Lions Tigers and Bears

A Fresh Start

2020, what a year it has been. Like so many, I found myself locked indoors, and needed a way to stay sane. Besides working on my indie game, Von Neumann's Catastrophe (more on that later), I decided to use my lockdown to develop a new brand with which I would be able to launch a freelance carreer.

So, how did I arrive at the name? Well, several sources. The most obvious being the classic movie (and series of fantasy books) The Wizard of Oz, which popularised the phrase "Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!". But that wasn't actually where I got the name.

LTB Beauty shot

Being a big sci-fi fan, one of my favourite all-time series of books is Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos. In that series, the phrase "lions and tigers and bears" was used as a metaphor for an invisible alien species that was lurking beyond known human space.

The origin of the Lions and Tigers and Bears is never fully explained; it is mentioned that they are made up of both organic and synthetic species, differing in their backgrounds but united through empathy. It is possible that the human Ultimate Intelligence, which is supposedly derived from the consciousnesses of all human beings, may shed light on how the Lions and Tigers and Bears came about.

Hyperion Cantos Fan Wiki

It was meant to invoke a sense of danger, a fear of the unknown. A pop-culture analogue for the ancient "here be dragons", found on old maps to demarkate undiscovered territories.

The phrase resonated with me, and being a visually-minded individual, it immediately conjured pictures in my mind. Always a good sign whenever that happens. It's simultaneously playful and cute, while also strangely terrifying. They're beautiful creatures, capable of preternatural grace, but that will also rip your face off if you're not careful.

Lions also carry a local connotation for me, as lions feature prominently in my home town's flag, on the flag of my locality, Flanders, and is on the national Emblem. While I'm far from a nationalist, I believe it's important to respect and honour one's heritage.

LTB Beauty shot

A variety of "beauty renders" made for the website's hero-banners. Rendered in Cycles.

Oh my!

The first iteration of the brand was going to be a stark black & white, using an illustrated style complimented by stylized low-poly 3D artwork. However, I found it lacked a certain appeal, and I wanted to go a bit bolder, a bit brasher even. I ditched the serif fonts and decided to go for a more modern look. I did keep the illustration and used it for my business cards.

LTB Beauty shot

The first iteration of the brand with a temporary placeholder website.

Website

I also knew I would want to make at least part of my website using some form of WebGL-powered real-time 3D animation. To accomplish this, I would need to treat this project like I'm making assets for a VR video game:

  • keep a reasonable poly-count
  • reduce the amount of discrete objects to keep drawcalls low
  • looks good using simple/static lighting, without using baked lightmaps (which would inflate the download size)

LTB Beauty shot

Everything was hand-modelled in Blender 2.8/2.9.

I did a few experiments with various javascript 3D libraries, such as three.js and a-frame, but ended up opting for babylon.js, as I found it had the best combination of performance and content-creation features. I built the 3D scene you can see on the homepage in Blender, using Eevee to simulate real-time rendering. I then exported my .blend files into Unity3D, which could then export to a native babylon.js format with pretty good fidelity.

I knew I'd want to be able to quickly make new layouts using the 3 mascots, so I ended up with a fully rigged lion, tiger and bear model that I could quickly pose. Once I settled on a pose, I could then "bake" the deformed mesh, optimise it further before export.

LTB Beauty shot

Details of the various 3D scenes I made for the homepage. Initially I had planned each section to only have lions, tigers or bears, but in the end I opted to put all three in each scene.

Business cards

As a first exercise for the brand, I also designed myself some nice business cards. A bit wishful thinking perhaps, in this socially-distanced locked-down world of ours, but I hope to be able to use these again soon.

LTB Beauty shot

Soft Launch

Belgium being Belgium I still have a lot of bureaucratic and legal hurdles to jump through before I can start working full-time, but these should be finalised early next year at the latest. In the mean time, have fun exploring the new website, and if you're interested in working together, feel free to drop me a line.