Painting an imaginary world
In my spare time I imagined a fantastic world that I named the 'World of Tosor' (in a parallel future exists an immortal powerful lord named Tosor. Both discreet and fair, he guarantees the peace and harmony of the world.)
In this article, I will show how I painted the first piece of the series, World of Tosor, using Photoshop. I will walk through different techniques for the lighting and shading. Also, I will discuss the framing and the compositing of a successful scene.
Framing and composition
First, I painted a good composition in grey value. This step is foundational for the rest of the work. It determines if this work has potential to become a high value piece or just another sketch in the hard drive.
In order to have a decent composition, we have to correctly order the elements as the ‘foreground', the ‘subject', and the ‘background'.
To create depth, elements closer to the viewer should be darker and elements further away should be brighter.
The composition is good. At this point I start to give some shading to the model. I will try different lighting from different directions. The character lighting will determine how I will paint the lighting for the rest of the scene. After a few years of painting you can develop an instinctive reflex to know what kind of lighting will be the best. In this case, I knew that if the key light reflects on his back I will achieve a mystical effect, creating a sense of mystery with his face unlit.
Let's not get too crazy. I know when it comes to coloring we want try everything. But let's start in the red/yellow spectrum.
I choose to color the main character with the red. This choice will affect everything in this image. As we see in the first image, the result is not very exciting. But in image 2, when I added the fur on the creature with a more contrasting color, I start have some results.
In the next step I will show my techniques to paint hair and fur.
Painting hair and fur
Basically, there are two steps: hair creation and hair brushing.
In the vignette A, I painted some hair in different directions with the Dune grass brush. Afterwards, I start brushing and styling with the Smudge tool using the flat angle brush.
In the vignette B, I brushed it and added an ambient light to look fluffy.
In the vignette C, I wanted to have smooth hair. So I added more contrast and eliminated the thin hairs.
In the vignette D, I wanted to try a curly effect so I brushed in curly/circular motions. I added some lighting to make the hair look fluffier rather than smooth.
In the vignette E, the hair is thicker and denser. It is the kind of fur that I want on my creature.
Painting the background and its interpretation
In this step I worked on the background. I painted the basic shapes and colors of the mountain and the terrain. I'm not thinking about the interpretation of the image just yet.
In vignette 2, I started working on the story. I wanted that valley to look fantastic. Tosor must take a deep breath when he is watching this landscape from his hill. It must also look harmonic.
The light casting on the atmosphere is the key. Because the character is lit from below and behind, I set the mood with the sunset.
Just part of the mountain should be lit to simulate a complex environment and create the feeling that maybe another mountain is casting that shadow. The colors are within the purple spectrum, but the main sunlight is yellow. I added some clouds from my library and fine-tuned everything.
I took a jump on this step. I painted armor for the big creature and I shaded the tree. Also, as you can see, I added a small creature on the tree.
Now, the work needs to be shown to someone who doesn't know anything about CG. I call it "The man from the street". Why? Because this kind of person will give you true feedback.
My friend pointed directly at the small creature on the tree and the strange form of the horn on the larger beast. He didn't recognize the small creature, which bothered him and the horn was too strange. No need to go further and explain to him ‘why'. Things must be sacrificed.
In this step I painted two versions of the horns. Model A looks like a wild sheep horn. It looks quite good on the creature. For model B I wanted it to look like a kind of Bubalus species, a new one that can exist in the universe of Tosor, a place where nature took a different turn.
After a small time of reflection, I choose model B without any reason, just trusting my artistic instinct.
The Hoopoe bird
I added leaves to the tree in background with leaf brushes. You can find lot of other leaves brushes on many websites like deviantart.com, or create your own custom brushes.
I adjusted Tosor's proportions and painted his head and hat properly. I painted the horn properly and adjusted the shading and texturing on them.
As you can see on the tree in the foreground, I painted a Hoopoe, a mystic bird. It has nice forms (especially his head) with long feathers on it. But, it is a small creature, so it doesn't bother the viewer. It makes the image and the whole story richer without interfering with the story of the main character, Tosor.
In the final step, I tried to push my work to perfection, filling all the space with different elements and respecting the lighting and the shading of the scene. For example, the mushrooms on the tree must have a sub surface scattering from the light hitting them on the right. As a 3D lighter I'm dealing with these aspects every day and I developed a kind of reflex by watching the light direction. I know how the surface should be shaded. I advise you to practice 3D also; you can get some reflexes of perception just by working in a 3D software.
Top tip: The Fibonacci sequence
The most important goal is giving equilibrium to the viewer and leading their eyes to the most important point of the image without losing him on the way. In our case, it is the character. I'm using the golden curve based on the Fibonacci sequence. It always works for me!