Concept design workflow

Freelance concept artist Efflam Mercier shares how he made the beautiful Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly using 3ds Max

In this tutorial I'm going to break down some of the techniques I use to create "key frame" concepts, theses can be required at multiple points in a project - to pitch the project, to help out the story, layout, staging, and lighting etc. As the project advances, rough 3D assets become available so I can jump in and use dirty 2D tricks to make it look all finished and glossy!

Story and posing with Daz

Maybe if you're amazing at drawing you can draw a character convincingly enough to convey a pose and story in a couple of minutes; unfortunately I'm not! So I use Daz as a story and posing research tool. Daz is a free program with human characters that you can pose and add clothing, light, and render etc. The only problem is that everything looks terrible by default, poses have zero weight, and clothes all look like bad party costumes, and more importantly the deformations aren't perfect, so it's up to you to use a sense of anatomy and good taste to make look cool.

  Testing out poses and angles at the same time

Testing out poses and angles at the same time

3ds Max rendering

When I was working on this piece, the Daz rendering was pretty terrible, so I exported it to 3ds Max using TextureAtlas. Corona is the main render engine I use; it's really powerful and easy to learn. I duplicated some body parts, extruded them slightly and applied a glossy material to create the base for the space suit. The space station interior is created using very rough kitbash models in a circular array, and then I deleted some parts to make holes and threw in a volumetric light in the background.

  Using the render passes I was able to mix up the shading in 2D instead of doing complex textures

Using the render passes I was able to mix up the shading in 2D instead of doing complex textures

Designing on top of the 3D

This step took me a while because I wanted to keep the level of detail quite high and I didn't wanted to model the whole suit in 3D either; so I spent hours and hours adding cut lines, hand painting over everything. Subtle details can add a lot to the believability of the design: soft striped parts at joints for flexibility, industrial cuts, markers, sew lines, microphone holes at the neck, subtle logo on her left breast, etc. Notice how the colors changed along the way, at first I wanted the girl to be doing some emergency repairs in the station, but after the color shift it was clear she was dead.

My buddy <a href="https://www.artstation.com/artist/guraziu" target="_blank">Edon Guraziu</a> helped me with advices while figuring out the suit details!

My buddy Edon Guraziu helped me with advices while figuring out the suit details!

Photoshop destruction

Let's blow stuff up! This step was fairly easy but I had to keep in mind how real debris looks in order to achieve the right sense of floating debris. Basically the process involve subtracting the hull of the station by revealing the background with a layer mask, and then adding jagged destroyed edges on top. To create the small debris, I used a combination of hand-painting and dirt from a horse racing picture that I extracted with "select: color range". Final step for the debris is to blur them according to how close they are to the camera.

Added some subtle text on one of the panel, plus the logo that you can also see on her suit

Added some subtle text on one of the panel, plus the logo that you can also see on her suit

Final touches

This step makes a hell of a difference. What I usually do is add a bunch of soft light layers to create subtle lighting shifts across the image, toning down her fingers for example, boosting the highlights on her suit, sharpening the whole image, then adding chromatic aberration to make the image more vibrant and harsh looking, plus some bits of grain and dirt at the end. All of this is almost imperceptible but makes all the elements stick together.

I also went and replaced the CG head with a photographic plate that I re-lit with overlays

I also went and replaced the CG head with a photographic plate that I re-lit with overlays

Related links

Check out more of Efflam's work on his website
Looking for textures? Rummage through our vast free texture pages
Have a peek at the latest issues of 3dcreative magazine
To see more by Efflam Mercier, check out Digital Painting Techniques: Volume 6
and Digital Painting Techniques: Volume 7