Who doesn’t like dolphins? As a kid, I was obsessed with Ecco the Dolphin. I played all three Genesis games in the series, the Dreamcast version, and even got into a fierce bidding war on Ebay for the original soundtrack. I once spent about five hours randomly punching letters into the passcode level select stage so that I could get past really difficult levels. Would you believe that over a year, I actually managed to hit enough combinations that I got every level in the game? I mean I finished the game the normal way as well… but yeah. I was obsesssed.
Many a dolphin drawing and Ecco fanfic came out of my overly excited, young self. My favorite book was A Circle in the Sea by Steve Senn, which is fins-down the best dolphin fiction I’ve ever read. I even wanted to be a dolphin when I grew up– the major hang up was that I’m not a very good swimmer, so there went that dream. Whoops.
So now that I’m a “grown-up” (sorta) I thought I’d use the 23 years of practice I have on my 6 year old self to make a cool dolphin environmental painting. One day on my lunch hour I started doing thumbnails and concept sketches to decide what I wanted to do. I decided I wanted to tell my head-canon version of the Lost City of Atlantis– a city that was built by undersea creatures as a refuge from humans. The idea is that humans were never involved in Atlantis and certainly aren’t welcome there. We, the viewer, have discovered it… but a dolphin guard isn’t happy that we’re here.
I wanted to design what a dolphin sentinel that protected the city would look like. If a dolphin wore armor, how would it work? Obviously it would need to be articulated to move properly with the way that dolphins swim. It would need to function as both armor and a weapon, without encumbering the animal too much. I decided that lightweight armor would serve a dolphin best, as they would likely be a type of soldier/guard that relied on speed and agility.
The sort of armor I came up with is relatively minimalist. It protects the animals back, head, and blowhole. The front is bent upward so that the dolphin’s echolocation is uninhibited. It has razor edges, so that the dolphin could sail by an enemy and cause damage without having to manipulate anything. The big weapon though, is the narwhal-inspired horn in the front. It’s a magical element, so not only is it useful for stabbing, but it magically makes the armor lighter overall.
The city itself has a lot of round shapes. If you’ve read the aforementioned A Circle in the Sea, you’ll know that in Senn’s world, everything is circular to a dolphin. The sun and moon run on a circular path, the tides and currents are circular, a pod is called a “Circle”, and… well, y’know, the Circle of Life. So I wanted a lot of circles and curves in my Atlantis because that book made such a HUGE impact on my young mind.
The painting itself took six months from inception to finish. Why? Not because it actually took me that long to plan and paint. I’d say that only took maybe 15 hours or so. It’s because I did all the concept art and planning and then straight up forgot about it! Err… oops. That’s ok though, because I just finished up an Environmental Painting class over at Studio Arts taught by super cool dude Alex Ruiz, and the stuff I learned in that class really helped me bring this painting to the level I wanted it to be!