What de­sign el­e­ments would boost the re­al­ism of my fly­ing fan­tasy creature? Hi­lary Jenk­ins, Scot­land

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Mark replies

I start by de­sign­ing the creature in 3D us­ing the dig­i­tal sculpt­ing tools in ZBrush. This soft­ware has the op­tion of work­ing in sym­me­try, which helps me cre­ate a bal­anced body shape. I want to give my gi­ant fly­ing beast wings that are sim­i­lar to the shape of large birds, with­out the typ­i­cal sil­hou­ette that’s cre­ated by feath­ers.

I end up with a wing shape that’s some­where be­tween an al­ba­tross’s soar­ing and an ea­gle’s glid­ing pro­file. I add the antenna-like el­e­ments to give the creature ex­tra bal­ance, but am care­ful to en­sure that they don’t af­fect the orig­i­nal sil­hou­ette too much.

After this sculpt­ing stage I du­pli­cate the creature, place them in a fly­ing for­ma­tion and do some quick ren­der passes di­rectly from ZBrush. I then im­port the ren­ders into Pho­to­shop and com­pos­ite the images to­gether. Now I paint over the crea­tures to bet­ter in­te­grate them into my back­ground. Be­cause I al­ready have the ba­sic light­ing in­for­ma­tion from the 3D ren­ders, I only use quick washes of colours on Over­lay, Soft Light and Color lay­ers to add colour and more def­i­ni­tion to my crea­tures. I also de­cide to change and erase back the sil­hou­ette of the wings slightly, to make them look thin­ner and frag­ile. This is one step that would have taken a long time us­ing the orig­i­nal 3D model.

After de­cid­ing on a base colour I fin­ish the crea­tures by ap­ply­ing some pat­terns to the wings and some ad­di­tional com­ple­men­tary colours to the body and an­ten­nas. I bring the im­age to­gether by ad­just­ing the con­trast and bright­ness, and fix­ing the hues us­ing the Color Bal­ance tool.

The key to paint­ing gi­ant fly­ing crea­tures

is en­sur­ing that their proportions feel cor­rect

and look fa­mil­iar.

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