1. Design & Illustration
  2. Painting

Create Video Game Cover Art in Photoshop

Read Time:13 minsLanguages:

Creating fictional video game cover art in Photoshop is a great way to exercise your creativity and practice your skills. In this tutorial, we will explain how to create a video game character concept using digital painting techniques. Let's get started!

Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial.

Before We Begin

I would just like to bring up the reference and my inspiration for making this particular piece. It was heavily based off the cover art for the game "Just Cause 2" with the main character looking over his shoulder with a really awesome fire/explosion effect. I had also created a similar piece with Harry Potter about a year ago, and thought this would be a great looking project to break down and start from scratch!

Step 1: Coloring the Sketch

First, I clean up my sketch and have the Line Art on its own layer. At this stage, I usually prefer to work with a random grey background (so I can see more clearly where my colors are going), but I intend on having the background a pure white later on, so I will have to switch it to white eventually.

When I am done sketching out my character and cleaning up the lines, I begin blocking in the colors. Once again, try to keep all the elements on separate layers/groups, such as the Face, Hair and Jacket.

You can see on my Layers window how I have broken all the colored parts into separate layers. This way, I can easily isolate or alter each section as I go without interfering with other elements of the painting!

Step 2: Toning the Face

I begin by selecting the entire Face layer (Command/Ctrl + Click on the Layer in the Layers Window to make the selection), and begin adding my tones. For most of this painting, my weapon of choice is always the Hard Round Airbrush set at an opacity of 45% - 50%.

I started with a mid toned skin color, then eventually built up the darker tones. Finally, I add in the highlights on a New Layer later on. This part usually takes me about half an hour to lay down the basic tones. At this point, I am not looking to be neat and particular- but rather loose and letting the features and shadows of the face take form. I am also not overly fussed with the realism and accuracy of the tones, as I intend this guy to be more on the "semi-real" spectrum.

Step 3: Face Texture

Next I take my Skin Texture brush pack, and with my Speckled Brush, I begin blending in the tones to eliminate that "painterly" look and add a bit more realism and variation on the skin surface.

You can see the way it actually begins to round off the features (such as the cheekbones and jaw) and give it a smoother, realistic appearance.

Step 4: Add-ons

I also decided to give him some sunglasses (for appearance sake!) that I felt I could work off to give the piece some extra edge. I blocked them in on a new layer above the face and texture layers.

Step 5: Detailing the Face

When I was happy with the amount of texture painted in, I continued to brush in smaller details over the texture layer such as his eyebrows and darker areas around his mouth, nose, ears and neck. Adding in the sunglasses also gave me a nice opportunity to paint in some beautiful shadows along his cheekbones to break up that solid area a little bit more. I also painted in a piercing for more coolness!

Step 6: Detailing the Sunglasses

I decided to change the lenses to lighter blue. I separated the lens new layer by making it a selection, then duplicating it. I then moved it underneath the glasses frame layer and set the Layer mode to "Hard Light" so some nice tones and color from his eye underneath would show through a lot more. I also dropped the Opacity to 85%.

Step 7

Once I was happy with the tone and opacity of the glasses lens, I went on to add some highlights along the rims of the frame to give it a more plastic/metallic look

Step 8

I then overlayed this hexagon pattern (created in a separate document), applied Free Transform to scale it down, and slightly rotated it a bit to suit the size of the lens!

Then set the Layer Mode of it to"Multiply"!

Step 9: Sunglasses Finish

I added small lights on the side to give them a more high-tech appearance by brushing in 3 solid lines, then adding an "Outer Glow" blending mode to the layer.

Step 10: Blood Effect

On a new layer above the face details, I painted in some blood running down his face. I tried to envision how the blood would run down the contours of his face. Due to its density, I chose to shade it with a darker red to accentuate the thickness of it, and add a few dots of highlights with white to capture a bit of shine.

Step 11: The Jacket

Going back to my Jacket Layer, I began to quickly paint in some tones, starting with the darker tones, and highlighting some thinner areas along his shoulder and the edges. It doesn't have to be too precise as I am going to cover it up later with some beautiful texture!

What I have also done is quickly add some pieces of jacket breaking away in a sort of "whoosh" sideways/upwards direction (towards the top, right hand corner).

Step 12

With a lighter (almost white) grey, I went in closer and added in some more detailed areas such as the seams on his shoulder and some more edges.

Step 13: Jacket Texture

Now it is time to put a bit of quick realism into the Jacket to get rid of the "painterly" look it has. I open up my Leather Texture image, courtesy of CGTexturs.com. I turn the photo Grey scale (Command/Ctrl + Shift + U) and paste it over the top of my Jacket layers.

Step 14

With the Free Transform tool, I scaled up the leather image until it covered all of the jacket area.

Step 15

Set the opacity of the texture layer to around 75%-80% and switch the blending mode on the Layers window to "Overlay".

Step 16

To make the texture stand out a little bit more, I adjusted the Levels (Command/Ctrl + L) slightly.

Once it was looking nice, I erased all of the excess texture outside the selection of my jacket layer!

Step 17: Jacket Details

Now that my jacket tones and texture was complete, I just went over it again with some smaller details such as the zippers and some button/studs along the top for some finishing touches!

Step 18: Adjustment Layer

At this point, I sat back and noticed that his skin tones could use a bit more contrast to match up better with the darkness of his jacket. What I did was create an "Adjustment Layer" above the Face Layers (so it wouldn't affect any of the other layers- just the layer below it).

This is done by clicking the little "Create Fill or Adjustment Layer" icon on the bottom of your Layers window which will bring up several different options on the sort of Adjustment Layer you would like. I just want to alter the contrast on the characters skin tones, so I simply needed to make some changes on a "Levels" histogram!

It's not really a HUGE change, but enough to keep the face tones consistent with the rest of the image so far. Sometimes it's the little things like altering some contrast that can enhance the entire image!

Step 19: Jacket "Splatter" Effect

For a quick effect to give the Jacket more of an "exploding" look, I will be overlaying a "Paint splatter" image! I open up my Stock photo from CGTextures called "Splatter.jpg"

Step 20

I drag and drop that over my Jacket layers, and set the blending mode to "Multiply". With the Free Transform tool, I scale it to the appropriate size so it covers a nice area along the bottom.

Step 21

I also erased quite a fair bit of the excess "spray" to give it an overall solid appearance and neaten it up!

Step 22: Painting the Hair

When I paint hair, I usually like to start with the darkest tones and start the base from there. Basically I'm trying to find the layers of hair that sit underneath, and eventually build it up and add volume as I go. If you can, use the {Photoshop CS5 brush] to get some nice, even looking streaks!

Remember to pay attention to the smaller areas such as his sideburns and where the hair meets the back of his neck. The hairs begin to thin out and appear more 'wispier' and jagged along there!

Step 23: Highlighting the Hair

On a new layer, incase of mistakes (it is very easy to overdo this part), I build up the highlights strand by strand, and small areas where the light catches with alternating values of dark and light brown. The lightest parts should be very thin and differ in line weight too.

I'm not being too particular over details in his hair as I figured at this point that this is going to be a very dark image overall, and the lightness will eventually get lost during the post-processing stages later on when I add more darkness and contrast.

Don't forget to include plenty of stray, wispy bits of hair that break away from the mass for a more realistic look!

Step 24: Spark Effects

This is one of my favorite parts of creating a picture- adding in Photographic effects to capture that hint of realism! But before I begin the next stages, I would just like to point out that it is a personal preference that I do all my special effects in a New Layer Group above everything else! That way, you can keep track of your little layer effects and easily switch them off and on without having to search to much through your list of layers!

For the first effect, I open up my nice Sparks image I have downloaded from CGTextures.

Step 25

I make a selection of some sparks- particularly an area away from the mass where they seem to spread out a bit more, as highlighted in the image below.

Step 26: Applying the Stock

I drag and drop that selection onto the painting (in my new folder called EFFECTS). Then I use the Free Transform and stretch the selection so it covers a nice amount of the jacket.

Then set the blending mode for the sparks layer to Screen.

Step 27: Adjusting

I open up the Levels menu (Command/Ctrl + L) and bring the darkest values down to eliminate that bit of light that still shows through so now I have some nice, solid pieces of sparks against the black jacket.

Step 28: Polishing off the Effect

From here, you can erase pieces away and reposition the sparks to your liking. What I did was select some individual sparks with the Lasso Tool, and rotated them so they all seem to be heading in the same, diagonal direction. I also used some Motion Blur on a few of those selections too (Filter > Blur > Motion Blur). I also erased some excess sparks in some areas so it doesn't look too busy with sparks flying everywhere in every direction.

I have also used the Hard Round Airbrush on a very low opacity to lightly place a few more of my own around the edges to fill in some open spaces.

Step 29: Extra Color Overlay

Another nifty little effect I decided to add for a bit more intensity, was a simple Color Overlay!

On a new layer in my "Effects" group, I softly airbrushed in a bright orange hue around the back of his jacket and hair.

Step 30

Set that layer mode to "Overlay" and drop it's Opacity to around 50%. You can see how the color has grabbed onto the edges of his hair and neck and just given it that extra kick of color!

Step 31: Adding a White Edge Glow

To blend the face into the white background a little more, I created a new layer, and very lightly, with a Soft Edged brush, dabbed some white (#ffffff) around the edges near the face to give it a sort of glow and soften the edges. Also a little around the back of his neck where the white background also shines through.

Step 32: Fire Effect

To create the last stock effect, I open up another of my CGtexture stock files:

Step 33

Once again, I make another selection, preferably on a section where the fire has thinned out a bit from the mass. I only want a litte bit this time!

Step 34: Applying the Layer

I dragged that selection over to my image, and used the Free Transform tool Flip, Rotate and Stretch it over the desired area, preferably in the corner where there is a lot of empty space on the back of his jacket. (It also doesn't matter if the fire sits above of below the Sparks Layers- you will still see both well)

Step 35: Layer Mode

Set the layer mode to Screen.

Step 36: Shaping the Fire

Again, I applied the Free Transform on the Fire layer, and used the Warp tool to push and pull the fire effect around to my liking.

Step 37: Finalizing the Fire

Once I was happy with where the fire was positioned in the corner, I opened up the Levels menu (Command/Ctrl + L) and brought down the darkness and slightly reduced the intensity of the color.

And now I have a nice fire effect to fill in the blank area of jacket, and also to compliment the spark effect I added in earlier, and give it an almost "Ghost Rider" look!

Step 38: Post Rendering the Face (Optional)

At this point, I am pretty much done with the painting. All that is left is to do a bit of post rendering work on the flattened output image. I saved a copy of my file as a flattened image- JPEG for me (or which ever format you prefer). NEVER flatten your .psd file in case you need to go back to it! I opened my JPEG again in Photoshop, and duplicated the layer (in case of making any mistakes).

What I simply want to do is grab the Dodge Tool (Set to Highlights with 15% Exposure) and run it down the outer edge of his nose, mouth and chin (the circled areas) to intensify the lighting already on his face, and basically "blend" them with the white background.

Step 39: Post Rendering the Jacket (Optional)

Another nifty effect I decided to add to the final image is a little more intensity to his jacket. On my flattened image, I made a selection along the outer edge of his shoulder.

Step 40

Duplicated that selection onto its own layer (Command/Ctrl + J)

Step 41

I gave that section of jacket a "Motion Blur Effect" (Filter > Blur > Motion Blur) and made the direction the opposite of the original direction of all the sparks and the movement of the picture.

Step 42

I then set the layer mode to "Screen"

Step 43: Finishing Touch

Afterwards, I softly erased away some of the edges of the new Blurred layer to blend it into the rest of the Jacket a bit more.

Final Image

One subscription.
Unlimited Downloads.
Get unlimited downloads