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After developing dozens of environment concepts, Artist Ian Miley brought a frozen, desolate sci-fi outpost to life. From sketches to photobashing, don’t miss out on Ian’s breakdown of his workflow, including:

  1. Composition Studies
  2. Lighting and Values
  3. Sketches
  4. Sci-Fi Outpost Development
  5. Icy Lighting Scenarios
  6. Prop Design
  7. Finessing Techniques
  8. Final Result

Hi, I’m Ian Miley. I’m from San Francisco. I went to an art high school before getting interested in the video game industry. Then, I graduated from the Academy of Art University’s graduate school concept art program. I’ve been working on my personal project, Alpha Sector for a couple of years, and finally, I have a demo working.

1. Composition Studies

For the composition studies assignment, I chose art from some of my favorite artists (such as Sparth and Sung Choi) and some of my favorite games (Destiny and Halo).

These studies taught me how to work more efficiently: start with a sketch, then use Photoshop’s tools such as the lasso tool, the gradient tool, and texture brushes to bring the piece to life.

During this assignment, I learned that the quality of an artwork is not based on the time spent, but rather on making good choices in the painting process.

It was interesting to work within the limitations of grayscale, because it allowed me to focus on composition, lighting, and drawing. I would close my eyes and think of a composition, then start sketching.

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

2. Lighting and Values

After creating some scenes, it was time to approach lighting. I tried to choose a lighting scheme that directed the viewer to my focal point, as well as establish a strong mood.

3. Sketches

This week, I further developed a few of my ideas. I tried to sketch things that had a different architectural style and lighting scenario that would push my range, plus help me simplify various subject matters. I tried drawing beaches, forests, waterfalls, and cities.

I tried to follow the rules of composition and shape language to help guide the piece. This included putting my focal point on a rule of thirds or using overlap and depth to allow the viewer to feel like they were entering a 3d space.

Aaron taught me that I need to analyze my reference more and push the details further. This made the image more interesting, readable, and clear to the viewer.

Curious to see what a feedback session looks like? Watch this example from Concept Artist Aaron Limonick.

4. Sci-Fi Outpost Development

For the 5 final value drawings, I really wanted to create a desolate, frozen sci-fi outpost.

There were tons of examples online, but I wanted to incorporate what Aaron was teaching, in terms of grounding the design with real-world references and focusing on a painterly, suggestive style.

I also tried to create designs for the other two prompts, but mainly as a means of exploration.

I used references of naval battleships, industrial buildings such as factories, military facilities such as helipads, and snowy winter mountainscapes.

I thought this would give my design a more believable feel.

Read “How to Create an Efficient Workflow for Environment Concepts: Problem-Solving Designs” to revisit your approach to design.

5. Icy Lighting Scenarios

I wanted to include a variety of lighting scenarios, such as Midday, Sunset, Cloudy, and Twilight. I used subtle complimentary colors for light and shadow to give a feeling of light. Also, I tried to harmonize the painting by using subdued colors. Visually, harmonious colors gave the painting a more relaxed, optimistic feeling.

This was my first time using Modo. I basically started modeling everything from cubes and cylinders, and then added edge loops to create more detail. Once I blocked in the basic shapes, I tried to set up the materials and lighting so that I wouldn’t have to do so much work in Photoshop.

One challenge that I frequently encountered was modeling more complex shapes. It required a bit of planning to know where to put edges and how to create the shapes I wanted, especially for symmetrical objects. Eventually, I figured out how to model things more efficiently with fewer edge loops.

At this point, Aaron taught me about scale, consistency of architectural design, realism in color palettes, and the importance of detail and reference. All of this helped guide me to the next week.

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

6. Prop Design

The five pages of sketches really helped me finalize what the details were going to be on a lot of the elements, such as the main building, the cannons, the space ships, and the background buildings.

Scroll to see Ian’s props.

Aaron gave me a lot of good feedback on my sketches, teaching me about the fundamental principles of design, such as the concept of “Big-Medium-Small”, using details and functionality to accent the big shapes, and how to analyze reference better. This helped propel me into the next week where I finalized the design.

7. Finessing Techniques

I used a lot of the finalizing techniques that Aaron taught, such as using custom alphas, photo bashing, using photo textures to give textural effects, using adjustment layers, and then hand-painting details on top.

Aaron taught me one of the main things to work on was keeping a consistent scale and also making things feel unified in terms of lighting, snow level, atmospheric perspective, and detail.

8. Final Result

It was a lot of work but it was really satisfying to hear Aaron say that I made progress on the piece. I felt that I learned a lot about making a finished, finalized concept artwork.

Final Thoughts

  • I really loved Aaron’s artwork and I wanted to get closer to his level of beauty, realism, and composition. Aaron’s feedback really helped me get much closer to being a professional artist and I really loved being in the class.
  • Overall the most important thing I learned was to make things consistent and believable and also use techniques of realism to bring the piece to life while maintaining the original compositional intention.
  • I cannot recommend the class highly enough for learning how to be a better concept artist and concept designer. Especially if you want to learn about environments. Using 3d gives you a better sense of space, while photobashing helps you get more realistic lighting, texturing, detail and content into the artwork.

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 Ian Miley’s work here!

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

Curious to see what a feedback session looks like? Watch this example from Concept Artist Aaron Limonick.

Read “How to Create an Efficient Workflow for Environment Concepts: Problem-Solving Designs” to revisit your approach to design.

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