The Last Battle – Red Cabbage and a Yawning Hippo – Check

What does red cabbage and a yawning hippo have in common? They were both necessary elements to create this fire breathing beast in this battle scene. This image is another in the cinematic looking series I did to explore some of the unique Hensel strobe lights I have. At the time I was also trying to decide whether or not to invest the significant time and money learning the art of 3D. I wanted to create an image that would typically be created in a 3d program but do it by photographing all the elements in high resolution and building it in photoshop. I sometimes think that 3d rendering can be the more time consuming and expensive route when an image could be created photographically.

The idea came when my amazing wife Paula held up a piece of cabbage and the sunlight hit it from behind. I said “hey look at that… it looks like a bat wing.” I wondered how I can use that. I am always looking at everything as a potential element in a manufactured or augmented image and I have amassed a large library of textures and elements. At the time I was also experimenting with a computer controlled rail and macro set up on my Phase one camera. I had been photographing insects and stacking the images to create extreme depth of field images. an insect part loses scale when it is all sharp. I thought ” how can I put these two elements together and voila the concept of “the Last Battle” was born. I sketched out rough battle scene and decided that the story unfolding should not be typical. The dragon always loses, so I decided this should be the moment that both sides appear to be seconds away from simultaneous defeat.

Sketch in hand I mapped out all the elements I thought I might need.

Fire. You can’t have a dragon battle scene without fire. I reached out to my friend Tom Comet, a pyro specialist and owner of Danger-Boy. An awesome day of photographing explosions and fire ensued. We photographed propane blasts and gas explosions which created a massive ball of fire. We also put Tom’s flame thrower to good use. The interesting thing about a this flame thrower is that every time you pull the trigger it shoots out a stream of flame a specific distance. As the pressure in the tank goes down the flame retreats further and further. That means after you establish how far the first blast goes you know it won’t go ant further. I was able to set up my camera and have him shoot the flame thrower directly at me. The end of the stream looks like a living breathing monster and a flower at the same time. It isn’t something we normally get to experience but it was fascinating to look through the images.

This is what the business end of 20 foot stream of fire looks like when it is coming straight at you.
Beautiful and scary.
Allan Davey , in the line of fire.

Tom also took the opportunity to train his staff in burn suit safety protocols. He and his staff took turns in the burn suit being lit on fire and going through the safety procedures.

Tom Comet photographed using a burn suit mixed with images of him in the same position in costume.
One of the shots from the burn suit series

After photographing the fire, insect parts and red cabbage I needed lots of skin textures and parts for the mouth and head. A trip to the Toronto Zoo gave all the extra bits I needed. I photographed crocodile and elephant skin, hippo and Rhino. If you turn the image upside down you can clearly see the lower jaw of the dragon is just a yawning hippo. The nose is the tail end of a Rhino.

Detail of the dragon head. The chest is wet hippo, The nose is a rhino butt.
The lower jaw of the dragon is made from a shot of a yawning hippo, which you can see here when the image is rotated 180 degrees.

The environment came together by photographing some misty trees while on a boat off the coast of Vancouver Island. The sun was photographed through the mist coming off of Niagara Falls. I took the Hensel stick light up to the Georgian bay near Tobermory Ontario to get the rocky foreground complete with fire glow.

In the end the image came together fairly close to my initial sketch and no beasts or people were harmed in the making of this image. Next time you are making a salad I guarantee you will hold up a leaf of red cabbage to the light and think of it as a wing. The Canadian in me wants to say sorry for that.

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