Abandoned Nuclear Powerplant.
  Play by Play

Abandoned Nuclear Powerplant.

Entry for Forbidden Lands contest. Melo and Kobi venture off to the most dangerous and darkest locations, hoping to find some clues for the cure... But it seems like they might not be alone.

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Update - 28 Apr 2020


Think it's about time for me to put the pen down and not overwork it. This was a very fun experience and I'm looking forward to many more! Hope you enjoyed my little journey and liked the final outcome. 

If you have any feedback and constructive criticism please let me know as I am still an amateur and criticism is the best way to learn. Thank you so much!

Over and out. 

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Update - 28 Apr 2020

Took a break yesterday and came back to this painting with fresh eyes! 

I've reworked the values better! Instead of darkening the foreground I lightened the background and added more fog. I also added some shapes to try and frame the scene better, not sure how I feel about it yet but I haven't worked on it much yet.  I also finally added some clouds in, and tried to make them direct the attention to the observatory.

Update - 25 Apr 2020

Not too much progress today, some cleaning up and trying a few things on the painting but not sure how its coming off. I'll take a break tomorrow to give myself fresh eyes when looking back it again.

Did some more reference research, added another design element to the character (not too sure how I feel about it yet, but we'll see, and fixed some value issues.

References from Fukushima Daiichi (2011 Nuclear Disaster) and Chernobyl. Trying to grasp the designs of the industrial buildings. I really like the towers in most of these photographs.

This is today's progress, I'll break it down a little bit.

Tried to fix the values in the painting a bit more, and tried to use different filters on photoshop to test the readability of my scene (pixelised, crystalised, paint strokes and cut out).

I also played around with Photoshop's camera lense editor, trying to give my painting a bit more space. however now I feel like the right side feels a bit empty. I'm gonna figure out if I can maybe add an object in the very foreground as well to help frame the painting.

This was another design I came up with last year and I thought I could include it in the painting as well. Melo is an engineer for her tribe as well and she's created this protective hat. It is based on the traditional Chinese Veil hat, but it uses a specific material, very thin fiber that can actually break down radioactive molecules. It isn't full proof, but it definitely decreases the amount of direct exposure. That is what Melo is wearing in the scene.

Update - 24 Apr 2020

Today I've been reworking the composition a little bit because I wasn't too happy with how the Nuclear Towers were laid out, they felt a bit too insignificant and the area still felt too "open", not forbidden enough.  Here were some variations I tried. 

Adding the wall reinforced the feeling of seclusion, and also allowed to explore some vandalism designs, which brings some more story-telling elements into the piece. Most of the graffiti is very negative and targetted towards their ancestors that destroyed the planet, but some are also directed towards the other ideologies (i.e "Death to the Imperium" -> since they want to rebuild the old civilisation).

Happiest with this lay out of the wall, as it doesn't break Melo's eye trajectory on the Observatory, and still leaves out enough space to see the inside to keep the audience's curiosity. 

The wall built over the fence reinforce the idea of how much they wanted people to stay away, as if one layer wasn't enough.

Starting to get to the point of the painting that I like but there is still a lot of polishing and refinement to do. I also thought of adding another design touch which you can see on the dead tree. 

The keep out signs and warning signs serve their purpose, however, they would've been installed there decades ago, before the Upturning. So I wanted to add another touch, a more recent one which would show the condemnation of this area by the current population, the ones that deem this place "Forbidden". And that is the red glad with the blue symbols on it, both colors representation that Naturalist Tribes. I did some design research and explored some different variations. I also added a similar touch on Melo arm, the red ribbon symbolizing her tribe.

Using the most general association with shapes, I tried to recreate a danger symbol that could be used by the current population. Triangle = Danger/Warning and Rectangles = Space/Area.

I used similar triangle symbols in the graffiti as well. 

Ended up using blue instead of yellow as a color to kind of remind the tribe's colors (ref to the previous environment I've done (entry update #1)  which is the settlement where Melo lives in. Red and Blue is the color of their tribes. Also just because there was already too much yellow going on.

Update - 23 Apr 2020

After polishing up the sketch a little bit more, I decided to go through towards painting. However, my first attempt I wasn't really sure what I was doing and I was mostly playing around with the Overlay layers. So I decided to do some quick color analysis from the paintings I included in my moodboards. I pixelated them, then picked out the main colors in each painting. This helped get a sense of tones and saturation that would help me chose the colors for my painting.

I noticed 2 main categories: 

- Paintings set during the middle of the day so high sun peak, are generally lighter and use more shades of light greens and grays. Usually has a strong ray of sunlight shining through a silhouette. 
- Paintings set indoors or at sun-down hours tend to be a lot darker, and usually have a pop of color, mostly seen here are reds/oranges. They also have a strong source of light, very cinematic use of lighting, which really makes the piece more interesting.

I would like to set my environment in a sunset-ish time, with a strong ray of light coming through and emphasising the shape of the observatory, as well as giving some nice highlights in the foreground. 

Since I would like to create some form of anxiety in the ambiance, I was looking at darker and cooler tones, and wanted to create a contrast between the cold dangerous power plant and my characters. 

This was the start of me establishing basic values and colors. Made myself a quick color palette and some guidelines (the triangle is where I would focus the amount of detail on the painting). 

I focused on painting the foreground today. Here's a slightly more refined version.

Still got ways to go, I'm still an amateur at digital painting, especially with colors, so if anyone has some feedback or constructive criticism please let me know :)

Update - 22 Apr 2020

I decided to rework the composition of my painting because I wasn't happy with it for several reasons:

- The area felt too "inviting", it didn't feel like a "Forbidden Land" so I went back and tried to make it more cluttered, more barricaded. The new barb wires also help create more space and a broader sense of depth.

- The ambience and vibe the previous painting was too peaceful. This is meant to be a dangerous and restricted area. I need that to come through in the painting (this will be furthermore developed in the next point)

- The characters felt lifeless and kind of useless, they didn't give much of a story. I tried to maybe have Melo look over her shoulder, but I kind of struggled due to her positioning (image below), however, I had a better idea. Now if you had a look at the design sheet of Kobi (the mutated gecko), he shifts from his normal form to his alarmed state if he senses danger around him. In this case, he's alerted and looking back. I was hoping to create a sense of unease, a possibility that they aren't alone. Anything in this radioactive area would not be friendly. A potential Guardian maybe? 

- The value control I believe is much better now, helping create depth and space, as well as giving that more anxious feeling. 

The character didn't read as well, because of how small her face would be. She would also be wearing a mask so I wouldn't be able to show off much emotion of anxiety. However, I thought that Kobi would be perfect: 

- He is bigger so more space to draw out his expressions and details.

- He is an animal and they've always had better senses than humans, meaning they would detect danger before them. Using my previous design for him, I could emulate a sense of alert and danger through his shape-shift (please refer to my design sheet). This would also explain why he's the only one looking backward because he has sensed something. Melo probably hasn't noticed it yet because she is so intrigued by the infrastructure in front of her. 

Instead of calling this a mood board, this is more like a reference board for me. These are the images I look at to get accurate shapes and forms in my drawing. As you can see these are mostly industrial nuclear power plants. Some might stand out like the observatories, but I thought they have a very nice looking shape to them that I could add to bring more forms to the design.
(I've been using this from the start but I wasn't sure wether to include these or not in the Play by Play).

Now this is what I consider a moodboard. Most of these are concept art or in-game shots (possibly some fan art as well) of the Last of Us Remastered and the Tom Clancy's Division 1 & 2. They help me visualise the narrative route I would like to take and also the tones and colors of the painting. 

These images were chosen for either their visual story-telling, their cinematic lighting, the composition of a gate or wall (forbidden aspect), and the colors and tone used.

Update - 21 Apr 2020

Today's update, started coloring and some very basic photobashing. Still playing around with colors and values. 

Update - 20 Apr 2020

After reading the brief, I had many inspirations to work on a fallen civilization like the Incans, Minoans or Mayans etc... however one part of the brief intrigued me: "Area 51". This led me to believe that I could go down maybe a science fiction path, instead of a fantasy-historic one. And this is when I decided to take a chance and push a project I had worked on early this year and to push it towards new limits. 

The idea and world I'm basing myself on are one I came up with for one of my University modules. I know the sypnosis is a bit long, but it sets the world context and explains why such an area is Forbidden, and what the Fallen Kingdoms are, and who the new Guardians are.


A time far off in the future, where humans have destroyed the world through their hubristic nature.

They abused the Earth's resources for their own greed and now the Earth is taking back what is rightfully hers.

Climate change evolved beyond human comprehension, the planet system shifting drastically all due to human pollution. Tectonic plates began shifting at unseen speeds with natural disasters emerging regularly, destroying lands and societies. Earthquakes brought on tsunamis, and the weather raged with blizzards, sandstorms, hurricanes… you name it. There was no end to it. For a whole decade, it only happened more and more frequently.

The Earth forced itself into a new form, destroying the majority of mankind as it attempted to start anew. This was known as the Upturning. The human population was almost wiped clean, surviving only thanks to the minuscule percentage that managed to develop an "immunity" to the radiation. Animals that survived were found to also develop this "immunity", allowing them to mutate and develop amongst the new world.

To avoid another destruction of the world, humanity has refrained from developing any technology related to nuclear or fossil energy, learning from the mistakes of the past. They instead reverted back to the style of old civilizations and a purer way of life, developing only renewable energy. (Biofuel, Geothermal, Hydroelectricity, Solar, Tidal, Wave, Wind)

Since the Upturning, the tribes that settled from the ashes of the remains of human population, have founded different ideologies and beliefs of the way of life.

The tribe of the Naturalists holds a belief that they are the chosen ones. That they are the key to reinstating a new era of human civilization, based on unity with the earth, their ideals focusing on the preservation of nature and a full and complete respect towards it. They have no leniency towards technological weapons or fossil energy, enforcing a strong ban against them, and believe in a land of salvation: a life of peace and harmony and a connection to the earth.

Fast forward a few generations to Melodie Johnson, a scientist of the Naturalist tribe discovering the lands of the olden.


This is a  more in-depth context of the New World for anyone that's interested:

The Upturning

On top of the destruction of nuclear plants and weapons, which have released all of the artificial radiation into the surface of the world, humanity faced the threat of natural radiation that came from cosmic rays. The atmospheric ozone layer completely disappeared after the mega-eruption of Yellowstone and Siberia's Putorana Plateau. The killer ingredient was the salt reservoirs in East Siberia: when salt is baked with volcanic magma, they release vast quantities of ozone-destroying chemicals into the atmosphere. Species all over the world had to cope with this harmful radiation from space that atmospheric ozone normally soaks up. This has made the world unliveable for any creature or human that couldn’t cope with radiation. 

The following volcanic winter proceeded to kill even more species and plants. As the sun was blocked out for 10 years. This was known as the Little Ice Age. Following that, the Earth warmed up drastically, and the global temperature was now around 40-60°C. 

Humans managed to survive in shelters that were built for atomic disasters. However, the radiation that was now ever-present on the surface of the earth reduced the human population to a rough total of 12,000 people on earth. This is almost a wipeout. And the only reason that tiny percentage managed to survive, is because their bodies developed a miracle.

The “immunity”

Radiation poses danger as it leads to DNA mutation, which creates cancerous cells. Except for minuscule percentage of species whose bodies and organisms reacted differently when exposed. It is that same radiation itself that has saved humanity and all living creatures. Their DNA mutated and created a higher and more tolerant DNA repair mechanism. Making humans and other species stronger and more tolerant to most known diseases as well as radiation. However, this only makes them more tolerant not immune to radiation. If exposed to gamma radiation at close range without any protection, they will still suffer consequences and be prone to develop cancer. The average age of death is now significantly lower, roughly around 50 years old.

This tolerance also varies depending on individuals and creatures. Some are a lot more tolerant and some are less. The cruel nature of this affects families, as a newborn child could be born intolerant, or not tolerant enough to survive in this harsh world. 

There were other social structures and ideologies in the New World. The Naturalist as mentioned previously, there are other 2 main ideologies reigning: The Imperiums and the Extremists. 

Imperiums believed in the restoration of the world as we knew it, but only on a single scale city. Their utopia is to recreate a modern settlement, following the social structure and hierarchy of the past world. They believe that this was nature’s test to pick out the “Worthy”, the strongest humans, and that this is a step in the evolution of humanity. As a result, one characteristic of this society are arranged marriages. The Highers (people who possess high tolerances to radiation) marry between each other, and the Lowers (I’m sure you know who they are) are left to mingle amongst themselves. They are trying to find and create the perfect “breed” of humans. A very elitist society with a lot of inequality and segregation.

Extremist, there's low numbers of them, but they are a very controversial and dangerous group. Basically, they believe that humans should’ve been wiped out completely and that humanity does NOT deserve a second chance. Their goal is to kill off any believers of survival, and then destroy themselves with them in an all-out execution. They use any means necessary to achieve this goal.

The reason why I have done a lot of research and developed my idea to this point is so that I have a clear understanding of how the environment is, which leads to how I can come up with design solutions to make liveable head quarts and protective equipment. Similar reasoning behind the social structures of the world- their beliefs and ideologies reflect in their everyday life- their clothing, their settlements, and their goals. 

This is Melo. She's a fifth-generation survivor and was raised in a naturalistic village. She possessed an extremely high tolerance to radiation, her little brother, however, was not so lucky. Their mom died during his childbirth, and he followed a few months later because he was born with very low tolerance to the radiation. Her father suffered severe depression and became very ill, something quite rare in this age. If an illness was caught, the individuals are usually quarantined and well, left to die. No medicine at this point in age could save anyone that contacted a mutated virus.

Melo went through this tragedy at the age of 12, and this young girl swore to herself that she would find a “cure” – a vaccine that could potentially attack the DNA repair mechanisms directly and ensure a high tolerance level to radiation for everyone.

Everyone in the village always knew that this Melo girl was an odd one, but she was a genius. She is not only the mechanic of the tribe, but also the engineer that came up with most systems, as well as a scientist and a doctor at heart who is doing her best to help everyone. She is willing to go great lengths to pursue her goal.


Below is the process work I've done for this design sheet.

Considering the environment my character lives in, it only makes sense to give her a vehicle that has high mobility and agility, one that could climb on walls to let her get in and out of the ravines easily. Meet Kobi, Melo's long-trusted best friend and mount.


Below is the process work I've done for this design sheet.

During the Upturning, numbers of high magnitude earthquakes have created huge crevasses and ravines. Some survivors saw a possibility of settlement in those deep pits. They provide natural cover and protection from sand storms, hurricanes and cast shadows during the day. The caverns and rooms are situated inside the rocks, which creates natural insolation, the temperature is significantly lower because the sun doesn’t hit it directly. Most ravines possess some sort of water source at the bottom of it, whether it’s the collected rain or a natural water source that was present and ripped open during the earthquakes.


Below is the process work I've done for this design sheet.

This is the point where I start working on the potential final piece I will submit for this contest. 

Melo has ventured into many Forbidden Lands. The fallen and abandoned research facilities, laboratories, powerplants, hospitals.. you name it. These places, although deemed far too dangerous because of their radiation levels and the bad omen they bring, are close to lost treasures for Melo. The scrap she can find, and even possible research that could aid her in her path to find a cure for this radiation, that is what drives her into these fallen lands. The danger isn't only the radiation.. some mutated animals lurk around those places too, usually extremely dangerous due to the amount of radiation they have absorbed. 

To establish the perspective and find a decent composition shot I was happy with, I went into Maya to make some basic block outs. I settled on the image in the bottom right.

This is what I'm working on so far. First establishing the values and the composition of the painting.