Build­ing worlds for the cin­ema

Learn how to de­velop an en­gag­ing en­vi­ron­ment for the big screen, with pro ad­vice from film in­dus­try con­cept de­signer Vic­tor Martinez

ImagineFX - - Issue 142 Christmas 2016 -

De­velop en­gag­ing lands, with Vic­tor Martinez.

When asked to do a work­shop on cre­at­ing a fan­tasy en­vi­ron­ment, I thought it would be fun to pay homage to one of the most well-known fan­tasy sto­ries of all time, The Wizard of Oz, and set it in outer space. It’s also a bit of a throw­back to those amaz­ing sci-fi art­works pieces from the 1970s.

I have our outer space ex­plor­ers star­ing off into the hori­zon, at my ver­sion of the Emerald City. Ob­vi­ously, the story could be any­thing, but quickly, we’ve set up a few im­por­tant con­di­tions – outer space, an alien planet and as­tro­nauts – and these pa­ram­e­ters will cre­ate the most im­por­tant part of the piece: the nar­ra­tive. Re­mem­ber to al­ways tell a story and be mind­ful that a suc­cess­ful con­cept piece does just that.

Of­ten, whether I’m work­ing on a film, video game or even a com­mer­cial, the story is just an out­line. We may have an idea of the key story beats, the main char­ac­ters and over­all en­vi­ron­ments, but as artists and de­sign­ers, it’s our duty to fill in the gaps. This oc­curs on a lot of the films I work on, where there may not be a script, and you’re work­ing with the di­rec­tor, pro­duc­ers or pro­duc­tion de­signer to help de­velop the sto­ry­telling through your vis­ual con­tent.

It’s dur­ing this phase of de­sign de­vel­op­ment that you should feel the free­dom to ex­plore and present new ideas, to fur­ther the di­a­logue that will lead to a co­he­sive story. So, ap­proach this phase of R&D with a de­ter­mi­na­tion that will en­able you to sell your con­cepts. Don’t just rely on your art­work, but do re­search, com­pile ref­er­ence ma­te­rial and sub­stan­ti­ate your work so that, in the end, it’s not just about a pretty pic­ture.

1 Cre­at­ing your fore­ground ele­ments

I se­lect a pho­to­graph that I took of a land­scape in Alabama Hills, Cal­i­for­nia. It strikes me as be­ing oth­er­worldly and serves as the in­spi­ra­tion for this piece. Con­cept art can be a mix of me­dia, so don’t be afraid to use pho­tos, ren­ders of 3D mod­els, sketches, draw­ings and so on. Rely on your artis­tic abil­i­ties to make these im­ages your own, and to bring these sources to­gether into a sin­gle, co­her­ent piece.

2 Putting to­gether your back­ground

I chose a photo I took in Hawaii for my sky. I’ve al­ready done a bit of touch up to the im­age, ad­just­ing the Curves (Cmd+M) to boost the con­trast. Feel free to get cre­ative and stitch to­gether mul­ti­ple sky im­ages to make a more com­plex sky. For now, I’ll keep things sim­ple and stick to one sky photo that I’ll paint into later in this work­shop.

3 Mask­ing and re­mov­ing the un­wanted sky

I want to re­move the sky in my fore­ground land­scape photo, us­ing Pho­to­shop’s Quick Mask mode (press Q). In this mode you can use your paint brush to paint the area you wish to se­lect. When you exit Quick Mask, you’ll see that it’s con­verted your painted area into a se­lec­tion. Press Cmd+ Shift+I will in­vert the se­lec­tion. Once you have the proper area se­lected, re­move this area by hit­ting Delete.

4 Com­posit­ing the fore­ground and back­ground

Now you can com­bine your source im­ages into one scene. Here, I’ve ad­justed the orig­i­nal pho­tos, ad­just­ing the Lev­els (Cmd+L) and Curves (Cmd+M) to suit the over­all paint­ing. I’ve added in ad­di­tional moun­tains in the back­ground by du­pli­cat­ing and ad­just­ing my fore­ground im­age. This adds more depth to the piece by push­ing the hori­zon back. I’ve also painted in a bit of at­mos­phere us­ing my Soft Round brush, which adds a bit of haze along the hori­zon.

5 Ap­ply­ing the rules of pro­por­tions

Many peo­ple ad­vise us­ing per­spec­tive grids when lay­ing out your com­po­si­tion, but what’s equally im­por­tant is main­tain­ing proper pro­por­tions in your piece and plac­ing ele­ments in a har­mo­nious way. So I’m us­ing the Golden Ra­tio as the foun­da­tion for my com­po­si­tion. I’ve al­ready cropped my fore­ground photo so that the out­er­most peaks align with my Golden Ra­tio spi­ral.

6 Paint­ing into your piece

When work­ing from photo ref­er­ence, you’ll want to paint into it to add unique ele­ments that will make the piece your own. Here, I’m adding in some alien moun­tain peaks by paint­ing and eras­ing away un­til I de­velop shapes that I like. I find that us­ing a Hard Round brush or Chisel brush pro­vide good re­sults. You can also add tex­tures and tones to suit the piece un­til you achieve the re­sult you want.

7 Build­ing up the com­po­si­tion

I add my moun­tain ele­ments into my com­po­si­tion, and ad­just them us­ing Lev­els and Curves un­til they blend with the tones of the rest of piece. I also erase away, or mask out some of the bot­tom bits so that they fade into the hori­zon at­mos­phere. I add wa­ter us­ing the same tech­niques as the alien moun­tain peaks. First, by paint­ing shapes that de­fine the bod­ies of wa­ter, then by adding wa­ter tex­tures and paint strokes un­til I’m happy with the look of the wa­ter.

8 In­tro­duc­ing oth­er­worldly ele­ments to the com­po­si­tion

I want to fur­ther de­scribe this scene as be­ing that from an alien planet. One sim­ple trick is to in­tro­duce plan­ets and moons that im­me­di­ately dif­fer­en­ti­ate this world from Earth. Here, I’ve added three moons into the sky, and us­ing my Golden Ra­tion tem­plate en­ables me to place them into the scene in a way that’s in keep­ing with the pro­por­tions and layout of the com­po­si­tion.

9 De­vel­op­ing light­ing and at­mos­phere

At­mos­phere can be achieved by us­ing a soft Round brush set on a low Opac­ity. I sam­ple a lighter colour from the scene to set the colour of the brush and build up at­mos­phere or haze by paint­ing it in on a sep­a­rate layer on top of the back­ground lay­ers. To add light­ing, I cre­ate a new Over­lay or Color Dodge layer as the top layer and us­ing a soft Round brush, ex­per­i­ment with dif­fer­ent colours and opac­i­ties and see how it af­fects the im­age on the lay­ers be­low it.

10 Bring­ing in a fo­cal point

From the be­gin­ning, I wanted to have an el­e­ment off to the hori­zon that di­rects your eye through the piece. You should al­ways keep in mind what the nar­ra­tive of the piece is, and prior to jump­ing into a paint­ing, you may want to sketch it first. Hav­ing an idea of where you want to di­rect the viewer’s eye is key, and in this case I’m us­ing ar­chi­tec­ture as a point of in­ter­est.

11 Adding fig­ures as a sec­ondary fo­cal point

This is the old trick of drop­ping in a cou­ple of small char­ac­ters to­wards the fore­ground to cre­ate an­other fo­cal point to com­ple­ment the fo­cal point in the pre­vi­ous step. It also adds scale to the piece, since we can all re­late to the gen­eral size of a per­son. The viewer’s eye will travel be­tween the fore­ground fig­ures and the ob­ject they are look­ing at: the ar­chi­tec­ture. I’ve painted in bits of steam be­hind the fig­ures, so that there’s more con­trast be­tween them and the back­ground.

12 Make changes to the colour of the com­po­si­tion

I want this piece to feel more fan­tasy and less like my orig­i­nal source pho­tographs, so I ad­just the colour. This is done by cre­at­ing a Hue/Sat­u­ra­tion layer. Within the Hue/Sat­u­ra­tion Prop­er­ties pal­ette you can tweak the over­all sat­u­ra­tion as well as the sep­a­rate colour chan­nels. Ex­per­i­ment with this and have fun – you may find it pro­duces some in­ter­est­ing re­sults.

13 Mak­ing fur­ther ad­just­ments

I add an­other Hue/Sat­u­ra­tion Layer on top of the pre­vi­ous layer I cre­ated. By hav­ing mul­ti­ple Hue/Sat­u­ra­tion Lay­ers, you’ll find that you can cre­ate even more dra­matic ef­fects than with just one sin­gle layer. I also cre­ate a new Curves Layer to ad­just the im­age fur­ther. The Curves Prop­erty pal­ette will en­able you to edit and re­fine the tones in your im­age.

14 Fi­nal ad­di­tions… or last-minute ex­per­i­ments?

At this late stage you may want to add a few more ele­ments of light­ing or in­ter­est to fur­ther en­hance the piece. Don’t be afraid to ex­per­i­ment and don’t be too quick to con­sider your piece done. Step away from it and look at it with fresh eyes. It’s al­ways help­ful to have a plan and to de­sign ac­cord­ingly, but it’s also good to keep things or­ganic and al­low for happy ac­ci­dents. Here, I in­tro­duce some lens flares by cre­at­ing Color Dodge lay­ers that add light­ing ef­fects when I paint into them. And that’s my fu­tur­is­tic Wizard of Oz scene fin­ished!

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