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For Freelance Concept Artist Pedro De Elizalde, references are a key part of every environment concept design project. Using some photos for inspiration, Pedro created a stunning Bhutan Fortress with incredible details and mood. Check out how he did it, including:

  1. Initial Sketches
  2. References
  3. Black & White Sketches
  4. Color Sketches
  5. Design Details
  6. 3D Models
  7. Final Piece

Hi! My name is Pedro De Elizalde and I was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I’ve been in the game industry for around seven years. My first “serious drawing step” was when I was 13 years old and I enrolled in two drawing courses (traditional 2D animation and Cartoon style drawing). After that, I just continued drawing for fun…until I bought my first tablet in 2013. I started with children’s books, covers, characters, film posters, basic environments and slowly got into the big stuff! Now I am working at Moonton company in Shenzhen, China.

1. Initial Sketches

I remember during the course Environment Concept Design, the instructor, Aaron Limonick, asked us to make some exploration sketches. Then, we’d have to choose one sketch to develop for the final assignment.

At that moment, I didn’t look for many references because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at the end. So I sketched three very different themes: alien landscape, sci-fi space, and Asian architecture. Even though these were not going to be the final shapes, it was helpful to explore the directions I could take.

Explore CGMA’s Environment Painting and Design course taught by Ubisoft Montreal Senior Concept Artist Gilles Beloeil and Freelance Concept Artist/Illustrator Axel Sauerwald.

2. References

Once I chose which theme and sketches I preferred, I searched for the reference images. I was always amazed by Asian architecture because there are so many details and a majestic feeling. But I didn’t want to make yet another Chinese castle. There are too many already and I wanted to make something as unique as possible. So I went for Tibetan architecture! Note I have pictures for the castle/temple, but also for the environment.

3. Black & White Sketches

During the course, one of the things Aaron taught us was how to create composition sketches that focused on light and shape in only 30 minutes. Then, you could refine a little more if you think the composition is worthy, like the one on the bottom left. As you can see on the others, there is not too much detail, most of them don’t even have windows. Although windows can help a lot for the sense of scale…

Something I learn when doing this type of sketch is that it is SUPER important not to zoom in. Every time I sketch, I try to maintain the design to a small size so I can always see the big picture and not add small details.

Curious to see how Instructor Aaron Limonick provides critiques? Check out this feedback session example.

4. Color Sketches

I consider this stage really important. Same as before, no details! I just focused on the feeling of the image. I found it was crucial to get some references for color moods! Overcast lighting, rainy, snowy, foggy, scary, hot, autumn, spring, sunset, after the storm, before the storm, sand storm, etc… there are so many different options.

I would suggest you try at least three color palettes. These each took me about an hour, but it was worth the exploration.

5. Design Details

So at this stage, I started sketching how the shapes I already made will evolve from basic buildings to high-class style buildings. For me, the less important the shape, the fewer details. And the more important the shape, the more details.

You can see on the images the A1 and A2 differences. You can also see sketches showing the top view from certain areas of the temple.

Scroll to see all of Pedro’s building design sketches.

All these sketches will be helpful when modeling in 3D, but also having a real picture next to the sketch could be helpful. And most important, I always put a person beside the sketches to understand the scale, otherwise, I will end up with windows that are either huge or too tiny.

6. 3D Models

In this stage, I modeled everything I sketched previously with Maya.

Scroll to see Pedro’s 3D assets.

Note that I didn’t put any texture on the models, this is because I normally prefer to control the textures on Photoshop, more freedom to make changes. Adding smaller objects beside bigger objects will help to get the sense of scale.

If this step stumps you, check out CGMA’s 3D for 2D Artist course taught by One Pixel Brush Concept Artist Sergio Castaneda and Freelance Concept Artist Maarten Hermans.

7. Final Piece

Of course, there is always room for improvement! But I am glad to say that I am very happy with the outcome of this piece.

Final Thoughts

  • This course is gold, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who is interested in environment concept art. I also took a CGMA class on perspective several years ago and it was also awesome! Both courses took my skills to the next level, really.
  • Aaron’s critiques and live Q&A are really helpful, not just for the assignments but also for learning new software tips or other pieces of advice.
  • My advice is that CGMA assignments take time, so I suggest enrolling when you have available time. That way, you will extract as much knowledge as you can. Also, complete every assignment to the best of your ability. Think of it like this: it’s only eight weeks of your life and after that, your skills will have improved so much!
  • I hope you enjoyed my breakdown and learned new things!

LEARN MORE

CGMA provides comprehensive instruction for Art, Games, and VFX industries in a variety of courses for a range of students, from 2D and 3D artists looking to supplement their college studies to industry professionals looking to stay up to date on emerging trends and techniques in the field.

RELATED LINKS

Explore CGMA’s Environment Painting and Design course taught by Ubisoft Montreal Senior Concept Artist Gilles Beloeil and Freelance Concept Artist/Illustrator Axel Sauerwald.

Curious to see how Instructor Aaron Limonick provides critiques? Check out this feedback session example.

If this step stumps you, check out CGMA’s 3D for 2D Artist course taught by One Pixel Brush Concept Artist Sergio Castaneda and Freelance Concept Artist Maarten Hermans.