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Mike Luard explained how he creates concept art with the help of 2d and 3d tools.
My name’s Mike, I’m 28 years old and currently work as a CGI artist in the architectural visualization field. Whilst my career is now focused on CGI work this is only a recent development. The original plan was to become an architect but after getting a Masters degree from Brighton University and then working in a practice for a few years it was pretty clear that the job wasn’t for me. So, I started to figure out an escape plan! The first step was to slip out into the architectural visualization industry and work as a CGI artist. Currently I’m still working in this field but using any free time to work on a concept art portfolio. Almost all of my concept work consists of personal pieces with the exception of taking on a few freelance design jobs for independent film designers over in Los Angeles. It takes time to switch careers but I’ll get there eventually.
Concept Art Creation
This might sound very obvious but the first step when creating a concept piece is simply to start. I remove distractions and take the first step, which for me is usually the process of scribbling a few ideas down in a sketchbook. Hopefully, quite a few of these ideas are cohesive and can be mixed together into a final product. It’s very difficult to edit your own work but if an idea isn’t working then remove it, it can always be used in another project later on. After sketching out some ideas I might digitally thumbnail them. Many of these get taken into final paintings.
A good concept art piece can quite easily be themed around a single clear idea and then advanced by adjusting certain aspects. For example, this creature design is conceptually simple – a malnourished creature with pale skin and insect like wings. By simply adjusting the arms, head and by adding a tail we managed to arrive at something that is visually intriguing without being ‘over-concepted’.
This environment piece suggests two tired travelers journeying through a forest, they walk into a clearing and see this rather mysterious creature passively watching them. The strength of this concept is that it suggests a narrative rather than explaining in detail what is happening. In other words, it’s up to the viewer to partially imagine what is going on.
I think it’s worth mentioning that the final product is usually going to be a 2D image and when the project is done it doesn’t matter what tools have been used. It’s therefore critical that I don’t spend more time than necessary on the 3D elements; if something can be pulled off in Photoshop then that will save time and is worth doing. One example of this is when texturing an object. I’ll often work on the base texture (stone for example) but forget the ‘dirt pass’ as this can be added onto the final render in Photoshop. Usually this is achieved by painting with a dappled brush on an overlay or multiply layer. Recently I’ve been using Quixel Suite 2 to texture 3D objects, I’d highly recommend that piece of software!
The first step in translating the sketch to 3D was to start small and create a very simple building.
I would then begin to take this style and create a larger district.
Eventually I started to work on the ‘hero buildings’. These pieces of architecture need to both relate to the generic buildings and yet also be individual. It took a while but I over a month or so I had assembled a group of usable assets. Finally, the whole scene can be approached. Starting with the main building (Tower of Babel) the environment was slowly pieced together. The generic buildings were placed first and then the hero buildings to add interest. When all the architecture was in place I began to finalize the textures, materials and useful render elements. During this whole process I thought about various functional aspects of this city, I planned out transport paths for the flying ships and placed little hanger bays around the site. Often the difficulty with handling a complex concept is that it becomes overwhelming. I found that by starting small (with a single building), then enlarging that idea to a district and only then adding the hero buildings, did it then become manageable.
I modeled the Taiidan Destroyer taking reference from a single pen sketch within the Art Of Homeworld book (which I highly recommend by the way). This was actually a design exercise for me, what I didn’t want to do was source multiple references and model the ship accurately but rather work on my own alternative version. The workflow used was quite ordinary, just using standard poly modeling techniques in 3ds Max. I don’t think a single turbosmooth modifier was applied, the ship mostly consists of boxes, cylinders and pipes. It’s quite basic actually.
Having modeled and UV unwrapped the ship I began to texture in Photoshop. It’s very easy to be uniform with the amount of complex detail but what I tried to do was group parts into areas of simplicity and complexity. The large yellow areas are quite simple and the grey areas are mostly complex.
Presenting the Image
It’s vital that a designer follows a client’s brief. Often there’s a clear idea and it needs to be followed by the artist. At the beginning it’s best to present a few ideas in sketch form and see what they like. Although it’s important to be emotionally invested in a product try to present the ideas without getting overly attached. The client might like the ‘worst’ concept and you’ll be forced to ditch the one’s you think are successful. It’s best to work quickly, presenting simple clear ideas that are not technically beautiful but instead communicate a variation of ideas.
As much as possible try to ask yourself “does this interest me?”. If you are bored by the work you are producing then it’s unlikely someone else will get excited. Unfortunately, there aren’t really any magical secrets to concept design – learn (and continue learning) art fundamentals and then start applying your ability to ideas, that’s it. Just make sure you are consuming interesting ideas from around the world, read books, study history, travel… whatever it takes to learn something fascinating. If art is supposed to imitate life, and you want to produce decent art, then you need to have an interesting take on life.