Making Of 'A Creature Concept / Illustration'
This tutorial is a detailed, step by step demonstration of my process in the making of a creature illustration. As a side note, this assignment was a Concept Art test for Cryptic Studios. I did get the job, so in that respect, this piece was a success.
Step 0: Comps / Thumbnails
The first step in creating any image is the ideation process. This is the part I really have fun with.Â Since the assignment is a creature illustration, I create a set of creature thumbnails. Sketching small and staying loose allows the ideas and shapes to flow. I sketch about 20 mini thumbnails during this process (Fig.01 & Fig.02).
I use a combination of gray markers, from 20% gray to 70% gray, just to create shapes and show form and lighting. To line, I use a brush pen and a fine tipped felt pen.
Fig.03 shows the last group of creature sketches. I start by favoring a reptilian creature for this scene until I finally settle on the Minotaur creature on the bottom left.
Having decided on the creature's design, it's now time to design the scene. I sketch small, 2" to 3", thumbnails to establish the overall image. I try to stay very loose and sketch quickly and allow the ideas to flow. I sketch about 10 thumbnails for this image and the ones selected here are the strongest compositions. After some revision and feedback, I decide to develop the thumbnail on the lower left.
Step 1: Cleanup / Line Drawing
Now I have my creature and the scene sketched/planned out, I scan in the comp and begin to clean it up in Photoshop. I want the focus of the image to be the creature so I develop him first. My focus here is to have a clean, solid line drawing that will create a strong foundation for the rest of the image. This is a really important point; if the drawing is solid, then everything will fall into place and the rendering process will go very smoothly (Fig.04).
Step 2: Light and Shade
Now that I have a solid line drawing I begin to add light and shade (Fig.05). The steps are as follows:
- I paint a flat, 25% gray underneath the line art. The setting is at night, so the creature will be relatively dark.
- I create a multiply layer over the flat layer. I paint the shadows using a 50% gray and 25% gray (for core shadows)
I create an Overlay layer above the shadow layer. Using a 85% gray, I paint the lights and highlights. At this stage my focus is on good separation of lights and darks and good edges to make the forms turn.
Step 3: Foreground Elements / Defining the Vignette
To create depth, space and scale, I add foreground (FG) elements. This also gives the image a nice vignette, which is a fancy word for "framing" the image (Fig.06):
- First I use the comp sketch as a guide to draw the foreground shapes
Then I fill the drawing with my darkest darks (almost going to black). This pops these elements forward and creates a nice frame for the image. Fig.07 shows the final FG layer. I took time drawing and rendering the FG characters and the hanging stop light.
Step 4: Going "Opaque"
After combining the character with the FG elements, I'm ready to "render" the character. I create an opaque (100% opacity) layer above the line art and begin to paint over the line art. My focus is to refine the edges, model the forms and draw the viewer's eyes into the character. Of course, I follow the old illustrator's rule and put most of the rendering and detail in: #1 the head and #2 the hands.
A close-up of the rendering of the head and claw hand can be seen in Fig.08.
Step 5: Background
Using the comp sketch as a guide for the perspective, I add the background (BG) elements. As the assignment is to create a night scene in Manhattan, New York, my thought process is as follows:
- First, do extensive research and gather reference material
- Choose a photo that matches closely and begin to tweak the image in Photoshop
To get to this BG image shown in Fig.09 will require a lot of photo manipulation using transformations, filters and hand painting to make it my own and fit the art style. This step could be a tutorial in itself. I use this technique to save time and to keep the focus on the character.
Step 6: Intergrating the Background
Here I add background elements to better integrate the background with the character in the middle ground (MG) (Fig.10). This is all hand-painting at this point. Because the BG image is well laid out, I only have to do a minimum of perspective drawing.
A close-up of the details added here can be seen in Fig.11. It's mostly figures and cars to really show scale, action and story-telling.
Step 7: Final Tonal Render
I add some finishing touches to finalize the tonal render (Fig.12):
- Some smoke and flame loosely painted to create movement and soften edges
Using a multiply layer, I create a drop shadow to really set the character in the scene. I then flatten the image to begin the next step.
Step 8: Colorizing
Even though I have used this method of "colorizing" (adding color in PS using layer effects), I want the image to have as much of a hand-painted look as possible (Fig.13).
So the first thing I do is create a limited palette in a separate window. I pick the colors from reference images of Manhattan at night and then adjust to their closest tube color counterparts. Limiting my palette this way keeps the image clean, uniform and cohesive. Taking colors from life and from actual tube paints also keeps the final image from looking muddy or too "Photoshop-ey".
Step 9: Creature Coloring
Now, I create a Color layer above the flattened tonal layer. Since the focus of this piece is the creature, I color render him first. From here I can use his hues and saturation as a guide to color and render the rest of the scene (Fig.14).
Step 10a: Coloring the Background
- I duplicate the tonal layer.
- I create a Color layer above and fill it with a blue-purple (night sky color).
- I merge the two layers.
I use this color because it is an approximation of the night sky and, when painting landscapes, the sky color generally heavily influences the hues (color) of the scene (Fig.15).
Step 10b: Coloring the Background cont.
- First, I create another color layer above the flattened blue-purple layer
- Using the limited palette I made for myself earlier, I paint in the colors loosely with large brushes
- Then I refine the colors and the saturation
Even though the scene is set in Manhattan, filled with bright, colorful, saturated artificial lights, I don't want it to compete with the character too much. I keep the colors slightly grey and slightly cool since the creature has a very warm local color. Again, I want the focus to be on the main character (Fig.16).
Step 11: Dodge and Burn
This part of the process gets a bit technical. Some working knowledge of Photoshop helps here (Fig.17):
- First, I take the colored creature layer and use an alpha mask to mask out the background
- I put the layer with the colored BG beneath the creature so that the background shows through
- I then merge the two layers and make minor painting adjustments
- I create a Color Burn layer above the flattened layer and punch in the darks to create some really nice contrast
I create a Color Dodge layer and use a very light yellow-orange to "punch in" the highlights and turn-up the saturation. Again, I mostly want to focus on the head and hands.
Here are before and after images detailing the Dodge and Burn process (Fig.18). Even though I'm a traditionalist at heart, it's so much fun to play with the Dodge and Burn layers. Plus it's an extremely quick technique and saves a lot of time.
Step 12: Final Image
Now, I just add some finishing touches, especially around the face of the creature and the FG elements. Sign and date and we're good to go (Fig.19).
A close-up of our character's mug can be seen in Fig.20. I mostly punched up the contrast, modeled small forms in his face and added some drool just for fun.
Thank you for viewing. If this tutorial was helpful, or if you have questions about my process, then you can contact me directly by email.
To see more by Chris Legaspi, check out Anatomy for 3D Artists