STEP BY STEP: Master sci-fi concepts
Learn to develop a realistic looking sci-fi landscape, ready for a cinematographic character to bring life to this new world
Julián Calle’s pro environments and concept guide
In this tutorial you can learn to edit images, integrate images, use the photo bashing technique, select lenses according to the composition, texture a 3D model in Photoshop, manage lighting, manage atmospheres (depth), properly use colour correction and final render techniques. In general terms you will also learn how to correctly integrate 2D and 3D elements. The most exciting part of this tutorial is that you will learn a creative process that allows you to deform reality so that it not only looks realistic but at the same time fantastic.
01 3D Sketch for the following process three items of software were used to compose this realistic concept art, Zbrush, octane render and Photoshop. In this first step, Zbrush was used to generate a 3D sketch to help generate a greater depth and a better feeling of light.
Light positioning after finishing the 3D sketch, I used the Zplugin in Zbrush to reduce polygons and exported it as an OBJ to the octane render program, where I simply positioned a light and took out an image with its mask in exr format. The position of the light is only a reference when it comes to placing textures and doing the paint over.
Generate a sky The result that will be obtained in the octane render is a simple base to generate the paint over and produces a tonal value of sky that will enable you to establish the general tone of the image.
Compose the image Using the clipping mask, I separate the modelling of the sky and using a series of reference images, I start to lay out the composition. When placing the elements it is important to keep them in independent layers as well as their properties or filters. This will enable a more manageable procedural file, sensitive to any adjustment that must be made. for this I used many masks, to be able to paint inside the masks, making the necessary adjustments.
05 Background creation Behind the 3D modelling I built a background to complement the composition, making a layout with different images, I built the background focusing on the details of the parts visible in the composition.
06 Add realism I add elements and I adjust them depending on the depth and position within the composition. It’s important to consider the atmospheric values that will mark the distances between the elements and adjusting them so that they have a coherent proportion between them. This will bring realism to the concept, which is the objective.
07 Details as I progressed, I added more details focusing on the medium level of composition, which is the main narrative element of the image and, therefore, should look more dramatic and visible. Personally, it is in the medium level where I focus on developing my concept art.
08 Water and islands for this step I added a reference image of a place in my native country, colombia, where different water channels and islands are displayed, and using the perspective tool, I adjusted the image to the reference layout. Using a mask in positive value, I mixed it with another series of reference images as you can see in step 9.
More referencing Using reference images of waterfalls and jungle I created a new layout above the layer that contains the channels and islands, so that by means of masks inserted in the layers you can discover when painting, interesting areas that have been combined.
Highlight interesting elements To observe the composition a bit better, I added elements in the foreground, which will be darker due to their proximity to the camera. These elements provide a feeling of greater depth, complement the composition and also must be strategically located in order for me to use them as vectors of force that will help to highlight the elements of interest in the composition.
Balance elements as I go forward I balance the elements using the Levels tool, which I always use with a black-and-white open layer over the others so that I can activate and deactivate it at any time. It enables me to visualise the proper handling of atmospheres, that is, the proper handling of greys.
Paint the sky Using a soft round brush and taking a sample of one of the lighter shades of the sky, I painted different atmospheric values to generate greater depth and achieve the tonality of the composition.
Balancing light and assets Having the unified tonality, I added more elements to the composition to give it a more realistic finish. Here I am always considering the handling of the light and the handling of the atmospheres depending on the location, to conserve the depth achieved in the composition.
Add birds I used Lookup filters to generate colour corrections according to the sensation I wanted to generate. I highlighted the brightness of the mountains in the middle plane and I managed to give the image warmth. Likewise, I added birds, to give it movement and using a soft brush I highlighted the entrance of the light that I had located in previous steps.
I added elements in the foreground, which will be darker due to their proximity to the camera. These elements provide a feeling of greater depth, complement the composition and also must be strategically located
15 Create atmosphere To achieve a greater integration of the elements I used atmospheres focused on the base, merging them as part of the environment, always verifying their proportion and positioning. This is a very important factor in VFX since the supervisors look for realism and coherence in the art direction.
16 Post-processing I used the tools color Lookup and the raw camera, which are fundamental for me when I want to finish balancing textures and materials. additionally, I added the ‘grain’ and the chromatic aberration to simulate the result of a camera, I did it in a subtle and delicate way so that I won’t lose any depth to the concept.
17 Final thoughts achieving the realism of the image is key for cinema, especially for the VFX artists. for this reason, if you are seeking to specialise in VFX for cinema, you must train the eye, you must learn professional photography. In this case I have used a specific angle and lens. I have used a 3D program to help me to play with perspective, composition and a lens as a guide to help me add texture, lights, shadows, filters, all in a coherent form to achieve the realism that I wanted.
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