Here are four rough, three-tone thumbnails to start with. Because this is a vehicle concept, it’s important to start with a shape and a composition that appeals from the beginning and these limited tone sketches are perfect. ‘B’ seems to be the most dynamic out of these. We like the angle and it looks like as if the ship is foreshortened a bit as well. The diagonal lines also help you feel the movement in the scene.
Let’s start designing the vehicle. Think about what materials this vehicle is made out of, who and what this vehicle is for and, most importantly, what this vehicle looks like. Knowing that this is a steampunk style, we expect this vehicle is mostly made out of metal (eg. gold and silver) and perhaps uses a complex system of tubes and compressed air to power the vehicle, instead of large balloons. We know it’s very fictional, but that’s the fun about concepts. We lay in big strokes to come up with some larger shapes/forms until we have a rough design of the vehicle.
We know the shape of this vehicle is dominating the composition. The colour also should make the vehicle pop out of the overall image. We introduce some soft colours to get the overall mood. Here, we’re setting the scene in the late afternoon; it’s not all orange or all blue. Having both colours with light in the back, we’re going to make the vehicle the darkest object in the scene with multiple reflective lights from the surroundings.
To make our vehicle really pop, we’re making it look pretty dark for now. This also sets in the vehicle nicely with the type of the lighting and the time of the day. We also start to lay in some basic information for the background. It’s nice to come up with simple background so all the focus will be on the vehicle. We want to give just enough information to establish where this scene is taking place.
Now that we have set the overall colour palette we can explore more colour variation for our vehicle. We can also introduce some photo stock to give us some rough textures to bring the vehicle to life. Bring in a picture that contains materials, designs and shapes you like, heavily blur it, then create a layer mask of the vehicle. Set this mask to Soft Light blending mode and decrease the opacity a little; this gives a good mix of colours/textures. Although the main shade of this vehicle is brown, we bring in blues, purples and pinks early to emulate reflected light from the surroundings.
Now that we approximately know how the vehicle looks, we can start refining the major shapes. The front of this vehicle is the main focal point, though the side is just as important. We immediately sharpen out the shape of the vehicle’s front and introduce the gold part early to see how it works with other materials. We’ve brought out highlights on the gold elements to introduce a light direction/source for the rest of the scene.
What’s the most important part of any vehicle? It’s the engine, of course! To really get into the spirit of steampunk, we have to show some detailed mechanical parts. Because we’re only revealing a small ‘taster’ of the engine, we don’t have to include every part that’s required for it to function – just enough to fire up the viewer’s imagination and to make the vehicle believable. Here, we’re using some photos to begin the basic look. When bringing in photos, we try them in different layer modes to see what works the best. Again, lowering the opacity helps, then carefully paint over to blend in or create a new look.
Use of photo stock gives us a tremendous advantage when it comes to making things look realistic. Besides the Undo tool and adjustments layers, this is probably the next greatest benefit in digital painting. However, we should be careful not to depend on them all the time. Using Overlay and Soft Light blending modes, we’re using the photos to give us nice rusty metal textures on the side panels and the big round vent. Don’t forget to blend with paint and the Brush tool.
As we begin to see the overall concept come together, we continue to fill in the space with details. Leather is a very familiar material to be seen in steampunk art and it’s a perfect material for our seats here. We want an aged leather look since the rest of the materials look very aged, so make sure there’s no strong highlights.