I have a love affair with Victorian architecture. I live in the UK where we have many Dickensian towns such as York, Chester, Cambridge, Lincoln and many parts of London. If you visit at the right time of day and the right time of year it can send you back in time and that's what I wanted to capture in this image.
I also have a love of scale and "monolithia" (huge towering structures). So this isn't just a period piece as such, but actually combines science fiction fantasy elements (although not futuristic, perhaps steampunk).
When I start a portfolio piece that I want to really shine, I'll spare no expense when it comes to the preparatory work. This involves two main parts: inspiration and research. The former involves finding the kinds of similar paintings that inspire me, which perhaps exceed my abilities but I could use to progress my skill level, and the latter is just photographic research so I know exactly what I'm building.
My inspiration for this image mainly came from concept artist, Thomas Pringle, who worked on Bioshock 2. His style is about as messy and gritty as concept art gets and is among my favorite digital art styles.
Research came from going through my own photo and texture collections, and doing a few Google image searches.
Here is an example of just a portion of the images collected for research. Again I want to emphasize how thorough the research period needs to be. I could spend a whole day just on this phase (Fig.01).
It's usually good to sketch this sort of thing out on paper or in Photoshop and I tried, but because there's such a rigid geometric basis for the image (it's a grid; it's architecture and therefore full of boxes) I found it best to compose within 3ds Max using boxes rather than spend ages drawing grids and buildings in perspective.
In Fig.02 you can see the development of my initial concept in terms of composition and form. At first I was using V-Ray fog for my atmospheric depth, but the fastest possible test renders were taking half an hour. Not good. You really must be able to work as fast as possible at this critical stage. So I turned off V-ray fog and instead took my renders into Photoshop and played with them to get a rough idea of what a final shot might look like (by painting atmosphere and creating some basic adjustment layers). As you can see, the composition got stronger. The eye is lead through the street and up into the towers. However, the composition was still yet to be fully finalized.