Lighting an underwater fantasy character

Discover how illustrator Jose Parodi created his submerged fantasy diver character using Photoshop...

This art is inspired by Jules Verne's stories trying to generate a subtle sensation of retro and science fiction. I will show step by step, the artistic process from the sketch until the lighting and details. To achieve it you need to have Photoshop knowledge focused on digital paint, the fundamentals of anatomy, and a set of elements inspired by fantasy and science fiction stories. It's also important to have a clear vision.

Sketch, grays and elements

In this step we start with a very raw sketch in grayscale, creating a silhouette of what we want. Here we just have to focus on the elements and the proportions without worrying about the details. We try to highlight the main element with grayscale (1) in this case the character and proportion where we can at least distinguish or highlight him (1). I imagine the character stalked by a tentacle, a creature or something similar, this would be the secondary element (2). Visually I don't want the secondary character to steal attention from the main character, so I leave it in the background (behind the main character).

Separation of elements or characters

In this step we make something really easy. We already know that we have two elements or characters (1 and 2), plus the background. What we do here in this step is try to separate the elements 1 and 2 with some degradation placing the character (main 1) in the foreground and the tentacle (secondary 2) behind in the background. We apply this with the goal of generating depth and atmosphere.

Detail of anatomy, helmet material and general color

In this step we work on the detail of anatomy and the helmet material. For this I recommend any tutorial, anatomy book and the help of references, and with practice this will help us to understand and draw the human figure. I also recommend to study and analyze metallic materials.

In this step, we start to apply a sepia color filter. We can also apply a color layer or play with tones, it all depends on what we want to achieve. The basic intention is to produce a subtle retro feeling.

Texture and movement

In this step we already have a big percentage the focal point defined (you can clearly see what is the main element). To develop our concept we can use textures to interpret the skin or surface of some elements, in this case the secondary element or tentacle placed in the background (behind the character).

Analyze the movement of the octopus tentacle, and its tension, and also look at snakes or squids; this way our element looks better, and we can combine brushstrokes and textures.

Backlighting

In this step we highlight the character with a small light behind, highlighting the part we want to focus on (it's necessary to keep in mind our focal point). In this case we make it with just one color that contrasts with the character silhouette, giving the sensation of a small light that is very dim between the main character and the secondary.

Illumination

In this step we create two types of lights (the main and the secondary) that will help us to highlight the character and with greater contribution to the general composition. In this case, I decide to use a warmer light that comes from the bottom-left part, and a clear light that comes from the upper-right to his back (this light will give us a reason for reflected light, in the character back edge).


Details

In this step we clearly know where the lights come from. We use this to give details to the objects that we can see; the back, the helmet and the spear. Keeping in mind the lights, we can give volume and details to the metallic textures, and here we have to be careful looking where the light comes from to make the volume credible within the context of the space.

Lights accentuation

In this step we can see how the main light is lighting the main character. In a subtle way we highlight where rim light hits some of the objects, trying to reinforce at the same time the focal point (top of the character). We do the same thing with the light that comes from the back. In the lower part of the character we only use brushstrokes, to not distract the eye from the focal point.

Submerged

In this step we make something simple; very defined bubbles over the helmet to give the sensation of being submerged in the water. And at the same time in the environment we add bubbles with blur, with the intention of removing the empty space, and creating a submarine environment.

Filter

Here I applied a filter. The filter color is something subjective and depends on what we want to communicate. In my case I just decided to use the cold filter (sea blue). What we provoke with this filter is to reaffirm the idea that is someone submerged in the water.


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