James Paick Analysis

Since Tuesdays are my "Look at paintings" day, I'm going to do a recap of my #inktober on Thursday.

James was my environment painting teacher at Concept Design Academy, and I owe a lot to him.  I thought I'd go through one of his "cold environment" paintings since I'm working on my holiday card at the moment :)

The Crystal Ice Cave - Tomb Raider

The Crystal Ice Cave - Tomb Raider

Well this feels cold!  Right off the bat, a couple of things to notice:

  1. Monochromatic.  Except for the torch, this image is pretty much all shades of blue.  Even the "red" building in the background is actually a desaturated blue.
  2. The torch - It is the only warm colour in the image, and as such, your eye is instantly drawn there.
  3. This is concept art for a video game environment.  Notice the way he's made sure to put a path that a player could explore all the way into the background.  Not only is there depth, but there is *traversable* depth.
2 value read

2 value read

Not a lot to be seen here.  The sky takes on a huge dominance based simply on tone, the torch needs that chroma to punch.

3 values

3 values

This gives us the heart of the image.  The character is framed, the major shapes are there, and things actually read pretty well.  The sky fades in importance as we get the mid-tones to neutralize the contrast.

4 values

4 values

Four values gives us depth, which is often the case.  Now the foreground ruins are standing out, as is the character, who is probably darker than she should be "realistically" given her proximity to the light and location in the painting.  

The character

The character

The image isn't high-enough res to really know for sure (sorry about that), but I'd say she is mostly a dark silhouette with a couple of lighter areas painted in with the lasso tool, and then rim-lit around the arm holding the torch and the face.  The fire itself looks like a photo that has had glow added after with a colour-dodge brush.

The approach.

The approach.

This is the meat of this painting.  So many overlapping forms to give a sense of depth!  There is some photo in here, but mostly it seems like lasso tool and fill.  I really, really love how you can imagine progressing into this painting by coming down the cliff, over all wall and then across the ruined bridge under the ice covered scoop and then down to the "ground."  Notice that he tends to keep his edges fairly sharp, and then blends with value and colour rather than softness.

The structure

The structure

The first "mini-quest" in the level, if you will.  The path in dumps you out right at the front of this building.  It's warmer than the rest of the image, although still blue, so it stands out as important.  A fair amount of photo in this section, but only in the high-midtones, which is where James likes to put his textures.  Look at the repeating texture on the wall - he hasn't wasted time at this stage making tiny things different from each other when there is no real need.

The Foreground

The Foreground

Finally, the foreground.  This is the darkest and most saturated part of the painting, and has the crispest lines as well - but because the space behind it is also pretty dark, it doesn't stand out too much.

Now look back at the whole painting again - see the alternating light-dark-light-dark patterns to give that depth and spacial sense.  See the repeating forms, smaller and with less detail as you go back into the environment.  See how subtle the lighting is, and how even muted as they are, the reflections of the torch on the ice give a sense of "punch."

Learnings:

  1. Even though value is the most important thing, colour can definitely be what punches your subject.
  2. Don't be afraid to make something darker or lighter than it would be in "real life" if it makes your image work.
  3. Create paths for character movement as well as for the eye
  4. (Cause I know from his class)  First design, then tone, then texture, then colour, then light.

I hope you have enjoyed going through this one with me.  You can find more of James' work on artstation here or on his website.