| Detail of The Journey Begins - 2006
The Making of
"The Journey Begins"
This article was updated with additional material on May 6, 2016, when "The Journey Begins" celebrated its 10th Anniversary.
An Idea is Born
he idea for The Journey Begins came to me when I was lying in bed one evening in January 2006. It was one of these moments when you're nearly asleep, you drift off, and suddenly an idea enters your mind. Not that this happens particularly often to me, but that night it was exactly like that. The next day I created a quick (and horribly ugly) color sketch, and a rough drawing of the scene, and then totally forgot about the whole idea.

In March 2006, the CG (Computer Graphics) Society website announced an illustration contest with the theme "the journey begins". I had often thought about entering on of CG Society's contests but never really connected to one of their themes. But in this case I remembered the idea I had a few weeks before and thought that it fit perfectly. I entered the contest in the category "2D Illustration" with the little sketch you see on the right. From that day on I had 2 months to finish my illustration within the deadline of the contest .

| A quick sketch of the core idea for the CG Society contest.

| The first quick color sketch I did the day after I had my idea for "The Journey Begins".

| The sketch I did after the color sketch in order to get a better idea of the scene.
Fleshing Out the Idea
I started my work on The Journey Begins with a technique that I've often used in my job as a digital artist for computer games: I built a rough 3D scene of the attic and the most important objects in order to have a virtual camera to "walk" me through the location. That way I was able to search for the perfect camera angle for my illustration. This approach is very useful in scenes with a lot of geometric objects that each have to be drawn in perspective. In a classic drawing, you have to set up a system of perspective lines to which every element of the scene has to be aligned. If you change the position of the camera only slightly, all elements have to be redrawn, which is very time consuming. In the 3D scene the camera, and also the objects, can be moved freely and you can experiment a lot until everything sits in the perfect place. The result of this process was a computer generated drawing that served as the base for additional drawings by hand.

| A view of the 3D scene that I built with the 3D software Maya.

| The computer generated drawing on which I based the illustration.
The next step was to fill the scene with detail. While 3D is a very convenient way to built a rough representation of a scene, it is very time consuming to build details in 3D. My illustration was meant to be a 2D illustration anyway, so I started to draw the details of the scene by hand over the computer generated lines.

The most important element of the whole painting of course was the character. I changed his pose several times and I think that I was able to improve it bit by bit. The first pose looked too anxious and the character wasn't really facing the magic painting. The final pose is much more iconic without giving too much hints about the emotions of the character. I wanted the viewer to decide for himself, if the boy is going to enter the painting or not. The ball of wool also wasn't a part of the first design. I later figured that the boy might have heard of the ancient Greek tale of Theseus who used the threat of Ariadne to find his way back out of the labyrith of the Minotaur. In The Journey Begins the ball of wool is a symbol of the human need to have a backup plan.
Cutting this lifeline at the end of Chapter 2 of The Wormworld Saga on the other hand is a nice symbol for the irreversibility of some decisions we make.

| A lot of the details of the scene are already implemented in this drawing.

| This image shows the evolution of the character throughout the illustration process.
Reference Material
In order to design all the details of The Journey Begins I used a lot of reference material. In addition to images from the internet, which I used for smaller elements like the globe, the bust of Homer, and the sailing ship, I also shot my own reference photos. At that point I wasn't really used to work with reference material in my illustrations. I mainly painted fantasy scenes from imagination around that time. But I really wanted The Journey Begins to become my best piece to date and therefore I made sure to research as much as I could about the things that I was going to paint.

| I took these photos in the attic of my parent's house. I actually used to have a small "secret place" there as a kid. Visiting that place after many years really was an inspiration. These images here served me as reference for the pantiles.

| I created this little setup in my studio as a reference for the boxes that you can see on the far left side of "The Journey Begins".

| My cat had to pose for the painting, too. I remember that it was quite a challenge to make him sit there. This is only one of MANY images I took.

| I photographed this sheepskin rug in the living room of some friends. It replaced a bearskin that can be found in one of my earlier versions of the painting.

| My monitor served as a reference for the magic painting and the folds of the bedcloth that's partly covering the picture frame in the illustration.

| Although I'm not quite looking like the character in the painting, having a photo like this helped my to learn something about the lighting of the figure.

| I also used 3D reference. This shot was rendered in Maya and used a technique called "Global Illumination" to calculate the bouncing of light. It was a state of the art technique in 2006 and the software cost a fortune. Today you can do things like this in free open source software like Blender.

Rendering in Digital Paint
One essential advantage of digital painting over traditional painting (on paper or canvas) is that you retain full creative freedom until the very end of the illustration process. You can shift the colors of the painting at any time and since you often keep the elements of a scene on seperate layers you can make quick changes to almost every aspect of your composition. This flexibility, however, does not come without pitfalls. Being able to change everything at any time often makes it hard to commit to a final result. Over the two months I was working on The Journey Begins the painting went through several versions in which I often made radical changes on a whim. Below you can see some of these versions. For me it's a lot of fun to compare them to the final painting.

| The first color version that I made after I had finished the drawing. Note the bearskin rug in the bottom right corner! I later changed it to a sheepskin rug because the head of the bear was too distracting.

| In this version I introduced a little dwarf that invites the character to come into the painting. This completely derailed the message of the painting and I abandoned the dwarf. Note how the landscape inside the magic painting changed from light to dark! And the ball of wool is gone, too!

| A lot of the background detail is already rendered in this version. The ball of wool returned and we now officially see "Mount Doom" inside the magic painting.

| The character radically changed in this version although the pose comes very close to the final one.

| Here we see the final character who is still contemplating if he's willing to travel to Mordor. And there are spiderwebs in the background now.

| This version comes very close to the final version of the painting but its colors are much cooler.

| The creation of "The Journey Begins" in 30 Steps. You can use the arrow keys (◄ / ►) on your keyboard to manually switch the images.
Composition and Storytelling
Composition is a very difficult topic to talk about. I believe that a lot of compositional decisions are made subconsciously. Many of the clever things art critics can say about the composition of a great masterpiece, the artist himself often might have had no idea about.

In The Journey Begins I made some compositional decisions consciously and some things occured to me later when I already had finished the painting. One thing I did on purpose was to augment the bright path that can be seen inside the magic painting with the carpets on the attic floor. That way the path ultimately leads to the beholder of the whole scene, inviting him to join the character on his journey. It also reflects on the idea that an artist constantly tries to paint "magic paintings" that invite the viewer to venture into fantastic worlds.

Before I created the preliminary drawing, I created the compositional structure you can see below. The illustration is split into two worlds and the hinge of the composition is the globe close to the center of the painting. the central elements are inside an inner circle while secondary elements are kept at a distance inside an outer ring.

| The path leads to the beholder of the artwork.

| The circular patterns of the composition.
The Journey Begins tells a story about journeys in general. I wanted to show that you always have to leave something behind if you want to reach for a distant goal. The boy's belongings are on the left side, as well as his cat and the place he calls home, which shines a warm light from below the attic trapdoor.
On the right side I arranged things that symbolize the journey. There you find the globe, the telescope, the ship, the bust of Homer (author of The Odyssey), and the skeleton, which stands for the last journey we all face.
My goal was to create a tension between the two worlds and raise the question what exactly draws us away from the things we know and love, towards the unknown territories. I have often looked at this painting when I had to make important decisions in my life. I didn't want to make a clear statement about the character and if he's going to dare the big step. It's the viewer who has to decide.
| "The Journey Begins" - 2006

And the Journey Began!
The Journey Begins was finished on May 6, 2006 and was submitted to the CG Society contest one day later. It won the second place in the competition. I competed with over 900 illustrators in my category and being presented as one of the winners exposed my artwork to a huge international audience. I received emails from people all around the world who wanted to buy prints of the artwork and that was the first time it occured to me that I might find my artistic future on the internet. At the same time, the painting provided a protagonist and a clear vision that united the loose story bits that were floating around in my head in 2006. The Journey Begins became the core of The Wormworld Saga and with the completion of Chapter 2 in 2011 I came full circle.
| Panel 92 of Chapter 2 - 2011

Return to the Beginning
The one thing I was looking forward to the most, when I started my work on Chapter 2 of The Wormworld Saga, was to finally reach the point in the story where Jonas would sit in front of the magic painting. Returning to this place after all these years and after all the things that had happened around The Wormworld Saga project, was an undescribable feeling of accomplishment. And of course it was a challenge, because I had to fit the image, that so many people knew and loved, into the visual style of the graphic novel without losing its magic. I also wanted to solve a problem that had bothered me ever since the original The Journey Begins was completed. The perspective construction of the original artwork was somewhat distorted at the left side of the image. That was not by mistake though. It simply lies in the nature of certain perspective constructions that the image gets distorted in some places. The main problem was that the 3D program generated a linear perspective with straight lines. The distortion problem could only be solved using curved lines. For the graphic novel version of The Journey Begins I decided to use a curvilinear perspective that I constructed by hand. That not only solved the distortion problem but also enhanced the subjective feeling of the scene because the curvilinear perspective comes much closer to the way we see the world in everyday life than linear perspective does. I was very happy with the result as it provides a fresh look onto a well known scene.

| The perspective distortion can best be observed on the foot of the wooden beam marked in red. It was covered with a cassette recorder in the final illustration to hide the distortion.

| Here you can see the curvilinear perspective lines of panel 92. The effect is comparable to that of a fisheye camera lens

| Panel 94 of Chapter 2. The moment I had to wait 5 years for: Jonas finally enters the magic painting.

And The Journey Goes On
I'm writing these lines right at the day of the 10th anniversary of The Journey Begins. Looking back, I'm amazed what this painting has done for me. High quality prints of the artwork are available at the Wormworld Shop and I'm hard pressed to name a country to which we did NOT send a print within the last 10 years. Selling the first prints after the CG Society contest was the first time ever that I earned money with my own work over the internet. The decision to design The Wormworld Saga as a digital graphic novel, and to publish it online, was directly influenced by this experience. And then there's the overwhelming feedback from people that is a great source of motivation for me:

| "The Journey Begins" inspired Wes Talbott to create this amazing LEGO set. Being a huge LEGO fan myself, I simple drool over the attention to detail Wes put into this piece.

| Seriously, for THIS I have no words.

Over the years I've received so many amazing reactions from all sorts of people, ranging from short notes of appreciation to jawdropping fan projects. From the feedback of print buyers I know that by now there are many nurseries around the globe where The Journey Begins is hanging on a wall, inspiring a new generation of adventurers. For me, and obviously for many other people, The Journey Begins truely IS a magic painting. May it continue to be a portal to another world for many years to come!