Paint a fantasy character concept with simple renderpasses


I’m going to show you how to paint Larry the Oyster Conjurer, a character I invented for this tutorial in order to show how I go about my everyday art. He is a wizard who travels along the coasts and makes his living from blessing fishing nets and casting spells in order to ensure great mussel hauls for the settlers. He is well known in the southern lands as a great spell weaver and so he gets a hot meal, a few coins or other goods wherever he comes.

I’m going to start this tutorial with a tight line drawing, continue by using a few simple rendering passes (ambient occlusion, diffuse and light), painting on top of them and finally add some adjustments to push the areas where I want the most attention to be drawn.

Larry the Oyster Conjurer - a great and well known Wizard

Step 1. From Design to Line Drawing

Before I start with the line drawing I spend some time planning my design. My preferred way to do this is to start with a silhouette. I went for a pointy hat shape in order to suggest that this guy is a wizard and added more details around the shoulder and head in order to draw attention to these areas. Parts of the cloak look like tentacles to suggest that this character is somehow connected to the ocean or creatures from the sea. I try to avoid parallel lines in my design in order to make his appearance look a bit more organic and self-made so he fits better in a fantasy setting.

Design Line Drawing
Silhouette Design and a tight Line Drawing are the base for my painting.

Step 2. Painting the Ambient Occlusion Pass

Once I’m satisfied with my line drawing I’m ready to create the Ambient Occlusion Pass. I draw a mask that will be used later on as the base for the Diffuse (material color) layer. But for now it serves me as a guide so I can see where the character ends without always having the line drawing visible.

I paint the occlusion in two layers. The first layer contains all the darkest areas. I set it to about 20% opacity. Then I copy the layer and increase its range; painting the areas where the occlusion effect is less intense. This allows me to quickly get a good result without hours of blending and comparing different areas.

Ambient Occlusion is not only useful but also looks pretty on its own. I only use black so I don’t have to set the layer to multiply.

Step 3. Adding Material Colors

When I’m happy with my Occlusion Pass I use the mask I created in Step Two and start adding colors. I am not painting the actual material colors but how the material colors will look in the shadow so I can then add the light in Step Four and the sections between in Step Six. I use warmer colors around the head and shoulders because I want this to be the main focus of my drawing. I also start quite saturated because I know I’m going to lose a lot of color information in the cool atmosphere of the image. I create my background at the same time because I want to see how my character will feel in the end. Turning the background on and off also helps me to see if I picked good values.

Adding the Color Pass already gives a good impression of how the final painting will turn out.

Step 4. Adding the Light Pass

Having the Color Pass between the mask layer and the occlusion layer I now create a Light pass - It’s going to be on top of the color layer but underneath the occlusion. Then I start painting the light pass using a screen layer. I tweak the opacity and color of my layer until I get a satisfying result.

The Light Pass without the color layer.

Step 5. Preparation for Paint-Over

Now everything is set for being painted onto and I can do some final adjustments before finishing my image. Maybe the skin color is not right yet, I want to change some other color or adjust the light. Notice how I kept the sphere he is holding in his right hand bright and saturated because I want it to glow in the end.

Taking a close look before Paint-Over.

Step 6. The Paint-Over

When doing the Paint-Over, I have two main goals: One is to create texture and the other is to create vibrancy where light and shadow meet and the material color is the most visible. During this step I have only used the regular hard round brush but feel free to use whatever feels comfortable or makes sense to you. Don’t forget to add reflection and highlights to indicate metal and shiny surfaces.

Paint Over
Time to add texture and vibrancy around the area of the terminator.

Step 7. Final Adjustments

After finishing my Paint-Over, there are a few areas left that need to be adjusted. In order to create soft glowing effects I use a normal layer with an outer glow-effect and add a color dodge layer on top. The color dodge on its own often creates unwanted noisy effects when used in dark areas so I light the area up before adding the color dodge. I also use a layer filled with black and set to color at about 35% opacity to decrease the saturation. I then mask out the eyes and the fishbowl to bring back their glow.

final image
The Final Image

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