I would like to share my concept art workflow that combines both 2D painting and 3D rendering to produce the most detailed images possible in shortest amount of time.
I used paper and pencils for sketching, Maya for base mesh modeling, ZBrush for getting fine details and Photoshop for compositing and matte painting. I love to create characters with a bunch of details and environments make the viewer feel an emotion and bring them into a fantasy world.
References and Sketching
Gathering references is an essential stage of pre-production. So the first thing I did was to dive into Google search or CG websites like Artstation for inspiration; it includes real photos and existing concept works.
A good tip here is to use Pinterest to search the references; sometimes it can be better than doing a Google search. Pinterest also helps me to organize the images by categorizing them into distinct topics.
Then I would draw my rough ideas with paper and pencil. I explored the silhouette, forms and elements I wanted to combine. I believe the researching and creating a strong impression are the most important stage of concept art.
My idea is hybridization. I want to create a robot constructed by a combination of dragon and snake. I gathered several references and drew a rough sketch.
Modeling in Maya
I used traditional tools such as extrude, bevel, multi-cut and fill holes. The dragon base mesh was created using poly-modeling. The purpose of this stage is creating a base mesh for sculpting. My modeling was entirely focused on shapes and readability. Silhouette plays a big role when working with the concept.
Detail Sculpting in ZBrush
I usually started with adding subdivision level and flattening, pinching, smoothing and straightening out of forms. This part just takes time.
Then it’s time to add details! I made couple alpha maps so I could just stamp them out on the robot. I picked a normal brush and switched to drag Rectangle Stroke. I loaded the alpha maps and placed the details where they seemed to fit. I also used Pixologic Zbrush IMM Insert Multi Mesh Brush to add details.
I love a texture website called textures.com
After sculpting, I would paint the base color on the models and apply the metal shaders on the mechanical parts. The last stage in Zbrush was rendering passes. I usually rendered six passes: Master Beauty, Ambient Occlusion, Shadow, Depth of Field, Sub Surface Scattering and Mask.
Example of rendering passes: Cyborg
Compositing in Photoshop
Importing all the passes and creating the base layer structure using the following order and blending modes.
Master Beauty – blending mode: Normal
Ambient Occlusion – blending mode: Multiply or Overlay
Shadow – blending mode: Multiply
Depth of Field – blending mode: Overlay
Sub Surface Scattering – blending mode: Screen or Linear Dodge
Mask – No blending. I used Mask as a silhouette reference for selecting the robot.
Sometimes the occlusion effect is too strong. The simplest way to correct this is to set the opacity of the Ambient Occlusion pass layer to 30-45%. The strength of any render pass is easily adjustable by changing the opacity.
After compositing all the passes, I used Photoshop to composite the 3D render with 2D background, enhance the lighting effects and the mood of the pictures, and create a dusty atmosphere that suited the subject matter.
A good tip here is to use Pinterest to search the references; sometimes it can be better than doing a Google search
Lighting is a good way to create contrast and focal point, including light rays and lens flare. I usually used the Lasso tool to make a selection area that will correspond to the beam of light that will filter through the near light resource, such us window or visual effect. One other enhancement we could add there is some steam emanating from the environment. I searched the fog textures online and applied a multiply blending mode for fog.
I love a texture website called textures.com. It provides lots of high-quality 3D brushes and 2D textures for downloading. I also applied lots of bare metal textures to add more details.
One tip for compositing is when we complete all the retouching; I always selected all the layers and duplicated them into one image.
Then I went to Filter>> Other >>High Pass, and applied a value between 0.8 to 1.2. And I changed the blending mode to overlay. This process would sharpen the edges and create some minor reflection.
Final Image of Cyborg
Thank you for reading my short making of. I hope you enjoyed it!