First off, we fill in the layer with a neutral color that would logically be close to the color scheme we have in mind. Creating a color palette is really useful at this stage. We went for a blue and pale pink palette. Blue covers the darker shades of color while a light green and pink is used for the lighter shades.
We start off with a sketch attempting to create a solid composition and mood. The first strokes have to be painted with a large size hard-edged brush as well as a custom airbrush. We create a main light source; in this case it’s coming from the upper left corner.
We don’t have to focus on details now, since at this stage the goal is blocking in the shapes, establishing values and the main composition while we work on achieving the right mood. The main idea is to show the city in morning light, with the sun illuminating the whole scene while the clouds are placed underneath.
We create a basic perspective grid with three vanishing points, since we want to achieve some sort of high point of view as if we were above an object looking down. That’s why we also have to define a high horizon. To create this grid, just use the Line tool and duplicate it many times. Once we have lots of parallel lines with the same distance between them, we transform the layer and distort it in order to achieve perspective. We do this three times, on three different layers and we’ll get the three vanishing points.
At the same time, we have to define two more guides which will help us out with depth and perspective and to establish the main focus (the mothership) and set the spaceships around it. For this guide, we choose the Shape tool and then the Polygon tool from the drawing tools menu. After that, click the arrow from the option bar that opens the polygons options. Choose the number of sides (99), star and indent sides by a percentage of 99%. You will get some sort of circle star.
In order to achieve the second guide, we should use the Circle tool. We create a circle and then go to the layer blending options (double click on the layer), choose stroke from the options list with the custom settings but changing size to 1px and black. We accept and then downgrade layer fill to 0%. This way we’ll get rid of the circle’s color but still preserving the stroke. We duplicate the layer as many times as we want and scale down each circumference size while holding down shift and alt. This way, the circumference reduces size but scaling proportionately and relative to the center point. Finally, we flatten all the circumferences in one layer.
Now we have to transform, scale, distort and deform all guide layers to emulate a realistic perspective. We downgrade the opacity of the guides a bit to keep working on the artwork. From this stage onwards it’s all about adding detail following the grid lines. With the aim of lightening the visual weight, we will place the main mothership on the right and the rest of elements are placed around it. We block in the different spaceships firstly through larger brushstrokes and then smaller ones to define the structure and surface of the spaceships.
We will use the matte painting technique, which consists in mixing painting and stock images. Once we have a painted base, we should look for some stock cloud images to supplement the painted ones. Pick some images, paste them above the painting and transform or distort them in order to achieve the same perspective we have defined. It’s not about taking a cloud image and pasting it as if it were photomanipulation, the key is to supplement the drawing you have already done.