Stage Fright: Tutorial.

June 14, 2017

This tutorial was made with my new colour picking photoshop plugin Prisma Palette

The learning curve associated with any powerful tool will pay dividends on your efforts, and I would consider Prisma Palette one of these tools. It allows you to work in a more traditional workflow premixing colours and committing to bold art decisions at the start of a piece that you take through to the final.

I wanted to paint an image that really showed what it could do, and tackle a lighting situation that is difficult to pull off. The main one is that it forces you to have very dark shadows, while still trying to keep a light hearted cartoony feel.

I started with a basic sketch, just a simple solid drawing that had all of the ideas fleshed out to a point where I could render the piece and not really worry about fixing major issues later. Getting this step correct means that you will have a nice smooth linear process to get to the end, while mistakes at this point will cause you to constantly repaint problem areas.

When i first started the rendering process it was late at night, and I wasn't thinking straight and as such I stopped because what I originally had in mind didn't work. I had chosen muted dark colours that didn't communicate the feelings that I wanted to get across, and the actual colours in the image weren't making forms readable. I went to bed and came back to it with fresh eyes.

When I came back I thought about what I wanted to achieve and realised that I wanted a very warm feeling scene with strong oranges and reds, but to offset this feeling with blues, to create a nice warm cool contrast. There was a few calculated decisions I would have to make to achieve this. First would be to choose local colours that are warm, and draw focus to the right areas. Whites on the hat and chest to use value contrast so you look at that area. orange for the coat, and I used blue and yellow stripes on the sleeves so that I had strong value contrast that I could use to communicate form.

The other side is what coloured lights would I pick to emphasize my strong local colour choices. Using coloured lights is very difficult, because it's a game of compromise, where you can sacrifice the readability of colours for a supposed mood; but with a bit of knowledge about light blending and Prisma Palette I could work out an elegant solution to the problem.

I knew that I wanted to have a reddish ambient light. It would make the scene warm, cozy and emphasize the pinks of the cheeks and ears, but it would have to be fairly dark because of the lighting conditions. That left me with the other major decision of the key light.

If I chose a red light, that would leave the blues desaturated and dark, and it would also cause the highlights to also be red, creating a monochromatic and boring colour scheme. If I chose a blue light that would give me my vibrant blues and cool highlights, but it would also take away the vibrance of my reds. That left me with one real option, a purple light.

Purple is what's known as a tertiary colour. This means that it is made up of both blue and red light. This would give me the vibrance of my strong local colours, and give me my cool highlights. As a side benefit it would mean that the stage smoke would be slightly purple popping out mouse more effectively off the dark background.

Not considering these factors is why my first attempt fell flat. Once i had my colour palette with flat lit colours and shadow colour blocked in, it was time to think about specularity.

One lovely thing about using a calculated light system to work out our colours is that we know exactly what brightness and hue our light was, meaning we can directly use it in our painting and use it the correct way.

To do specularity correctly, the layer style that is most useful is known as Linear Dodge, or add in other software. Most people use screen or overlay for highlights, but linear dodge is the best f you want to be correct, but most people don't because it is incredibly overpowering and hard to manage, as the expectation is you need to use a colour that is near white to do it properly. But for this painting i could just sample my light colour (by clicking on the light swatch) and just paint it straight into an additive layer, and it works out perfectly.

All materials have some level of specularity, and all the ones I was painting have a fairly low gloss surface, so it means that i could do a large wash over every plane that was facing upwards towards the light. I was using my brush on a fairly low opacity, and i kept this pass separate for the entire painting. I also use an overlay layer with red on it to add in some exaggerated subdermal scattering to the nose and ears.

This is a closeup showing the level of rendering I took everything to with and without the specularity pass. To get to here from the basic flat blocking was a fairly straightforward process of blending with the brush to get mid tones, and painting smaller and smaller planes, until the image looked polished when zoomed out. At times i would work with the specularity layer turned on, and others with it turned off.

The floor was kind of fun to do, as it was a nice mix of specular colour and local colour, with a bunch of textured brushes and masks. I wanted it to really look like a scratched up old stage, where it has a large haze of specular shine from the light. I added some blotches of paint, and some bits of paper to help sell the floor properly.

This is the image without any of the subdermal scattering, smoke, Ambient Occlusion or specularity effects. You can get a real sense for how much of the hard work Prisma Palette did, and how it organized my thoughts taking this image through it's stages. At every point i had a good idea of what the final image was going to look like, with no major deviations besides improving the design of the grasshopper.

To finish up the image I just desaturated the colours a little, added some noise and saved it out.

This tutorial was made with my new photoshop plugin Prisma Palette