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3D Concept Art Workflow

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Date Added: 5th October 2015
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Industry Concept Artist Ahmed El Johani shows us how he made the atmospheric Abandoned using MODO


In this tutorial I will talk about the workflow I use daily when creating concept art for video games and movies. It is a popular workflow because of its efficiency and speed. This tutorial will show you how you can take a basic 3D asset and put it into an environment, then create a beauty shot that inspires the rest of the team and helps visualizing the look for the final game.

The Subject Matter

Here we have our 3D mesh that we want to sell in the shot, this was modeled in MODO. Starting with basic primitive shapes and slowly adding more complexity to it, you can use any 3D software you are comfortable with.

A screenshot from the 3D view port in Modo

Finding a Good Starting Point

In a production environment, time is a very valuable commodity; therefore, being a concept artist means that what you create is never the final piece, there are endless iterations and experiments. This means you can't afford to do everything from scratch without sacrificing the quality, so the smart thing to do is to spend some time looking for a good starting point. Things I like to keep in mind while looking for photos are the resolution and the lighting; good exposure is key to beautiful natural lighting, you don't want the lights to be too blown out or the darks to be too dark.

Plate image

Matching the Camera and the Lighting

Here I'm matching the camera to the horizon line. I also match the lighting, which isn't too difficult because the backdrop photo has neutral lighting, there is no direct sunlight, just soft lighting coming from the sky. This gives us more freedom to decide where the sunlight goes; you can have the backdrop in MODO by selecting (Front Projection) as the projection type.

3D view port with the backdrop image

Final Render

Here's the final render with the lighting, I've use a warm direct light as the sunlight, and a blue solid environment to fill the shadows, and I'm using two basic materials for the mesh. I added couple more structures for a better composition read, having repeating shapes is a good way to sell the scale.

Final Render

Adding details to the structure

Finally in Photoshop, I've used 90% photo textures and 10% opaque painting to add details to the structure. The textures are laid on the panels using transform tools, set the layer mode to something suitable, (Overlay) and (Soft Light) usually give me good results, using the mask, I paint in and out the textures where needed.

Before and after adding the details

Adding the Sunlight

Like I mentioned before, this image has soft lighting coming from the sky, so adding sunlight is easy using levels. There are two parts to adding realistic shadows or light, one is the value and the second is the color. To make it easy break it apart and focus on one at a time, by making the image black and white and matching the value first, after getting the value close enough you can start moving the color sliders to get the color, now you should be able to add sunlight simply by painting the mask in and out?

Levels allow full accurate control of the lights and shadows

Adding Other Elements

Now that we have everything generally sorted, it's time to add other interesting elements to help sell the focal point, as always, start simple and slowly add details to finalize it.

Adding eye candy

A gif of all the elements coming together

Final image

Here is the final image. I hope reading this workflow has helped you to understand the process a concept artist goes through when creating a new piece of work.

The final piece

Related links

To see more of Ahmed's work head over to his website
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