From line to render
I love designing with line because corrections are extremely fast. My first drawing is never the best, so I usually do a few variations of important characters to get the more expected stuff out of the way. Once I’m satisfied with the design, I decide on a lighting scheme and start sculpting using form and cast shadows. Then I use different layer styles to roughly colour the piece (I like Hard Light mode since it allows for value adjustments). Once this is done I finish the piece with materials, extra lighting and special effects.
1 Visualise the design
The sketch phase is key. Keep in mind that no amount of rendering will save a bad drawing. Start loose. Refine your design until most distracting elements are gone and only the relevant remains. Be mindful of proportions and composition, but also of the emotions you want to convey.
2 Block and colour
Start rendering by blocking in your shadow shapes and turning your forms. Cast shadows are a powerful rendering tool, so don’t be afraid to go sharp and dark. I usually colour my elements with Color or Hard Light layers – anything that can get me a quick rough pass.
3 Bring your character to life
Finally it’s time to make your rendering come to life. Use reference for your materials and look for opportunities. Maybe your character’s clothes have a reflective pattern, or perhaps their trousers are caked with mud. Use techniques such as subsurface scattering, a fresnel effect, sharp reflections, rim lighting and lost-and-found edges.