Since 2003, Lewis Moorcroft has been impassioned with digital art, with the use of Pandromeda’s Mojoworld. He has produced an extraordinary portfolio which has now been extended with new artwork and music showcased at his new website “Astral Realm”.
Here we re-publish our interview with Lewis from Issue 17 of 3D Art Direct.
3DAD: What inspired the creation of your new Astral Realm website? Was it an idea that you’ve harbored for a long time?
LM: In a word – yes. I forget when exactly, but maybe about three years ago the idea came into my head – I wanted to re-invigorate my portfolio by taking it the next level with my next-generation artwork, as well as incorporate another ‘bedroom’ hobby for mine – being a DJ. My first site has done well over the years and I will keep it up so that the content will always be accessible (I may even update it with the odd WIP or anything that doesn’t make it to the Astral Realm site), but it was time to move things on. Instead of just adding new areas to my existing site, I wanted to create something fresh to home a gallery of images that were of a higher quality and of a more focused theme (atmospheric landscapes and spacescapes). I worked on the first eight images before working on the design of the site and after a couple of months of kicking the design around, it was ready.
3DAD: Tell me about the tag line for your site which is “Art and Music for the Body and Mind.”. Is your aim to provide a holistic effect with your art and music?
LM: Yes I think you can say that. To me there is quite a tie between the style of artwork and music you will find on Astral Realm, as both are showing their atmospheric side.
3DAD: You’ve fronted the website with a star map interface. What gave you this idea and is it based on a real section of the Milky Way? You’ve mentioned you might develop this map over time- how will you be enhancing it?
LM: This was one of the first things that came into my head when I thought about the design. After-all, the artwork is of ‘alien worlds’ so how could I create a cool gallery interface that would allow users to navigate these worlds, without the usual thumbnail grid design? The answer came pretty easily – an interactive star map! It is not based on the Milky Way so could be anywhere, but it is one thing I am keen to develop over time, as web technology improves. One day I hope the map will take the form of a rotating galaxy, so one day you may find that the planets have moved around to cater for the development of the map.
3DAD: You have mentioned that your new generation of artwork will have higher detail and resolution, with more attention to detail given to each image. Is it case that you are spending more time over each image than you’ve done in the past and that you’re trying to create a greater impact with each?
LM: That is right. A lot more time goes into all aspects: landscape setup, lighting, satellite composition, starfields, postwork and so on. As a result each image requires many more test renders (than I use to do) before I am happy to let the final render start. The final renders themselves are taking days instead of hours too as I am using a new method to really maximize image quality.
3DAD: You are focusing on showcasing atmospheric landscapes and spacescapes with this site, what attracts you to this particular zone of art?
LM: I have always been drawn to ‘the atmospherics’, whether it is other inspirational digital artwork, from photography or from seeing ‘it’ first-hand. Put simply I think I just get mesmerized by the effects of what a low sun in the sky can do to an environment.
3DAD: I imagine that you are continuing to use Mojoworld to create your works. Are you still happy using Mojo, despite its frozen development by Pandromeda?
LM: Mojoworld is a top notch program and still ticks a lot of boxes. Yes the development may be frozen, but for my needs I have yet to see any alternative applications leap considerably further in-front in terms of what Mojoworld can do. It would be great to have true erosion fractal capabilities in Mojoworld, maybe one day – you never know!
3DAD: You have Arctia, Shive, Rausal, Caius and Equanimity on your star map at the moment plus you’ve provided some good detailed data about your planets. Are you going to flesh out some more details about these worlds, perhaps provide some sort of backstory?
LM: That is a possibility as the site develops, we could see more of a story also develop.
3DAD: I notice that some of the exploration dates are from some time ago. Are these the dates you created the planets or when you rendered the original scenes?
LM: The dates represent when the individual scene was finished. I started work on some of these quite a while before the site was released which is why some go back so far. Some of the world files themselves go even further back as I have re-visited and re-developed them or components of other worlds.
3DAD: Arctia has a striking and cold looking sun. and really fits well for the frozen landscapes you have rendered. Is this one of suns from the original Mojoworld library– or a brand new star?
LM: It is a heavily modified library sun which I believe shipped with Mojoworld 2 (and one of the worlds). The sun flares are actually post-worked but I am sure they could be done within Mojoworld.
3DAD: For Arctia, you’ve made good use of a thick atmosphere to create more ambiance. Was this world built from the ground up?
LM: Yes this world was built from scratch. The terrain was originally imported from another volumetric world (by Yaroslav) but again, it has been modified fairly extensively. The simplistic ice-like material and sun came from a piece I had posted a couple of years beforehand, and the atmosphere was built from scratch to compliment those other aspects.
3DAD: You’re using the wonderful world of Shive by Armands, Bob Buttery and Calyxa. Tel me about the images you generated from this world, did it take some time to get what you wanted?
LM: Call these images a re-visit to the stunning world of Shive, one of my favourite worlds for sure. The first is actually very similar (but not from the same position) to one I posted back in 2005 called ‘Paradise Lost & Found’, and more predominately features the eerie landscape towers. The second takes you more to the beautiful, rolling hill landscape of Shive. Both took many test renders of different locations and once I had found that ‘perfect location’ for each, many lighting test renders too, so there was a lot of time spent in the navigator for these.
3DAD: Rausal uses some nice moons for impact. What are your favourite aspects of the two images you’ve created for this planet?
LM: Again, this world uses components I was messing around with a few years ago which I wanted to further develop. The two key components were the water and sand materials (with traces of sea weed) to create that crystal water paradise beach. I developed a technique to ‘fake’ water caustics which I re-used and re-developed for this world. A lot of time was spent on the water itself (balancing the colour, transparency and surface displacements) as well as the sand materials (how the sand texture changes as it gets closer to the water line).
3DAD: The images from Caius just focus on it’s atmosphere. Will we be getting some peaks of the surface? It looks like this Mojoworld is using the volumetric plugin.
LM: That is right – Caius is all about the atmosphere and really shows you how good the volumetric plugin is for both clouds and shadowing of the atmosphere (to create sun rays). No plans to do any focus shots on the surface but the dark nature of the surface really helps to bring out the sun rays. I must admit, when the volumetric plugin came to Mojoworld I think I was most exited about the fact that sun rays would be possible.
3DAD: Equanimity has a great look to it, reminding me of Ralph McQuarrie’s matt concept paintings of Tatooine for Star Wars.
LM: A re-visit of a world I had previously created with the addition of a huge neighbouring gas giant. I think the gas giant took a lot longer to do than Equanimity itself!
3DAD: What other worlds are on the cards for Astral Realms?
LM: Firstly I plan to re-visit and re-develop another older world of mine that was very popular at the time, the image was titled ‘The Cloud Sea’ and, as you may be able to tell from the title, focuses on looking over a sea of volumetric clouds. I also plan to create a couple of new worlds over the next few months. One will be on the theme of an abandoned man-made world. The second will probably be themed on a moon or small rocky world.
3DAD: You have one track at the moment in your audio section of the website, Timeless Sonics. Tell me about the creation of this –was there a lot of thought behind this, or was it a more impulsive or organic process?
LM: There is always quite a lot of thought that go into my mixes. The styles of the tracks are always the first consideration but beyond that they have to be able to flow from one to another. Having a keen ear and an understanding of the way the music is structured helps this process, so for example music timing and being able to identify when components of two tracks may clash or whether two tracks have clashing keys.
3DAD: Are you aiming to eventually produce an album centred in this style of music?
LM: Not and album as such. I hope to build up a collection of these mixes over time which are effectively mixed compilations of some of the artists and music genres I follow. It won’t be limited to this single style so I will hopefully get around to doing a new mix or two in the future months.