Use SketchUp to build a castle
Donglu Yu shares her process for quickly developing an eye-catching 3D base in SketchUp, before taking the artwork to finish in Photoshop
Quickly develop an original building in SketchUp. Donglu Yu shows you how.
I’ve used a range of techniques for my digital paintings. However, it’s always a challenge to pick the best angle for a complex scene by starting off with black and white sketches. Moreover, I’m not a fast modeller, and attempting to make a 3D base has always slowed me down.
Two years ago, I started to experiment with SketchUp. I was surprised at its simplicity and how easy it was to learn. In this workshop, I’ll explain the main functions I use in SketchUp to speed up the painting process that later takes place, and how to understand a complex scene from every possible camera angle.
Another great advantage of the software is that it’s completely free to use. And you can download it easily no matter which studio employs you. If you’re a 3ds Max user and your studio is offering Maya to its employees, it would be very hard to convince the producer to buy another software licence just for you. With SketchUp, you’re no longer bound with licence-purchasing issues.
In the second part of the workshop, I’ll take the basic passes I get from SketchUp and bring them into Photoshop to start the painting process. I’ll also explain a few important digital painting notions along the way, such as value structure, applying textured brushstrokes, adjusting colour temperature, painting over photo textures, adding character for scale and so on. So, let’s get started!
Make use of SketchUp’s core tools 1
My goal with this software isn’t to master it completely, but rather to concentrate my energy on getting to grips with the essential tools that I need to accomplish the modelling process quickly and effectively. The tools I use the most are the Line, Arcs and Rectangle tools, the Push/Pull and Offset tools and also the manipulation tools, such as Move, Rotate and Scale.
Add recognisable architecture 2
To speed up the modelling process, I use real-world architecture references to help me place the windows, arches and towers. I crop some photos that I took at Las Lajas Sanctuary, in the Columbian city of Ipiales. To apply the textures, I click the object faces, then select the small folder icon within the Material panel to browse to the texture I want to use. Placing this rough texture pass on the basic 3D volumes helps me decide when I’m ready to continue with a more detailed modelling pass.
Modelling a simple base 3
Here’s the model I’m making in SketchUp. As you can see, this isn’t a fully completely 3D scene. Some structures are floating in the air, and the edges can be worked on a little bit more. But this is more than what I need as the base of my painting. Don’t fall into the trap of making everything perfect in 3D. We’re making concept art here, not a 3D final product.
Use SketchUp’s various Styles mode 4
Styles dictates how your model will be displayed in SketchUp, a bit like the filter effects on images in Photoshop, if I have to make a comparison. You can view the model as line art, brush work, simple textures and so on. For my painting base, I need two Styles: line art style and the simple style. I’ll use them as passes to guide my painting process.
Enhancing the shadows 5
Shadow is a powerful tool to create interesting compositions. In my previous approach to thumbnail studies, it was always a challenge to imagine the lighting scenarios. However, it becomes simple with the Shadow setting in SketchUp, which enables you to pick a specific time zone, date and time of the day, to see the effect of the shadow and light on your model.
SketchUp’s Scene Management tool 6
This is where I save the different camera angles that I’m happy with. Being able to examine your scene from 360 degrees is probably one of the biggest advantages of having a 3D base, compared to traditional thumbnail sketching. Not only you can rotate your camera freely, you can also easily adjust the field of view. This makes it possible to use a wide lens and telescopic lens. In the Scene Management window, you can click the different thumbnails to switch between the saved camera angles and to pick the best option for the painting.
Moving into Photoshop 7
Now after all the hard work I’ve done in SketchUp, I’m bringing the passes that I need into Photoshop. Just in case there are many passes to be imported, you don’t need to open each of them and drag them one by one into the painting window. Photoshop has a great function for this: simply go to File> Script>Load Files into Stack…
Spreading colours 8
It’s important to let the 3D passes work as a guide for you, without allowing them to limit your creation process. I reduce the simple texture layer’s Opacity and create a new layer on top of it. I then use my textured brush to spread colours freely on the canvas. As you can see, I don’t even let the colours on the basic texture layer dictate my palette. I’m using a light purple/blue tone to bring up the colour vibrancy in the painting.
Overlaying the 3D layer 9
At some point during this freestyle painting process, I realise I need my 3D base back to give me more guidelines for the architectural structures. So I duplicate my simple texture layer and overlay it on top of my painting. I adjust the Opacity of the layer, to blend it with my image.
Value adjustment and adding depth to the scene 10
I take a step back from the painting and analyse my value structure. I plan to do a backlit lighting scenario, so I brighten the sky to pop out the castles’ silhouette. I also apply a fog layer at ground level, which gives the foreground more breathing space and the image greater depth.
Bringing in photo textures 11
I apply photos to the top of the painting to add more details to the main castle structures. Here are some cathedral photos that I took during my trip to Mexico; the architectural details are ideal for the upper part of the castles. I cut out the parts that I need and use the Transform tools to distort the perspective so they fit nicely with my painting.
Painting over the photos 12
I’m being careful with this photo integration part, because I don’t want it to destroy the nice brush feel that I’ve developed so far. I use a small textured brush to continuously paint on top of the photos so they can blend better with the rest of the painting. During my career I’ve developed my own process for this stage: photo-bashing, painting on top of the photos and erasing part of the photos. I repeat this cycle for as long as it’s needed.
Developing edge contrast 13
I love to keep the brush feel in my paintings, but how can I do it without the impression of losing details? The answer is edge contrast. Every important form, object and character in my art needs a clean silhouette. The silhouette can be painted with textured brushes, but its value needs to maintain certain contrast levels with its surrounding values. This ensures the viewer can distinguish the forms without being distracted by the brushstrokes.
Adding life and hinting at a story 14
We are almost finished. At this stage, I love to add some characters to show the scale of the scene and hint some vague storyline at the same time. I add a dragon to further enhance the fantasy theme of the painting. I also add some birds in the sky – an old but effective trick to bring in some life in large-scale compositions.
Final adjustments 15
I always finish my painting with a few adjustment layers, to tweak the contrast, colour temperature and brightness of the scene. I also like to apply a subtle chromatic aberration in the image (simply to go Filter> Lens Correction…> Custom, and play with the Chromatic Aberration sliders). I click OK once I’m happy with the result. I hope you have enjoyed this article and have learnt a few tricks to speed up your workflow!