Last Friday I photographed William's Tsumugi cosplay from Knights of Sidonia.
Knights Of Sidonia is a Japanese mecha anime series which tells a story about man-kind fleeing from Earth, after a prolonged war with a shape shifting alien species: the Gauna. Enormous colony ships were built to contain human survivors of Earth fleeing from the Gauna. One such colony ship is the Sidonia, and amongst those living in this colony are our main cast and crew, the Knights of Sidonia, and Tsumugi Shiraui, the subject of this photo shoot.
Knights of Sidonia consists of many sci-fi themes including human cloning, asexual reproduction, and human genetic engineering. Some humans in the colony are genetically engineered to photosynthesise like plants. It is also later revealed that the top echelons of the society have secretly been granted immortality.
The subject of this cosplay is Tsumugi Shiraui:
Tsumugi Shiraui a.k.a "Tsumugi" is a Gauna/human hybrid created by Kunato Developments for fighting against the Gauna. Tsumugi is similar in size to a Garde, but has a Gauna-like appearance in the shape of a young woman wearing a dress. Tsumugi eventually becomes friends with Nagate and Izana, usually interacting with them using a tentacle she sneaks in through the ship's ventilation system while the rest of her body stays in her chambers. Tsumugi displays a gentle, curious, child-like demeanor under most circumstances, but her prowess in combat is rivaled only by Nagate's.
I designed my lighting setup around this illustration. I don't know the artist but he/she was brilliant. There is enough detail here for me to engineer the scene and develop a lighting plan.
People always ask about gear. Here's what I used:
- Elinchrom RX4 x2 w/ 66cm square softboxes
- Godox AD600BM x1 w/ 150cm gridded beauty dish
- Yong Nuo 560 II x1 w/ dark purple gel
- Canon 6D DSLR
- Sekonic L308S Lightmeter
- Wireless trigger from Godox
- Flash gels
- Bunch of stools (for subject to sit on), silver reflectors, cardboard sheets as gorbo
- Smoke machine
Despite having the ability to dial the power from the wireless flash trigger I kept going back to the AD600BM to bump the settings out of habit. Dialing from the camera's position has the advantage of doing everything without messing up your framing (since I still don't shoot from a tripod). The other reason is because I'm used to the Elinchrom lights which have to be manually dialed in.
The space I have is about 3m wide x 5m long x 2.7m ceiling height. I'm using a 85mm lens for this shoot. This was barely sufficient to cover half body in landscape format. I had my subject sit down on stools so I didn't have to raise the whole setup (and because I was lazy).
Key light was the AD600BM with the 150cm gridded beauty dish. Placing it on my boom stand was perfect as I could feather the light onto the subject's as required. Beauty dishes are normally used for fashion, but in this case I wanted a hard directional light that would paint my subject's face without putting a bright hot spot on the reflective surface of the helm. The grid played an important role as the key light was the most powerful light in this scene and i didn't want any of the spill to hit the background. I would feather just enough of the light on to the subject to ensure nothing spills in to the area behind him.
Fill light came from one of the 66cm square softboxes on the ground filling the space in front of the set. Without the fill light, the bottom half of the scene would be perpetually black. I want to see some detail to the lower body.
Rim light came from the other softbox on camera left, to the rear of the subject. Ideally I would want gridded strip boxes but I haven't invested in to that modifier yet.
Back light comes from the portable flash with a purple gel to kick up the highlights. I put a gorbo to one side to minimise the spill on the black background. The flash is set to ~70mm flash zoom and given enough power to kick up the highlights to the subject's back and left side. Again ideally i would want gridded strip boxes to fill this role later. I would then delegate the portable flashes to light up smoke from the fog machine instead.
I supplied proofs to William after the shoot. Once we agreed upon an image I commenced editing. First step was to clean up the image and fix any outstanding issues.
The main issues are:
- Exposed tummy.
- Exposed side of chin/face.
- Eyes need to glow.
- Tail is weird.
The background just had to be black so painting it with #000000 only required quick selections and a fat brush. The exposed tummy and side of chin/face was done with clone stamping. Glowing eyes were done with a quick mask and layer properties. The tail was weird and was a pain in the ass to fix. The tail was hung down via a fishing wire but it dropped down at an awkward angle. The solution was to create about 14 segments of the tail and blend it back together! Took like 2.5 hours!
I had to build a background composite from scratch as the scene is space and I don't have the means to photograph space. Luckily the Hubble Telescope publishes their imagery online. Wasn't too hard to pull together a couple of interesting nebulas and create a couple of different composites. It was a fun process too. Once I had a composite i was happy with, it had to be placed on the working image and blended into the background. Quickest way is with masks and selectively painting it in.
Tsumugi fights along side the Guardians of Sidonia. I pulled a few frames out of the anime in season 2 and painted these guys in manually. I wanted to showcase a bunch of them in battle formation using their iconic thrusters. The reference shot was fairly low quality so i decided to add some blur and adjust their transparency. They are secondary elements to add to the composition so detail wasn't essential. I did however source a higher quality model of the main character's mech and composite it into the working image.
Masks and filters are essential to blend everything into a believable scene. Most of this was colour correction, adding and subtracting elements using various filters and masks.
After negotiating with William and coming up with four versions of the composite we have an approved image for distribution.