Making of Dragon Sightseeing

Klaus Pillon shares how he made the breathtaking Dragon Sightseeing in Photoshop...

In this tutorial I'm going to walk you through some of the steps and thought processes I used for this personal work; this is also (more often than not) the way I do my professional work. I will talk about the way I think about composition, the importance of storytelling, and how I convey it. I will also talk about having a certain order in my workflow so I can be more efficient with detailing.

Step 1: Sketch

As this was a personal work time and content weren't limitations. I drew my inspiration from traveling to different countries and discovering new fauna, I knew I wanted to emulate that feeling but add a twist - what if those animals were dragons, because who doesn't like dragons? In Photoshop I started building the sketch with line work to get the composition blocked in; I like to start with a rough idea in my mind and build around it, adding and changing things as I go along to make it more interesting. The line work allows me to make changes very quickly, and little by little a story emerged. It keeps the sketching process fairly organic and fun for me.

I also try not to get too caught up in the details and keep it quite loose at this stage

I also try not to get too caught up in the details and keep it quite loose at this stage

Step 2: References

This step is very important because it is when I make a lot of decisions about the look of the elements in the picture. I did some research for possible lighting setups in order to convey the feeling I was looking for, as well as what the surroundings can look like, what the texture of the skin/shell of the dragon would be and so on. Having a references board can really help ground the picture in reality because the choices you make about things that don't exist should be based on something that does. For example the car for which I tried to give a slight futuristic look, if I hadn't used picture of actual cars the design wouldn't have looked consistent and credible enough.

Some of the pictures I could have used as references

Some of the pictures I could have used as references

Step 3: Values and colors blocking

With the references gathered I was then able to start blocking the values and colors. This is the stage where I focused on the lighting, with the main question in mind being - what kind of lighting can make the focus (the big dragon) pop up best, while also giving enough importance to the characters in the foreground? So I went with early evening lighting, which allowed me to give a nice contrast between the dragon and the sky, and to group the values in the foreground, all the while creating some interesting silhouettes.

I also try to keep it rough at this stage; there is no need for details so I can focus on how the different light sources affects the elements

I also try to keep it rough at this stage; there is no need for details so I can focus on how the different light sources affects the elements

Step 4: Handling the hardest first

Once the values and colors looked correct I moved on to detailing. I always try to start detailing the main focus point first (the dragon), but this time I also knew that the car would need a lot of work so that it doesn't stand out and hurt the picture, it needed to be credible and based in reality. This part was also a bit out of my comfort zone, I knew that I would feel more comfortable working on the rest of the picture once the car feels right. I spent quite a bit of time altering the design, going back to the references and polishing the lines until I was satisfied with it. Even though it seemed to work at the sketch stage if something doesn't feel right, I do it over and over until it does.

The design changed many times before I settled on the final one

The design changed many times before I settled on the final one

Step 5: Main focus point

The next step was to work on the main point of interest, the dragon. Again, having a certain hierarchy of the elements in my picture allows me to focus on them decreasingly so certain areas feel a bit rougher than others, drawing the viewer's eye across the page to the interesting things. For the dragon I laid down some photo textures for the skin, following the movement of the muscles, trying to work a certain kind of anatomy while doing that. Then it's just detailing it up to a point and matching the textures by painting over them.

At this point the dragon is still a bit rough but the detailing feels enough to move on to detail other areas

At this point the dragon is still a bit rough but the detailing feels enough to move on to detail other areas

Step 6: Detailing the characters

After the car and the dragon were done, I moved on to the characters. This is a very straightforward process, keep detailing while keeping the light sources in my mind (the sun on the left and of course the sky as the ambient light). I also tried to keep the silhouettes as readable and interesting as possible. I decided to give them some kind of jumpsuit to enhance the feeling of science-fiction. Up to this point I didn't feel that there was a particular reason why they had stopped there, I added the camera next to one the characters, to improve the narrative. I then moved on to finish the details on the dragon, so I added some texture and painted the road and surroundings.

I worked every different element of the picture on a separate layer which allows for better flexibility

I worked every different element of the picture on a separate layer which allows for better flexibility

Step 7: Sky detailing and final touches

The final stage was to render the sky, adding and detailing the clouds while also trying to keep them loose so they don't interfere with the rest of the elements. I rendered the dragons in the distance without too much detail because they are far away. I also pushed the main dragon a bit further in to the distance by using atmospheric fog and added some small birds flying around it to help sell the sense of scale. This is also the time that I start working the edges in the pictures to help the eye focus more on what I want.

There's a time when I need to call it done, I tried to keep the balance between detailed and loose elements interesting and to not overdo it

There's a time when I need to call it done, I tried to keep the balance between detailed and loose elements interesting and to not overdo it

Related links

To see more of Klaus's work check out his portfolio
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