Paint a sci-fi flying vehicle concept in Photoshop


Hi, I’m Matteo Ascento. This is a making of a personal concept called “Wasp-05”. I did this concept during my Master degree at BigRock as an exercise for the week of prop design. Actually this wasn’t my comfort zone at all, but I enjoyed it so much. I completed this concept in more or less 4-5 days, so there was a little bit of preparation behind it. Hope this tutorial can help you guys.

Step 1: Get some reference

Once you have the object in mind (in this case I wanted to illustrate a spaceship for max 4-5 people), you need to enlarge your visual library, and figure out how can create your own concept. Nothing should be left to chance or almost nothing, a little bit of fantasy elements can be kept (we are not engineers).


Step 2: Silhouette

This is probably the most creative part. In this step, let yourself be guided by the shapes. To make this easier you could use a free program called Alchemy, which is a free program that allows you to create random shapes, with tons of useful tools. A simple random shape could always be a good start for something more detailed.


Step 3: Find edges

When we have our silhouettes, we need to make a selection of 2 to 5, not more than this. You can always recycle those discarded for a new concept. In this step we can transform and take our silhouettes a little bit further with Photoshop tools like Find Edge. You can find it under Filter > Stylize > Find edges. After applying the Find Edges filter, try to play with fusion methods, and if needed paint over your silhouette to make it more interesting.

Find edges

Step 4: Sketching on top

After the Find Edges step, to make our options clearer, we can lower the opacity and try to sketch over and define our spaceships. Lines are important but to better understand the volume, add some shadows and highlights with a soft brush, or hard round brush if you want. Also if you need to understand more, you can sketch details, or single parts.


Step 5: Perspective sketch

Once you have understood how the concept should be, it’s time to do a clean lineart and possibly draw it in a good perspective, where you can see as much as you can about the  concept. If the sketch is not super perfect, this isn’t a problem you can adjust later in the final colored painting.

Perspective Sketch

Step 6: Preparatory Studies

This is a very important step. In this one, as you can see, I did some preparatory studies to understand the materials better. In my case, the material is Aluminum, so I first picked a ball reference from the internet, and then I chose a hero reference, to emulate the reflection and the behavior of the material. It’s important to understand the material well, so you can reproduce it in a realistic way.

Preparatory Studies

Step 7: Start Painting

Now we are ready to start our painting. First of all, I selected the primary color of my concept. In my case it was a strong blue, so I filled the silhouette with it and started to define the shadow and highlights. As you can see, there are also some orange touches, these are imaginary reflections, because I want my spaceship to levitate in a desert environment.

Painting the first step

Step 8: Polish

Now it’s time to start polishing this rough painting. That will not be so hard because we have the help of the lineart and a solid base to work on. Try to blend the brush strokes between them, but instead of abusing the soft brush, I tried to work with the opacity and flow. We want to always have a more pictorial effect.


Step 9: Texturing

We are almost done. In this step we will add some texture and details. You can do it manually, so paint every single texture or use photos. I usually prefer the second one, because you can save time and get a more realistic painting. You can achieve similar results playing with fusion methods and over painting.

Adding Texture

Step 10: Mood and final touches

We are at the end of the tutorial! In this final step I played a lot with adjustment layers, to get the color and the mood I wanted for the final image. I also added extra subtle details, such as the sand under the spaceship. I also enhanced the highlights and added some noise and a mixed color layer to make the painting more cinematic, with high contrast. The concept is done!

Final Painting