It's been quite some time since a posted up a walk through of my work, so I thought I'd do it with one of my most recent pieces, 'Batman vs. Man-Bat'.
This isn't so much of a tutorial, but more of a step-by-step process of how I created the image and some of the techniques I use. Before I start rambling I'd just like to say, to anyone who's reading this, to bear in mind that isn't necessarily the 'correct' way of creating digital artwork. It's just a process I use and it works well for me. So, if you're aspiring to move into concept art/digital painting, don't assume that you HAVE to do it this way. But, hopefully, some of you will find it useful and pick up some tips here and there :)
So anyway, this is the image we're going to look at:
The idea was to create a 'key moment' concept for a potential future Batman movie (just to clarify, this is NOT for a movie, it's just a personal piece of art work, nothing commercial...). The original idea formed while I was away traveling, so I quickly drew a quick thumbnail sketch in my sketchbook.
So this image started off from a pretty crappy 30 second doodle.
I use thumbnails to very quickly generate ideas, vary camera angles, compositional changes etc. Personally, I think the very first early thumbnails you create, to be honest, are for nobody else but you. I wouldn't show these to a client if it was professional work. It's just to help you form the idea and get it down on paper. My sketchbook is more like a journal of ideas filled with shit drawings like the one above. To you, this image may not make much sense. But to me, I can draw something like this, leave it, come back to it 6 months later and it makes perfect sense as it's capturing the idea I'm trying to create. You never know when an idea will pop in your mind so, tip number one, always carry a sketchbook around with you.
One I got back from my travels and was sat in front of my computer, I started fleshing out the idea with a couple of of compositional sketches in Photoshop.
Again, this nothing more than a glorified scribble, but it does the trick in terms of establishing the composition. After this, I generally do a greyscale painting to help establish tone and depth.
I do the exact same thing with professional work. However, when working professionally, I spend more time on this bit and make the image a lot clearer. Working on my own personal stuff, I'm the Art Director. I know the concept in my mind and I know (roughly at least...) where I want the image to go, so I can develop it quickly and cut some corners here and there. If you're working for a client, you don't have that luxury. You need to be more methodical in your process and make sure they clearly understand what's going with the image and where you're intending to take it. Fact of the matter is, when working professionally, it's not YOUR image you're creating, it's THEIRS. So you need to make sure they're happy with it. They are paying you after all.
I also create some very quick colour studies just to help generate the mood that I'm after.
It's nothing flash. Just quickly paint over the top of the black and white image but play around with the layer properties such as 'Overlay', 'Hard Light' etc. This is pretty much my base painting worked out.
Because I'm dealing with characters in movement within my scene, this creates slightly awkward, twisted anatomy. I'm also using a very precise lighting from the neon signs. So I wanted to make sure I was lighting and positioning the characters correctly. I used DAZ 3D (a free piece of software) and created a very quick mock-up of the scene to help me out.
DAZ 3D doesn't come with Batman or Man-Bat character rigs, but that wasn't the point. I wanted to make sure that my characters were positioned correctly and I had a good foundation to start painting light later in the process.
I then rendered out a PNG image and aligned it with my base painting in Photoshop.
By this point, I'm pretty happy with the composition and direction my painting is heading. Time for some research.
I can't stress enough how important good research is. I find that people tend to assume how something looks in their mind, think it's correct and then paint from there. 9 times out of 10, it's wrong. Check out images online. Don't rely purely on Google images, find other resources. Go out and do some of your own original photography and study what the world looks like. It helps develop your visual library.
Batman was fairly easy to find research for. I'm a huge Batman fan. In fact, drawing Batman from comics is one of my earliest memories, so I have a pretty clear idea of how I want him to look. Essentially, it's a combination of the 'Dark Knight' costume and the upcoming 'Batman vs Superman' costume. So, I went and found references for those, as well as some of my own personal tweaks.
Man-Bat was more difficult as I didn't have a clear idea of how he looks in my mind. I was very inspired by the take Rocksteady took for 'Arkham Knight', however he still looks quite human to me. I always see him a bit more animal-like as he appears in the Batman Animated series. So I looked at all sorts of ideas, including vampires at one point (but I quickly decided against that route), to get references. I looked at different body types too. I imagine the transformation into a 9 foot bat being quite a painful one, putting the body and muscles through quite a bit of strain and contortion. I needed images of muscles definition, but not large muscular-gym bodies (no Arnold Schwarzeneggers) . So I looked at long-distance marathon athletes and, unfortunately, people who suffer from anorexia.
I also found reference for the city backdrop as well as the large sign I wanted my characters to crash through. Though the buildings were not the main focus of the scene, I wanted to make sure it still worked as cohesive world, so I didn't want to look for the first random building I see. Again, I'm a big Batman fan, so I quickly knew I wanted to look for art deco architecture, as well as buildings from New York/Chicago.
Once I felt ready with my research, I started implementing photo reference into my image.
For a lot of beginners, I think this is the bit that shocks them. "You can't do that, it's cheating!?" I hear this quite a bit. Well, the answer to this is yes and no. Yes, I'm using photography/textures. Yes I'm putting them in my work. But the answer is, no, it's not 'cheating'. A lot of concept artists need to produce realistic looking work within extremely short deadlines. You're talking a matter of hours, maybe a day or two if you're lucky. And the only way to achieve the high level results that are expected from you is by using photography and textures, incorporating 3D software into your work etc. All these techniques are used to help the artist. This doesn't mean you should be totally reliant on photos. God no. Not everyone likes it, and not everyone uses it. That's fine. And you still need to know and practise core fundamentals of digital painting regardless if you want to succeed. However they are a damn good tool to use. And that's how they should be seen. A tool. A tool to get the job done quickly with good results.
Not every artist does this by the way, but quite a few do. If you're one of the lucky people who can paint realism very quickly, then good for you, you don't need to use photography.
So, a lot of my early process of the painting involves bringing in photography and textures. Lighting them and colour correcting them to match my scene as well as painting in the basic form.
Positioning light can help an image immensely. So, for example, Batman's head is being lost within the scene already. A black costume on top of a black building doesn't help. So I rearrange the background so that Batman is much more noticeable in the scene, as well to help increase the sense of depth. I also give the signs a basic lighting pass.
By this point, my process becomes very 'place texture, paint corrections, repeat'. I also work across the whole canvas so the entire image slowly develops, rather focusing on one area at a time. Things need to change here and there as the painting develops, so I started playing around with some the elements. Batman for example was leaning over to much, so I started straightening him up more so he appeared to be more in control.
I also started bringing in more photography into the background buildings and then played around with lighting, colour correction and painting techniques so that they settled into my image better
Again, I just repeated the same method on Man-Bat to develop him further. I also started using textures for the debris flying towards the camera.
Some further colour correcting and playing around with element positioning.
And then one final pass that I kind of call the visual-effects pass. So this includes motion blurs, extra effects such as snow, colour correcting the entire, last minute lighting effects, sense flares etc.
Hopefully this will give you an insight on how to develop an image. If you're reading this and find it useful, drop me a message. It's always good to know someone has benefitted from it :)
Again, I hope you find this useful.