Tell a story with an im­age

Ap­pli­bot il­lus­tra­tor Crow­god lays out the process he uses to cre­ate art­work for the on­line card game Leg­end of the Cryp­tids

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Crow­god on cre­at­ing art for Leg­end of the Cryp­tids.

One of the things I’ve learnt from work­ing on Ap­pli­bot’s Leg­end of the Cryp­tids line is the im­por­tance of be­ing able to tell a story through an il­lus­tra­tion. With Ap­pli­bot’s ap­petite for suc­cess, the art has to ap­peal to a wide au­di­ence who may be un­fa­mil­iar with the Cryp­tids brand, which in turn might be the push they need to try out the game.

There­fore, be­fore draw­ing even a rough sketch, I read the de­scrip­tion of the scene care­fully and imag­ine what’s hap­pen­ing to the char­ac­ter. The premise of the scene is that a young war­rior is des­per­ately seek­ing out a mir­a­cle cure that’s some­where at the top of a gi­ant tree, in or­der to heal his sick mother.

I want to make the fig­ure as heroic-look­ing as pos­si­ble – hope­fully he’ll be­come an iconic card char­ac­ter. To tie in with the tree theme, he’ll wield an axe rather than a sword. Pic­tur­ing him mid­way up the gi­ant tree, high above the clouds, will in­crease the feel­ing of peril and drama in the scene, which should fur­ther en­gage the viewer.

Okay, enough talk – let’s get to work!

1 Quick sketch

I draw a quick sketch of a gi­ant tree reach­ing up into the sky. I con­sider the di­am­e­ter of the tree, how it grows and its ap­pear­ance. It should be a solid struc­ture that can be climbed with­out us­ing ropes. My char­ac­ter is a young war­rior, and I de­cide to de­pict him bare-chested af­ter see­ing some ref­er­ence pho­tos of rock climbers. As well as be­ing dan­ger­ously high up the tree, there’s added drama from the small dragon that’s at­tack­ing him. The scene will be well lit be­cause it takes place high above the clouds.

2 Mono­chrome sketch

I draw the char­ac­ter, monster and ob­jects in the back­ground all in black and white. Darker colours on the edges of the im­age and lighter colours to­wards the cen­tre help to cre­ate the fo­cal point, which is where the strug­gle in the sky is tak­ing place. I use grey­ish colours on the back­ground be­cause I want to soften the con­trast be­tween black and white. As a re­sult, I make this grey area the most eye­catch­ing area in this il­lus­tra­tion. I use the strong back­light to help make the at­mos­phere per­spec­tive pop off the page.

3 Colour process

I cre­ate a Mul­ti­ply layer and choose a base colour by us­ing the Gra­di­ent tool. Then I ap­ply this us­ing the Paint Bucket tool. Next, I cre­ate an Over­lay layer and use a light colour to high­light the dif­fer­ences be­tween the ob­jects.

4 Rais­ing the con­trast

I now cre­ate an Over­lay layer, then add colours to the dark side of ob­jects and bright side of the back­ground be­cause I want to ac­cen­tu­ate the con­trast be­tween them. Then, on an­other Over­lay layer I add the re­flected light on the dark side of ob­jects. I re­peat this stage, but this time re­duce the Opac­ity to 36 per cent, to achieve the right amount of con­trast be­tween the du­elling char­ac­ters and the back­ground.

5 Colour sketch

I cre­ate a new Mul­ti­ply layer and choose the Gra­di­ent tool and Paint Bucket tool to paint the base colour. Then I cre­ate an Over­lay and Color Dodge layer to high­light the ba­sic colour of the char­ac­ter and back­ground. Us­ing these lay­ers boosts the base colour, so to con­trol the bright­ness of this colour I ad­just the Opac­ity us­ing a soft brush.

6 Colour tweaks

You could also ad­just the colour us­ing the op­tions within a Fill or Ad­just­ment layer. I choose Vi­brance… from the ‘Cre­ate new Fill or Ad­just­ment layer’ op­tion to tweak the sat­u­ra­tion. I also use the Se­lec­tive Color menu. I set up my colour pal­ette as HSB slid­ers – it’s a quick way to ad­just the pu­rity of colour and sat­u­ra­tion in the im­age.

7 Take your time with colours

It’s not easy to cre­ate an im­age with lots of el­e­ments and keep them in bal­ance. I ad­vise be­ing pa­tient and think­ing be­fore mak­ing your next brush stroke. I al­ways search for ref­er­ence im­ages for de­pict­ing the tex­ture of ob­jects, and then use dif­fer­ent light spots to unify all the var­i­ous el­e­ments.

8 Char­ac­ter ac­ces­sories

At this point I need to think more about the char­ac­ter’s cloth­ing. I de­cide to give him some pro­tec­tive gear – the sharp­ened metal plates around his legs and lower arms – but I’m mind­ful that he still needs the free­dom and flex­i­bil­ity to be able to climb the tree. This is why I choose to clothe him in fab­ric trousers, with leather belts in­cluded for vis­ual in­ter­est. Else­where in the scene, I pay at­ten­tion to the gra­da­tion of colours on dif­fer­ent lay­ers.

9 Ad­just the at­mos­phere

I copy the char­ac­ter and the dragon us­ing the Lasso tool onto the new layer. Af­ter that I cre­ate a new layer based on the orig­i­nal one. This en­ables me to use the Paint Bucket tool to paint, as well as ad­just the over­all Opac­ity. The re­sult is that I en­hance the depth of the tree that’s in the mid-ground.

10 De­tailed de­sign

I al­ways think that a well-thoughtout de­sign aids the sto­ry­telling in the scene. Here I’ve in­di­cated the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the young war­rior and the dragon, which en­hances the feel­ing of move­ment. The fig­ure’s pose is off­bal­ance and his mus­cles are tensed, which shows he’s ready to strike the dragon. The di­rec­tion he’s fac­ing also adds to the sense of threat in the sit­u­a­tion.

11 Read­ing the scene

People are used to read­ing from left to right, top to bot­tom and near to far. There­fore, the viewer should be able to see a strong, pow­er­ful anti-clock­wise curve that’s pro­duced by the twisted gi­ant tree. This curve matches the move­ment of the axe. The dragon’s fa­cial ex­pres­sion is a clear in­di­ca­tion that it knows it’s about to get a lot shorter…

12 Depth and vol­ume

I add gnarly de­tails to the tree trunk in the mid-ground to show its al­most men­ac­ing bulk. Then I cre­ate more lay­ers and paint a range of dif­fer­ent el­e­ments such as clouds and the land far be­low, which en­hances the depth be­tween the back­ground and fore­ground.

13 Additional el­e­ments

I add more de­tails and a pat­tern to the axe. Then I ad­just the edge line of char­ac­ter and fore­ground to ac­cen­tu­ate the vol­umes and the depth within the paint­ing. High­light­ing the edges and paint­ing re­flected light also helps to bring out the vol­ume of ob­jects.

14 Fin­ish­ing up

I de­cide that I want to make my war­rior look even younger, so I ad­just his face ac­cord­ingly. Fi­nally, I in­tro­duce a beam of light that picks out his body, and tweak the high­lights in the scene.

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