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Intro

When the Force Exile Series was first conceived, the only artwork that existed for it was a few hastily-scribbled pencil sketches of ships, weapons, vehicles, and places. Now after years of development and work, the saga boasts a wide array of artwork in a variety of formats, including digital modeling, hand sketches, and composite cover art. Now, all of the artwork for the series has been collected into a single work that showcases the creativity and effort that was placed into the visualization of the vast universe of Force Exile. This is the art of Force Exile.

YanibarGuard
Cover art

The first original art ever uploaded for Force Exile was the cover for the first novel, Force Exile I: Fugitive. To produce the cover, Force Exile author Atarumaster88 partnered with Solus. While the original source images were obtained and crudely thrown together by Atarumaster88, it was Solus who took the rough concept and refined it into a true work of art. Solus used an artistic style very similar to the Legacy of the Force canonical novels being released at the time. Unlike the Legacy of the Force novels, though, Atarumaster88 chose to include more characters and objects on the covers, similar in style to the Bantam-era novels and the Japanese covers for the New Jedi Order series. The reason for this was that at the time, covers were the only medium Atarumaster88 had in mind for depicting the characters in Force Exile and as such wanted to include as many as possible.

For the sequel novel, Force Exile II: Smuggler, the partnership was continued, with Atarumaster88 again providing source images and concept to Solus, who took his ideas and either improved upon them or added new ones. It was Solus's careful work and numerous drafts that resulted in the creation of both covers.

However, due to inactivity from Solus, Atarumaster88 opted for a different cover artist for the third novel in the trilogy, Force Exile III: Liberator. Darth Nyne produced the third cover, again using source images and concept produced by Atarumaster88. Though he attempted to imitate Solus's previous works, the resulting image had significant differences and was of decidedly lower quality, with a crowded layout due to Atarumaster88's insistence on packing too many images together. Both the cover and the first draft of the novel proved to be disappointing.

Due to this setback, Atarumaster88 again sought out Solus when thinking about the cover of the next novel in the series, Force Exile IV: Guardian as well as the side work Yanibar Guard Sourcebook. The Guardian cover was a return to the style that had been used by Solus previously for the Fugitive and Smuggler covers, while the Yanibar Guard Sourcebook was a significant departure. This cover was simpler, emblazoned with the newly-created Yanibar Guard insignia as the only artwork on the cover. The "less is more" approach would also be used for the Yanibar Tales cover, which only used a simple background image to go along with the title, series name, and author text. The font was also changed drastically for the Yanibar Tales cover, with a flowing script used to help fit the theme behind the work.

By 2009, Atarumaster88 was still working on Force Exile IV, but the lack of consistency between the other covers and the Liberator cover irked him. He asked Solus to rework the cover and she complied, but instead of matching the previous style, Solus used an entirely different art style for the reworked cover. The number of images overall on the cover was reduced and a new background used instead of the previously blurred image. The cover style also moved away from the Legacy of the Force style with its own unique layout. The bottom color panel and top overlay were both ditched in favor of a cleaner design that imposed text over the images. Also removed were the "floating heads" that had plagued earlier covers; the character images now blended into each other. After some small revisions, Atarumaster88 found this new design vastly superior to the other covers and Solus agreed to remake the other three covers to match this new style as well.

Through the rest of 2009, Solus reworked the other three novel covers. For the new Fugitive cover, Atarumaster88 found new images to replace the previous ones used for Spectre and Serra Keto, using live-action shots as opposed to digital art or video game screenshots. This made the character art consistent. Each cover retained the theme color woven into it: blue for Fugitive, red for Smuggler, green for Liberator, and gold for Guardian that flowed thematically into the content of the novel. The new Smuggler and Guardian covers were released later that year. For the Smuggler cover, Solus found a background which Atarumaster88 liked, but not for that novel, so its use was deferred until the Force Exile V: Warrior cover. The revamped Smuggler and Guardian covers used the same source images as their previous iterations, though the picture of the Mistryl Shadow Guard and Quinlan Vos were removed from the Smuggler cover to reduce crowding, while the Hawk-bat digital model was added. Likewise, the Guardian cover had its background art changed and some small changes to the art used were made.

For the next novel in the series, Force Exile V: Warrior, Atarumaster88 commissioned both a cover and a teaser poster. The teaser poster featured four new characters silhouetted against the background of a planet, along with the title of the novel and a tagline. The poster design was inspired by promotional artwork for Halo Reach. For the cover, Solus used the same style as with the other revamped covers; Warrior was the first cover to only be done in the new style. Its theme colors were a black and orange, with the words rendered in dark gray for visibility.

In 2011, Solus was also approached to produce the cover for The Essential Guide to Force Exile using a variety of images that Atarumaster88 had either created or collected. Its cover was a distinctly different style from the other works with a different text style and layout more akin to canonical reference works than novels. Each piece of art on the cover represented a different aspect of the Essential Guide, with representations of the Vehicles and Vessels, Characters, Weapons and Technology, Planets, and Droids categories all displayed prominently on the cover.

The final novel, Force Exile VI: Prodigal, received its cover in 2012 with Solus again providing the artwork. The style remained consistent with the other covers and the colors purple and white were used for the theme colors. Prodigal's cover was unique in that the image used for Selu Kraen was "aged" appreciably by Solus in PhotoShop to make the character look older, as befitting his in-universe age.

Hand Sketches

While the first forays into art for Force Exile author Atarumaster88 were hand-drawn sketches, it was not until two years into the saga that he ventured to create any kind of hand sketch that was useful for more than primitive concept art. Feeling that his hand sketches were of insufficient quality for presentation, he was much averse to creating such a piece. However, that mindset slowly changed, and by mid-2010, Atarumaster88 decided to make his first attempt at upload-quality presentation art in the form of a map of the Yanibar colony that had been founded in Force Exile III: Liberator. He first used a pencil to draw out the map, then scanned it in, editing out eraser blurs and changing the colors to black and white. Following that, minor tweaks were made to a printout using a pen. The resulting version was then scanned again, symbols and a legend created digitally were added to it, and it was sent to Solus for her opinion and to have a background added. The resulting map became the first piece of hand-drawn art to be uploaded for the Force Exile Series, albeit with significant computerized editing.

The next attempts at hand-drawn art were not made until over a year later. As Atarumaster88 was developing entries for The Essential Guide to Force Exile, he had experimented with using AutoCAD 2011 to draw outlines of certain ships and SolidWorks 2011 to model others. However, he also considered the possibility of drawing out isometric views of some of the ships by hand, particularly the larger ships, which would be significantly more time and labor-intensive to model in SolidWorks. The first ship attempted was the Jar'Kai-class carrier, drawn over several days and then scanned and edited in Paint.Net to remove smudges and blemishes on the design. Once the sketch was uploaded, Atarumaster88 sought input from other users to see which format was preferred, the hand-drawn sketches or the top-down AutoCAD views. There was a moderate preference for hand-drawn sketches, so Atarumaster88 produced more of them. The Sabre starfighter, Soresu-class Fleet Defender, and Juyo-class battlecruiser soon followed in the following months. Each piece of art followed a similar design process--the ship would be drawn over a period of several days, then scanned and edited in Paint.Net before being uploaded as part of a content release.

When drawing the ships, Atarumaster88 based his sketches off of primitive concept art that had been drawn and stored over the years. He started by first outlining the ship to establish its hull shape and contours, then adding major structural components such as wings, nacelles, secondary hulls, and superstructure. Following that, the next components to be sketched were weapons batteries and large equipment pieces like cranes or sensor towers. Finally, the sketch was detailed with smaller features such as windows. The sketch was then scanned and edited digitally to remove uneven lines, smooth out edges, and remove eraser smudges.

Digital 2-D

The first digital art that Atarumaster88 drew in AutoCAD was a deckplan of the Hawk-bat. This was a fairly sophisticated layout using multiple layers to show external and internal views on same drawing. Ultimately, the exterior views were removed in favor of a three-dimensional SolidWorks model, while the internal deck view was retained. The deckplan was complex, with multiple colors and a plethora of individual objects, though most of the objects were simple rectangles and lines.

For the next piece of AutoCAD art, Atarumaster88 used more splines and other curved shapes to produce the Yanibar Guard insignia, which featured a discblade, lightsaber, wan-shen, and hawk-bat superimposed over a pair of wings. However, the limitations of the hatching options in AutoCAD led to an unimpressive color scheme. Atarumaster88 then turned to Solus for assistance, who agreed to give the insignia a shiny metallic texturing, which it retains in its current iteration.

The next two pieces which Atarumaster88 created were done nearly two years later, the Ataru-class gunship and Javelin shuttle. For the gunship, Atarumaster88 only did a top-down view, while the shuttle received both a top and front view. To help distinguish between major contours and minor features, different line weights were used in drawing both ships. As with the hand sketches, Atarumaster88 started by drawing the outlines and major structures, then adding weapons and smaller details. Based on feedback for other users, however, there was a narrow preference for the hand sketches over the AutoCAD variants, so between those results and a license expiration, Atarumaster88 ceased producing AutoCAD drawings in 2011.

Solid Works

Atarumaster88 first began using SolidWorks for parametric modeling in 2007. However, it was not until 2008 that he judged his knowledge of the program sufficient to use it for Force Exile purposes. The first model he created was the Shii-cho-class transport, uploading the image in 2009. Blocky and simplistic, it was a rudimentary design, lacking many of the hallmark features of later designs and possessed minimal detailing and beveling. Furthermore, the produced image was a screenshot, not a rendered body. The second SolidWorks model, the Hawk-bat, was more advanced, featuring increased beveling, detailing, and texturing, as well as more complex geometry. Due to its complexity, the Hawk-bat took much longer to make, as it contained nearly 50% more distinct features than the transport.

Two other designs were completed in 2009, the Nighthawk missile and the Shoto starfighter. Both were simpler designs that used similar numbers of objects as the Shii-Cho-class, though their smaller size meant they were actually more detailed. With the Nighthawk, Atarumaster88 wanted to explore more complex fuselage geometries than the blockier shapes used for the Shii-Cho­-class and the Hawk-bat. He also experimented with a feature that would allow him to create the missile's pointed cone tip. In contrast, the Shoto was designed to take advantage of new texturing techniques Atarumaster88 had learned, as well as more advanced beveling that would result in the uniquely-shaped cockpit on the Shoto. While the other two models had been strictly screenshots, Atarumaster88 enlisted the aid of Solus to add effects to these two models, adding engine glow to the Nighthawk and Shoto, while the Shoto also received a background. While none of the first generation of SolidWorks models were particularly impressive or sophisticated, they paved the way for future developments.

For over a year, Atarumaster88 slowly labored away on his next SolidWorks project, the Makashi-class frigate, relasing the image in March 2010. This design was inordinately more complex, involving mirrored geometry using spline curves as well as being larger than any other model previously created. The Makashi ended up being twice as sophisticated in terms of distinct geometrical features as the Hawk-bat and also was the first to use proper rendering software instead of just a screenshot. The textures were significantly improved as well. Adding to the complexity of the design was the fact that Atarumaster88 detailed the entire ship, not just the views of which he planned to take images. This added complexity marked the start of the second generation of increasingly sophisticated SolidWorks designs from Atarumaster88. The design was widely heralded and won "Best Miscellaneous Image" in the inaugural SWF image contest in 2010.

Following the success of the Makashi-class, Atarumaster88 sought to take the techniques he had learned and refine them, streamlining the process to make it less laborious and time-consuming while still increasing the quality of the models produced. The next model, a Yanibar Weather Control Station, had simpler geometry than the complicated spline curves of the Makashi, and made liberal use of circular arrays and mirroring to replicate geometry. While mirroring was an extremely common technique in Atarumaster88's models, the Weather Control Station was the first model to use circular arrays so extensively. The texturing and rendering processes from the Makashi were re-used, and while they proved time-consuming, the effort paid off in the quality of the produced image.

For his next venture, Atarumaster88 sought to create an assembly of multiple objects that could move and interact with each other rather than a single part like his previous designs. This amibitious advancement was supposed to occur on his next model, the S-4 ordnance launcher, which was completed in late 2010 and released in early 2011. There were significant challenges involved in creating such an object. In particular, the concept art never included how the launcher could be broken open to reload. Parts were added or changed significantly on the fly. However, despite weeks of effort, Atarumaster88 could not figure out how to make the S-4 break open and reload properly. Rather than completely scrapping the project, he finished it as a static model and applied the texturing and rendering tools previously used to create images for it.

After that mixed success, Atarumaster88 took a four month hiatus from SolidWorks as he acquired a more powerful version of the software. With these new tools, he was able to create a project he had begun at one point only to abandon later: the Challenger light tank. With his new tools and years of expertise, the tank took shape much faster this time—significantly faster. Despite having fairly significant sophistication, the tank was completed in under ten hours of total labor. This was in stark contrast to the Hawk-bat, which had taken nearly 40 hours to complete and the Makashi-class, which had consumed over 80 hours of effort. The new version of SolidWorks also allowed Atarumaster88 more powerful rendering and texturing tools, including most welcome features that allowed him to texture a model in a fraction of the time the old method had taken. Another new feature was the addition of decals, which allowed him to plant insignia and custom skins onto his parts. All in all, the smash success and ease of production of the Challenger spurred Atarumaster88 to produce a third generation of SolidWorks models that would become his most sophisticated and yet not nearly as time-consuming to produce.

With the Challenger complete, the next model that Atarumaster88 decided to produce was the Discblade freighter, a barely-mentioned ship that had originally not been slated to receive a SolidWorks model. In fact, it didn't even have finalized concept art. Atarumaster88 quickly sketched a series of concept art and set to work producing the model. It was a chance to make a ship about the size of the Hawk-bat in a fraction of the time and with approximately double the complexity. Furthermore, for the first time, Atarumaster88 recorded the entire modeling proces using fraps, creating an accelerated-time video that he uploaded. With the advanced texturing techniques and new decals already been done, Atarumaster88 sought new innovations. He created a separate object for the Discblade's cargo container, used the sweep feature to create a solid object along a curved path, and finally, used lights for the first time to give the ship engine glow in SolidWorks. The entire process took less than 20 hours to complete, which he felt was a stunning achievement.

Atarumaster88 now set out to conquer new frontiers in SolidWorks, having solidified his own mastery of the more advanced versions. He began two projects almost simultaneously. The first was the StarfirePD-turret, a project which he had long desired to complete. While fairly complex and probably the most detailed of his models to date, the StarfirePD was deceptively easy to produce, as each of the three turrets were identical. The real challenge for Atarumaster88 in creating the StarfirePD was surmounting the obstacle that had hampered the S-4 ordnance launcher: animation. It took two weeks of effort once the battery was assembled from its disparate components to fully animate it for ten seconds. At one point, Atarumaster88 had to completely dismantle the digital model and re-assemble it in a different order to facilitate motion. In the end, though, Atarumaster88 finally achieved the goal of animating the StarfirePD on multiple degrees of freedom rotating independently and both simultaneously and in asynchronous motion.

For his last project in 2011, Atarumaster88 desired to depart radically from his previous design aesthetics in creating the ship for the antagonist of the yet-to-be-released Force Exile VI: Prodigal. To create this difference, Atarumaster88 rejected all his previous polygon and circle-based cross-sections used on designs like the Discblade, Makashi, and Hawk-bat in favor of a variable cross-section geometry using a lofted feature. The typically blocky subfeatures and components used to detail his ships were likewise replaced with more curved, organic looking structures that incorporated numerous revolved bodies, spline-generated features, and, most significantly, an array of crystalline shards patterned across a curve. To create the arrays of crystal shards protruding from the vessel, Atarumaster88 sought to create a pattern along the curved surface of the ship. This took several attempts to perfect, particularly since it could not be mirrored to the other side, but was ultimately successful. In another piece of increasing sophistication, Atarumaster88 used many more decals to create surface features, most notably windows. This last project easily contained more decals than all his other SolidWorks projects combined. Lastly, special care was taken with the lighting, texturing, and angle to produce a more ominous and darker-looking vessel than used in previous designs.

2012 saw Atarumaster88 acquire the license for SolidWorks 2012 and begin modeling in that environment. While most of the tools were the same, the new release used a different rendering engine and setup, which required some adaptation to use effectively. For the first project in 2012, Atarumaster88 drew the Reaper-AA droid, which like the Starfire-PD turret, used a number of different components assembled together. The turret design itself from the Starfire-PD turret was incorporated into the droid walker, marking the first re-use of components in a different design. Another experiment was using SolidWorks's rendering engine to import a custom background image for the model. The result was moderately successful, with the lighting and contrast somewhat lacking.

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