photoshop creative

10 Sci-fi secrets

Posted in:
Tips & Tutorials, by Mark White
October 20, 2015

For out-of-this-world artwork, keep a few pointers in mind…


1. Plan and practice

When you’re creating sci-fi, it can be fantastical but it must also be believable. Work out the details of your world and its people and draw, paint or photomanipulate them over and over again until you’re clear about every little detail. Working out where the engines need to go on a rocket makes the difference between it being a believable spaceship or not.

2. Look to the stars

When designing another world, research planets and exoplanets to discover some cool ideas about what it will look like. Is it a rocky Super Earth or a garden world? What kind of star does it have as a sun and how does this affect the colour of the light and the sky? Are there several moons, or a companion planet visible? Comp together some photos to give you a clearer idea of what the place looks like.

3. Use colour carefully

Colour will give the viewer an instant impression of what the world you’ve created is like. You can try out different colour schemes using adjustment layers and see how this transforms your scene. Blacks, greys, blues and violets and good for dark, stormy places. Greens suggest a lush planet. Oranges and yellows make your scene look dry and dusty.

4. Add detail to people

Whether human or alien, characters are people and that means that the viewer needs to be able to identify with them them. Give characters a backstory in the form of uniforms, decals or objects that are obviously meaningful to them. That way, no matter how alien they are, the viewer can still understand them. This makes your sci-fi scene feel more real.

5. Simple sleek shapes

Sci-fi vehicle design is one area where you can really let your imagination run riot. The only thing that you need to be mindful of is whether a vehicle looks like it could physically do the job that’s required of it. Sleek shapes are useful for suggesting advanced technology and they’re simple to create using selections, custom shapes or the ever-handy Pen tool.


6. Techno advances

The trick to creating believable advanced technology is to start with our own and modify it to look futuristic. For futuristic computers, select imaegs of screens, graphics and icons and use layers, layer styles and blend modes to make them hover as if they were holographic projections.

7. Back to the future

Not all sci-fi has to be futuristic. It can explore alternative ways to look at old technology and image how it would have evolved, which is what steampunk does. To create steampunk gadgets, build up a photo collections of cogs, valves, dials and brass textures. Use them in your artwork to add touches of steampunk style to costumes, scenes and equipment, or to build fantastic background contraptions a Heath Robinson/Rube Goldberg feel.

8. These are the droids you’re looking for

Robots come in all shapes and sizes, from human-like androids to giant ‘mecha’ exoskeletons and cute little Wall-E style characters. To give all kinds of robots the appearance of sentience, it’s vital to include human-like features that suggest facial expression. You can adapt these from a photo, or use custom shapes to create dials, lights and buttons that can be arranged into face-like configurations.

9. After Earth

Sci-fi doesn’t have to be set on other worlds. You can portray to the viewer that your image is set is Earth’s future by showing familiar objects, landmarks and scenes as if they were ancient relics. Use a foliage brush to cover a well-known cityscape in overgrown plants, making it look like the remnants of a lost civilisation.

10. Alien creatures

When it comes to designing aliens and creatures, you need to think about how they have evolved in the context of the scene that you’re putting them into. Think about what kind of life those environments support in the real world and then exaggerate it. So if you have a dry, arid world world, investigate the reptiles who are adept at surviving in such harsh conditions when it comes to populating it.