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The Aztecs were a group of people in central Mexico who were prominent between the 14th and 16th centuries. Their civilisation accomplished some great artistic and architectural achievements, and their history demonstrated some rich traditions. Perhaps one of their most commonly know traditions is that of human sacrifice, which can be seen illustrated in manuscripts from the time. In terms of finding reference material there are obviously no photographs from the period and so you can only rely on painted manuscripts and costume recreations. For the purposes of this tutorial I thought it would be interesting to create a semi- realistic character that was part based on actual records and manuscripts, and combine this with an imaginary element.
Due to the colorful nature of Aztec culture and society, together with the area that they once inhabited, I decided straight away that I wanted this painting to have a rich palette with lots of saturated colors. From looking at various reference images I got the impression of elaborate, exuberant costumes and beautiful, decorative jewellery. These were most likely used for ceremonial purposes; however I liked the idea of adorning my warrior in something similar to make him look more interesting. I therefore imagined a warrior who may be dressed up slightly for some form of ritual or ceremony.
The first stage was to fill in the background with some vivid greens and a suggestion of some jungle foliage and ground. Fig.01 shows the initial block in using some textured custom brushes.
The brush I used to create the leaf shapes can be seen in Fig.02, which has some scattering and uses a Dual brush. The other brush I used can be seen in Fig.03. At this stage it was just a case of getting rid of the bland white background and providing a base to work on.
As this background would be on a separate layer to the character it didn't matter too much if it remained vague at this stage as it could always be modified throughout the painting process.
With the backdrop roughed in I started blocking in the warrior (Fig.04). I filled in most of the body in a single color which would be the mid-tone. Upon this base color I could work in the shadows and highlights.
Building the Detail
Fig.05 shows the next stage in the process which now incorporated a third layer where I began to add some clothing and accessories. If you were working in the games industry it would be a good practice to separate your painting into layers in case you are asked to change anything. Having the clothing on a different layer to the character means it can be modified with ease. Your art director may require changes to the costume and so splitting up elements can save a lot of time and headaches.
I roughed in a feathered headdress, which is something that seemed prominent in much of the Aztec art I found and was an aspect I wanted to include. I also started to develop the features of the face a little more with the light source being somewhere to the left of the picture frame.
Using a textured Chalk brush I started to build the anatomy (Fig.06). I also moved the character slightly up and to the right on the canvas as he looked a little squashed.