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  • Difficulty Level:

    workshop-level-i I
  • Keywords: 2D


When it comes down to it, creating a realistic creature is more than painting a pretty picture. As concept artists, it's our job to provide creative options and beautiful solutions for production projects. That's why we're really excited to bring the legendary Nate Hallinan here to CGWorkshops. Nate's incredibly life-like images often prompt the question, "Is that really 2D?". The answer is yes! Nate is here to show you how he does it, and how you can do it too.

Nate says, "In this course I’ll provide you with painting techniques that help achieve an imaginary yet realistic look. We'll also explore methods for developing the concept aspect of concept art; such as characteristic behaviors and relatability to enhance the believability."

Every week, Nate will release a new set of videos and assignments to help you build your concept and character development skills. You'll start by selecting a broader scenario for creature to exist within, and from there Nate will help you refine your ideas and make strong design choices.  He'll give feedback via paintovers, our class forums and regular live web feedback sessions (always recorded for those who can't make it.)

Over the weeks, Nate will help you reference, develop and paint your character, until you have your final result - a showpiece for your folio.

Don't miss this painting workshop with a real difference.

What You'll Learn

Fundamentally, concept art is a form of art based on ideas and creativity for the purpose of entertainment. What we'll try to do over the next 8 weeks is harness and exercise your creativity while learning new painting techniques and skills.

I've divided this course into 2 sections: in the first 4 weeks we'll focus on design and ideation, and in the last 4 weeks our focus will be painting techniques and execution.  At the end of this workshop you'll know various methods to use for concept design, and you'll have a more realistic creature concept for your portfolio.

I can't promise you'll be cranking out realistic concepts right out of the gate when we're all done, but you'll have a strong understanding of how to go about it when you continue to create concepts. Like anything else, it takes time to gain the skills to consistently achieve realism and tons of practice to build up speed. There's no secret to it; quality and speed just come with consistent practice.


Week 1 - Thumbnails and Efficiency

- Doc: Starting Techniques for Concept Design
- Doc: Providing Variation.
- Doc: Speed and Efficiency
- Vid: Examples of concept design thumbnail techniques.
Your Missions
(1 & 2 are interchangeable: if you want to decide on a theme first and then make thumbnails, do 2 then 1; if you want to determine your theme based on the thumbnails you create, do 1 then 2)

1 - Create 2 or more sheets of thumbnails based on the video examples and using the Photoshop file template provided. (ThumbnailTemplate.psd) Use a different thumbnail technique on each sheet.

2 - Choose where your creature will primarily exist: air, land, water (or other fluid). Decide what its feeding behavior will be: carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, or if

you're brave you can choose something more strange.

3 - Write up a brief description of what your artistic background is and what you hope to gain by taking this class. I've already laid out the course, but I would like to cater my critiques and suggestions to help you get what you want in terms of your artistic goals.

Week 2 - Rough Sketches, Value, and Photoshop Workspace

 - Doc: Familiarizing Yourself with Photoshop
- Doc: Rough Sketches and Value
- Vid: Rough sketching over selected thumbnails.
- Vid: Quick value sketch and color explorations.
- Vid: Photoshop Workspace

Your Missions:
- Choose 3 of your favorite thumbnails and create 3 variations of each one using rough sketches or value explorations.  You will have 9 total when you're done.
- Pick your favorite sketch or value exploration and do 3 or more simple color explorations of your concept using techniques shown in the video.

Week 3 - Week 3: Creature Research - Behaviors and Poses

 - Doc: Understanding Your Creature.
- Doc: Posing Your Creature
- Vid: Exploring poses for your creature.
Your Missions:
- Provide a brief write-up about your creature.
- Choose your favorite developed thumbnail and create 6 sketches of your creature in action.

Week 4 - References and How to Use Them

- Doc: Finding References
- Doc: Your Reference Library
- Vid: Show how I put together reference collages.
- Vid: Material study(s) from reference image.
Your Missions:
 - Gather images and put together your own collages to be used for final painting.
- Do 4 or more new (to you) material studies based on the video.

Week 5 - Environment, Composition, and Lighting Lessons

- Doc: Establish Your Environment
- Doc: The Importance of Composition
- Doc: Lighting
- Doc: File Size
- Vid: Paint an example environment/stage for concept.
Your Missions:
 - Draw at least 6 composition thumbnails.
- Choose your favorite thumbnail and start painting your environment stage.  DO NOT start painting your creature yet.

Week 6 - Blocking Out Your Creature

 - Doc: Blocking Out Your Creature
- Doc: Light and Value
- Vid: Tips for studying and analyzing an image for lighting.
- Vid: Blocking out the creature.
Your Missions:
- Block out the shapes of your creature.  Make it look as 3 dimensional as possible without adding textures.
- Continue working on environment if needed.

Week 7 - Surface Details, Photoshop and Time-Saving Techniques

- Doc: Surface Details and Lighting
- Doc: Photoshop and Time-Saving Techniques
- Vid: How to create specialized brushes to save on time.
- Vid: Apply detailed/complex materials to creature.
Your Missions:
1 - Do 4 or more studies of materials/attributes that can be applied to your creature (skin, fur, horns, etc.)
2 - Create and share specialized brushes used to make studies.
3 - Continue painting your creature and apply your texture studies.

Week 8 - Finishing Your Realistic Creature Painting

 - Doc: Finishing Your Realistic Creature Painting
- Vid: Paint some examples of final details on creature.
- Vid: Apply some of the techniques discussed as well as image adjustments features.
Your Final Mission:
- Finish your realistic creature concept.



  • Experience digitally painting with Photoshop.
  • Education or experience in creating concept art.


  • Adobe Photoshop CS6 or newer (older versions may be used, but some minor techniques may only be available in CS6 


  • Graphics Tablet. Wacom is the prefered choice among artists. 

Useful Texts (not necessary for the course, but highly recommended)

  • The Skillful Huntsman: Visual Development of a Grimm Tale at Art Center College of Design
  • Color and Light: A Guide for the Realist Painter by James Gurney
  • Imaginative Realism: How to Paint What Doesn't Exist by James Gurney