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

ImagineFX: Sci-fi & Fantasy Art magazine - - Contents -

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!

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