30 September 2011

Painting in the energy beam

To make the image a bit more exciting and tell more of a story, we need something to happen. It's all set to fire some kind of beam down into the ground. Because the background is so warm with a red/orange color palette, let's use a cool color for contrast. I chose a green color, leaning a bit toward blue. Take the color straight from the Color Picker with a B value of 100%. For a color that is so bright like a laser beam, this is better than choosing a PMS color, because they don't tend to have the brightness or saturation necessary. Paint it with a simple brush and have the size set to pen pressure. This beam needs to be opaque all the way through, but taper off at the ends, so this is a rare instance where using the pen pressure to control opacity won't work. The color should be flat and solid, because the glows will be taken care of with Layer Styles. Use the settings shown here. The major part to remember is that the Inner Glow is set to Center; that gives you the nice, white-hot center of the beam.

The glowing beam looks good, but to really get the effect of luminosity, the ground right below it should be lit as well. Use a radial gradient in the same green as the beam down with the previously-completed ground layers. Change the Blend mode to Screen and scale the gradient down a bit vertically to follow the perspective of the ground. To create a more interesting ground and give the light something to do, you could paint some features like rocks. These are done in a solid dark color with the help of a scatter brush, then touched up a bit with a normal brush. Use this rocks layer as a clipping mask for layers above it, upon which to paint the highlights. Layer Styles won't work here because the rocks encircle the light source. Paint an orange highlight from the setting sun on the tops of the rocks. Having the highlights on separate layers allows you to adjust their Opacity and Blend modes if necessary.

To really make this work, the rocks need to cast shadows against the ground. The first thing to do here is to figure out where they should be cast. A trick from perspective drawing class will help out here. Use the Line tool. Make sure it's set to create a vector shape layer. After you make the first line, hold down Shift for each additional one to add them to the same shape layer instead of making new ones. Start where the beam hits the ground and draw lines out to the rocks. Now, make a mask on the green gradient layer. With the lines as guides, paint black on the mask to simulate the shadows cast by the rocks. They don't have to be exact, just close enough to be convincing. Now this is starting to look really cool, but there's one more thing to do.

Start at the point where the sun hits the mountains; that's the light source. As before, use the Line tool to draw lines on a vector shape layer, radiating out to the edges of the image. I used a different color to differentiate these from previous lines. Go back to the ground layers and make a new layer in Multiply mode. Paint shadows on this new layer, using the lines as guides. Remember that objects cast long shadows at sunset. Lower the Opacity of the layer as needed. That should do it! There is now a really cool interplay of shadows from the two different light sources. Some rocks are now casting double shadows and the green light spills into some of them. The whole thing looks complex and fairly accurate, but you can see that by using Blend modes, several layers, and masks it's not that hard to do.

21 September 2011

Painting the spaceship

Even though the ship is basically black, you don't want to start with a color that absolute. It's best to avoid pure black (0, 0, 0) or pure white (255, 255, 255). Using a very dark grey is a better way to go, so you can go darker if you need. I chose PMS 440. Paint the spaceship on a new layer and use just this color to paint what amounts to a flat silhouette. An easy way to paint perfectly horizontal or vertical lines with a brush tool is to hold down Shift as you paint your line. This may seem obvious, but I painted in Photoshop for years before I figured this out. To paint a straight line at an angle, click once with the brush, then hold down Shift and click again. This one I knew. I find that it's better to use a mouse for this technique, because it's hard to get fully opaque on one click when using the stylus set to pressure, which is how you want to do most of your painting.

For the surface detail, paint on a new layer and clip it to the main spaceship layer. Notice how I have used cool greys for the top and warmer, rusty colors for the bottom. This helps with the image's color scheme. I'm trying to suggest that the warm sunlight is reflecting on the bottom of the ship. Speaking of the bottom, notice how the gradual highlights on the edges of the round parts make them look hemispherical and not flat. Painting on a new layer is great because you can adjust your details if they are too much. In this case, I wanted to tone them down toward the bottom edge, so I added a mask to this layer with a linear gradient. But now, it lost too much detail in the black part of the mask. That's why the Masks panel is so great. Notice how I've pulled the Density down a bit to bring the detail back in somewhat. This panel was introduced in CS4 and is something I've been wanting for a long time.

Instead of painting in some highlights from the sun, let's try it with layer effects. Bevel and Emboss works, but an Inner Shadow using these setting adds a nice look to the underside. A Gradient Overly in Multiply mode darkens the texture painting of the upper layer. To get a bit of an unearthly glow from the bottom, I added an orange Drop Shadow in Screen mode. The problem is that with the settings to get the right look, the shadow extends past the bottom and over to the sides and top. Currently, there is no way to mask off effects directly, but in this case, a layer mask will do the trick. CMD+click the main spaceship layer to load the pixels as a selection and add a layer mask. At first, you won't see any difference. Double+click the layer to open up Layer Styles. Under Advanced Blending, check the Layer Mask Hides Effects box. Now the outer effects disappear. Add a white-to-transparent linear gradient to the mask from the bottom upward. Now the Drop Shadow is visible at the bottom and fades away at the sides. This image shows the relationship of the original selection to the final mask.

The rest of the spaceship details are painted in on separate layers not clipped to the main spaceship layer. To further illuminate the bottom areas of the ship, use a rusty color on a new layer in Color Dodge mode. Lower the Opacity until it looks right. The finishing touches are the cables that hang down. They might not look very practical, but this is a common sci-fi element. They have their own Bevel and Emboss and other effects, similar to the main spaceship layer.

The ship looks done now. For the last tutorial, we'll work on the energy beam fired from the ship. Not only will it tell an exciting story, but it will add some visual interest.

20 September 2011

Painting the ground

The ground and mountain range were quickly sketched in using dark colors, all on the same layer. To get a hint of the sun's glow peeking over the mountains, load a selection from this layer, make a new layer, and fill it with a color, any color. The important step now is to lower the Fill to 0% and check the Layer Mask Hides Effects option in the layer's Blending Options. Add an Inner Shadow as shown, then use a radial gradient on a mask to reduce this effect to just where the sun is. I have used this same technique over and over in my work, as you can see from previous tutorials.

A second row of more distant mountains will make things a bit more interesting, so I painted some on a layer under the existing mountains. This was done with lighter colors, and a Color Overlay was added to brighten them up even more. I used the same Inner Shadow technique as on the closer mountains to add a bit more of the setting sun's glow peeking over the top. I told you I used this trick a lot.

To get some more glow happening, add a bright, reddish-orange radian gradient on a new layer. Change the Blend mode to Screen and lower the Opacity until you like it. This layer, like the others, gets clipped down so that it uses the mountains layer as a clipping mask. Do the same thing for the foreground mountains. At this point, if the far mountains near the right edge of the image look too bright, add a dark linear gradient on a new layer, also clipped with the rest. Usually, I would change this layer to Multiply mode, but that was a bit too dark and I was wanting to obscure detail, not enhance it, so I just used Normal mode.

Just for fun, I painted in a hint of some sort of structures at the peak of one of the mountains. There was no other reason than to try and make the background look interesting. The flat ground looks a little dull, but we'll take care of that later. On top of all these layers, make a new layer with some dark orange linear gradients on each side of the image. Change this layer's Blend mode to Multiply and lower as desired. The sun's glow stands out even more and the look simulates a camera lens vignette. Now the scene is ready for the spaceship to come.

16 September 2011

Starting the background

For this little painting, I decided to use standard HD size (1920x1080). As you should know, if you are dealing just in pixels, resolution doesn't matter. I chose this size for a good width to height ratio and it's good for a quick painting: not too big, not too small. If you have followed my previous tutorials, you know that I start skies with a solid color on the bottommost layer and make each gradient as foreground to transparent on a separate layer. This allows me to have the most control over them in terms of Opacity and Blend mode. 

To help me along with my dramatic, sunset sky, I chose a picture from my source library and used it as a guide to paint the sky. I picked colors directly from it since I was working quickly. Having each gradient on its on layer was especially useful here, because I could add a layer mask as shown in the screenshot to suggest where the sun was going down. Notice that the layer is set to Color Dodge and the Fill has been lowered. This is a great way to simulate luminosity, especially with gradients. Usually, I add a darker gradient at the top in Multiply mode, as I've done here.

Next come the clouds. They were roughed in quickly with a softer, natural brush. I added some layer effects to give them a bit more depth. You can see here what I've done with the Inner Shadow to be more of a lit edge. This layer became a clipping mask for layers above it. Highlights were painted on one layer, shadows on another. The highlights' layer was changed to Color Dodge mode. A foreground-to-transparent radial gradient was added above that to represent the glow of the setting sun, reflecting on the clouds. Its Blend mode was also Color Dodge and the Fill was lowered as shown. Finally, A dark gradient in Multiply mode was added to the top above all the clouds, but not clipped with the other cloud layers.

In the next tutorial, we'll cover the ground and mountains for the landscape and tie them together with the sky.

15 September 2011

New painting tutorial

Finally, as promised, here is a new tutorial based on a digital painting I did earlier this year. This was just a quick little sketch, just something I had in my head that I wanted to see if I could put down in pixels. What made this image a bit unusual is that it's very much a sci-fi theme, something I really admire, but don't do much myself.

Just to show you how things can start out, I scanned the little sketch I did in a page of my planner. It's not much, but sometimes it's a good idea to manually draw out your ideas before creating them digitally. Old fashioned drawing is a skill that is still relative, no matter how things progress technologically. This is a good way to solve problems like composition and value. Once I got the idea out of my head and onto paper, I was ready for the next step of trying to paint it in Photoshop.

14 September 2011

The results of all my hard work lately

The past few weeks have been very busy for me around here. In addition to my new fall classes, I had a large exhibit graphic to paint and prepare for printing in a very short amount of time. The tight deadline was mainly because the client delayed giving approval and sending final details until very late. The graphic backdrop had to be done and ready for an exhibit in a tradeshow, so that was a firm date.

But the real problem was the size of the file. The final image was to be over 19 feet long. Even reducing the resolution (which is common in large images), the initial file was over 4 Gb, and I hadn't done much painting yet. So I decided to split it in half. Even with that, each half was so large that I had a hard time working on them, due to the way they slowed down my computer. All in all, the final composite, layered image would probably be about 5 Gb. Photoshop won't save a PSD over 2 Gb; for that you have to use a PSB, the large document format.

In spite of last-minute size changes and additions to the image, I finished it on time (3:00 a.m. on the morning it was due). I had been working days, nights, weekends, and every spare moment to get this darn thing done. The final image was output as eight different panels and assembled on a curved backframe. Here is a picture of it. I was quite pleased with how it came out. Mostly, I'm pleased that this whole ordeal is over.