Design analysis - "Moth" by John Liberto

General / 12 October 2019

Artwork “Moth” by John Wallin Liberto ( )

I wanted to do something like an analysis for quite some time. I've been digging into design lately a lot, especially into spaceship design and I wanted to share a few of my findings. This is basically for me to learn, but why not share it.
Especially volume and shape design interest me a lot lately and John Liberto has always been, among others my favourite sci-fi artist. With him reposting the “Moth” I wanted to take the opportunity to analyse this design. I do these kind of analyses quite often for myself, but I rarely do it written down or with markings on the artwork itself.
In this analysis I will separate out a few ‘layers’ I think are important to a successful design. They kinda represent my way of looking at a design. This is about the 3d vehicle, not the 2d image it is represented on. I will ignore background, surroundings, lighting and composition of the actual image.

Fig1: "Moth" by John Wallin Liberto

    1.    Silhouette

Fig2: Silhouette
Fairly iconic silhouette telling me that this is a spaceship – ignoring the background.

The two cylindrical shapes up front tell me  instantly that it has to be some sort of a tanker. Thrusters and nozzles in silhouette sell the idea of the spaceship.

   2.    Volumes

Fig3: Volumes
In earlier studies of other design by JL and e.g. Sparth I found out about the importance of volumes in design. I’ve written something about that and will elaborate on my design journey in a future post.

The Moth has three distinct big, four mid and lots of small sized volumes. Those volumes mostly dictate silhouette and appearance. The two big cylinders up front with the connections between make up a big chunk of the iconic design.

The small size volumes mostly define detail and function but also help the silhouette sell the spaceship through thrusters and nozzles.

   3.    Shapes

Fig4: Shapes
I divide the overall appearance into volumes ( 3d ) and shapes (2d). Shapes for me are mostly forms visible on the surface of the volumes. Those can be details, color patches, prints, indents, fairly flat detail areas, etc.

The ship has two big shapes up front ( brown cylinders ) and a big dark shape in the back. These big shapes center, encapsulate the interest around the cockpit area, giving the eye easy entrance into the design.

The cockpit area consists of mostly medium sized shapes. They fan out to the front. This again stabilizes the vehicles internal composition on the cockpit.

Small shapes and detail radiate around the cockpit area again. Notice the deliberate placement in groups. Its not everywhere, it is deliberately put.

Fig5: Shape rythm
This demonstrates the rythm in the distribution of details and shapes within the ship. The rhythm is very fast on the extremes and goes slow in the middle around the cockpit.

   4.     Shape language

Fig6: Shape language
Mostly trapezoidal and rectangular shapes. Corners mostly rounded off. Circle and rectangular are very important in volume, rectangular and trapezoid important in surface shapes. Corners rounded in volume and shapes. Iconic space-related shapes like nozzles, wings and arms help the theme.   

5.    Values

Fig7: Value distribution

The values pair black and white around the cockpit area again, thus supporting and strengthening that area even more with highest value contrast. Mid range values placed left and right in front and behind the cockpit focus on the latter.

   6.    Colors

Fig8: Important colors
Ignoring the brown on the tanks the blue (and red) stripes encase the important and most interesting elements of the design. They form a boundary in which most of the interesting stuff happens.

    7.    Materials

Fig9: Material distribution.

A: Brushed dark painted metal
B: Semi brushed metal
C: Whatever material a nozzle is made from
D: White insulation fabric
E: Painted matte metal
F: Painted shiny metal
G: Semi shiny metal

   8.    Type

Fig10: Type

Both the name up front and the S or 5 in the back are informed by the shape language. Their positioning works just like the colors do; it frames the important areas of the vehicle in the center.

What I learned:
This analysis showed me how important it is to not only have interesting volumes and shapes, but also the importance of spacing them correctly and thus create areas of interest. It seems like John Liberto designed this spaceships just like you would design a composition for an artwork. You center the focus of all your design layers around the one focal area. The “Moth” focuses all around the cockpit area, showing off function and interesting shapes there. The rest of the ship is not boring, but the detailing, colors and materials step back in favour of the central, most important area.
This is a universal learning for me. The concept of focusing the interest in one place is not limited onto space ships. I learned how John Liberto uses it in his spaceship to give it interest.

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