Learn to create fantasy battle scenes

Begin your journey to creating epic fantasy battle scenes in Photoshop with chapter one of our fantasy battle scenes ebook...

Inspiration for painting may come from many sources, and I often have plenty of ideas about the way I want my image to look.

When you start sketching, it's a good idea to sketch out ideas and then choose the main theme. You could also start with the background of the scene, though this requires you to already know where you are going with it and insert enough information.

My goal in this tutorial is to show you clear and simple key-steps in the creation of this image: Primal Rage.

The basic concept for the image is to show a battle between two, wild primitive tribes on the African savanna. With this in mind, I create a story by showing small snippets of narrative, such as the moment during the battle when the main character gets his one and only opportunity to blind his powerful enemy.

Thinking of the historical context too; the scene should comprise of primitive, very simple weapons. The primitive fighter uses weapons that were made from stones, bones and wood.

An important part of my work is to consider the characters of the two hostile tribes. From my initial pool of ideas, I decide the defenders and the aggressors should have unequal power. The defense team is more human and characters wear leather and fur clothes, and the attackers are more primitive and brutal - they wear bones as trophies.

I also consider the idea of cleverness vs. brute force. I want to keep this in mind when creating the atmosphere and when hinting at elements in the back-story.

01: Idea

The picture tells a story without the need for words, and you need to focus on the storyline in your image in order to hold the viewers' attention.

I sketch two fighting figures in the central section of the composition, as I'm trying to choose the best place for them. At this stage, I'm not too concerned about the background. I only support the two figures by placing an array of fighting figures around in the background. I also begin to make a note of how the elements are going to be arranged in the final piece.

I want to depict a scene where defenders are trying to save their families, who are in the village located in the background. I choose to create an early morning light as it helps me set up the atmosphere of a surprise attack.

02: Sketch and composition

I start my work by sketching a few drafts on canvas. I then quickly arrange elements in this simple, colorful draft to find the right composition for the image. I look for the potential light source, color and direction until I end up with something I'm happy with.

I'm trying to sketch small thumbnails at this point, because I really don't want to concentrate on details. At this early stage it's a good idea to figure out what goes where in the frame, because if you choose a bad sketch it will cost you time later down the line.

I also increase the image dimensions after I pick up the most interesting sketch - which will let me arrange all of the elements within it.

03: Start painting

After I have all the information that I need, and after I have chosen a sketch, I start to translate my imagined ideas to the screen.

If everything is clear and I'm still satisfied with my idea, I start to develop the sketch further and apply rough colors to it. At this stage, I continue keeping the concept simple as I still want to be able to make changes without big losses later on.

I also want to consider the focal point and composition at this stage too. This is very important, particularly when you create a big battle-scene with many characters in the background. It gives you a chance to make changes in the characters' location in a very fast and easy way, and you don't need to repaint everything, so you can save a lot of time.

04: References

At the start of a project, I like to collect a range of reference material, as this helps me to understand the topic that I am painting. I then make a folder of photos and artwork that I can draw inspiration and visual reference from.

You should spend a few hours collecting information from the internet, as gathering reference material will help you understand the topic you are painting. These can be shots from your camera, magazine pictures or images from websites - all of this will help you to perfect details such as lighting and proportions.

The best way to start building the basic concept for your image is to choose some key words. I use 'primitive force', 'wild', 'feral', 'tribe', 'Africa' and 'leather'. When inspiration comes, I think it is very important to write it down on a piece of paper or on your computer.

During my research time on the internet, I find an old computer game and realize that my image could be a cover for it. I find it funny, and decide to name my image 'Primal Rage' after it.

05: Adding details

When we have the final color palette and the shape and design of the characters, we can turn to the final detailing stage.

I use hard brushes and set the Opacity to 50-70. I then start working on the background by adding more detail to the sky and ground.

I check a few composition tests for the main character's location in the scene and pick the one that best suits the story. I decide on the arm position of the monster and decide that it should be more dynamic as it's more compatible with the composition.

06: Lighting

Lighting brings the image alive and defines the space, and this is a good stage at which to experiment with color and light.

On my image, I use simple soft brushes to define the light a little bit more and try and make it more dynamic. To get this effect, I use the Overlay layer or Multiply. I add a red element to the human weapon because later in this place there will be a flame. I also use a bit more contrast.

07: Color adjustment and details

When I'm satisfied with the progress, I start painting on top of the atmosphere lighting. This pretty much locks-in the design with the new, heavier lighting.

It's also a good idea to ask yourself about what kind of things you want to feature in the environment you're working on. These decisions will help you develop the story in your image.
My next move is to put flames in the foreground and also add spears without their owners, as this shows chaos in the battle yard.

08: Changes

Just as I'm ready to finish the painting, I notice that there are still unresolved areas, particularly in relation to the overall mood.

First, the color feels too saturated, so I desaturate the image.

I also add more cool color tones on the monster's mask. This creates an excellent contrast and so supports its use as a focal point. This is also the time for adding more detail to main characters.

During these final touches you must remember the light source!

09: Adding Textures

I add texture on the skull, skin and the fur. The best point at which to add the textures is when you have modeled all the elements.

You can add these elements in many different ways. I like to experiment with different types of layers and generally choose something from my experimentation that satisfies me most. Don't be afraid to do this kind of experimentation because you can sometimes discover something very unusual, just by chance!

10: Details - final touches

I change the monster's teeth in my last step and also diversify the planes by adding smoke and dust. After adding these new details, I then match colors using Color Balance and Level.

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