Moody Sci-fi Environment Creation
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Moody Sci-fi Environment Creation
22 April, 2016

David Tilton presented detailed step-by-step plan of creating moody sci-fi environment using both 2d and 3d. This scene was built with Keyshot, 3D Coat and Photoshop.

Moody Sci-fi Environment Creation


Hello, my name is David Tilton and I will be showing you how I created my image “Mercy”.

I feel that it is important to lock down a workflow that is efficient and that fits you. In this breakdown, I will be showing you my workflow, on how to create a moody sci-fi environment using both 2d and 3d. I hope you learn something from this process! Let’s start!

The Beginning

In this first step, I spent quite a bit of time creating 3d models to have a good base for my image, starting by modelling the characters, and deciding what environment I want them in. In this case, I’ve gone with a lava field environment, which is something I’ve been interested in for awhile.

To create my 3d block-in I used 3D Coat to model and Keyshot to render, but you can interchange most 3d software for whatever you are more comfortable with or would like to experiment with.

Moody Sci-fi Environment Creation Using Both 2 and 3d


Following that I begin by extending my canvas a bit to give the image a bit more breathing room, I thought it was a bit cramped before that; thought the render was a good base.

I continue by adjusting the contrast of the image, and trying to think of what I want my focal points to be, which I decide to be the closest soldier.

Moody Sci-fi Environment Creation


Once I’ve figured out what my final composition is and where I want the viewer to look, I begin to push the things that aren’t as important back, using fog, while preserving the values. I usually don’t like the idea of concept fog in images but for this piece, I think it works, since it gets across the fog of war feeling.

Remember to always to watch your values when working, it’s very important. It is very easy to lose focus of this if you are not paying attention and get a blobby looking image due to inconsistent values. I believe that having a good value structure helps make a successful image.

Moody Sci-fi Environment Creation

Pushing the Composition

Once I’ve figured out my value scale and what things should feel like, I start placing in photo textures to try and up the fidelity of the image. When doing this, I try to stay as conscious as possible of the composition and how these photos can help reinforce this.

I make sure to have a lot of shapes pointing in the direction of my main focal point

In this case, I make sure to have a lot of shapes pointing in the direction of my main focal point, the solider running up the slope.

Moody Sci-fi Environment Creation

Colour Grade

Once I’ve established the composition, and lighting I want in it I begin colour grading the painting. This establishes the mood that I want in the image and helps push the feeling of the painting.

Doing this helps take a lot of guess work out of what colour I will need to make a certain part of the canvas, it also helps create a good base to paint on top of once I begin that step. I also add some fire effects.

Moody Sci-fi Environment Creation

Paint over

Finally now that I’ve a good base, which has pretty much established my mood composition and lighting, I begin to paint. Painting adds a more personal feel to something that was rather dry beforehand.

When painting I try to focus on my focal point and have that have the most detail and try to simplify everything else to the point where it doesn’t pull to much attention. I also try to push the contrast that much more, really trying to separate foreground, midground and background by pushing the background into some more green fog, creating less contrast.

Lastly, I add some smoke blowing in the wind, and film grain to help push the cinematic look that much more.

Moody Sci-fi Environment Creation

David Tilton at The Rookies





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