Step 6 Lighting
I tried so many options for the final scene's light, but in the end, I chose a midday position with back-light effect.
Different variations of lighting the ship
Step 7 Environment
I then started working on the environment.
I created a simple floor to gain perspective and add shadows to the image. I chose a desert theme, which makes matte painting easier as most elements have a similar set of shades and colors. It is also a problem in this sense though, because it can get a little boring.
To counter this, I added hard, more visible details, and a soft fade to the sand. Sand in particular is quite difficult to paint as it can be either a soft or sharp surface, and it's difficult to find that fine balance in the visuals.
Establishing the floor plane in the image
Step 8 Perspective
In this image you can see the basic perspective and composition lines used in the image. White indicates the 3D general space, and soft blue is the Field of View (separate segments of the Z-space in 2D).
The soft brown is a little different than the others - this is a perspective direction guide and guides the viewer's eyes into the scene. It moves across the scene from left to right, and expands out as it moves into the foreground. The Vulture has the direct opposite perspective to this, which causes a cross-field effect for the viewer. It gives the impression of more space. The black lattice is just a guide for the golden ratio composition.
Perspective grids help layout the scene
Step 9 The desert scene
First, I created a flat render with a simple desert texture, than added a ripple effect in Photoshop. I then added darker and harder details to the surface, and sharpened the detail on the surface in the foreground. I also added dry and cracked areas to symbolize the gully, some random footsteps around the vulture's base and a line track that moves off into the distance.
I created distance in the scene using some compact sand layers. This natural staircase breaks the homogeny of sand plain surface.
Finally, I added a few 3D stone renders to the surface, then refined the track of the vulture. This gave it a dirtier, dry and burned sand surface. After that I detailed the foreground with sand stone parts.
Creating the texture for the desert ground