Alright, onto the next tutorial: environments! Yes, we’re going to learn how to draw environments, concept art style. Now, there are a couple of principles that I must emphasize on before we begin. This is all prerequisite knowledge so if you don’t have a solid understanding of the following things, please consider brushing up on them before continuing.
1.) Atmospheric/Aerial Perspective. You should at least know what this means. If not, look it up. I will be using plenty of this throughout the tutorials (there will be more than one environment tutorial). Knowing how to use atmospheric perspective, combined with a good grasp of color theory, can mean a world of difference when drawing environments. It has been a fundamental principle of art since Renaissance times, and for good reason. It’ll help you create an illusion of depth and really allow you to draw the viewer into the atmosphere of your concept.
2.) General Perspective (sans Field of View)/Foreshortening. You HAVE to have a good grasp of perspective otherwise you will greatly compromise the believability of your concept. This especially applies to very natural environments (cliffs, canyons, forests, etc.) where things tend to be more organic and harder to foreshorten. Whereas urban, industrial or generally civil environments tend to be more rigid and can be reduced to perspective lines.
3.) Scaling. Scaling is a skill that comes from drawing things in meticulous detail. The ability to scale is pretty much the ability to make something look a believable size thru proper proportioning and disbursement of details. For example: this Lego building is very well scaled. Why? Because, in relation to the people, the aspects of the building (windows, fire escapes, scaffolding, etc.) are all believably proportioned. This skill will help out a lot when drawing massive environments as it emphasizes on the broadness of the PoV and the grandness of the objects therein. Note: working on a large canvas can make scaling easier but not all of us have that luxury.
4.) Lighting. When doing pieces with multiple (esp. colored) light sources, this skill comes in very handy. Also, learning how atmospheric light affects local colors (ex. what color is a green apple under red light?) can help you avoid clashing colors. When the colors of an object do not agree with those of the general environment, it is a huge eyesore.
5.) Basic Composition. You should know your composition do’s and don’ts and know how to create engaging, well-angled PoVs. Keep in mind things like Rule of Thirds. This one isn’t really as imperative as the previous four, though.
Once you’re sure you’ve learned these things, continue reading. I’m going to dive straight into the tutorial.
STEP 1: COMPOSITION/BLOCKING
1.) This is how all of my environment concepts begin. The canvas shown here is scaled down to 66.7%, the actual size being 1100×700 px. It’s always good to draw on a large canvas and scale the picture down later as it allows for minute detail without having to resort to 1px lines (which are an eyesore). Basically what I’ve done is established the fore-, mid- and backgrounds with very vague, low opacity shapes. You can see some precursors to (what will be) vehicles in the foreground, a structure in the middle and a tower toward the back. I would consider this my preliminary sketch. Depending on your approach, this first step may be very different. Some artists prefer to do a line drawing first or scribble out the masses. Others just jump straight to rendering. Do what suits you best. This is just my method, after all. You can see that, from the very beginning, Atmospheric Perspective is already in play. Notice how, as you visually advance into the background, things become less opaque and “fade out”. This is how most concept artists create depth in their pieces. You will learn more about it in the next step.
1. a.) What I’ve done here is add a Multiply Layer over the “sketch” and used a soft brush set to a dark gray on 25% opacity to wash everything. Things in the foreground have been considerably darkened. Now, this is not to say that, once this concept is colored, foreground objects will be of darker hues. What this really does is build contrast in the foreground objects so that, once we get to the rendering stage, we have more values to work with and can put more detail into them. This ultimately lends to good atmosphere, perspective and scaling. This also keeps them from being washed out by the atmosphere itself which you can sort of see happening to the background objects. What we’ve done in this step is establish a hierarchy based off of visual priority. Foreground objects will have the highest priority because they are the closest to the viewer thus granting them more detail, more contrast and keeping them from blending in with the atmosphere. Mid-ground objects have the same graces, just to a lesser extent. And background objects typically blend into the atmosphere: the atmospheric light overrides the local color and the objects are very shallow in terms of value range.
2.) Here, I’ve created some Overlay layers and, using a very large soft/air brush on low opacity, added a very simple color scheme to the sketch. When drawing environments, you should always try to move from black and white to color as soon as you think it convenient. You don’t want to end up with really dull values. If you save coloring until the very end, when everything has already been rendered in b&w, the Overlay will give you very bland, unrealistic tones. Instead, you want to start applying color when you are confident with your composition and are in pre-rendering stages. That way, you start off rendering in color and don’t have to do much in the way of color adjustment later. As for the color scheme itself: it’s rather murky, based mostly off purple and with yellow atmospheric light coming off the horizon. This will serve as a main light source. What we’re going for is a cool, dusky atmosphere. After laying down the colors, I merged them all down and, using a soft brush, blended them together a little. Notice that I’ve also begun paying attention to the geometry of the objects and laid down my colors accordingly. Think of it as a primer before you render.
STEP 2: RENDERING
1.) As you can see, I’ve begun rendering the objects in the mid-ground and foreground. When rendering objects, you want to keep the local colors intact while integrating highlights and shadows based on the atmosphere around the object. What I’ve done is detailed the body of the tower in purple (local color) and added yellow highlights on rigid edges to reflect the atmospheric color. You also want to keep in mind the “hierarchy” we established earlier. As you can see, the rock forms in the background are still very shallow and have a narrow range of values compared to the tower. That’s because I still want the tower to have more visual priority than the rocks. The color picker/eyedropper tool is your best friend as it allows you to stay faithful to the colors and values already established. You don’t want to flood the palette with a lot of foreign colors as it won’t look cohesive. Notice how the rocks aren’t actually “rock colored” but are rendered using preexisting values of purple and yellow. They still give the illusion of rocks but, because they work with the atmosphere, don’t attract too much attention. As background elements, they shouldn’t anyway. You also wanna keep the transitions between colors smooth. Notice how the gradation from yellow to purple is integrated into the rock forms. Anyway, I’m gonna continue rendering.
When I render, I usually follow a process:
- Smooth out the object w/ a soft brush (given that the object is meant to be smooth)
- Build contrast (using blending modes w/ dark colors)
- Add details
Also, notice that my palette becomes broader as we move into the foreground. This is because, as we near the viewer, we want to increase the detail of the environment which includes observable colors. Though the background should be limited to the atmospheric colors in order to avoid flooding the palette, adding a few foreign colors to the foreground (ie. patches of dirt, foliage) is excusable and even recommended. Doing this engages the viewer, increases detail and adds variety. Also, it’s more faithful to the local colors of nearby objects thereby lending to realism as well. How weird would it be to have a purple and yellow shrub? Besides, having a very small palette is just as bad as having one that is too broad. Also, don’t be afraid to add portions of high contrast (ex. puddles) to the piece. Remember, you WANT a large range of values in your foreground. And don’t make the mistake of assuming everything is a consistent color. Dirt isn’t brown throughout, grass isn’t all green and water isn’t solid blue. You want to mix it up every now and then for the sake of realism as well as expanding your palette. Also, you want to build up various textures and forms.
It’s just rinse and repeat from here out so I’m gonna end the tutorial. But that is the general workflow when painting an environment concept. Next time we’ll go over how to use blending modes to create atmospheric effects. See you guys soon.
If you have any questions about this tutorial, you can contact CypressDahlia at the forum.
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