The Creature From the Pit

30 December 2010

My starting point for this cover illustration was deciding whether to include the titular Creature or not. As you can see, I chose not to as it would probably look either ridiculous or just too confusing as to what it was. The decision led me to a foresty backdrop rather than a cavey one, but I still wanted some nod towards the presence of Erato even if he wasn't to feature himself. I knew my two foreground figures would be the Doctor and Lady Adrasta, of course, but just them against a forest background didn't seem to 'sell' the story enough. So I decided to place between them the mouth of the pit with an ominous green glow emerging.

A rough knock-up of the composition revealed that the space between the two main characters was tighter than I anticipated without them being pushed too far to the edges. The pit would also need to be pretty low down, which still left just the empty forest filling much of the cover. As I was looking through images from the story I noticed one of the huntsman with the huge beheading sword, which I thought would look suitably menacing, and quickly found others of sword-wielding huntsmen to form a little squad guarding the pit mouth and providing a bit more focus - a little static still, perhaps, but better than nothing.

With the composition sorted, it was time to find some pictures to create it with. The background is made up from three images in total - the trees in the upper half, then some ground level foliage and finally a mossy forest floor around the pit. I spent some time combining these into a convincing scene, even though most of the joins were hidden by the foreground figures in the end. Such effort takes longer, of course, but it's fun trying to get it right and makes the illustrations more interesting to do than simple cut-and-paste jobs (click here to see the clean forest background). The bright sky visible through the tree tops provided a way to liven up the scene a little by having sunlight streaming through. I copied the trees to a channel then upped the contrast so only the brightest areas of sky were white, with the trees silhouetted. I then applied a large radial zoom blur. Using this channel to make a selection, I simply filled this with pure white in a layer above the forest. Quite effective, I think.

For the pit I had planned to create just a hole in the ground, but having a quick look at the story while I was screengrabbing images from the DVD's photo gallery, I was reminded the pit was edged in stone (for the Doctor to climb down). So searching online for stone walls or wells, I found a good image of a rough stone well that was at just the right angle for adding a green glow in the bottom. It didn't match the one in the story itself, but as it was the feel of the pit I was after I didn't mind. You could argue there's more than one hole leading to Erato's cave system, if you like. The only downside of the well image was it had a large branch across it which took much painstaking painting out but, again, worth the effort.

The rest of the cover was simply (!) cutting out the characters. The hunstmen were from photo gallery grabs, which are generally rather soft but I knew they'd be shrunk down, so after some tidying up and making their swords stand out more they were okay. Adrasta was scanned from a large image in DWM which was grainy but once smoothed out at a large size was fine when reduced to fit the cover. The Doctor was a mix of a scanned photo and a screengrab, as I've done on occasion before - the former for better detail and the latter for better colour and to soften the scan's print screening.

Download the final CREATURE FROM THE PIT cover here

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