FoY Tutorial I - an archeological dig in a vaguely Mediterranean country.
Fountain of Atlantis?
In this tutorial I will show you how I've made the following background:
In this background picture you will find a lot of different elements: natural shapes and textures (vegetation, rocks, etc.) as well as man-made objects and structures (ruins, tents, cars). It also shows depth cueing and atmospherics. What it doesn't show well is the effects of perspective - but I might cover that in a later tutorial.
Preparation - getting ready to draw
Keeping the proportions of your sketch the same as those of your intended background is usually a good idea; FoY backgrounds (the single screen ones) are 320 x 150 pixels in size, so I make my sketches roughly twice as wide as they are high.
1 - Going digital
To make this (and any of the Fountain of Youth) backgrounds, I'm using Photoshop 7.0 - but it might as well be done in other paint programs such as The Gimp or PaintShop Pro. As long as you use a paint program that can handle layers. I prefer to use a drawing tablet as well, but that is not imperative - all this can be done with a mouse (and regular breaks, to avoid getting RSI from the billions of mouse clicks).
Step 1.1 - Dawning of a new document
Step 1.2 - Sketches, Indies and guides
Next I pasted an Indiana Jones sprite into the document (calling the new layer "Indy"). This way I have a nice size reference for objects in the scene: doors, cars, buildings; everything can be easily cross-referenced with the Indy sprite. Finally I added a "guide" (one of those blue lines you can pull out of the horizontal and vertical rulers) to help me define the horizon (it wasn't exactly straight in the sketch). After all these "preparations" the document looks like this:
All other layers that I'm going to create are going to be below the "sketch" and "Indy" layer, these two will always be on top.
Step 1.3 - Thinking about depth
2 - The background
The background of the picture is going to contain a nice blue sky with fluffy white clouds, some distant hills over the horizon and a smooth lake (which could also be the sea).
Step 2.1 - Making the sky
Next I created a new layer, called it "sky" and selected a rectangular area, as wide as the document, from its' top edge to where the horizon is supposed to be. This area I then filled with the color gradient.
Step 2.2 - Making a body of water
In this picture you see that the sea is dark blue near the horizon and more gray/green near the beach. Again, there is probably a perfectly good reason for this - that I don't know. I picked two colors for another linear color gradient: a lighter and darker variety of greenish blue (117,155,186 RGB) and (137,173,191 RGB).
Step 2.3 - Clouds
I didn't make any clouds in the left part of the picture, because the hill in the foreground would obscure them anyway.
Step 2.4 - Hills
See how the hills in the distance get lighter and bluer? To simulate this I choose a pale green/blue color for the hills (155,209,198 RGB), I zoomed way in on the picture (I usually work in the 800% or 1600% magnification) and drew in my hills with the pencil tool (1 pixel brush) in a new layer.
For the shaded side of the hills I used two darker tints of the colors, chosen from the Color Picker. I drew in the shadows with the 1 pixel pencil tool.
Again, using the "sketch" layer for reference, the left portion of the horizon was ignored, as it will not be seen in the final picture.
Step 2.5 - Click fest
Follow the same procedure to smooth all the harsh edges between the light and dark side of the hills. You can either pick the light color and pixel over the dark areas, or pick the darker color and work in the lighter side of the edge: it makes no difference.
Step 2.6 - Reflections
Step 2.7 - Making waves
As you can see I made more lines in the area closer to the "camera" (the lower part of the water area). Waves would seem larger there, and more defined. Then I applied a motion blur filter, with a setting of 4 pixels and a 90-degree (horizontal) angle. This blurs the white stripes in the horizontal direction only, fading their left and right points.
3 - The Fields
It is now time to make the fields that can be seen behind the ridge with the excavation in it. Google provided me with a great reference picture (searching for "Mediterranean" and "landscape"):
To make the fields I created a new layer (get used to doing this: put everything that can be seen as a separate entity in its' own layer) and drew the outline of the fields with the 1 pixel pencil tool using a slightly subdued olive green (121,150,85 RGB). I then filled the outline with the same color, using the paint bucket tool (tolerance set to 0, and anti-aliasing turned off).
3.1 - Crops and trees
For the clumps of trees I created a new layer, picked a very dark green color (60,112,61 RGB) and splotched "blobs" all over the fields using the ubiquitous 1 pixel pencil tool. I concentrated the trees in lines, in the lowest part of the landscape, and on the ridges.
To give the trees some more volume I added some darker areas (using the 1 pixel pencil tool at a 30% opacity with black as color) and some highlights with white (same tool settings).
4 - The excavation
This is the big one - one of the main focus points of the picture, and an area with a lot of detail in it. It's also relatively big, occupying easily 40-50% of the picture surface. First thing I drew (in a new layer) was the bulk of the hillside with a "dirt" color like the one used in the fields (160,153,112 RGB). Using the "sketch" layer as my reference I then added shadow areas with a darker color (132,125,82 RGB) and lighter areas (178,171,129 RGB) with the 1 pixel pencil tool.
The edges between the different soil areas are very hard and unrealistic. To remedy this I locked the layers' transparent pixels (thus protecting its' sharp edge against the backdrop) and smeared the layer with the smudge tool (6 pixel brush, 50% strength). I followed the imaginary contours of the landscape, as can be seen in the "sketch" layer. There is no trick or rule here, just go Bob Ross and "feel" the landscape ... I did not smear the edges of the actual excavation pit, because this feature is man-made I felt that the edges should be sharp.
To add some texture to the soil I duplicated the entire soil layer, locked this new layers' transparency and filled it completely with medium gray (127,127,127 RGB). Then I applied an add noise filter (3%, monochrome, Gaussian) resulting in a layer full of gray specks, some lighter, some darker. To mix the original soil layer and the noise layer above it, I set the noise layers' blending mode to overlay, at 10% opacity.
Now all the soil has a uniform grainy look. This is fine on the hillside, but it looks too rough in the excavation pit. To fix this I added outlined the excavation pit (using the lasso tool, and clicking while holding the alt key - thus making a polygon selection) and deleted the noise within the selection.
A final addition to the texture of the hillside was adding two more layers (calling them "lines light" and "lines dark"). The "lines light" layer blending mode was set to screen at a 40% opacity. The "lines dark" layer was set to multiply, at a 50% opacity. In these layers I drew ridges and bumps, using the 1 pixel pencil tool, set to 30% opacity. I used black in the "lines dark" layer, and white in the "lines light" layer. I flicked the "sketch" layer on and off for reference every now and then.
4.1 - The temple
Using the 1 pixel pencil tool and some more varieties of the "temple color", I added details: windows, darker shadow areas, ridges and crenellations as well as some pattern to the tile floor. To make the building and its' fallen fragments cast shadow I picked black for a color, set the pencil tools' drawing mode to behind and it's opacity to 30%. Using the "behind" drawing mode lets you draw on the transparent pixels of the layer only. This way I added the shadows that are cast by the building and the columns. Finally I anti-aliased all of it.
4.2 - Setting up camp
4.3 - The road
Next I locked the layers' transparency and with an airbrush and a light and dark gray added lighter and darker areas to the road, thus showing its' undulations over the hilly countryside.
After that I unlocked the layers' transparency and applied a blur filter to it, softening the edges. To make the road less flat I then applied a 2% noise filter (Gaussian, monochrome) to it and with the 1 pixel pencil tool set to 30% opacity I added white and black lines to give it a more "worn" look.
4.4. - The Car(s)
4.5 - Green stuff
The edges of the "carpet" where mottled here and there with a smaller brush. I then applied a blur filter, applied a 2% add noise filter and set the layers' blending mode to color burn, at 35% opacity. These exotic blending modes never fail to baffle me; I can simply not predict the look they will produce, so I usually end up switching them on and off in turn, arriving at a result through trial and error. However, this experiment turned out rather nice:
4.6 - Bigger green stuff
After this comes the big one: anti-aliasing all this. Unlock the layers' transparent pixels and get ready to add a few million semi-transparent pixels. When anti-aliasing the trees make sure you anti-alias their tops with long (5 or 6 pixels) ranges of pixels. This enhances their long, slender, tapering shape.
Finally I added another layer beneath the trees-and-bushes layer. In this layer I drew the shadow that trees and bushes cast upon the landscape (1 pixel pencil tool, black). Applied a blur filter and set this shadow layers' blending mode to multiply, 30% opacity.
5 - The foreground
The foreground hilltop that Indy might stand on was made in mostly the same way as the excavation hillside. As I've already described that, I'll go over this bit of the picture in high speed - stopping every now and then to show you a peculiar rock formation or nice flower.
5.1 - Under foot
The ground layer was then smeared (6 pixel tool, 50% strength) and noise (2%, Gaussian, monochrome) was added. The rocks and columns were anti-aliased. I also added some more detail on the toppled column: highlights on the ridges, one of those square holes that held its' connecting metal bar, some cracks and specks.
All this anti-aliasing and detailing was done with - you've guessed it - the 1 pixel pencil tool. Where would we be without it?
Next I added a "dark lines" and "light lines" layer above the "ground" and "rock" layers (using exactly the same settings as described in section 4) and gave the rocks and ground some detail: highlights and shadowy areas on the rocks, cracks, ridges on the earth. The light and dark lines on the path I smoothed out with the smudge tool (4 pixel brush, 30% strength).
5.2 - Horticulture
5.3 - The gnarly tree
I then protected the layers' transparent pixels and added some subtle dappled light to the tree trunk, branches and leaves, using a 20% transparent, 4 pixel pencil brush with very dark green and brown colors.
To anti-alias the tree I used a quick and dirty technique - just to show you of course. I scaled the tree to 90% of its' original size: this automatically anti-aliases the whole layer (edit > transform > scale). This trick works only if you want the whole layer anti-aliased (not just the edges) and when the size of the objects in the layer is not important to other layers. I personally think that anti-aliasing done by hand looks cleaner.
I added another layer, below the tree layer and drew the shadow it casts over the path and rocks with a black 1 pixel pencil brush. Blurred this layer, set its' blending mode to overlay and its' transparency to 20%.
5.4 - Finishing touches
I inserted a layer between the "fields" and "excavation hillside", filled it completely with pure white and set its' opacity to 10%. Then I inserted another layer, between the "excavation hillside" and "foreground" layers. Filled this one with pure white as well, and set its' opacity to 20%
This way the different areas of the picture become more defined, and the picture gets a lot more depth.
I hope you enjoyed this lengthy tutorial, and learned some new things. I know I enjoyed making it! If you have any questions or remarks, feel free to send me an email.
Misja van Laatum - may 2003
(Misja van Laatum graduated from the Utrecht College of Arts, way back in the nineties of the previous millenium. He is a freelance (web) designer, artist, games collector and FoY background maker. If you want to see more of his work, surf to www.miez.nl - and learn some Dutch in the meantime).