Making Of 'Who is That'
Story: Who Is That...
"Who... is... that...? "
Suddenly I feel a strong light being cast on me while I am in a sweet dream.
Wait a second...
I remember that it was very late after school,
And I climbed the hill behind the town,
Soon, I found a mysterious flower I had never seen before.
I drew it excitedly in my book,
And then I felt a little sleepy...
Now I rub my eyelids and open my eyes slowly,
Then I witness such a fantastic scene that I will never forget it
The work, Who Is That... is just one piece from my series called, The Children Forgetting To Go Back Home. In this painting, a child has left the noisy metropolis, climbed a hill behind the city and has started to draw a flower that he found after school. He enjoyed sharing time with nature, and soon he fell asleep. Now the young boy has just been awakened by the Forest Rescuer, who has been sent by the little boy's dear mum to find him.
Inspiration: Dreams and Reality
The relationship between fantasy and reality is one of my favourite themes to express in both animations and paintings. Awaking from a dream might lead you into another.
This work is all about a dream. Sometimes there is only a thin piece of gauze between reality and dreams. This painting is a kind of combination of the wonderful memories and romantic notions I had when I was a little boy.
Perhaps because I majored in animation, I've always wanted my work to be able to tell a vividly touching story, no matter how big or small. I believe storytelling can plant a living spirit into an artwork.
Design of the Forest Rescuer
The concept of the Forest Rescuer creature was started several years ago; I designed it when passing through a street lined with numerous metasequoia trees down both sides. These friendly creatures are born in trees and decorate themselves with old man-made things. They live in forests away from the cities; however, they can be hired by parents to find children who have been lost in the forest. Various versions of the rescuers have featured in my sketchbook until now (Fig.01).
Brief 'Making Of' Steps
I planned to make the characters more cartoon-like, while keeping the painting style and textures realistic, so that the child's dream appears both fantastic as well as believable, and able to confuse even the child himself.
I sketched the draft in Corel Painter X with a 2B pencil brush and a Hard Laid Paper pattern on a new white canvas (Ctrl + N), simply because I feel comfortable with the grain this gives in Corel Painter X - it allows me to feel free in the sketch stage (Fig.02).
After the basic framework was laid down, I took the sketch into Adobe Photoshop CS (I still use the old version because it is faster on my PC than the newer ones, and it had enough tools for this project). Almost all of the painting and compositing work was done in Photoshop. I added a multiple layer on top and began to give the draft a quick, rough colour image with two main custom brushes. I then checked to see if the colour palette worked well (Fig.03).
I merged all the layers (select all layers and press Ctrl+E), saved the file (Ctrl+S), and in the next step I returned to Corel Painter X to refine the pencil lines according to the new coloured draft, because I had some new ideas and a clearer vision during the colouring phase. I picked the same 2B pencil brush again and shaped every detail of the two main characters carefully (Fig.04). After that came the important part: painting in colour in Photoshop.
Key Painting Steps
I'd like to explain more about the painting details that went into creating the Forest Rescuer (because I used a very standard method to draw the other elements, using a standard soft airbrush from shadows right through to highlights). Since this time I decided to create the image digitally, rather than traditionally paint using acrylics, I felt that I should make profitable use of my digital skills. So I used photographs of metasequoia trees that I shot as reference, and started to work on the texture of the Forest Rescuer in Photoshop (Fig.05).
In order to give a clear example, I'll now focus on the hand of the rescuer. Firstly, I created 'layer01' at the bottom (Fig.06). Then I painted a rough shadow and added light to it with a normal soft airbrush, making sure to mix them well (here I picked the colours directly from the tree photographs to make sure the work appeared more realistic) (Fig.07a). Then I dragged a suitable photograph into the file as 'layer02' and changed the layer composite method to Lighten. This gave me an image with a charming perspective and a textured look (Fig.07b).
I kept working to get the whole hand like you can see in Fig.07c. But that was not good enough to me, for it seemed as though not to follow the environment. So I added another layer, 'layer03' (Fig.06), above the former ones and used it to do some small but essential adjustments, like identifying small reflections and defining highlights and shadows according to the direction of light (Fig.07d). (I always try to merge layers often; I learned this lesson with this image because with my increasingly large layers, my lovely PC almost crashed during the mission!)
The following parts of the creation were finished in the same way (Fig.08), and they really cost a great deal of time! In the process, I kept avoiding paying too much attention to tiny details, but tried to focus on working on the entire balance of the whole picture. I find this to be important.
In the draft stage, the white light from the rescuer's eyes were more like stage spotlights (Fig.09a). However, with the painting going on, I found that the two strong cone shapes were going to damage the balance of the composition and weaken the mysterious atmosphere of the painting. So I decided to delete the shape of light and pay more attention to the environmental effects made by the light (Fig.09b). The whole canvas then turned out to be more harmonious. The bits that the light was cast on were painted with a Colour Dodge soft brush with different levels of opacity. This is an efficient way to render a bright-looking object in the dark (I learned this useful skill from Ryan Church). For the toy bear in the rescuer's drawer, I used a custom brush to finish the fur (Fig.10).
Finalising Who Is That:
The closer you get to the finished piece, the more careful you should become. All the main elements in the painting are being wrapped up, but even the smallest flaw may give the work a totally different look. By observing the work (Fig.11a), I found that the background was too noisy and knew that this wouldn't help the theme. So I painted a layer of dark blue to calm the sky, and the effect was satisfying (Fig.11b). I then defined the moon again and the lights of the city with a soft brush in Colour Dodge mode to add gems to the dark sky (Fig.11c). I also made a narrow path stretch to the hill on the right, in order to make a connection between the main characters and the background. Furthermore, I used a normal soft brush with 40% opacity to darken some outlines of the boy and his rescuer, to make a contrast with the charming light from the creature's eyes.
In the end, after cleaning up, I added several adjustment layers above all the other layers to look for a comfortable colour tone and contrast (Fig.12). I prefer the Colour Balance tool because it changes the different colours in a quite fine way. (I also suggest changing the opacity and layer method of the adjustment layers to look for special effects.) After getting a satisfying colour and feeling, I was finally happy to let the work go.
I hope you've enjoyed this making of Who Is That... and have found it to be somewhat useful. Thank you for reading! My spirit is always with the children that forget to go back home...