By François Coutu
2D artist François Coutu (a.k.a. Francoyovich) demonstrates his method for creating his scene “Lost Izalith” from “Dark Souls”…
All in all, Dark Souls influenced me a lot because of its rich lore, intense game play and level design. Since it came out the game’s graphics might have aged a bit, but they never ceased to stimulate my imagination.
In this tutorial, I will shed light on the creative process used in creating my “Lost Izalith” piece. As an artist, I put a lot of emphasis on color, composition and storytelling; especially when I am creating a personal illustration. This specific illustration was created as a part of a triptych to show the progression of the chosen undead through Lost Izalith. This one depicted the final encounter with Solaire.
Step 1: Locking composition with a sketch
My illustrations tend to rely heavily on backgrounds, which makes this part indispensable. I start by sketching a bunch of thumbnails on paper. When I find one I like I take a picture of it and add details in Photoshop. No specific brush required here, I personally opted for a chalky brush to keep the traditional feel.
Step 2: Basic color values
As I said in the intro, I enjoy working with colors a lot so I like to get my hands in it as soon as possible. In this step I apply basic colors on a layer underlying the sketch. The sketch layer’s blending mode is in Multiply and at a lowered opacity to allow me to see the color correctly. At this point, I only used a basic soft round brush and lasso.
Step 3: Color adjustment and planes separation
After a little use of the Hue/Saturation module, now is the time to separate those planes. I enjoy keeping my layer count minimal, so here we will have roughly three planes: Background, Middleground and Foreground. The characters will each have their own layers since they need to be polished more. The same logic will apply to some other elements as well (I will get into more detail when we get there.)
Step 4: Rendering the foreground
Now that the values are set and the planes are separated, I can start rendering. I choose to start with the foreground first because that’s where the action will take place. My two rendering tools are the Lasso and a basic soft round brush. I start by selecting the area I want to paint in, fill it if needed, and then paint in with the brush. I love this technique since it makes for a nice combination of sharp lines and smooth gradients.
Step 5: Heating up the lava
The lava in Lost Izalith is very bright so I wanted to give the same impression to this painting. To do that, I will select a color (probably a bright orange and or yellow in this case) and paint over the sketch with my soft round brush, using the Color Dodge painting mode. Afterwards, I will render the bounding demons on a different layer. I will also apply a clean gradient in the background and add tree roots on different layers to keep the gradient untouched. Same thing with the city spires which will have their own layers.
Step 6: Rendering the city
Rendering architecture is long and complicated since you can’t be as carefree as when you are drawing natural elements. To give it some structure, I recommend copying and pasting some elements like the small spires in this case. When using the normal Lasso use alt + left click to create straight lines, it will help the process a lot.
Step 7: Making it look good
Now that every major element is well set in the composition, it’s rendering time baby! Basically, you just use your soft round brush and lasso and make all those small details come to life. They say the devil is in the details and they are right: this is most time consuming step of the process.
Step 8: Final details and lighting pass
Now that it is almost done you want to make sure the important elements pop out properly. In this case, Solaire’s silhouette was blending a bit too much with its surroundings. I used the gradient tool in color dodge mode to make the highlights of the foreground pop more which solved that issue.
Step 9: Re-cropping the image
After a decent period of consideration, I judged the composition was too cramped up so I decided to give it more vertical space by adding some filling up and down of the canvas. Don’t hesitate to do that if you feel your compositions are too tight. It is important for an image to breathe if you want to appreciate it fully, and filling the gaps does not take much time usually.
Rendering round objects
When rendering round objects (Solaire’s shield for example) use vector shapes. That way, you will keep your circles perfect and it will be easy to edit in the end. If you want to paint over it, use clipping masks. This is the exception were you can use lots of layers.
Keeping your layers organized
Always keep your layers organized especially if you use a lot of layers. I only used forty-nine for that one and even then I keep it tidy.
If you want to paint over a layer without reselecting it or bleeding over it, use the “lock transparent pixels” option. It will keep the transparency of your layer and the edges will stay smooth. This is a very useful trick if you want to paint this way.