The Last of Us - Aaron Limonick Analysis

So, Naughty Dog announced "Last of Us 2", and I'm working on a project set in the mountains of Georgia.  Seems like a good time to look at some forest concept art from the first Last of Us game.

Painting by Aaron Limonick

Painting by Aaron Limonick

This is an interesting piece of concept art for me.  For one thing, it's entirely a natural scene...and for another, it is quite understated.  There's no flashy lighting, no zombies, no ruined civilization...just some grass, some rocks, and some trees.

It does have a sense of mood though!  You can feel the space, and it seems like there could be something *just beyond* that wall of rocks.  The shapes are "natural", but very well-designed.  There is a clear hierarchy of shape sizes, and things have been simplified when they are not key to the image.

2 value read.

2 value read.

Not a lot of data here, but it definitely lets us know we are looking at a low-key lighting scenario!

3 value read

3 value read

The third value gives us a set of stairs leading into the background.  I definitely read this image from bottom to top, which is different from how I see most paintings.  The rocks spiral up into that bright section.

4 value read

4 value read

This is basically the entire painting.  It adds a sense of depth, but there is starting to be too much detail to judge the composition.  I would say the "stepping stones" into the background still applies though.

Let's take a look at the foreground first:

Dat grass

Dat grass

I would say there is some photo texturing here, but also painting.  Probably used a smart blur on the photo to "nuke" the variance, and then painted back on top.

That's a big rock.

That's a big rock.

As much as this painting has a subject, I'd say it was this rock.  There is almost certainly some photo textures here as well, but look how much of the "form" of the boulder is painted, particularly the top and the left sides.  I'd guess the dark bottom shadow is 99% painted as well.  He's using photo to support his idea, he's not letting it dictate design.

Bush-master

Bush-master

Again, there was a photo under here somewhere, but the majority of the foliage has been painted over it.  It is surprisingly loose, but the underlying photo data and values gives it a really good read.

The left corner.

The left corner.

This is the loosest and most painterly area of the image.  The strokes were made with care and precision, but they aren't clean.  Pay attention to both the colour variations and the clear sense of form.  Just because it's loose doesn't mean it wasn't done with thought.

The background forest

The background forest

In many ways, this is the payoff point for the image.  It feels very photo-based to me, but the atmospheric perspective and lack of contrast makes it sit into the image.  It was also probably given a smart blur treatment.  Even though it is photo, you can see brush strokes if you look for them, particularly in the bigger pine trees to the edges of the section.

Ok, so there you go - a forest, "Last of Us" style.  Designed to look undesigned and "natural", and it works very well.

 

Learnings:

1.  Even natural shapes in your paintings should be well thought out and designed.

2.  Pay attention to form, make sure your use of textures doesn't dictate your choices

3.  Every concept art painting doesn't have to be amped to '11'.

 

I hope you enjoyed going through this one with me!  if you want to see more of Aaron's work, here is his website! http://limonick.com/