Sunday, May 3, 2009

Conceptualizing Creatures with Silhouette Studies

I wasn’t thrilled with the last model I made, which I felt was seriously lacking the “wow” factor. The problem isn’t so much in the execution but in the design. My approach is to do a hasty sketch that I will wind up changing on the fly as I construct my mesh. It therefore comes as no surprise that my designs are hit-and-miss, more of the latter than the former. When I started creating a high-poly mesh for the lovely creature shown on the right, it wasn’t long before I stopped what I was doing and said to myself, “This isn’t working.”

Disheartened, I did a few deep breaths and cleared my mind, concentrating my energies on the mystical reservoir of wisdom known as Google. I soon discovered a cool technique that professional concept artists use to design creatures – silhouette studies. From what I gathered, the idea is to draw a silhouette of a creature then to fill in the negative spaces with white to flesh it out. One can come up with different designs from a single silhouette if desired.

I can see how this is a useful technique. The silhouette alone should look interesting. If it isn’t, filling in the details will probably result in an unexciting design. When a player sees a creature from afar, its details will blur into each other, and the player will perceive the creature as little more than a silhouette. One of the artist’s challenges is to try to make the silhouette look awesome.

I decided to give this method a try. I created a 512 × 512 blank image in Photoshop and painted a silhouette over it. I zoomed out to about 25% of the picture’s size so I could focus on the general look without being bogged with the details. Afterward, I zoomed in to full view and refined the silhouette further. The technique is deceptively simple, but I found that coming up with a good silhouette isn’t easy. The first few drawings I made were so bad that I didn’t bother saving them in the computer. Eventually, I came up with something that is similar to the sketch shown at the beginning of this blog post. The main difference is that the silhouette shows much more promise.

Having painted a silhouette that I liked, I laid a transparent layer on top of it and painted over it with white. As I progressed, I added shades of gray. The end result doesn’t look as polished as my original pencil sketch, but I felt that the design is better by a mile. I’ve already started constructing a high-poly mesh based on this new picture, and I really like the results so far. I’ll show a screenshot or two of the model in my next blog post.

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