Digital painter Andy Walsh talks about creating mood and avoiding detail in this piece
Before I start I spend a lot of time gathering reference. For this piece I wanted to move away from using 3D models (which I had been using previously) and go for a more loose and painterly finish. I found a royalty-free image to base the composition on.
I used a combination of Levels adjustments, Desaturation and also a Smart Blur to get the feel of the buildings down into a narrow muddy value range. We don’t want detail (or people) to stand out at this stage and distract our eye. I also painted loosely over the top to further simplify and further reduce contrast. I added a new road that has more texture and some puddles to give a damp feel.
When you’re putting other architectural pieces into your image, they don’t have to fit your perspective perfectly, you can get away with quite a lot of distorting and skewing to force them to conform to your perspective grid. I always place vanishing points in a piece like this so that any additional images I add will adhere to a consistent perspective.
I added three adjustment layers on top of the piece; a Levels just to further reduce contrast, a layer filled with blue and set to Hard Light and a Hue/Saturation adjustment just to take down the overall saturation. I stretched the mansion quite considerably and the result was that it looked really spiky and gothic. The light in the doorway was just an experiment to see how warm light could affect the scene.
I started to ‘destroy’ the photos to make way for the painterly finish. It’s important to not rely too much on the photographic base when you want to make a digital painting, especially where architecture is concerned. For atmosphere, I added dense smoke and fog using custom brushes and some distant lights. The addition of chimneys adds a reason for the smoke as well as nice silhouettes.
I found an image of an old house and placed it on the corner. The perspective was totally out so I had to hack it up and skew the front face and the side face separately, then paint over the left-over holes and gaps. Then I started to add paint to the rest of the street so I could add the details back in a more painterly fashion.
This stage was all about painting in the details by hand and being careful about where the eye is getting drawn. It’s often about experimenting, putting something in, stepping back, seeing if it works. In Step 6 things looked messy but here, the overall direction of verticals and perspective lines are reinforced to add a bit more order.
I brought the street to life with lights and people. It’s a good idea to make them seem like they’re not just placed in, but are part of some kind of motion or mini story. It may not be apparent at first, but there’s a guy looking up at the candle-lit lady on the balcony, and the running figure to help pull us through the street. Finally I adjusted the contrast of the overall image and added a layer of noise just to make it look a little grainy and film-like.