Making Of 'The Black Sheep is Coming'
This illustration is the result of a project for Black Sheep Studio in Paris and represents an action scene. I collaborated with the character artist StÃ©phane Chung. He took care of the characters while I was in charge of the setting.
We wanted to work together on an illustration with a rich environment that gave us a lot of freedom to develop the action and the atmosphere. We immediately picked a setting close to a shanty town, probably due to the indirect influence of the game Rage by Bethesda that we had just played!
The composition was crucial to reach our goals. First, we wanted the characters to be placed on different levels of depth in order to have an un-crowded central space and obtain a dynamic overall composition. This led to an interesting image in terms of characters and setting. We chose a horizontal format because it is perfect for landscapes.
Even if my first design seemed to be a good starting point, the composition was still too symmetrical and all too neutral. The landscape was shot from the front and the horizon was perfectly level, which is often used to convey calm and was the opposite of what I wanted to do (Fig.01)!
I decided to slightly turn the camera to add some drama and balance the buildings. This enabled me to focus on the foreground, which helped immerse the viewers in the image and allowed us to add characters later (Fig.02).
Based on my previous conclusions I started working on another rough image and thinking about what I could add to the background. For example, mountains filled with cabins, an imposing element to give a sense of immense size (like a crane, tower or monster), exotic elements, etc (Fig.03).
Once my foundation was ready I started working on the modeling of the buildings in the foreground using 3ds Max. That set the right perspective for the characters and the whole infrastructure, despite the lopsided appearance of the slum (Fig.04).
I then opened Photoshop, superposed my 3D render and started a new canvas that was 8000 x 4000 pixels. This was a huge format, but necessary for a poster size! I drew the buildings again, fine-tuned the volumes and started working on the details. I concentrated on the foreground to establish the mood. I added cables and suspended lines to emphasize the disused feeling. I placed a large electric pole on the right side to hang several cables from and to tie together the different parts of the image (Fig.05).
I enriched and added to the painting using pictures from the internet of shanty buildings, light panels, red traffic lights, etc. These images were perfect references to be used in different ways, such as to make brushes. This phase sparked my creativity as the images I picked triggered new ideas. For instance, I particularly liked the wrecks of airplanes and ships, so I thought about placing a huge engine in the middle of the city! Then I thought, "What if there was a monster holding a ship on his shoulder?" Then it hit me to add a black sheep rather than a monster overlooking the city, to point towards the company I was collaborating with to make this image (Fig.06).
As the image resolution was extremely large I decided to divide it into five pieces - the four corners plus the centre - to make small compositions. This allowed me to focus on each part individually, to work in a more comfortable way and to think step-by-step about things such as texture, perspective and light.
I completed each image using brush strokes and reference pictures. That took me to the coloring part. I wanted the illustration to look warm or exotic and threatening at the same time, full of dirty materials, contrasts and imposing textures, etc (Fig.07 - 09).
After several tests of different weapons and poses I decided that I wanted the sheep to look as threatening as possible (Fig.10).
I gathered everything and homogenized the light and materials using a combination of personal brushes and ones by artists like Djahalland and Barontieri. The goal was to make the illustration and photo references look alike without making it look too clean. To do so I stained the pictures and added a few filters.
The image was then finished. I could send it to my colleague StÃ©phane so that he could place his characters (Fig.11).
Writing the Making Of for this image has been a great opportunity to have fun and apply the virtues of different techniques, such as the use of 3D and reference images. Thanks for reading!
To see more by Xavier Etchepare, check out Prime - The Definitive Digital Art Collection