The Making of Campsite
Andrzej Dybowski shares how he made his cyberpunk campsite using Photoshop...
In this making of I will focus on the artistic aspects of creating concept art rather than technical ones. I want to show what kind of choices a painter has to make in the process of making an image. I will talk about storytelling, design, composition, idea, value, and color as well as how to make them all work together to get a compelling piece of concept art.
Step 1: References
Before making any brushstroke I always do lots of research on the subject I want to paint. With this image I wanted to connect primitive African tribal architecture with more futuristic cyberpunk elements. What's more I wanted to change the setting from African scenery into the wetter and rainier parts of Asia to confuse viewer a little bit. Adding satellite antennae is supposed to create a feeling that this campsite is hidden far away from any other settlements.
Step 2: Quick sketch
Often, with my head full of reference images I make a very quick sketch in Photoshop, it is usually so messy that only I can understand what is going on. This image shows that composition is very symmetrical with no clear foreground. Everything is pushed backwards, making the campsite unreachable to intruders. The buildings are similar to those in the references but bigger and more solid so they can hold the mechanical structures such as pipes, antennas and a radar dish. They are built on top of strong red stones and connected with wooden piers. In the background deep forest and huge mountains give even more the feeling of a secret.
Step 3: Introducing color
To very quickly and easily start with color and find a color palette I simply take a photo that suits my needs and I blur it with the Motion Blur filter. Setting it vertically makes the most sense to me as the majority of the elements are in this direction. This step gives me solid base for a start.
Step 4: First big brushstrokes
Having a color palette gives me courage to lay down first brushstrokes. I use a very big brush to paint big elements of an image like buildings, pier, forest and mountains to establish an overall composition. Now I can see if the color of the repetitive buildings looks good with the green background of the forest.
Step 5: First photobashing
I pretty soon introduce photos to get more colors and texture to enrich the image. This step also ensures me that I made good decisions so far. I really like the saturated green color of the high grass in the foreground and grayish green of the forest and white buildings in the middle that stand out making the main theme of the painting.
Step 6: Contrast and atmosphere
I introduced an earthy orange color for stones the house is built on to make them stand out even more. I added small square metal buildings to contrast materials and shapes with big cylindrical buildings. I also added more space in the background by adding more plans in the forest and atmospheric perspective as well as cooling the color temperature of the mountains. A boat adds a little bit of a storytelling element to the image.
Step 7: First cyberpunk elements
Now it is time to add first cyberpunk elements like pipes, cylinders, and cables to show the main idea of the image. I noticed that the bottom line of the roof of two buildings on the left side is on the same level so moved the roof of the building in the middle a little bit up to separate these two buildings. I also experimented with introducing another color which is blue also to separate buildings even more.
Step 8: Foreground and clouds
I got rid of a boat for the sake of a composition. The wooden pier with perpendicular planks to the viewer's eyes makes the viewer go deeper inside the image. Clouds behind the buildings help separate them from the background and add more mystery. I liked the idea of adding blue color so I painted it in also on the other side.
Step 9: Antennas
In this step I worked on the roofs of the buildings. I clarified the material of the roofs which is a thatch what made the building look more tribal. Finally I added satellite antennas and a radar dish which are the main story elements. I also added a little bit more fog in the background and made the grass behind the buildings brighter and more saturated to make the shapes of the buildings even more obvious.
Step 10: Characters and details
The structures were still missing the sense of scale. The easiest way to achieve it is to introduce characters. Also designs of the clothes and additional elements tell a lot about the era the whole scene takes place in. To emphasize the cyberpunk style I also painted a small reconnoitering robot. Painting windows help get the sense of a scale of the buildings. I also added more pipes, cables and other small elements to make the scene more alive.
Step 11: Final touches
In this final step I always play with color balance. I noticed that still foreground and background are not separated enough so I made the background more cool and foreground warmer in terms of color. I also noticed that the buildings lacked the feeling of a cylindrical structure so I painted light and shadow on an overlay layer and added more windows in a correct perspective. I added a little bit of a glow especially on a radar dish. I sharpened the whole image with Unsharp filter and added chromatic aberration to give a more cinematic feeling.
Step 12: Value check
From the beginning to the end every now and then I check value. I make a solid grey layer and change blending mode to color to get rid of color information without any changes in values. Next to a composition value is the most important element of the painting. Colors are also very important but if values don't work then the painting will not be readable correctly. What is also important is to flip the image constantly so that eyes and brain don't get used to the painting. This way you are able to see errors.