Urban Angel


Image Created at & Copyright TaylorJames

Behind the Scenes


I was walking home late one evening along Highbury Fields in Islington, London. It was the wee small hours and snow was tumbling down (which is unusual in London). Being so late, there was not a single foot or tyre print on the quiet backstreet beside a park. Until a daring girl cycled the other way in a pretty dress, leaving a beautiful line in the snow – the inspiration for this first sketch.


I expanded the first sketch thinking it would be great to make the cloak even more theatrical – and see the Georgian rooftops catching the moonlight – giving more interest to the background (so it wouldn’t be too “flat” to camera).


Good reference is vital to any project. This is just a small selection of the reference for all the vital props, location, costume and mood.


While I worked up the composition, my talented friend Luca Pisano sketched some great costume ideas for the girl.


I began to gather reference ideas for the girl’s costume…


I took plenty of reference photographs of the beautiful Georgian street beside Highbury Fields…I then reconstructed it in CGI, introducing a gentle hill and curve to the street for added visual interest (and to give the impression that the girl is free wheeling down hill).


Once the buildings were carefully placed – the realistic colour, bump and specular textures were applied.


Costume Selects – looking for something sparkly that would blow in the wind and complement the long flowing cloak


Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance! Getting the bike set up and exploring poses the day before our model arrived.


Our angelic model Karina Diglyte (BMA Models) strikes a pose riding my bicycle.

Final_Setup_280 - THIS IS IT

Here’s the final pose & costume. We used a fan to get the dress blowing nicely – as if she’s flying along! The straps that hold on her wings were digitally removed afterwards.

The green background makes it easy to “cut her out” ready to sit in the rest of the image. I also replaced the bike with a digital version – so I could make the tyres blue!

All that remained was to put all the elements together – and paint in some details such as the lights and curtains in the windows…


As she appears – with green removed –  within the image


The flowing cloak was also digitally created. This was tricky & challenging! Imagine taking an insanely large cloak (like Lady Diana’s wedding train) and a really gigantic fan, then hanging onto the front end whilst blowing a gale under the cloak with the fan and then photographing it at exactly the right moment, when it’s billowing nicely!

This is exactly what I did – but within the computer (the computer is able to simulate the physics involved – which is all very geeky indeed, but it’s just like the real world and you have to work within similar constraints)…it took a while to get good results as everything needed to be “just right”. The weight of the fabric, friction and stretchiness of the virtual cloth, plus the angle and strength of the wind. It turned out that the end holding the cloak needed to be billowed (just as you would a bed sheet) to get the great flowing shape – with waves – I also adjusted the “damping” characteristics – so that it was as if the cloak was floating under water – rather than in air, as this helped to support the length of the cloak, so that it didn’t simply drag along the ground under its own weight. I animated the cloak billowing over 30 seconds – and then picked the very best moment.

The image  shows a “wireframe”. Each point where the lines cross is mathematically calculated by the computer. Once I’m happy with the form of the cloak the computer can “render” (colour in!) the cloak connecting all the points to make a surface (the colour of which can also be carefuly controlled)

…of course, it takes into account the virtual lighting in the scene too!