By Lukas Lancko
Hello guys, my name is Lukas and today I’m going to share with you insight of one of my latest artwork “The World Is Bleeding” and share with you some techniques I have used for creation of that artwork. But first of all I’d like to thanx to Ashley & CGArena for giving me the opportunity to share these things with you. I truly believe you will enjoy this “Making of” and you will find out some of tips & tricks handy for you.
For these who could be interested here’s my short background – I was born in 1984 in Slovakia, Europe. I’m completely self-though. I’ve started 4+ years ago when I fell in passion with digital art. At this present I work as a freelancer focused mainly on 2D production and postproduction, matte painting and photo retouching. Also I try to keep moving forward towards new advanced production techniques and area of 3d graphics as well.
Before we start I think I should say that “The World Is Bleeding” is the title of record this artwork was used for as a cover. From this point of view you can understand why sometimes this artwork doesn’t follow all artistic rules, why the perspective & composition – simply it’s a 3 panel album cover artwork, around 4500×1500 px resolution. Ok, here we go.
The brief was clear – I was supposed to create some kind of post apocalyptic environment of destroyed city with the visualization of the “bad guy”, the agent of supreme power who is responsible for all that doom in the center of the focus with several victims all around begging for help.
First of all I did some very rough initial sketches. After approval I’ve started to gathering resources (you can see some below) and inspiration images. Speaking of inspiration images I was looking for action movie screenshots, post apocalyptic matte painting and concept arts and browsed lot the internet actually. Speaking of debris references I’ve to thank to extremely awesome free textures library at 3DTotal website. The man and the victims were shot by photographer on demand.
LAYERING AND STRUCTURE
I reconstructed the artwork main layers structure here from my alpha masks. I use to save them for speeding up your work, better organization and faster selection of particular areas later on. I graded them by grayscale shades just to achieve kinda fake sense of depth just for rough demonstration of image structure.
Ok, here I reconstructed rough initial stages of laying down the rough photo plates. This stage was about quite basics of photo manipulation. This means I spend hours with masking and mixing things together to make everything blend seamlessly. I decided to create whole environment at first and do the final postproduction and color grading at the end.
I ended with this kind of setup where I keep all elements on separate layers, just in case Id need to more, re-arrange or tweak particular parts of image. I duplicated one flatten layer where I could sketch things like chimneys destruction and so on. You can also see the initial posing of model in the center of focus. Ok, but here we go again step by step.
I’ve started with kind of bluish/brown gradient layer which I brighten up later on. I wanted to match the sky tones with the original skies from debris photo plates. I set up the perspective grid as well. I do this just on regular basis and turn it on & off during production.
I started to laying down the sky plates and mix them with the gradient layer. I brighten up gradient layer to make it work better with the blending modes (overlay, screen, multiply, etc.). Again, just classic photo manipulation extension technique. What I did was laying down photo parts and making transition smooth with layer mask and big round basic brush with low opacity. At this stage I used quite a lot clone stamp tool, spot healing brush and over paint particular parts as well. I experimented with blending modes to achieve more detail density here and there. At the end I flatten all sky layers and applied hi-pass filter to make the details pop up and sharpen. Also I duplicate this sharpened layer and proceed fake HDR effect on it, desaturate and set blending mode to overlay with low opacity.
I continued with the city. I picked up great shot of Denver, I believe. This plate took maybe one third of the artwork, so again I masked the buildings with the pen tool, than I cut off few buildings off so I could populate the artwork with them and create new city shape rhythm. Of course, I adjusted the saturation, levels, contrast and so on.
I added couple of FX layers like additional key light created with gradient tool on transparent layer (I added black background only for demonstration) with solid>transparent setting and slightly yellowish color. I added layer mask and masked out part of the city I didn’t want to be affected by this light layer. I set up blending mode for soft light and 90% opacity.
I continued with adding the fog pass. I created group of 3 transparent layers which was made by 3 different brushes (see the details below), gray/slightly bluish color and shape dynamics turned on (via Brush palette). Reason why I put these three layers into group was that I wanted to add group layer mask later to achieve slightly more control over this pass in general.
Next step was compositing of city layer, additional key light layer, fog pass, retouch and paint over and flatten as a separate “paint” layer. I dodged & burned the buildings to make it match more with direction of key light, adjusted saturation, contrast and levels. I duplicated city layer & added hi-pass filter again and set the blending mode to Overlay. I also painted building shapes in far away behind the city. It was about simple rectangle brush and 2-3 color shades I picked up from the skies layer, nothing fancy but it helped a bit to achieve more sense of aerial perspective. I put this layer underneath the city layer and merged everything. Then funny part came. I retouched the buildings and paint over all destroyed parts.
Last pass were crowds of birds. You can do this very easily. Find free photography, desaturate it, adjust the levels to make it almost black & white and set the blending mode to Multiply and 70-80% opacity. Maybe this layer it’s not extremely obvious, but it helps to achieve sense of movement a little bit.
Ok, I had a got initial setup already. I started with the building on the right side. I wanted to rotate the building to support the perspective. It was done by mix of masking, free & distort transform, clone stamp tool and over paint. As I mentioned I spent hours with masking things out. For instance the windows of constructions you can see below. I knew I want to create more depth and environment behind. Also I wanted to add some broken glass there so I went ahead with polygonal lasso & pen tool. I masked out all layers and elements and made everything blend together seamlessly. In this case I found handy mixing of spot healing brush and clone stamp tool with irregular brush with size, angle and roundness jitter turned on Shape dynamics, you can find in Brush palette. Feel free to experiment a lot with it and find out what works for you. Here and there also paint over seams areas if needed and shadows as well.
I continued with the making of windows I’ve masked before. I simply created few solid color layers, lowered opacity and tweaked their final shapes. I was after creating of shattered broken glass. I painted the edges and some cracked areas here and there. When I finished them I flatten all the window glass layers, created and clipped new layer I’ve copy-pasted composite of few concrete textures to add more dirt and texture to the glass. Of course I adjusted this texture layer and played around with the blending modes a bit. Then I boosted brightness here and there in general and at this stages came the saved masks very handy.
Here comes the funny part again. Destruction of the chimneys. You can see below the original state, suggested destruction done via quick paint on layer mask with irregular brush with random settings and the final stage at the right side. So what I’ve done was after suggesting the range of destruction was that I cut the chimney off to separate layer just because on better control purpose. I cloned some chunk for creating the back side of open hole in chimney. I played around with masking, gradient tool which helped me to create the 3d feel of chimneys wall. For the hole edge I used few samples of small brick debris I just squashed and positioned all around. I painted the rest of ladder, steel rods and cracks here and there. I proceeded the other chimneys just like that as well. I also adjusted the overall lighting with the boosting the highlights and shadow areas by creating new layer, loading the chimneys masks and painting with the gradient tool. At the end I set up shadows for Multiply and highlights for Screen and Overlay with the very subtle opacity.
I continued with adding more elements into scene. I added street lamps to support sense of depth. I decided to add cables to the them and to the chimneys as well to achieve more post apocalyptic feel. I had on my mind something in vain of Sven Sauer matte paintings. Ok, so here is the little trick how to do this cable work – pen tool. I simply drew the vector line, adjusted it if needed and then I clicked the right mouse button and choose Stroke path option and the cable was there. Do not forget to set your color, brush size and settings before you do that. I played with slightly different settings to make the cables less uniform and some closer towards the camera than the others.
When I was ok with the environment in general I felt there is still quite noticeable seam between environment itself and city in background. I wanted more randomness into this transition so I decided to add more details here and there. I just sampled the colors from the environment and paint over on separate layer. I know it may vary, but I really like to keep more layers to have control over the structure of artwork. I added some spikes, steel chunks, cables, piles of garbage, trees and so on. Some parts was cloned from the midground areas, resized and just adjusted with levels & saturation.
The artwork still missed more sense of depth. It was quite challenging for me and I knew I have to find some way how to achieve it. I decided to add more atmospheric elements into artwork and to grade the environment elements with additional fog. Nothing fancy again, I just painted it again and masked areas which should be closer to camera or where should the fog stop like the wall below. I supported the depth illusion with adjusting the levels. For better preview of the levels I use the classic technique I’ve learned from one of great Feng Zhu’s videos. It’s about one solid black layer on the top of everything which blending mode is set to Saturation. When you turn this layer on you will get grayscale artwork and can check the value reading easily. As I said the sense of depth was a big challenge for me and this little trick helped me out quite well.
When I was completely done with the environment setup, blending, retouch, details and so on, I backed up my source group and continued with single flatten layer. I created few more passes to achieve more control over the highlights and shadows. I boosted the darker values with the subtle vignette pass and second pass based on channel masks with Multiply blending mode. I also boosted the shadows and contrast with the additional shadows pass I gained from one of channels with adjusted levels. For the highlights I just duplicated the whole environment layer, turn the saturation to zero, cranked down the whites in Levels and in case of color dodge pass I used Gaussian blur filter. I wanted to add more texture and dirt to the environment in general so I created again the grayscale concrete texture layer with very low opacity and Overlay blending mode. I played with the values of texture a bit because I didn’t want to shift the values. At the end I sharpened whole thing with the hi-pass filter with very low settings.
After this stage I was ready to go for post apocalyptic mood and make over from the let-say daylight scene to dark greenish Fallout like mood. I used a tons of adjustment layers like Brightness, Levels, Exposure, Hue/Saturation for decreasing the higher values. I wanted to make the colors more uniform so I used a lot Photo Filter, Solid color with blending mode set to Color and Gradient maps. Keep in mind be gentle with the Opacity. At the end I wanted to add more dark values so I add the vignette again as a Levels layer mask. To be honest now I think that would be much more clever to start with this mood from the beginning. It means I had to experiment a lot, I had to decrease the strong key light, keep eye on the details because I didn’t wanted to lose them, played around with new the another color dodge & screen layers to make sure I’m keeping the artwork balanced and so on. I also dodged & burned the whole artwork by simply creating the new layer and filled it with 50% grey color and set the blending mode for Opacity. This causes nothing in case its 50% grey, but every lighter or darker value affects the look of artwork beneath. Another classic technique I use a lot to enhance my artworks. So I’ve painted with black & white color with the classic brush and low opacity and it helped me out to support the areas like the broken glass, chimney highlights and so on. At the end I punched the city & skies even more back with decreasing the dark values by another additional Levels adjustment.
Ok, here comes the man. At first I adjusted the basic settings in Camera Raw and then masked him out with the Pen tool because of the complex background and Channels didn’t work for me well in that case. Of course you can use any masking technique you are conformable with. I repeated that with multiple photography I cut out the hands and stuff from. I added slightly dark brown shadow layer behind the whole setup and set the blending mode to Multiply to make it all pop out a little bit. I continued with adjusting the values with Brightness/Contrast and Levels adjusting layers. Then I adjusted the color tones with Color balance, Photo filter and Gradient map layers and also Solid color set blending mode to Color and low opacity to match the man with the rest of initial setup and balance all the other model elements as well.
So I’ve got the man setup done. Now was the time for the retouching. I added few elements here and there, for instance small flag to underline some government connection. I used Liquify filter for adjusting the overall body shape a little bit and also shrinking the nose later on. I flattened whole set and continued with building up my compositing stack and retouching. I duplicated the layer and proceeded fake HDR effect on it, adjusted saturation and levels, lowered the opacity for 35% and set the blending mode for Multiply to support shadows. I duplicated the fake HDR layer, desaturated it, decreased the darks with Levels and set up for Overlay. I duplicated it all, flatten, played around with the levels, sharpening to make pop the highlights up back again and lower opacity for 25%. Repeated similar process but I was after shadows again. It gave me more cool and contrast tones. At this stage it’s about subtle changes step by step, be patient, be gentle.
I continued with color correction because I wanted more greenish tones to match the set with the environment and lowering the saturation. I created color dodge pass for bringing more details of the suit. Also I painted some additional shadows here and there on the main model and on the hands as well. Then I painted a several layers of bruises, wounds and blood splatters and set them for Overlay and Multiply and played around with the opacity until I was satisfied with the result. I created new layer and painted the some highlights to pop up the burnt skin of victims hands. I boosted details here and there, for instance the girls hair bottom right.
I wanted to boost the man’s suite more. From the beginning I knew I want to make his clothes really dirty, because of day after effect. I also wanted to pop up that suit stripes. So I played with new dodge and burnt layer around. Also I created new layer, filled it with black and set up for Color dodge blending mode and then painted with white color with low opacity again. This helped me to add rim light and pop up the cloth winkles and so on. I continued with several layers of cloth dirt. I painted them with custom brushes and yellowish color.
When I was done with the model set I decided to add barb wire at the end. I’ve got these from friend of mine Colin Marks (Rain Song Design) a very cool digital artist. He shot them somewhere in UK I believe and was really kind to help me out. I wanted to add this element for supporting the war apocalypse kind of feeling. I also made another new layer for the shadow behind the man and at the very end I color corrected it as a whole again with the Hue/Saturation, Brightness/Contrast and Levels adjustment layers to make it match the color tones even better with the rest of the artwork.
As long I was dealing with an CD artwork I needed to bring the main focus in the middle of composition and even I was aware of my next step doesn’t exist in the real world I decided to separate the man more from the background by adding another light source directly behind the man. I added some kind of the halo glow effect as well. I decided to add the smoke too. I wanted to make him really evil, like the unstoppable, coldblooded machine walking through the war field. I just cut out few smoke stocks and placed them over his shoulders, adjusted, flatten and set the blending mode for Screen and the man set was done.
At the very end I did few last FX passes. I experimented with the bloom effect, but I really like my details sharp, so I applied this kind of effect only on skies just a bit. I duplicated the skies layer, applied Gaussian blur filter and lowered the opacity a lot. If you go high enough you can get the dreamy fantasy soft haze effect and that was not what I’m was after. I repeated this process with color dodge pass for some areas of the skies. I flatten whole artwork and created the very last and subtle dodge and burn pass. Then I duplicated the whole artwork few times again for the final but subtle hi-pass sharpening. At the very very end I created solid black layer and applied Add noise filter, monochromatic option checked. Then I played with the Levels, Sharpen and Blur until I was satisfied with this Gain pass. I set the blending mode for Screen and lowered the opacity. This gave me a nice film grain effect.
Ok, I would like to thank to everyone who bear with me until end of this Making of. I know it was quite a long journey, but on the other hand you can see it contained a lot of pretty basic stuff. I hope you found some cool tips and tricks. For those we were looking for step by step manual I can say that the key is to be patient and to be really gentle to your artwork and the result will pop up. Do what you do, experiment a lot, learn stuff and don’t give it up. Unfortunately there is no shortcut. If you know some feel free to email it to me, just kidding.
Yeah, I can see some areas I could improve. But anyway I did my best and I hope you enjoyed this Making of. Feel free to give me some feedback or to check out more of my artworks on my website. www.isisdesignstudio.com