Making Of 'Equilibrium'

Step 1: Line art

I've always been fascinated by realism, and because of this it is really important to me that the base line-art sketch has got proper proportions. I usually use the old trick by putting a grid on top of a reference photo I've shot, and then
I copy the same grid onto a blank canvas and start drawing grid by grid from what I see on the reference photo.
I make sure to keep the grid on a separate layer so that I easily can remove the grid at a later stage, and also
keep the drawing on a separate layer underneath the grid.

Step 2: Blocking in, and grey scale shading

Once I have the line art version ready, I delete the layer with the grid, and then I make another layer behind the line
art drawing which I fill with one grey scale colour using a hard brush. Once this is done, I collapse those two layers
so that I only have the background behind and the character in a separate layer.

Now I start shading with grey scale tones only by looking closely at the reference photo. I use only grey scale tones
at this stage only because I like getting the shape up and running before having to think about colours. Some like
it the other way around and start out with colours. However, you should do what comes natural to you.

Step 3: Brush usage

Personally I really like using hard edged brushes as they resemble the traditional brushes in both the way of working and when it comes to the result. To make a simple hard edged brush in Photoshop, simply follow these settings:

  1. Make sure you have the brush tool selected, and choose a hard edge brush (the ones that looks like a hard circle.
  2. Now open the "brushes tab" (Windows/brushes). Click the "Brush tip shape" button and drag the "spacing" slider
    to 10%. If this is set too high, the stroke looks like a row of balls instead of one single stroke, so keeping the spacing narrow makes the strokes look nice and smooth.

Step 4: Getting the grey scale version up

Using the new hard edged brush, I simply go over the entire character keeping the flow of the brush low (2-5%). I colour pick (by pressing "alt" while using the brush) where I'm painting for mixing new values directly to get smooth transitions. For example, if I have a dark grey-scale tone, and then a brighter one next to this, I will colour pick one of these tones and mix it with the other, and then colour pick the new tone and paint with this one and continue like this until I have a smooth transition. This makes the painting look a lot more interesting and dynamic than using the smooth air-brush looking brushes.

Step 5: Colours

Having the grey-scale version of the character in a decent state, I spend some time to find a colour-palette suitable
for the skin tones I would like this piece to have. Some times I base this on previous paintings I've done, other times
I create completely new ones. This time I wanted to use cold colours, close to porcelain values, so I made a palette with skin tones with quite a bit of blue and purple in it.
Now I turn on the "Lock transparent pixels" button on the "layers" menu so that I don't paint outside the edges of the character, and set the brush to "color" mode and start adding rough colours to the character. This is just to get a
base, and will be changed completely once I start shading for real. I also added some very basic green and blue values to the drapes at this stage.

Once the rough colourized version is ready, I change the brush mode back to "normal" and start shading the entire piece all over again, using the same hard edged brush with low flow. When doing this, it's really important to colour-pick as I go along. Instead of mixing colours on the side, I like mixing directly as I paint. I think this makes the result appear more dynamic and more interesting as you get all kinds of colour-variations. It also creates some imperfection which is good in my opinion, especially when working digitally.

Step 6: Adding extra elements

After spending quite some time shading skin tones, drapes and hair, the time has come to add a background and extra elements.
I wanted the background to be simple and symmetrical, so by framing the narrow piece by painting some columns seemed natural to me. Using a background sky with green values also makes sense to me according to the ambient light I wanted the scene to have. I used green colour in some of the dark places of the skin tones, the hair, and on the drapes.
The dagger was also added at this stage. I wanted it to include intricate decorations, and by looking at some references photos of different daggers, this one was the result. As usual, I started out in grey-tones before adding colour here as well.

Step 7: Finishing the piece

The dagger has now got the colours needed, and I go over the entire piece checking details and that ambient colours are right. I always add a soft glow to the brightest high lights in the piece by brushing very carefully with a soft brush with white colour. This makes a difference in my opinion when used carefully. Too much glow will kill the piece.

The last thing I do is to add a noise grain on top of everything. This to make the piece look less computer painted, and to add some imperfection to the values. If you look closely at a digital photo, you will see that there are not real clean values, each surface usually has got some grain to it.
I follow these steps when making a noise grain:

  1. Make a new layer on top of everything.
  2. Fill this layer with this value of grey: R=128, G=128, B=128
  3. Set the layer blending option from "Normal" to "Overlay". This will make the layer with the grey scale fill appear 100% transparent.
  4. Now add a noise to this layer (Filter/Noise/Add noise), and set it to 400%, Gaussian.
  5. Run filter: "Filter/Brush strokes/Spatter" a couple of times to break up the noise patterns.
  6. Run filter: "Filter/Blur/Blur".
  7. Set the layer "Opacity" to 5-10%, depending on what looks best.

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