then I overlaid a lighter shade over the top, lightly, as to not fill in the gaps completely. This made the bricks stand out more!

Mitridate Prison Tower in Miniature

My uncle helps me light the Prison Tower model for my photograph. The close up will show what I have been describing above.

The tower now complete, it was time to photograph it. There are two things to consider when photographing a model: The First is to consider where the light is coming from in the image that you are compositing together. If you light the tower hard from the left, and the photo shows a man lit softly from the top, there will be a disconnect in the viewer. The composite will remain unconvincing to the eye.

The Second thing to consider is that a small object needs to be lit very strongly in order to appear large. A small object casts small shadows and has very little surface area to catch light. In order to get a convincing result, you have to artificially bump the light to cast longer shadows, so it looks like more surface area is being covered. This requires a thoughtful set-up, just like the main foreground image you have taken. For my tower, I photographed it in broad daylight, and with the help of my uncle, using a reflector board, we bounced the sunlight straight back onto the tower. This makes the reflector board the brightest light, and it can be rotated and moved to find the needed effect. The effect I needed was that of a low sun coming from the back, but registering distinctly on the edge of the tower.

I made and photographed this tower for “Mitridate” while playing Final Fantasy XIII, and after I had finished making my tower, I returned to playing the game. It is interesting to note that upon returning to the game, I shortly thereafter discovered that the villainous monster that haunted Taejin’s Tower was named Mithridates!

Now how’s that for a Spooky coincidence!?

And that brings us all the way back to Mozart!

COMING UP NEXT – The conclusion to this massive blog post!

Trevor gets ready

Trevor gets ready for the final blog post!


5 Responses to “Mitridate – Illustrating an Opera, Part 4”

  1. vanimator February 12, 2011 at 4:39 am #

    Amazing Amazing modeling, i really like Final Fantasy series.
    Thanks for the share.


    • tysonvick February 12, 2011 at 3:06 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by! Making miniatures is always a fun and creative process. I’ve had to do quite a few others (Roman Capitol, Dragon, Betulia), and I’ll be making a few more before my project is done.

      The design of both Final Fantasy and of the Magna Carta series (Which I’ve never played) are big influences on my designs. I think that they have very creative people working on their games!


  2. Dannooll February 12, 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    Nice tower! It doesn’t look exactly miniature.

    • tysonvick February 12, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

      Thanks! You should see some of the miniatures used in Star Wars and the Lord of the Rings! They’re as tall as the people making them!

      The Tower of Barad-dur (The Eye of Sauron) in the Lord of the Rings had to be big enough to blow up realistically!

  3. Tristan D. Vick February 13, 2011 at 1:03 am #

    Speaking of matte overlay special effects, have you seen any episodes of the new Spartacus? It’s like 300 but better. That is if you can get past the over use of cussing, profanity, violence, nudity, and what not. The story is excellent and the acting is far superior to most. Lucy Lawless is phenomenal. Whatever she’s doing is leaving me speechless. Brilliant actress.

    Anyway, I know the show is pornographic on so many levels, but it also happens to be the most artistic, both visually and conceptually, that I’ve seen on television. It’s worth watching just for the art of it. Art for art’s sake, as they say.

    Anyway, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. But there are a couple episodes which I think you would find highly informative on what you do.

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