The inspiration to this image is quite simple: I like robots. In this case I wanted to create an extremely detailed robot that would fit into the Steam world backdrops I love creating. I often try to put elements into the image that may convey a story, even if they do not stretch beyond the image itself. In this case, Faceless Joe is a steam powered mechanical man built to be the companion of a young girl named Amber, and her teddy bear Penny. For this image, Faceless Joe and Penny are at the Henning airship docks preparing to start their journey to find Amber. I wanted Faceless Joe to be the key figure in this image while still having an interesting backdrop that did not compete with him.
So first, I started by modelling Faceless Joe from a very rough sketch. I like to make a really rough drawing first just to get the basic idea down, and then as I begin to model I let it evolve and grow. Many times with robots, a drawing doesn't reveal some of the issues you'll run into when it becomes a 3D object which is why I keep the drawing very rough. I knew I was going to use Faceless Joe in many future images and I also wanted the freedom to pose him as I pleased, so I made sure to build him so he'd make a sufficient rigged character (Fig.01).
Faceless Joe's face went through a few minor iterations before the final version. Initially, I wanted his face to be under glass and backlit from within his head, but as I was doing some test renders I found it didn't read very well, so I decided to keep the most important features on the surface and then layered in the rest of the mechanical parts underneath (Fig.02).
At first, I was going to have Penny riding in a backpack with Faceless Joe, but after finishing Faceless Joe's model I found he would look too bulky with a back pack, so I opted for something more childlike and playful – an old fashioned wagon (Fig.03).
The next things to create were the airships in the background. There have been so many great images created using blimps and airships; I really wanted the airships to be unique. The first design, seen in the lower left of Fig.04, was inspired by the old steamer ships used on the Mississippi. Again, the design evolved after I started the model. I wanted it to look alive from within and the small windows on the first design did not allow for that. So I added the large windows seen in the rest of Fig.04.
Now that I had all the elements for the scene, I composed them together in a way I felt would showcase Faceless Joe as I originally intended. I wanted the scene to be at night originally, but after a few test renders it was a little too dark, and so I changed the lighting to a sunset so I could backlit the airships. I wanted the scene to be at night so I could showcase the inner light sources of Faceless Joe (Fig.05).