Making Of 'Prince of Persia - Sands of Time' Animated Theme

Introduction

Prince of Persia is one of the biggest game franchises in the world and doing the marketing art for the HD remakes of all three parts at the same time was a big honor for me. The great thing was that all the artworks that I had to make were going to be released as three separate themes and an additional animated one, which is what this tutorial is going to be about (Fig.01 - top left).

Fig. 01 - Click to Enlarge

Fig. 01 - Click to Enlarge

All of the themes are available for free download on the PS3 Network.

Main Goals

The most important thing before you start any new project, commission, illustration, etc., is to have your goals and task perfectly clear. For this project the main goal was to create a theme for the PS3 that represented the Prince of Persia franchise, although without the Prince himself (he is a bit different in all three installments and there are already a lot of wallpapers, cover variations, etc., for the whole franchise), in HD Resolution with enough details and some basic mood animations (which is not very easy to make on the console).

Considering the animations that had to be done and the timeframe we had, the obvious choice for me was to make something with some distinct foreground and background elements, and to put in some casual effects, like smoke, minor particles and other stuff to get more depth into the scene.

Thumbnails

The first thing to do was to make some very rough thumbnails to get the ideas in my head cleared (Fig.02). I usually make between 10 and 12 more detailed thumbs, but this time I spent only about an hour on them and almost the rest of the day on doing research on the internet about textures and stuff that could be useful for my goals and for the brushes that I wanted like to create for all the paintings. For example, stuff like rock textures, falling leaves, etc.

Fig. 02 - Click to Enlarge

Fig. 02 - Click to Enlarge

Brushes

When you have to create a HD image, especially within tight deadlines, you have to be very careful how are you going to proceed with it, because there is no time for mistakes. I personally think that the best way is to use brushes or images from your personal library (images that you have created or that you know you can use freely). Because this way you will still have full creativity in your image and enough time to polish it at the end.

For an image such as this, with caves and underground caverns, I knew that I was going to need a lot of rock details and a lot of overlayed small details in terms of stone-shaped noise. This is something that would make the image more convincing. In the end I came up with two brushes: the detail brush and the rock brush. They are nothing special or complicated, but they gave me a lot of starting details to paint from.

The Detail Brush

It is fairly easy to create a detail brush - the only thing you need is a high resolution grayscale texture, which tiles perfectly and fits the goals you have. If it does not tile correctly, you can always use the Filter > Other > Offset option and to do it yourself. After you are done, you have to save it as a pattern (Photoshop: Edit > Define Pattern). Then you go to the brushes palette (Hit F5), choose any soft brush you like and check the options shown in Fig.03. Leave all the settings on default and, from the texture palette, choose your newly created pattern and set the mode to Color Burn. Scale it depending on the desired quality. Hit the Save New Brush button to save it as a stand-alone brush and you are done.

Fig. 03

Fig. 03

From here you can download two example brushes that I have made using the same principle (working with Photoshop CS): NICK Stone Detail Brushes.

The Rock Brush

This is a bit trickier, because the shape is very important. First you need to find some textures that will fully fit your purposes. After that you need to create a pattern (as with the detailed brush) and one brush which you will use as a mask (use it instead of the Soft brush). You have to set the mode to Multiply in order to get more fill in the brush. Also, from Brush Tip Shape you can adjust the spacing of the brush as desired (Fig.04). After you are satisfied with the result hit the Save New Brush button to save it as a standalone brush and you are done.

Fig. 04

Fig. 04

Painting Process

The painting process was a bit rudimentary - I'd divided the picture composition into a few layers in my head and I began to recreate them one after the other. The first thing is always to create the moo; to see and get the basic color gamma of the artwork so you can see where you are heading to. I took the thumbnail that I'd already made for the painting and put a layer or even two on top of all other ones, filled with solid color. The main point is that on this layer I was able to paint whenever I wanted with different colors and to have more color variation and full control over the mood of the painting. When I do this I always put the layer on Overlay mode, or in some rare cases on Soft Light. There is only one thing to remember - if you use this type of technique you will actually have to paint under this layer with very desaturated colors (Fig.05 - 06).

Fig. 05

Fig. 05

Fig. 06

Fig. 06

After that I began with the main part -the rock bridge with the Prince of Persia game logo. I repainted it over the thumbnail with a hard brush, blocking all the main volumes in properly and then I made a selection of the painted part. Here I used a bit of a darker or lighter color (depending if I was painting in the shadows or on light parts) with the rock brush in order to create some kind of a texture on it. After that I picked the Hard brush and painted all the small details, like lights, by hand on a new layer, using only the eraser to blend them properly.

In Fig.07 you can see the painted part of the foreground with the sketch still visible on some places underneath it.
I had the initial composition from the thumb, but after I'd finished the first step, I made a composition check and changed everything that needed to be altered (the Liquify tool or just the usual Distort tool came in handy when I did this). For this image I decided the use the Rule of the Thirds (Fig.08), which is most commonly used in photography, instead of Golden Ratio composition. You can always refer to Wikipedia for some basic info if you feel a bit unsure:

• Rule of Thirds: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rule_of_thirds
• Golden Ratio: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_ratio
• Composition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Composition_%28visual_arts%29

Fig. 07

Fig. 07

Fig. 08

Fig. 08

One of the things that I had to keep in mind was that all the effects and particles in this image had to be animated. So I kept doing careful checks to make sure all the layers blended smoothly with each other (Fig.09).

Fig. 09

Fig. 09

After I was done with the focal layer, I began to work on the foreground. It is always good to have some stuff near the camera. It does not matter if you going to use Depth of Field or not. This is something that always gives much more depth to the whole scene (Fig.10).

Fig. 10

Fig. 10

After I was satisfied with the overall result I did a small pass of particles, smokes, etc., on top of the whole image. This is something that added a lot of atmosphere to the scene. And, of course, color corrections - this is the most important step. Giving precise color corrections to the whole image can lead to amazing results or can even lead you to scrap the artwork totally (Fig.11 - 12).

Fig. 11

Fig. 11

Fig. 12 - Click to Enlarge

Fig. 12 - Click to Enlarge

Final Tips and Thoughts

1. Always spend some time making thumbnails or basic sketches, before you start! There are tons of artists who jump right into the painting and from time to time this does not lead to particularly good results. It could be thirty minutes to one hour of thumbnail sketching, but take your time and do it.
2. Check you composition at least a couple of times. Flip the image if you feel unsure - flipping the image will help you see mistakes and will allow you to see your painting from different angle.
3. Avoid having a lot of edges, or points at one spot; this leads to a small compositional mess.
4. Have a distinct foreground/background separation. You can always make it less visible at the end, but the other way is more tricky.
5. Check your light sources and spend some time looking at as many references as possible.
6. Details are essential!
7. Have a grayscale layer, put on Color mode, on top of all other layers. Turn it on from time to time and check your picture depth and balance in grayscale.
8. Never be afraid of changes.

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