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For his environment concept piece, Concept Artist Tyler Bourne wanted to use the principles of design to open up creative exploration, and that’s exactly what he did for this winter castle. Using the structure of balanced values and the fun of new colors, Tyler produced a moody, yet energetic scene. Check out his breakdown, which includes:

  1. Value Studies
  2. Lighting Compositions
  3. Colour, But Values First
  4. Vis Dev and Art Direction
  5. 3D
  6. Photoshop Finishes
  7. Final Castle

Hello, my name is Tyler Bourne, and I am an educational media specialist from Canada; building multimedia, video, and graphic assets for online courses. While I’ve always had an interest in art, I never took it seriously until several years ago, when I–rather late–stumbled on the world of concept design. I started my design journey in earnest here at CGMA in hopes of transitioning to concept design permanently. In addition to working on some personal projects, I am currently doing some freelance work on a AAA title.

1. Value Studies

One of the first things we looked at was values, particularly the importance of value-grouping. Grouping values gives your piece a clear read and avoid muddiness, whereas splotches of random values everywhere will confuse the viewer. I found that studying how masters and contemporary artists group their values and control their lighting helps a significant amount, so I chose some of my favourite contemporary artists to work from.

Even if you think you’re getting the hang of it, it’s important to test yourself with something more difficult. Scott Christensen is a master of landscape painting, and his pieces have a lot of energy (which is fantastic), but it made this exercise difficult. This activity really forced me to think about how I could simplify an image to better group values.

2. Lighting Compositions

From here, we applied different lighting scenarios to original thumbnails. This included an array of lighting scenarios – backlit, daytime, magic hour, rake lighting, etc. Now, I admit, lighting was still one of my weak points. It could be intimidating, so I tended to be too conservative.

Kristian provided great feedback on how I could improve my pieces, which could be boiled down to this: be bold and deliberate with your lighting.

Enroll in CGMA’s Environment Concept Design course, currently taught by Concept Artist/Illustrator Simeon Schaffner.

3. Colour, But Values First

Before we get into colour, let me reiterate that values are extremely important. If your image isn’t working from a value perspective, it won’t work with colour. By the mid-point of the class, we started working on ideation for a final piece–but as always, we began with value comps.

When applying colour, I tried to explore as much as I could. I had a general sense that I wanted a grey, foggy, snowy mountain scene. I did quick colour comps on one of my value thumbnails.

There are so many ways to tackle colour. I chose to gather a plethora of references, including art pieces, photographs, and real-world references. I didn’t copy the reference verbatim, but rather applied the colours to the piece.

It really helped to consider the following questions:

  • How would a colour palette be applied to my piece?
  • What colours would work with the value groups I already have established? (as a starting point, think dark colours go on dark values, etc.)
  • Do these make sense in my scene?
  • Where is the light coming from, and how would this affect my colours?
  • Is the light warm or cool? What about the shadows?
  • What adjustments do I need to make in order to make it work?

Applying these questions to my thumbnails helped me to work quickly, try out different ideas, and ultimately fail without sinking a whole lot of time into a piece. Failing is good, as this is where learning happens.

4. Vis Dev and Art Direction

Visual development allowed us to explore the actual subject matter that will go into our final piece. This was where I was most comfortable, because ideation pieces seem less daunting than large, time-consuming illustration pieces. Basically, I had some fun that week!

By now, I was pretty decided on some sort of castle or fortified structure in the mountains, and started by doing some direct studies of real-world examples. This helps build your visual library and understand the shapes you’ll be implementing.

I played a lot with style and shape design this week. My ideation sketches were extremely stylized; and looking at the final piece, you might not see any connection. But I like this approach because it helps me understand the structures of my subject.

You probably wouldn’t do this in a work environment, as it’s important that everything stay on-brief and on the style guide. But I felt comfortable exploring here, in my school and personal work.

Read “How to Enhance Your Environment Concept Skills: Frozen Sci-fi Outpost” for a different era of environment.

5. 3D

Next, we got into 3D. Prior to this course, I hadn’t touched much 3D. But a little bit of knowledge can go a long way. To build my scene, I used simple geometric shapes such as cubes and cylinders to build my castle. Once you I had a few sections, it was a simple matter of copy/pasting.

Finding the right balance for my composition could be tricky. I like things to make sense from a real life perspective–how far is one tower from another, are they at the same elevation, etc. But this may not necessarily translate to your thumbnail’s perspective. I set the camera set up, and then moved elements around as needed. Then, I played with different lens lengths to find a good balance between composition and physical layout of elements.

Because I was new to 3D, this is about as far as I took it: simple blocks that I could select and paint over. I also used some HDRI images to set up the lighting for me. I tried a variety of images, and placed the light source in various areas (similar to the colour exercise, I’m still exploring my options).

Explore 3D for 2D Artists taught by Concept Artist Maarten Hermans and Concept Artist Sergio Castaneda.

6. Photoshop Finishes

After figuring out my thumbnails and a decent 3D base, all that was left to do was apply some photo details, textures, adjustment layers, and paint in some touch-ups.

Most of the stone photo textures were applied using layer blending techniques such as Soft Light. The photo texture added some variation in the values, which is what I wanted in terms of detail. But I didn’t want to change the original value family from the original comp. It took some playing around with different blending options, plus tweaking the layer transparency as needed. I found it was harder to do these things without losing the original intent from the thumbnail. I felt like I lost a lot of the original energy.

I also struggled a lot with what I thought would happen in the real world vs. what makes a good composition. The lines of trees on the left-hand side were a real problem area. In the original thumbnail, these rows of trees were well-defined, grouped well, and led your eye around the image. But when applying photos I struggled with how scale affected this. I wanted the trees pretty large, but soon the overlaps became indistinguishable, and it became a mess very quickly. I also thought the trees should have snow on them, because, you know… snow. But this made things worse. Remember in Step 1 when I said value grouping was important? I lost sight of that here, and it caused issues.

Kristian really helped me identify these problem areas and forced me to really look at what had worked with my original thumbnail and what did not work in the current rendition. Over the last couple weeks of the course, I worked off Kristian’s guidance to refine and improve the piece.

7. Final Castle

In the end, I’m relatively happy with the piece, though I’m still fighting to get some of that life back into it. It’s been a great learning experience and has allowed me to explore different ideas and techniques throughout the journey of the piece.

Final Thoughts

  • I chose the Environment Concept Design course because it seemed like a great way to take the basic fundamental principles of environment design and take them to the next level to complete a professional-looking piece.
  • Kristian provided great instruction and highlighted things that were either working or not, and forced me to think about things I hadn’t taken into consideration.
  • This is repeated often, but the most impactful philosophy from this course is that, despite moving forward to a more finalized–and perhaps complex–piece, those fundamental principles such as composition, value (and value grouping), and lighting will always be paramount to making a successful piece.
  • I would recommend this course to anyone looking to build their skills in environment design and environment concept design. The course provides a fantastic opportunity to work through a piece, hitting upon all the nuances of art fundamentals, design principles, vis dev along the way.

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

Check out Tyler’s work on his ArtStation and Instagram.

Enroll in CGMA’s Environment Concept Design course, currently taught by Concept Artist/Illustrator Simeon Schaffner.

Read “How to Enhance Your Environment Concept Skills: Frozen Sci-fi Outpost” for a different era of environment.

Explore 3D for 2D Artists taught by Concept Artist Maarten Hermans and Concept Artist Sergio Castaneda.