advanced photoshop

How I Made: Sky Train

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General, by Rebecca Greig

Freelance artist Lincoln Renall tells us how he combined 3D models and digital painting to create this evocative scene

How I Made: Sky TrainAfter working on projects ranging from pre-visualisation art for games and film through to advanced matte painting, New Zealand-based freelance artist Lincoln Renall faced a new challenge when asked to create this image.

Designed for an independent collective of Australian filmmakers for their indie feature-animated film, Sky Train, the visual goal for the work was to combine two seemingly very different elements: painterly concept design and photorealism. “I have a passion for environmental design in particular, and strive to get a sense of visual depth and storytelling into a painting,” Renall explains. “Key to this was that it was designed for a double-page spread, so needed to avoid having too much in the centre where the staples would go. I decided to try and make the train’s front a focal area, then lead the eye into the distance by using the track itself as a visual guide.”

  • Desaturation: Add the feeling of depth to an image by desaturating anything in the distance via a masked adjustment layer. Also, add atmospheric haze with low-opacity layers and a soft, scattered brush.
  • 3D elements: Crude 3D models were created in SketchUp and rendered out as separate layers. The train base, then track, and some background buildings were mocked up and saved as separate images.
  • Adding motion: Add a sense of motion by painting small, scattered sparks, then apply a Radial or Gaussian Blur filter. Duplicate that layer again and set to Color Dodge to get areas of intensity in the sparks.
  • Colour correction: The greyscale image was colourised with some low-opacity Color layers, as well as some adjustment layers (Hue/Saturation).
  • Final adjustments: Near the end of the piece I always flip the image horizontally a few times and adjust anything that still feels wrong to the eye. I then added some Brightness adjustments and an Unsharp Mask to define the clarity of the overall image
  • Refining focal points: Focal areas such as the train front and character were painted in more detail. Some Color Dodge gradients and masks were also applied to give these areas a little more contrast and visual punch.