The Browning Battlefield - WWII Magazine, April 2009, Browning M1919A4 Machinegun
The graphic for the April issue of WWII magazine looks at the progress of US machine gun technology. It shows how these weapons started heavy and became lighter to suit more mobile tactics.
The render of the main MG1919A4 is the most detailed I have done so far.
The main thing is have been concentrating on is the use of line widths to aid perceptual understanding. People see and object first by outline. The outline needs to be prominent and obvious. Many graphics go overboard with this to make themselves look more 'diagrammatic' - to fit their needs for authority - not unlike 'science bit' in shampoo ads.
The inner lines need to be lighter but in a hierarchy that lets you read the parts and contours of the object to learn about it. Some contours are left out, but none that would confuse recognition or mislead understanding. It is important to remember that this is not a lifelike representation of the object. It is a representation of the object for the purposes of explanation.
I wanted to show the MG squad. I wanted to do so with a degree of veracity (they would need accurate uniforms) and also a degree of sympathy (the render would need to show them as humane). One way to show them would have been very tight diagrammatic form - but i didn't want them rendered in the same cool style as the equipment.
I looked at a more detailed sketching form, but this demanded too much attention from the viewer - I needed people to be able to 'read' these figures as human soldiers and then move on. I need people to think of the general idea of soldiers and their role with machine guns on the battlefield, not these as specific people, who's portrayal wove in their live's experiences in the lines on their faces.
Another issue with the (satisfyingly) detailed sketches below was that they attracted too much attention to themselves. The composition of the graphic is a finely balanced whole, with the elements engaged in a perpetual tension with each other. If one of these elements sang too loud, the overall ensemble would be unbalanced and the eye would be distracted, always drawn to this element and unable to read the whole.
From the basic sketch I went to a detailed drawing maybe a bit too quickly
Alot of the hatching lines were then taken out
There was a satisfying level of detail
I wanted the faces to have a stern quality - matching the subject
And I wanted the actual gunner to echo the grimness of his work
More sketches sought to simplify the scene - hard to leave a nicer drawing but the Whole had to be served!
Lines were thinned and erased until the sketch was just enough to support the reading of the picture and to support it's place in the whole
Te sketch by itself seemed a bit light but echoing the background colouring of the Running Soldier gave consistency and knitted a few more threads of coherence to the whole spread (Good call Wendy - WWII Art Director!)
The danger is with too much detail is that An object becomes The object. An exact render gives an object a specificity that then removes it from the generic idea of 'the object' into the specific instance that you have created. And if you are talking about a specific instance of something you are best off showing it's actual portrayal photographically (and photo realistic sketching or 3-d software can only go so far).
The same goes for the running soldier - I wanted just enough detail for him to recognisable as a German Soldier, in a render that made him humane. He also needed an outline that could be shrunk and recognisable for the rate of fire section.
This version seemed economic with the amount of lines used
This one overdid the volume of the clothes - interesting but distracting and not true to the purpose of communicating the shape first by outline and second by internal linear cues
I feel we are moving towards a consistent format with these now. An object, portrayed for purposes of understanding it's purpose on the left. The right page dealing with it's impact, mode of use and other issues. The left hand side objects sets up the proposition for the piece - and hopefully the right hand side goes some way to answering it.
In the two above spreads, we see one of the spread options that was changed in consultation with the WWII team. There were many disparate elements in the 'Attack' part - and they suggested blending them together rather than treating them separately - kind of a flute only needing one pipe instead of one for each note. It is that kind of economy that is especially satisfying in design - when one element can play the part of many, avoiding waste and elements that end up in conflict rather than harmony.