Making Of 'Steampunk Scientist'
Martin Punchev takes us through the color and lighting processes involved in making his rendered image of Steampunk Scientist
My Steampunk Scientist was part of a small games marathon I did together with a fellow artist. The purpose of the project was to test the unity engine and prototype a lightning-fast mockup for a cute action-adventure game. The whole aim of this image was to create promotional art with whatever means I could use, since everything on the project had to be done within hours rather than days.
The final image took several hours of playing. I deliberately didn't use the word 'work' because, although in this making of I will share with you how I come to the end result, my main aim was to elaborate on the concept of playing, experimenting and working on the fly – without having the luxury of time for planning. It is definitely a risky strategy, but worth trying, especially when working on a team project with super-tight deadlines. In this scenario, the big picture is far more important than the individual piece of work and simply there is not enough time to worry over the small things and making everything perfect.
With a tight deadline, the important thing is to not over-think too much and just quickly start with something. I started with a default render of the low-poly model which was used in the game.
Generating render passes
Although this model was far from polished (as it was originally meant to be seen very small on the screen), the render served as a good base to start with… or at least better than starting from scratch.
At that point it wasn't a bad idea to generate some additional render passes, since you never know how or when they will eventually help you.
Start now, think later
Staring at the simple render you might feel scared and indecisive – so silence the voices of uncertainty and just throw something on the canvas as early as possible!
The best way to start in this case was to throw a background onto the canvas, so I quickly added a ground plane to establish the perspective and depth. Then without losing too much time, I threw various elements in, re-using the low-poly assets from the game prototype just to remove the flat space around the character.
And then a magical thing happened! My eyes locked on some of the messy 'pixel puke' on the canvas, and decisions about how to carry on spontaneously came to me. I visualized a steamy/dusty indoor space. The 'throw then think' methodology was starting to pay dividends.
Light it up
The next step is to define the light sources. Because I knew that I wanted a steamy environment, I actually indicated them like volumetric lights.
Once I knew what my lighting would be, I then cast the shadow of the character on the floor. To avoid painting it, I rendered something approximate in 3ds Max and added it as a pass in Photoshop.
Also, since we touched on the topic about shadows, something you should not forget would be to paint contact shadows on important areas, such as where the character is sitting on the ground plane. Without them you risk making the character seem as though it is floating instead of sitting firmly on the ground. I would have painted an entire AO pass if the time allowed it.
Throw in colors!
Experimentation is important in this stage too. I generated several eye-pleasing color variations of the image and blended and mixed them together to achieve something better. I'm using custom Photoshop actions that give me various looks, but there are lots of tools available that can give you the same results; some are free, others are paid for and there's even web-based ones like www.fotor.com.
The important thing is to play with them and experiment with different blending modes. Once you like the particular look, you can mask the rest of the layer out, so only parts of the image are affected by your color variations.
When doing characters, I found myself generally creating a few types of color passes. I tend to create a reddish pass that I blend with the original image to achieve a more sub-surface scattering feel to the organic surfaces and, most importantly, to get rid of the black shadows. Also a cool-bluish color can help to simulate ambient sky lighting and reflections (even for scenes like this one that are indoor!) in which I place the following Fresnel principle.
I use a lot of the advanced blending modes available in the layer properties to help me speed up things and avoid spending time on masking out areas by hand. Right-click on a layer and choose Blending Options – this will open the Layer Styles dialogue, and on the bottom you can see 2 identical looking sliders, one called This Layer, the other called Underlying Layer. These are the Blend If options.
Moving the black-and-white sliders for the bar on top will cause areas of the currently selected layer to disappear from view. Moving the sliders for the bar on the bottom will cause areas of the layer(s) below the currently selected layer to show through the selected layer, as if it's punching holes through it. The effect will be harsh until you drag the sliders by holding the Alt key. This will add transition to the effect and will give you more control over the blending.
In the image below you can see how the colored layer is showing only in the dark tones of the layers below.
Time to polish
Time was running out and although I wasn't quite satisfied with lots of things, I had to move on. The previous stage of incorporating elements, throwing colors and relying on happy accidents helped a lot and now I could run the last few meters to the finish-line by just fixing whatever my eye was not agreeing with: for instance, the harsh plane-breaks of the face and the fact that the character was missing eyebrows. Lighting artifacts were removed and some subtle details like wrinkles on the forehead were added.
And as you can imagine, since I've started with cheap and dirty renders of the low-poly, lots of things cried out for attention. At this point it is extremely useful to know where to delete and start over, and where to deform. Most of the time you can tweak and deform certain aspects and not waste time by deleting and starting from scratch. In places where I didn't like the pose, or the symmetry of something, I used the magical tool called Liquify. The other tool for deforming that I tend to use a lot is the Puppet Warp.
This is the final stage and the chance to add a few quick bells-and-whistles to the image in the last seconds.
The additional emitting containers on the ground were added to help establish the scale and depth of the environment.
Fog was added in the lower portion of the image in order to refine the contrast so that it doesn't steal the attention from the upper portion of the character, which is the main focus point. I also added subtle reflections in the glasses and darkened the borders of the image to focus the viewer to the center.
In the last minutes, in the middle of adding some particles in the atmosphere, the time ran out and I had to call it done. However although very far (faaar far away) from perfect, I was happy that I didn't waste time on the smaller imperfections and I actually had something that looked decent for the purpose it was created and it was done on time.
Working under pressure definitely plays its role and helps to reduce wasted time for irrelevant things; but the quick start, figuring out as you go and happy accidents method helps tremendously to forget the pressure and turn the work into play and have fun while creating your artwork.
Head over to Martin Punchev's website for more inspiration!
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