Starting from 3D.

So over the last little while, I've been asked a couple of times about my process for starting a painting from 3D.  I decided to try my first painting tutorial, to see if I could adequately explain my thought process.  First of all, these are tools and shortcuts, but they don't remove the need to know how to paint...if all you do are the steps I'm outlining, you're going to get a shitty painting.  Like any other set of procedures, they must be used with thought.  Hopefully though, they may help you overcome a set of problems, or speed up your process.

 

I'd like to thank Fred Lang from Pixelfigs  for the use of his excellent model.  I highly recommend checking out the stuff over there, it's pretty damn cool :)

 

Now - In concept art, it is fairly common to start painting using a set of 3D assets.  Depending on the stage of the process, these assets may be little more than cubes and other primitives shapes, or they may be fully fleshed out models that require careful adherence to.  For what we're doing, we're going to go somewhere in between.  Even though Fred gave me a highly detailed model, we're going to be using it as a starting point.  I'm not going to be worried about replicating all the details, and he gave me no colour or texture information at all, so I'm completely winging that :)

 

Since I have the model, the first step is to setup a basic composition and lighting scenario.  I use Vue PLE as my software of choice for this.  It's free, which is awesome, and since I'm going to be making extreme adjustments in photoshop, the resolution limitations and watermarking aren't going to bother me.

I've imported the model and set it on a rock.

I've imported the model and set it on a rock.

One of the great things about 3D for me is it basically eliminates the need to thumbnail for compositions.  If you have a basic idea, you just set it up, establish some lighting and then move the camera until you find the shot you want.  As this isn't a Vue tutorial, let's just move on to the point where I've built my scene.

So, a cool sunset and a couple of mountains later, we have our composition!  I'm going to generate both the image and a "depth map" that I will use to select the figure as a mask in the next step.

The Render

The Render

The depth map.

The depth map.

I load both of these as two layers into the same Photoshop file, and then increase the size to 5100x2170.  Using the depth map, I select the foreground area so I can begin to slap on textures and colours.

The isolated foreground (FG) that I'm going to throw some colour and texture onto.

The isolated foreground (FG) that I'm going to throw some colour and texture onto.

Now comes the fun part :)  Very loosely, I find some photo overlays and slap them onto the model, mostly on "Soft Light" layers, although it depends.  I'm trying to take this to a "color comp" sort of level, nothing tight, not worry about blending edges or making anything fit together well.  For this model, I used the head of a lizard, and octopus and a raw steak, plus some rough painting.

The rough colored model.

The rough colored model.

Now comes the time to make it into a painting!  In the past, or if I was painting traditionally,, I would use this rough comp as reference, and then paint an extremely rough underpainting with very large brushstrokes as the next step.  Now, I use the Art History Brush tool.

Merge the entire thing back down to one layer, and then duplicate that layer.  In the History window, set this as your history point, and then delete all the contents of the duplicated layer.  Then, using the Art History tool, repaint it back in in broad, rough strokes.  Experiment with which brush you use, as it makes a HUGE difference in the style of your painting.  I also prefer the 'Dab' method of stroke types.  To make sure I've got the whole painting done, I tend to put in a "green screen" layer between the emptied layer I'm using the Art History brush on and the original render layer.

Halfway through the process.

Halfway through the process.

For me, this step is what enables me to select which areas I want to focus on with details.  The further from that focus point, the bigger and rougher the brushes I use.  At the end of this step, this is where I was at:

Just finished the Art History brush.

Just finished the Art History brush.

Now I re-establish edges to the form that have been lost during this rough painting.  I'm using a combination of a regular brush and the blender brushes, since I'm basically only working on one layer.

Bringing back some edges.

Bringing back some edges.

From here on out, it's just painting. Time to establish some better lighting, and the details I want to focus on.

...and painting.....

...and painting.....

As I get close to finish, I create a folder I usually call "Post Proc", where I do global adjustment layers and textures.  I really like using an old sheet of paper on "Overlay" mode at about 12%, just to give some warmth and subliminal interest.

A good paper texture is worth it's weight in gold!

A good paper texture is worth it's weight in gold!

Here is where we stand at about 2 hours from when I put the model into Vue.  I could stop now and call this a very rough concept painting, but it would work.

Two hours into the process, this is where we're at.

Two hours into the process, this is where we're at.

...but I played with it for about another 90 minutes before it reached the state it's at now :)

The "finished" painting.

The "finished" painting.

I really like this method for creating fast, loose paintings.  I'm far more attracted to paintings like this than I am to super-tight, highly controlled detail fests.  Give me the work of Justin Sweet any day :)

 

I hope you found this useful.  Although I didn't in this painting, this technique is also really good for blending 3D and photo images.  I will sometimes shoot a reference model as a starting point instead of rendering - the procedure remains the same.

 

Let me know what you think, and please share this around.  If you try this technique, I'd love to see your results!