CGS Tutorial: Wage Slave

  • CGSociety :: Tutorial
    Michael Dashow, 16 January 2006

    It should come as no surprise that when I started on this piece, I was not having a great time at my job. None of my managers looked or acted like the boss depicted here. Nonetheless, the CGTalk Master and Servant Challenge proved to be a great place to channel my workplace frustration, and the collaborative environment of the Challenge was a refreshing change from the day job.

    I started with a rough pencil sketch that was pretty on-target for the rest of the piece. From there I refined the sketch by drawing new elements and importing them into Photoshop to tweak and adjust. I spent a while on this step because I like to have really solid line art from the beginning. By the time I had finished this early stage, I really wanted the composition to be solid and complete. Finally, the refined sketch was printed out and traced onto 11x14-inch heavy tracing vellum with a 4B Staedtler Mars Lumograph pencil and scanned back into Photoshop at 300dpi. The working size of the image was approximately 3200x3800 pixels.
    Next, the line layer was set to the Multiply ink. This let me add many more layers underneath this one and the white was, in effect transparent, while the black lines were always visible. At this point I blocked out all of the main colors of the image by adding several more layers underneath the Line Art layer and coloring parts in with a hard-edged brush.

    Each element went into a separate layer, which allowed me to quickly select its contents and make color changes easily. Command+Click (mac) or Control+Click (windows) on a layer’s image in the 'Layers' palette to load its opacity as a selection. I ended up with a dozen or so layers; One for the humans’ skin, one for the boss’, one for the boss’ suit, another for the foreground elements, another for the cubicle walls, and so on. I wasn't too picky about what colors each element was, because I knew that they were all merely placeholders. Still, I took my best stab at what each should be. I finished up with a flat colored version of the artwork.
    I then created a new layer below the Line Art but above the flat colors. This was the Shadow layer, and was set to Multiply. Using a pale purple, I used this layer to flesh out the main shadows in the piece. This was mostly done with a brush set to pressure-sensitive opacity and a hardness of 50 to 65%. I wanted this setting to feel like an office, so the main light-source was directly overhead from the fluorescent lights. I Command+Clicked on various layers to select their alpha to help me color within the lines. It was important to keep these shadows all on a separate layer so that I could change their color later.

    Above the shadow layer, I created a Highlights layer. This was set to Overlay mode and painted with a pale blue. (If it were an outdoor scene, I’d would have used a yellow, but fluorescents tend towards a blue tint.) Using the same techniques as above, I painted in the brighter areas on everything. I also made another lighting layer for the candle light in the lower left that mostly serves as a warm under-light for the human characters. I also painted in a depth layer to fog the areas of the illustration that are most distant. At this point, I had a ridiculous number of layers, all with different colors to tweak. I now had all of the painting’s basic parts roughed out, except that none of the colors were what I’d consider final.
     
     
  • Now this was where things got fun. Because everything was on a separate layer, I could make all sorts of changes to the various color layers to create different moods. Here I used Command+U (mac) or Control+U (windows), (Image>Adjust>Hue/Saturation) on pretty much every layer to tweak it for effect. If I wanted a warmer light, I would shift the hue of just the Highlights layer. I could change the effect of the shadows by only altering the Shadows layer. The man’s shirt and the Boss’ tie could be just about any color, so I experimented with many different variations on those, also.

    All of the serious color decisions were made in this step. Did the boss work well green, or was that too obvious? Maybe I should have gone with a redder hue. Would the side light look better if it were a more menacing red? Would a warm-colored shirt help the man stand out more? Would the piece work better with a lighter fog color or a darker one? Any time I had something that may work, I flattened the image and pasted the flat result into a new, full of color test file. By the time I was done fooling around with it all, I had maybe a dozen comps to ponder over.
    I decided on one of the blue versions of the piece, and then flattened the image into a few workable layers. The foreground still remained separate from the background, and skin apart from clothes, but now the file was ready for some serious detailing and painting. For the calendar and other items posted on thev wall, I worked in a new file. When finished, I brought in the images and used the Free Transform tool (Command+T / Control+T) to distort the image into correct perspective. I used the same method for detailing elements like the man’s badge and the patterns on the ties.
    I then used a soft airbrush tool to finish off the wrinkles and folds ont the boss’ suit. To get the pinstripes on the suit, I used the pen tool to draw one vertical stripe. That one line got duplicated and offset multiple times to form an entire array of stripes. Spline points were then added and tweaked so that the stripes flowed along the bends and curves of the jacket and pants. When the paths were finished, I used the stroke tool at the bottom of the Paths tab to stroke them white with a hard five-pixel thick brush. I experimented with the transparency and ended up setting the layer to 30% opacity Color Overlay.
    I photographed the ceiling of my office at work as reference for the ceiling vents and grates. I then imported them from my digital camera and skewed them a bit to get a feel for how they would work with my wildly-distorted ceiling. I also scanned in my drawings of runes, for the paper spitting out of the printer and for the sheet in the boss’ hand. Everything was detailed at this point and I worked on refining many different areas. Every area was painted by hand in an effort to unify the rendering style. Some areas needed a softer feel, or better blending of colors. Many areas needed a bit more color variation than my earlier flat colors gave them. The skin in particular needed many more cool and warm areas to appear more alive. So areas like the main character get a lot more attention.
    It became clear that the finned “Deep One” co-worker on the bottom of the image wasn't working well enough. He’d reaching out for a donut that should have been a good ten feet away from him, so I had to draw a new one. A new sketch was scanned in and pasted into the Line Art channel. I used the eyedropper to pull colors from the original co-worker and painted in details on version 2.0.
    I also started to refine the shininess of the boss’ skin by painting in some more highlights, in among all of the wrinkles. I made sure that I kept the highlights small and irregular, so as to suggest that the skin is not perfectly smooth but wrinkled and bumpy. I also created a new channel and filled it with noise.

    This was loaded as a selection and painted over to get a speckled effect on the boss’ skin. I also painted with an airbrush set to Dissolve mode. I then blended that into the skin around the highlights to further give the skin a bumpy feel. Drops and rivulets of liquid added to the slimy feel of the character.
    Along the way, the Line Art had been refined. There were places where it’d been too dark and fought with the painting underneath, so I gave in and erased it in places. In some areas, I also didn’t like how sharp and black line was. For those areas, I selected parts of the line art with the Lasso tool, used Command+U / Control+U to go to the Hue/Saturation controls, and clicked on the Colorize button to shift the line art to another color. Red lines work especially well over warmer areas like the characters’ skin. Because the characters were all back lit from the fluorescent lights overhead, I choose to add a rim-light to help highlight them better. On a new layer, I painted thin white lines on the back lit edges of the suit and skin. I wanted these lines to obscure the pencil lines, so I made sure that this layer was above the Line Art layer.

    With all of these details taken care of, I could safely say that the piece was finished.
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    Michael Dashow has worked in the computer game industry for nearly fifteen years. He spent seven years at edutainment giant Brøderbund Software working on the Living Books series. After that, he spent seven more years at Blizzard Entertainment, creating art and animation for projects including the hit title ‘Diablo II.’ Somewhere along the way, he also created illustrations for several science fiction and fantasy book and magazine covers, including illustrations for Fantasy and Science Fiction, North Atlantic Books, Eastin Press, and Tachyon Publications. His cover for Tachyon’s 1997 ‘The Rhinoceros Who Quoted Nietzsche’ by Peter S. Beagle was the recipient of a Chesley Award for Best Science Fiction / Fantasy Paperback Book Cover of the Year. Michael is currently the Art Director for Donnerwood Media in San Francisco, California. He lives in Oakland, CA, with his wife Talia and their cockatiel Toby in a sargasso of unfinished art projects.