Depict a derelict environment
Eliott Lilly shows how to turn your pre-existing art work into a new, coherent video game concept, during a mock art test
Eliott Lilly shows you how to excel at an art test.
Trying to become a professional concept artist and work in the video game industry? Then at some point in your job application process you’ll likely be given an art test.
Like a typical assignment given by the art director, an art test usually consists of a brief backstory, image requirements and a goal. It’s designed to gauge your ability to follow instructions, challenge your creativity in a controlled context and test your level of commitment. Even though it can be completed over the course of a few weeks, and in the comfort of your own home, it can still be stressful.
To alleviate the stress, I’ve developed a system of checks and balances that ensures I never overlook the details. It’s a surefire way to understand the assignment, a systematic check that you have executed on each expectation.
For the purpose of this workshop, I’ll also be cherry-picking elements from my own, pre-existing artwork, to help speed up the creative process and stimulate new ideas. These images were incomplete images, or ‘idea starters’ that I never completed. Art tests are a great way to bring new purpose to old work – assuming it’s of a good-enough quality and appropriate for the challenge, of course.
This system of handling art tests has worked well for me and in this workshop I’ll show you my methods for tackling an art test step by step.
1 Understand the assignment
I read the assignment and pick out the key words that identify the expectations of the image. These words act like a checklist of must-haves for the image to be successful. I also take some initiative and create a backstory by answering the Five Ws (who, what, where, when and why?). This process helps me flesh out the unknown details and forms my narrative of the scene.
2 Gather the troops
Rummaging through my art files, I chose several images that I’m proud of, which have strong elements I can cherry-pick from. These images will be a spring board for my future ideas and will help speed up the process. I arrange the wall panels, floor pieces and other elements that I like in a folder and set them aside for reference later.
3 Thumbnail studies
Because my source material is fixed, and I already have a good idea of what I want to achieve, I doodle just enough of a thumbnail to reaffirm my intentions and what I want to achieve. If you were doing this for real, you’d want to spend a good amount of time on this stage, working through your composition, areas of interest and so forth.
4 Establishing scale and perspective
The first thing I do is expand my background image to fill the canvas, and align my perspective grid to match. I also have a character brush that I use for scale. I stamp it once, then scale him to size around the canvas for reference. Establishing your perspective and scale at an early stage will save you from a massive headache down the road.
5 Line work and value pass
Now that the scale is already established, I know what size I should skew the doors and ceilings to. I add my line work and do a quick value pass to see where I want the light to come from. Value sketches can sometimes be quick and easy studies (normally done as part of my thumbnail process) to establish the mood of an image.
6 It’s skew time!
I like to work smart when placing elements of interest into my scene. I skew this techie element into place to give the illusion that it’s lying flat on the floor. This can get tricky, but having a perspective grid helps. I draw one pipe, then duplicate it twice, altering their colours so they look different. I then flip this batch to match the other side.
7 Another scale check
I’m constantly checking to ensure scale is clearly defined. One of the things I really enjoy about painting digitally is those happy accidents that occur when you least expect them. While doing a scale check, I get an idea to paint a stairwell in the background. I love this idea because it adds an extra area of interest and makes the hallway feel grand. Win!
8 Fire with mixed brushes
Part of the backstory I created while using my Five Ws was that this area has suffered extensive fire damage. Ensuring that I add this element in my scene, I begin to paint in the scorch marks. I gather some photo reference of what a fire burn looks like, then use several custom brushes to mimic this effect.
9 Further refinement
At this point, my brain is on autopilot. I work around the image, adding damage to various elements here and there, such as the track system and railings. I make sure there’s clear separation between the fore-, mid- and background. The most important thing for me here is that the image reads well.
10 Flip and check
In a further effort to ensure readability, I always like to flip and greyscale the image. This is a great way to get a fresh perspective of your work in progress. After doing this, I instantly notice that my values are getting crushed. They are too dark in the background and several shapes have gotten a bit lost, so I spend a bit of time cleaning them up.
11 Damage with the Lasso tool
Attempting to make it look like there was an explosion in the area, I begin to draw busted-out wall panels and such-like. Using the Lasso tool I select an area I want to paint, then hide the selection so I can see what I’m doing, and proceed to use a gradient to fill in that selection.
12 Painting the figure
I decide to place a figure in my image. From my Five Ws I know he’s a member of the press, so I give him regular clothing, a camera and a flashlight. He’s not the main focus and so I keep him loose and gestural. I don’t paint his face because his attributes are unimportant (he’s mainly there to reaffirm scale).
13 Review and compare
Feeling good about my image, I check it against my initial intent. I revisit my Five Ws to ensure they’re clear in my picture. I ask my wife Kim, who is unaware of my assignment, to describe the image to me. She gets about 90 per cent of it right, which tells me I’ve reached most of my goal – and highlights a few areas that need improvement.
14 Final details and polish
I address a few issues and make final adjustments. I flatten my image and begin to address it as a whole (correcting values, tightening details, adding filters and so on). I know I’ve already achieved my goal, so everything beyond this point is just polish. It’s becoming more of an illustration than a concept, but for an art test, it’s always best to knock it out of the park!