22 September 2010

Creating the background (1 of 5)

This illustration is one of a series I am currently working on. The people and props will change, but the background will remain constant. It needs a ground plane receding into the distance, so you obviously know that you will start with a straight-on image with right-angle corners. You will use your own, but here is mine. Now for the important step: Once the image is created with all its layers, convert it to a Smart Object. This is so that any transformations or filters you apply will be non-destructive.

Transform the layer with Scale and Perspective. You can see that for this view, the object you need to transform must be much, much wider. Also, remember to Scale it down a bit vertically. Most people forget, but when things turn away so that their parallel lines converge, they are also getting foreshortened and need to be shorter. As a final step, add a simple linear gradient on a layer mask to fade toward the horizon. Even with this extreme transformation, all you have to do is double-click on the Smart Object's layer thumbnail to edit the original version. Just save the PSB and your original  image updates. That is so cool.

Now it's time to start painting the figure. To do this well, you will need a good source photo. Why not just use the photo, then? I have been asked that. Well, with a digital illustration, I can work at the size I want, fix any problems (we'll see that later), and the image has greater flexibility for changes in the future or use across multiple media. Plus, illustration is just intrinsically cooler. For a digital painting, you might think that you just make a new layer and start painting away. Well, there's more to it than that. Photoshop allows a great deal of flexibility, so we want to take advantage of that.

Start by giving each basic shape of the figure its own layer. Put the hair on its own layer, the skin on its own layer, and so on. For this painting, each distinct color is on a separate layer. As usual, start with PMS colors. You could make these flat shapes with selection tools or the Pen, but I like painting them out by hand; it gives the edges a more natural feel and we're going for a painterly approach here. No surprise, I used my favorite Photoshop brush (Pencil - Thin pressure) with the Opacity jitter set to Pen Pressure and I adjusted the size as needed while I was painting. You can do what you want.

For this concept, she had to be standing at an open gate. You could paint this as well, but it seems like a perfect job for Photoshop's vector tools. Use the Line or Rectangle tool to make a thin, vertical bar on a new Shape layer. It's supposed to be white, but use cool grey 1. White isn't really white, anyway. Select it with the Path Selection tool, then click the top with the Pen tool to give it an extra point. You have to use the Convert Point tool to make it a corner point, because Photoshop still always gives you curved points with this method. Then select the new point with the Direct Selection tool (the white arrow) and move it up a bit. Presto! Now you have a fence section that would be uncomfortable to sit on. Duplicate this shape as many times as you need, select them all, then click the Distribute horizontal centers button to space them out evenly. You can then use the Direct Selection tool to select the top three points and move them up incrementally to create the curve at the top.

After that, the rest of the fence should be easy. Use vector Shape layers and add some layer styles: a bit of Inner Glow in Multiply mode and some Bevel and Emboss and Inner shadow to give them a bit of depth and highlight.

For the open gate, create the vertical pieces using the same techniques as the fence. Use a darker cool grey, since it is turned away from the light. Make some perspective lines that converge at the horizon, then Skew it into position, using your lines as guides. Remember to Scale it down a bit horizontally to account for foreshortening.

It looks good, but quite flat, since it's only the front face of the gate and now we need the sides. You'll have to do this on a new layer and you'll need a lot of perspective lines. The Pen tool is probably the easiest way to make this shape. Use cool grey 2 and build a vector shape that zig-zags at the top and bottom to match your perspective lines. After it's built, you may need to zoom in and do some fine adjustment with the Direct Selection tool. Now that the solid shapes are done, it's time to start painting. We'll cover that in the next tutorials.

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