Speed paint atmospheric scenes
Noely Ryan walks us through a step-by-step guide of how he created his image City Cave!
In this tutorial, I will share my process of creating a scene that takes place deep underneath the earth. Humans have returned to a planet Earth that has swallowed up its cities, turning them into vast underground caves. The name ‘City Cave' was one of the topics of the day on the 'Super SpeedPainting Funtimes' group on Facebook (http://on.fb.me/1kSMCKO). The group's only rule is to stick to 50 minutes for the duration of the painting, but I decided to go a little longer and reinforce some elements.
I will go through creating believable destruction, capturing atmosphere in the piece and getting the right lighting, adding elements that help tell a story, and share a few tips that I find helpful to my workflow.
Step 1. Research, research, research
One of the great rules about the group I painted this for, is that the time spent researching a topic or searching for photos does not count towards the 50 minute limit. You can spend as long as you want gathering ideas and photographs that you will either use in the painting as a collage, (or ‘photobash' as it is called sometimes), or just as reference. The thing is you can never spend enough time researching your craft no matter what it is. It only helps if the artist gathers as many photos as they can, and builds a visual library to which they can always refer to!
Step 2. The building blocks
Most of the images I looked for were of cavers being dwarfed by these huge walls of rock and I always had the idea of turning those walls of rock into the front-faces of my underground sky-scrapers. I started by filling the canvas with a dark brown to give me the base color of my cave, and on a new layer, created a rectangle with the Marquee tool. I filled this with an almost black color, as this was going to be the darkness through the windows of my buildings. I then skewed this rectangle into an angled plane, duplicated it and flipped it to the other side. I now had the ‘building' blocks of my image.
Step 3. Easy windows with layers
To make the faces of the buildings and create windows, I first used a wooden fence texture for the building on the left. Then I tried to use it for the one on the right, but it looked too flat, so to achieve more depth on the building I had to create my own windows.
I turned off my layers so I could see a blank page and on a new layer I created a dark colored grid. I then duplicated the grid layer and lightened the color. Then using the Move tool, I could move either layer just slightly to the left or right to get the raised look on the grid, which created the window effect.
However, the trick to doing it here was to do one grid, transform and skew it first to match up with my building blocks and only then duplicate it, lighten the color and move it slightly to the right and up a little.
Step 4. Dirty air
It was time to create atmosphere in the scene and since this one is taking place deep underground I had to add the dust and fog that fills the air in these caves. A large sized brush, with a soft edge, on a new layer did the trick here. I set it at a low percentage of opacity so I could build up the densities of the dust in different areas of the cave. If I went too heavy on the brush work I could always play with the opacity property of the layer to get it right.
I also remembered to leave a patch clear enough so I could add in one of the focal points of my image later.
Step 5. Light from below
Light gets everywhere, even in caves. So using the previous technique and with a brighter sandy color, I add more dust on a new layer set to Color Dodge to depict light bouncing up from the depths of the cave. It gives the foggy atmosphere a little more interest and color.
Step 6. Foreground elements
On a new layer, I added a rocky platform in the foreground for my two cavers to stand on. I used a hard edged brush with the dark brown color I used earlier. I turned off the layers necessary to get to that dark brown and use the Eyedropper Tool. It helped to keep my colors consistent. I used it at full opacity to block in the shape and then I used a textured brush with mid-opacity with the color picked from the dust around it to give it its rocky texture. This indicates it is catching some of the light in the cave.
In this scene, the closer to the viewer the rocks are, the further away from the light they are and thus, get darker.
Step 7. Damaged buildings
This was when keeping everything on separate layers became useful. I had to add damage to the faces of my buildings. I went into my library of references and textures and found a rocky texture and a rusty texture. These are free to use textures you can get at any good texture website.
I was able to turn off all the layers down to my windows layer, then used the rocky texture in Overlay mode and used the Transform tool to place it over the building on the left. I didn't have to worry too much about this building as it was going to be covered up mostly by the dust in the air when I turn the layers above it back on. However, the rusty texture had red and orange colors in it and more of it was going to be visible through the layers above it.
I de-saturated it (Alt + Shift + Ctrl + B on Windows), lightly erased the central area of the texture, and placed it over the building on the right. Then I set it to Vivid Light blending mode for the details on it to pick up the white of the building underneath it.
Step 8. Cave within a Cave
Now with my buildings looking reasonably decayed and damaged, I had to add one of the focal points of my image – my cave within a cave. This is one of the story elements of the scene which suggests some mystery as to what lies through the hole. It is also what the cavers are surveying and observing with their equipment.
By using the Eyedropper Tool and sampling the whites and blacks of the decay on the building, I used a textured brush and painted a hole into the face of the structure. I thought about the cables, steel supporting rods and the different floors of offices that might have previously existed while this building was standing. I painted this on a new layer in the area where I had previously left a clearing in my dust layer.
Step 9. Cavers of the future
I turned my layers back on to cover up the scene as it was before, but it was too bright for a cave so I added some more dust to the air to darken it. Then it was time to introduce my second focal point? the cavers.
I wanted them to be correctly scaled with regards to the sky-scraper. I used the windows as a guide and zoomed right in to paint two figures wearing head gear and suits to protect them from any harmful gases that may be present in the cave. Details did not matter on their suits, except for the orange lights I applied to their backs. I wanted it to act as a display meter for their air supply or maybe the battery life of their suits. I added the orange on a separate layer set to Linear Dodge. I also gave one of them a device with which they can refer to for any details or information about the cave.
Step 10. Shining a light
To finish the image and tie both focal points together, I added the torch light. With the Polygonal Lasso Tool, I drew a thin triangle, filled it with a bright sandy color and transformed it into place on a layer beneath the cavers. Then I applied a Gaussian Blur to it, (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur), and touched it up with a soft edged brush set to low opacity of the same color. I also added the diffused light from it to the area of dust surrounding the hole in the building.
Next, I created a composite layer (Ctrl + Shift + Alt + E), this command merges all visible layers into one single copy without flattening your image.
Now for finishing touches! I played with the Levels and Curves of the new composite layer to push the darks, lights and the color and add some Noise (Filter > Noise) to tie the image together.