Bingxuan Tan explained how 3D tools help in making concept art, showed how to create digital art that looks like a real painting, and shared a breakdown of one of their works.
My name is Bingxuan Tan. My artwork has won awards in leading industry competitions, including the Creative Quarterly Magazine Illustration competition and the 7th Annual Landscapes Art Exhibition Competition. I am also a two-time winner of the Society of Illustrators achievement award in 2020 ('The Witch') and 2021 ('Fallen'). I have worked on the upcoming Netflix/Legendary animated series Kong: Skull Island at Powerhouse as a background artist and I am currently working on Netflix's original anime Blood of Zeus. Before I found my interest in the entertainment industry, I worked on a successful illustration project for the fashion and professional sport industries as well.
Getting Started with Concept Art
I recognized my passion for drawing when I was a kid but only thought of it as a hobby. I loved to watch Japanese anime and read manga growing up, Berserk and Studio Ghibli's animation had a huge influence on me. As a kid growing up in the 2000s, I witnessed the development of technology and so many great video games being released. My skills have been rewarded with top projects, which allowed me to continue and achieve success for not only the clients I worked for but for myself as well.
3D tools allow the quality of work to rise significantly, and top clients and corporations prefer these methods for their efficiency and effect. Some of the top tools I use are Blender, 3DCoat, and Nomad.
Blender is one of the major tools for concept artists or any 2D production in most studios. Because of its high performance and low cost, I think it is a must-learn software nowadays for a concept artist.
With the help of 3D space, designing a scene or architecture is way faster and easier than drawing it from scratch. Normally, I would build a scene in Blender, then paint over it in Photoshop, and I no longer need to worry about perspective or lighting or guess the scales of my objects, I just need to focus on design. And I can always reuse the assets I built in other projects. It is beneficial if you want to work more efficiently.
I normally only use Quixel Megascans for its impressive library, it has such a large realistic assets collection, it is extremely useful when I'm creating realistic scenes. I would use the rock and terrain assets to quickly block out a scene for a start, it can really boost the speed of my workflow.
Naming your files and putting them in the right folder definitely come first when I'm thinking about efficiency. Usually, when you have a large collection of assets and works, it really saved me a lot of time since I adapted this habit.
When I start a new project, I normally look for kitbashes or model a kitbash myself, this is one popular workflow in the industry. After I gathered enough references, I would start a few loose sketches in Photoshop just exploring the shapes. Then, I'd start modeling my kitbash in Blender. For example, if the project is creating a Victorian city block scene, I would start with modeling individual parts of a building first, like pillars, doors, windows, walls, etc. Every asset created needs to capture the Victorian characteristic. With all the assets I modeled, I could start putting them together, trying out different compositions and playing around with the scale. Just have fun! Explore!
Also, using pre-built models or online model libraries is really time-saving, reusing the assets from the previous project is also good for speeding up the workflow. There are quite a lot of very powerful add-ons I can find online, many of them aren't free, but it's totally worth it.
Here is the design breakdown of my painting "Ancient Entrance":
- Composition exploration. I started with some rough sketches in 2D.
- With the sketch, I blocked out the scene in 3D, a lot of assets I used, such as rocks and terrain, are free assets I found online. I played around with my camera and lighting to find a shot that I felt was what I was aiming for.
- The painting process:
- The final render. After I exported my model's PNG, I went to Photoshop to paint over it. The first thing to do is to separate the value in each layer, to show the depth of the painting. I used some texture-heavy brushes to paint on top of my 3D PNG. Adding detail is way easier in 2D than modeling out the details in 3D. For this painting, I only needed 3D to help me figure out the lighting and composition.
How to Make 3D Paint-Overs More Painterly
I love to make my paint-overs look painterly, I have tried many methods to do it, here are some best tips I think would help someone who wants to achieve the goal of making their digital art more painterly:
- Observing traditional paintings from master painters, not just overall, the brush strokes, the color they use, the opaque painting, the edge control, and so on. Zoom in, have a closer look. You might surprise yourself with all the tiniest details you can find. Study from them and apply what you observed to your work.
- The texture is certainly important, you can find some extremely cool oil brush sets for digital painting on ArtStation. Those brushes can be tricky when you first use them but take some time to get used to. I forced myself to finish a couple of paintings by using the most difficult brushes from the set, it is nice to step out of your normal brushes and try something new, the result might surprise you as well. Using those brushes to paint over your 3D scene can really help bring out the traditional look.
- Brush strokes overlapping. This is the biggest part of the traditional look, I think. When you try to make your digital project look like a traditional painting, you have to think like a traditional painter and treat your canvas like a real one. I would separate the value and color-group each layer first, with all the adjustments being made, copy and paste these layers, then merge them all. Now, take a closer look at your edges, are they looking too sharp? Start blending the edge a little, be creative, paint over it without thinking about making mistakes. If there are mistakes, just paint on top of them, like an oil painter would do.
- Then, the rest of it is just rendering really, playing around with different brushes and colors, and making some interesting edges. I love to use a Mixer brush to break the edges a little when I'm finishing a piece.
For these two pieces down below, I used a Mixer brush when I was finishing the painting to break the edges. I normally would like to use a Mixer brush in the background to push the atmospheric perspective a little further.
Advice to Beginner Concept Artists
I think I would definitely tell the younger me to prioritize one specific subject matter, like the environment only or the character only. I think this way, I could focus on getting better at one thing first, then worry about the others.
Art fundamentals are important for sure, perspective is the hardest but most important skill to have. I would also tell the younger me to start learning 3D earlier, most of the Concept Artist jobs out there require at least some 3D knowledge. Besides that, 3D can boost your work speed and efficiency. With 3D, you can focus less on the drawing and more on actually designing.