Utilizing Reference Images: Create Believable Creatures

RJ Palmer, Illustrator and Concept Artist

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5 Lessons (48m)
    • 1. Concept Sketching

      12:32
    • 2. Research and Reference

      8:39
    • 3. Refine Concept

      6:10
    • 4. Lighting

      10:33
    • 5. Final Touches

      10:19

Project Description

Create a creature design with use of reference images

Concept Sketching

  1. Jump into your project

    In our first lesson, we go over different techniques to grow an idea from a seed to a sapling.  Get ready to try out doing creature silhouettes and loose sketching.  Students should complete at least one page of design sketches with no reference.

    Some techniques that I used was different line weights, ranging from heavy and thick to light and airy.

    You can also use the Warp tool to adjust selected areas of your sketch. This is helpful in designing your concept on the fly since it eliminates having to redraw ideas.

    Try working backwards from silhouettes by scattering shapes with a randomized brush. Remove and add detail until you're happy with what you produce. See if you can discover shapes that you would never consider drawing freehand. 

Research and Reference

  1. Collect your reference

    Assemble at least 30 reference images of animals that share similarities to the creature they want to pursue. Then using these images create organized reference sheets to make life easier.

  2. Do a study

    Picking from the collected images, do a study from one of the photos.  The time spent on this study is left to student discretion.  Make sure to pick a photo that has elements that you might be weak in.

  3. Brush up on anatomy

    Locate an anatomical reference for animals that most closely ressemble your desired creature.  Then create a quick anatomy study of the bones, muscles, and surface to help you prepare to refine your design in the next lesson.

Refine Your Concept

  1. Use that reference!

    With all that reference you collected and the studies you did, its time to put that into effect.  Further develop your original concept and pull design cues from your reference images.  Students should complete at least 5-10 refined design sketches.

  2. Color palettes

    Time to get your critter a color palette.  Using the reference you collected start creating color schemes.  Its important that the color match the theme of your creature.  Students should complete at least 5 color variants before choosing one.

  3. Pose it baby!

    Great, now you have an awesome design, but what do you do next.  Start drawing poses for your final illustration of your beast.  Students should complete at least 5-10 different poses before choosing one.

Lighting

  1. Practice lighting

    Using a simple item such as a ball or apple, set up a lighting situation and do a quick study of it.  You should establish a layer for your base silhouette, indirect light, form shadow, core shadow, reflected light, high light, and cast shadow.  Then apply that same lighting to your creature.

Final Touches

  1. Add that detail!

    Time to start rendering your final design.  Backgrounds are optional.  Spend as long as you can during this stage to fully develop your piece.

    Liquify Tool for Beginners

    Bevel and Emboss Layer Effects for Beginners

  2. Post Processing

    Once you get to a point where you are feeling pretty confident that most of the work is done, use adjustment layers to take it to the next level.  Try managing your levels and hues.  Make sure your focal point is very established. 

  3. Pat Yourself on Your Back

    You did it.  You created an awesome creature.  Now take a load off and admire your hard work.


Additional Resources

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