Build a city with tex­tures

Donglu Yu draws on her ex­pe­ri­ence as a con­cept artist to quickly con­struct a fu­tur­is­tic city scene in Pho­to­shop

ImagineFX - - Contents -

Donglu Yu quickly con­structs a fu­tur­is­tic city.

Over the course of this work­shop I’ll show you how to de­velop thumb­nails and sketches be­fore lock­ing down any de­signs for the fi­nal ren­der. It’s im­por­tant to plan your steps be­fore lift­ing the sty­lus and be­gin­ning to paint.

A con­cept artist’s role is to bring dif­fer­ent vis­ual so­lu­tions to the ta­ble, not merely pro­duce a collection of well-ren­dered art­work. There is a big dif­fer­ence be­tween the fields of con­cept art and il­lus­tra­tion, even if the line be­tween the two has be­come blurred be­cause of many types of dig­i­tal art that’s avail­able for view­ing on­line.

I’ll start by choos­ing ap­pro­pri­ate pho­tos, and make cus­tom shapes from them to quickly gen­er­ate a large range of pos­si­ble com­po­si­tions. Dur­ing a video game pro­duc­tion de­vel­op­ment, these early sketches have an im­por­tant role in the de­sign con­ver­sa­tion with the art di­rec­tor. Here, I’ll take the cho­sen sketch to the colour­ing phase, re­veal­ing the Pho­to­shop tech­niques and the tools that I use to bring colour into the scene. I’ll then push the de­tail level by in­te­grat­ing photo tex­tures into the ba­sic colour sketch, and take the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plain some ba­sic art the­o­ries. There are a few tech­niques that I usu­ally ap­ply be­fore fin­ish­ing the art­work, such as Chro­matic Aber­ra­tion, Zoom Blur and Sharpen fil­ters. I’ll cover those tools dur­ing the fi­nal part of my work­shop.

1 Photo re­search

It’s im­por­tant to de­velop your own per­sonal im­age bank. Not only will you have orig­i­nal ma­te­rial to work with, but the copy­rights of those pho­tos also be­long to you. I pick out some cityscape-re­lated pho­tos that I’ve taken in China and the US, and quickly go through them to see what in­ter­est­ing el­e­ments I can use in my con­cepts.

2 Ex­trac­tion of my tar­get shapes

I now have a good idea about the shapes and sil­hou­ette that I want to use in this im­age. I drag my photo ref­er­ences into Pho­to­shop and ex­tract my cho­sen shapes. You can use what­ever se­lec­tion method you feel happy with, such as Color Range, or the Lasso or Mask­ing tools. I usu­ally tweak the con­trast, which pro­duces bet­ter re­sults later on when cre­at­ing the cus­tom shapes.

3 Cre­ate cus­tom shapes

I se­lect my shape us­ing a range of Chan­nels to pro­duce var­ied re­sults. I in­vert the se­lec­tion, press M, right-click and se­lect Make Work Path. I set the Tol­er­ance of 0.5, then click Edit and se­lect De­fine Cus­tom Shapes. My cus­tom shape is now un­der the Shape tool. I re­peat the same process to gen­er­ate dif­fer­ent build­ings shapes, which I’ll use to con­struct the cityscape.

4 Thumb­nail sketches

I drag and drop the shapes on to the can­vas and quickly pro­duce a range of in­ter­est­ing com­po­si­tions. It’s cru­cial to think about sil­hou­ettes, depth and the light­ing di­rec­tion when cre­at­ing these thumb­nails. Do you see how fun and fast this process can be? Imag­ine how those sketches can be­come a valu­able as­set when dis­cussing your vi­sion with your art di­rec­tor.

5 Fi­nal sketch

I take a small break and step back from the com­puter to study the vis­ual pos­si­bil­i­ties that I’ve pro­duced so far. I se­lect the one that has the most po­ten­tial, and com­bine it with a few el­e­ments from other thumb­nails. This gives me the fin­ished sketch, but I de­cide to tweak the over­all shapes, val­ues and con­trast, and add some bill­boards with very bright val­ues.

6 Adding colour

I lay down the first colour base us­ing Pho­to­shop’s Ad­just­ments lay­ers. I want to have warm, ar­ti­fi­cial lights around the base of the build­ings and have the tops of the build­ings merg­ing slowly with a cold, dark sky. I cre­ate a Hue/Sat­u­ra­tion ad­just­ment layer, tick the Colorize box and play with the Hue slider. I drag a gra­di­ent on the mask layer so that the warm colour ad­just­ment only af­fects the bot­tom part of the im­age. I also cre­ate an­other Color Bal­ance layer and a Hue/Sat­u­ra­tion layer, which gen­er­ates a dark blue back­ground.

7 Colour­ing with a ba­sic brush

I se­lect a sketch­ing brush and in­tro­duce some colour noise in the shaded area. This pro­duces a pleas­ing, painterly feel. The de­fault char­coal Pho­to­shop brushes are fine for achiev­ing such a look if you don’t have your own cus­tom brushes. I paint loosely, go­ing with my in­stincts rather than over-analysing where I put down my brush­strokes.

8 Put to­gether a cus­tom swatch

A per­sonal colour swatch will speed up my colour choices. So I pick out a few light­ing ref­er­ences, re­duce their size to about 500 pixel wide, and click Fil­ter Gallery>Tex­ture Patch­work. I in­crease the size of the square and de­s­e­lect the Depth op­tion. Now I can Color Pick from those swatches to in­tro­duce a few sat­u­rated lights into my scene.

9 Photo in­te­gra­tion

I drop in some photo tex­tures to make the scene look more real­is­tic, eras­ing el­e­ments of the pho­tos to suit. When I rub out ar­eas of the tex­tures, some ab­stract shapes be­come vis­i­ble through the erased part. This can some­times give me new ideas on what shapes to use or cre­ate. I drag dif­fer­ent pho­tos for dif­fer­ent pur­poses, such as to ex­tract some in­ter­est­ing fore­ground shapes or to en­hance the light­ing.

10 Ap­ply high­lights

I in­tro­duce high­lights as a quick method of cre­at­ing the il­lu­sion of de­tails. I take a hard brush and put down some dis­tinct lines, then loosely erase part of them with a tex­ture brush to pro­duce a ran­dom look. Note that the high­lights have to be con­sis­tent with the light source, so think about your sources of light­ing first.

11 Pop­u­late the scene

Here, I add in a set of ran­dom char­ac­ters to gen­er­ate con­trast and to help me to cre­ate a liv­ing world. You can use ei­ther a cus­tom shape or cus­tom brush tech­niques to paint dif­fer­ent sets of fig­ures, such as civil­ians, soldiers or ro­bots. I in­te­grate a crowd of people into the im­age, and use a ro­bot’s sil­hou­ette to con­trast with the scale of the hu­mans.

12 Pol­ish­ing the com­po­si­tion

To help blend all the el­e­ments to­gether, I do some ex­tra brush work on the paint­ing. I of­ten use a brush that mim­ics a tra­di­tional tool, such as an oil or wa­ter­colour brush. You can ap­proach this stage by sim­pli­fy­ing the shapes or in­creas­ing the colour vi­brancy. I use ArtRage here, be­cause it has a com­plete set of paint­ing tools that mim­ics the feel of tra­di­tional paint­ings.

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