Some time ago we were learning how to create a model sheet for a werewolf warrior character. We created three views of the character and described visually every aspect of its look. This may not be enough for a 3D artist to picture the character as we intended, however—they need to get the colors from us, too. Colors are a big part of the design, and they can tell a lot about the character, so it's our task to prepare a good color scheme that others will be using as a reference.
In this tutorial I'll show you how to color the previously prepared line art in a clean way, using Adobe Photoshop. We'll talk about lighting, color usage and blending, going beyond the purpose of a normal piece of concept art.
1. From Line Art to the Base
Last time, during the process of the design, we created this line art to summarize all the concepts about the character. We can now use it to picture the color scheme. A colored character in an interesting pose placed next to the model sheet will help the 3D artist to see it more fully. Usually a colored character is presented before accepting the design, and then it's very important to show it as attractively as possible.
If you haven't followed the last tutorial, and you're here just to learn about coloring, use this step to prepare a sketch of your character.
Our line art wasn't too clean—its task was to sell the idea only. Clean line art is a great help when it comes to the simple type of shading we're going to use. Experienced artists are able to use little inaccuracies to their advantage, but if you don't feel too confident about your skills, I suggest you clean up the lines to avoid a guessing game in the next phase. You may also need to redefine some areas, since last time our intention was to draw it quickly, but not 100% accurately.
Place the line art in a New File (Control-N) of the biggest resolution you can handle. Set its Opacity to
20% by typing the number or hitting 2 when the Move Tool (V) is active.
Create a New Layer (Control-Alt-Shift-N). Choose a hard brush (100% hardness). You can use one of yours, but if you want to use the same as me, do the following:
- Go to Window > Tool Presets.
- Take the Brush Tool (B).
- Open the menu in the right upper corner.
- Select DP Presets.
- Select DP Comic Inker from the list.
Choose a very intensive color and paint an outline of the wolf-man. Avoid any gaps!
Use the Magic Wand Tool (W) to select the outside area of the character.
Hit Control-Shift-I to inverse the selection.
Create a New Layer and fill the selection using the Paint Bucket Tool (G). Select the two layers (the outline and the fill) by holding Control when clicking them, and Merge (Control-E) them.
Drag the silhouette under the line art layer. Name it
To neutralize the vibrancy of the color we've used, use Control-U and lower its Saturation.
Click the line art layer and either right-click it to select Create Clipping Mask, or use the shortcut Control-Alt-G.
The clipping mask is used to restrain the drawing area to the silhouette we have drawn. test it—create a New Layer between these two and try to paint something on it.
2. Define the Form
Although it's not very obvious, an object doesn't look 3D unless it's properly illuminated. At the same time it's impossible to paint proper lighting without knowing anything about the 3D form of the object. Therefore, we need to convert the character to simpler, hard-edged forms.
Lower the Opacity of the line art and create a New Layer. Use your favorite sketching brush to draw the sides of every part of the body. It's a very important exercise—experienced artists do it in their minds, and that's your goal, too. Take your time and do it carefully—it's a base for everything! It may look hard, but use this method: imagine you're sticking stiff sheets of cardboard to a 3D figure.
If you need help with understanding perspective, check out these two tutorials:
Create a New Layer under the mesh. Pick the sides that are perpendicular (or close) to your light source. Paint them with white.
Use light gray (for example, 85% brightness) to paint other well illuminated areas.
Use 65% bright gray to bring the light to other moderately illuminated areas.
Create a New Layer under the previous one and fill it (G) with 30% bright gray. This is our shadow.
Use 40% gray to paint the areas that seem too dark and contrasting near their bright neighbors.
If you hide the line art for a moment and squint your eyes, you should see a pretty well defined form!
Turn off the mesh layer. Merge (Control-E) all the lighting layers. Now you can soften the edges between them by using one of these methods:
- CS5 and higher: use the Mixer Brush Tool with its default settings
- CS4 and lower: use the Smudge Tool or the Blur Tool
Don't use too big strokes. Make the edges softer, but still visible—otherwise you'll lose the form.
Merge the lighting with the line art. Now use the same blending tool to blur the lines slightly, leaving their darkness, but concealing their sharpness.
Use 20% bright gray to get into the smallest crevices. Blur only one side of these lines. This way you'll achieve "line art without line art". Name the layer
Create a New Layer and use the Ellipse Tool (U) in Shape mode to draw a circle. You can easily change the color of the shape by double-clicking its layer. Choose a color for every part, duplicating (Control-J) the circles. By placing the color circles next to each other, you'll have a chance to see how they "work" together. Notice I used shades of blue and its complementary color, orange—sometimes such a combination looks really appealing to eyes.
- Main color of the fur
- Underside of the body
- Nose, claws, other dark elements of the body
- Leather 1
- Fur of the tails on the belt
- Leather 2
Change the Blending Mode of the lighting layer to Multiply, then create a new one under it. Multiply mode "multiplies" its darkness by the color inside it, making it darker. The white areas don't change anything, giving us the original color as a result. Therefore, this mode is great for painting shadows.
Fill the layer with the most widespread color (here, the main fur).
The other "layer of color" is the underside—paint it using a typical round brush with Transfer checked in its Settings, or some other brush you like to use for painting.
Paint the details.
Do the same with the outfit.
There's one problem with this method—apart from the lighting we used and the brightness of color it has produced, colors also have their relative brightness, luminance. For example, green can be brighter than the brightest blue. In our case, we may want to brighten the underside fur, the tails by the belt, the teeth and the eyes.
To do this, create a New Layer above the lighting. Set its Blending Mode to Overlay and paint on it using bright gray—the brighter, the higher the luminance of the color you paint over.
Our design is complete at the moment, and there's no necessity to go any further. The colors are clear, so we could just adjust the contrast and that would be all. However, sometimes you may want to polish the picture, for example for promotional purposes. Let's see what else can be done to make the picture more attractive.
Create a New File and paint a single cluster of hair. It should be dark on the tip and bright on the base. Go to Edit > Define Brush Preset.
Open the Brush window (F5) and set the settings as shown below:
Save the brush and come back to the main file. Create a New Layer and use the brush to paint the fur:
- Use the Eyedropper Tool (I) to pick the color of the area.
- Change its Brightness slightly. Optionally, you can slide the Hue slider in the direction of warm hues, too.
- Paint the fur on the area you picked the color from.
- Move to another area and go back to point 1.
If you get lazy and use too big an area, you'll flatten the lighting and wreck everything you've worked on. Make sure to pick the color as often as possible!
Use this technique to paint all the fur.
We can create a texture for leather, too. Create a New File and draw a chaotic pattern like the one below. Go to Edit > Define Brush Preset.
Change the settings of the brush:
Create a New Layer in the main file and paint the texture on leather elements. Don't pay attention to the edges.
Use the Eraser Tool (E) to clean up the edges.
To check the contrast as objectively as possible, we can use Levels. Open the Adjustments window by finding it in the Window tab, then select Levels. Move the sliders so that the "hill" between them is balanced.
Create a New Layer and paint the shine in the eyes.
On the other side of the eyes, add a vibrant light.
Use a hard brush to draw "wet dots" on shiny materials.
That's all! Combine your picture with the model sheet. It's ready to be sent to the client!
I hope you liked what we did today, and that you'll use your new skills to paint amazing things, both for your clients and your own pleasure. If there's something else you'd like to learn about digital painting, let me know in the comments section!