Making Of 'City's Heart'
Before starting the tutorial I'd like to briefly introduce myself. My name is Fabio Barretta Zungrone, and I'm currently working as a matte painter for a video game company. As you might know, this means spending a lot of time tweaking and detailing the shot you're working on. That's exactly why, for my personal pieces, I like to stay a little looser. What I really chase is the mood, the design, and the overall feeling of the environment, without getting too lost in details.
I had the idea of this piece in my mind for a while. I've always been fascinated by those crazy Japanese refineries and, more in general, by the massive scale of high-tech structures in anime like Evangelion or Blame!. Keeping that in mind, I started...
I can't stress enough how important this step is. In the past, I've often jumped into a piece without spending too much time looking for references. The result, most of the time, was a painfully slow painting process. No matter what you think, you probably don't know how that particular object is made, how it reacts to light, what its real color is.
References are useful for details, but they're also important to keep your imagination spinning. One thing to be aware of though: don't limit your research to the subject you have in mind. Obviously, in this case, a good amount of refinery or factory pictures were important, but I also looked for lens flare, fog, blue light, city lights, etc.
One last thing about references: try to look at movie stills. If you see a particular shot in a movie that sparks your interest, grab a still. Fig.01 shows you a selection of reference pictures I used for this project. Google and Flickr are your best friends at this stage.
After the reference gathering it was time for some thumbnails! This was the fun part. Thumbnails shouldn't be too detailed; actually, they shouldn't be detailed at all. Try to limit the size to 2000px and paint them without zooming in too much. Think about this stage as the "big shapes" one. All you really want to define is composition, value structure, colors etc. This is where you want to explore different ideas, angles and perspective. Once on the final piece, you really want to have all these aspects defined.
In this case, I explored different ideas even though almost all of them had the "giant pipes" element. That was definitely something I wanted to use in my final piece (Fig.02 - 03).
Out of all the thumbnails, the third one was the one I liked the most. All I had to do was scale it up (3000px wide) and start painting.
Since my idea was to make a concept and not a final matte painting, I could be a little looser than usual. I browsed through the references I'd collected earlier, looking for shapes that were close to what I imagined this environment to look like. Once I found something, I pasted it in the file and color-corrected it to match my colors. Nothing too advanced here; just curves and painting on top. When I had some basic elements in the scene, I started painting over to fill the rest of the picture (Fig.04).
I admit it; I'm not a "brush guru". I have Jaime Jones' brush palette loaded in my Photoshop, but I usually use just a few of them. This doesn't mean you should do the same. If you look at Jamie's work you will see what the good use of different brushes can do. I prefer using just a couple of them because I always have a hard time browsing through them and finding the right one! Fig.05 shows the main ones I used in this particular picture.
Tubes and Smoke
The painting process in this picture was pretty straightforward. Two elements that required a slightly different approach were the tubes and smoke.
To paint the tubes I used a mixture of paths, layer styles and the Smudge tool (Fig.06).
The smoke was painted with two brushes (one as a painting brush, one as an eraser) and the Smudge tool in certain places (Fig.07).
Here are a few general notes to keep in mind:
Silhouettes: Strong silhouettes make the image readable at a glance. Use them to drive the attention to your focal points. If two elements are too close in value, paint something between them to better define their position in space. Smoke, light or fog is usually a good solution (Fig.08).
Values: Always check your value structure and use it to create the illusion of depth in your environment. To help you with this, put a black and white adjustment layer on top of your painting and turn it on every now and then to check your values. If something doesn't look right, it's probably wrong. Fix it before moving on to anything else. The picture below shows you a value breakdown of the painting (Fig.09).
Try to think about contrast every step of the way. Big vs small, dark vs light, horizontal vs vertical, hard edge vs soft edge, etc. If you have too much of one, add some of the other. This rule applies to brush strokes as well; play with different sizes and directions.
After a couple of days of work, here is the final result (Fig.10).
That's all guys! I hope you found this tutorial informative. If you want to know anything in particular, please don't hesitate to shoot me an email. In conclusion, I'd like to thank James Paick for his advice and critiques. Without his support, this picture wouldn't exist.