Master custom brushes for characters - Chapter 1
This aim of this tutorial is to create a custom brush that can be used to add scales to a creature of some description.
Before we go on to deal with the task of creating the actual brush, there is the issue of designing the monster. As there was no criteria or a brief to work to, I decided to start doodling and see where my brush took me. I didnâ€™t have any preconceived ideas prior to starting, except that I wanted to avoid a bipedal animal as I had recently painted one of these and thought a change might be interesting.
The problem facing a custom brush specifically aimed at characters is that it has to conform to the anatomy, which means the pattern or texture must follow the anatomical contours. This is somewhat trickier compared to using them in the context of an environment, but as we shall see, the brush presets help.
As already mentioned I didn't have any preconceived notions, so using a standard Hard Round brush with opacity set to Pen Pressure I started to sketch.
After some trial and error, and then some further error, I arrived at an initial idea, which you can see in Fig.01. I based my design on a quadruped, but also amalgamated the characteristics of a gorilla, which walks on its arms. I moulded the head and upper back around an octopus, but lent the face a rodent-like appearance with a jaw full of incisors. The hind legs resemble those of a dog whereas the front legs are somewhat different, with an elongated carpus.
I blended these varying aspects together from numerous animals to try and create a more alien appearance. To avoid it looking to similar to a centaur I also drew in a second set of arms.
Fig.02 shows a more developed stage of the design with modified hind legs and the tentacles moved from the chin down to the groin area. I didnâ€™t want the creature to look like it had an octopus placed on its shoulders!
I then added the fourth arm, which I attached to its neighbor with a thin web of skin (Fig.03).
I also experimented with some other head designs, as I was unsure about this aspect. The one I favored displayed bat-like ears and an almost kangaroo-shaped head. This variation was seemingly undersized for the body, but I quite liked this quirk.
With the key ideas drawn in, I began refining the creature in preparation for the scales (Fig.04).
The first stage when creating any custom brush is to decide on a motif or shape that will form the basis of the brush stroke. When you look at scales on a fish or reptile, you soon realize that they are made up of a series of interlocking shapes that are similar in structure. Therefore when creating a custom brush, it follows that we start from a similar starting point.
Fig.05 shows a basic scale shape I created as a black outline surrounded by a selection area.
Once you have a shape you need to go to Edit > Define Brush Preset and turn this into an actual brush (white outline). After naming it, select it within your brush library and then open the brush palette.
The first thing we need to do is alter the Spacing under the Brush Tip Shape tab. If the spacing is left around 1% then the brush stroke appears as a continuous black line (see upper stroke in Fig.06). By dragging the Spacing slider we can reveal the scale shape (in this case 70%).
You can see now that when you drag the brush across the canvas, it displays a series that can then be interlocked.
The next set of parameters that generally need addressing are the Shape Dynamics. In this case one that is worth experimenting with is the Angle Jitter, as this will help paint scales that align with the contours of our creature.
Fig.07 shows three brush strokes in the upper left with the Angle Jitter set to Off. You can see that the scales remain aligned throughout the curved stroke.
When the angle is set to Direction the scales orientate with the brush, and as you can see in the lower example, they now follow the angle of the stroke. This is particularly helpful when trying to add them onto the anatomy.
One of the other useful parameters worth experimenting with is Size Jitter, which you can see in Fig.08 is set at 68%. You can also manipulate the Minimum Diameter, which alters the scale of the smaller deviations.
On the left are two versions of the brush with Size Jitter enabled (lower) and one with it turned down to 0% (top).
You will notice how the random variations in scale help add a more natural look to the scales, albeit slightly exaggerated in this instance. If you were to ramp the Minimum Diameter up to around 70%, then you would have a more realistic variation within the set brush size (1).
If you prefer using the pressure sensitivity of the tablet to vary the brush size then this is also an option under the Size Jitter.
Fig.09 shows a stroke with varying pressure and the resultant variation in the size of the scales. This can be an effective way of changing the scale of a brush stroke, but it does require quite a steady hand and a fair amount of control.
The previous settings are not crucial, but are worth exploring when you create your own library.
Fig.10 shows three different brushes used on our sample creature with the blending mode set to Screen. You can see that each one has a different quality and none perfectly match, which is inevitable.
Although these brushes will not produce wholly accurate scales, they will at least provide a decent starting point and be adequately suggestive of the different planes.
If we want to be more meticulous we can add scales in sections and then use the Warp tool (Edit > Transform > Warp) to more carefully match the perspective and anatomy (Fig.11).
With a brush such as this it is unrealistic to presume you can swiftly add scales to any design and they will work immediately. It will require refinement and further brushwork, but for the most part you will be able to quickly create the right impression, which is the key principle.
Fig.12 shows one of the brushes quickly applied across much of the body. In Normal mode (left) it looks a little crude, but when we alter the blending mode we can see a more satisfactory result with both light and dark outlines.
The next stage is to use this as a foundation on which to focus detail in certain areas and this will involve some manual refinement. There is no way you can produce a custom brush that will solve all of your artistic problems in a series of brush strokes; the process is simply not that mechanical.
Ultimately you will need to use any custom brush with some level of discretion and learn how to edit the marks you create. They can certainly provide a strong foundation, but invariably will require a degree of adjustment and an artistic eye.
Think of them rather like using textured paper combined with a specific medium; it will help achieve a more tangible effect, but they are nonetheless no more than tools.
In this case I used the custom brush to help determine the array of scales and their size and position. Once done I began modifying them to create highlights and used a soft-edged eraser to tone them down in specific areas.
From the initial phase seen in Fig.12 I went on to develop the scales through to the version shown on the left in Fig.13, and eventually through to the modified stage seen on the right.
I retained certain areas to suggest partially reflective scales and toned down other regions that were facing away from the light.
To see more by Richard Tilbury, check out Digital Painting Techniques: Volume 4
Digital Painting Techniques: Volume 5
Digital Painting Techniques: Volume 7
Beginner's Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop Elements
Beginner's Guide to Digital Painting in Photoshop
Photoshop for 3D Artists
and Prime - The Definitive Digital Art Collection