Toward the end of production on the Common Ground project, the three band members, Bill Olien, Gary Johnson and Hollan Holmes, began exploring ideas for the art and design for the music's packaging. Several ideas were discussed and they decided to build upon a theme based on a Planetary Gear Set, a mechanical engine component whereby a number of Planetary gears - in this case three (representing the three members of Common Ground) - rotate in synchronization around a central Sun gear (representing the common musical endeavors of the group) and within an outer Ring gear. The plan was for Hollan to model the components in 3d software (Maya), then surface (or "texture") the 3d objects, light the scene and render it all in Arnold, a powerful rendering engine used throughout the animation and movie industry. Hollan's original estimate for the time necessary to complete the job was 150 hours. In the end, it required approximately 176 hours, from the initial sketches to the final design and layout of the physical digipak.
Because Hollan's strengths lie in the surfacing/texturing phase, he sought the skills of an exquisitly talented modeler, Nathan Smithson, who modeled the five primary planetary gears in the center of the design. Hollan spent over eighty hours modeling the entirety of the remaining components of the scene.
Here are a few examples of the process...
About The Art Of The Common Ground Debut Release
initial explorations into the design of the central logo.
A screen shot from Maya, the software used to create all of this, depicting, in this case, the painstaking construction of the pulley chassis. Once this piece was done, it was mirrored and duplicated and made into one singular object encircling the entire scene.
A perspective shot of the completed geometry. Areas that are black appear so, because of the density of the topology.
The first elements to be modeled were the central planetary gears. This was done by expert modeler Nathan Smithson. I modeled all of the geometry that followed.
The construction of the glowing tubes that I thought would just add a wow factor to the scene. Based loosedly on a vacuum tube design.
The central Nixie tube, housing the Common Ground logo.
An early texture and material test, which I ended up keeping, as it turned out to be rather promising.
This is a series of wireframe renders revealing the topology of various objects in the overall scene. These were later UV mapped and textured, or "surfaced", giving them a realistic appearance when lit and rendered.
And 180 hours later, the final imagery. Once all the surfacing was completed, the scene was lit with vertual lighting and rendered using a superb, state-of-the-art rendering system, known as Arnold. Once the renders were completed, they were brought into Adobe Photoshop where they were enhanced, edited, color corrected, etc.
One of the inside panels of the digipak layout. This image was rendered using a depth-of-field setting, just like a real-world camera lens, which gave the image a very realistic feel. I found this image to be rather mesmerizing.
Another depth-of-field shot.
This image appears both behind the clear plastic CD tray, as well as on the physical CD.