Artwork: Armorvor Vampire Bat, Step by Step

This week's assignment for the League of Extraordinary Bloggers is to write a step-by-step guide on how to do something. Since I had just finished some trading card artwork for TheGodBeast's Vampire Bat Armorvor, I thought this would be a good opportunity to show how I do these illustrations. If anything, it's always fun to see a Photoshop project broken down layer by layer. On with the show!

The first thing I did was find some good reference pics. Both Marty and Jason had nice pictures of the Vampire Bat head sculpt on their respective sites. I already have a Wolf Armorvor figure, which worked well as a reference for the armor.

I sketched out the illustration on Strathmore Bristol smooth comic board and inked it with Faber-Castell artist pens. This was the first time I used pens rather than my usual brush and ink bottle, and I was nervous that the inking would turn out weird. Fortunately, it worked just fine. I scanned the inks into the computer at 600 dpi, and I was off!

Layer 1 - Inks: In Photoshop, I scaled down the scan and plopped it into my trading card template. The guidelines on the sides of the image helped me to format the picture to give the printer a little leeway in case the printing turns out a little off.

Next, I increased the brightness and contrast to bring out the dark lines. I also adjusted the levels (Image > Adjustments > Levels) to more distinctly define the white and black areas of the image.

Layer 2 - Lines: I isolated the lines and smoothed them out. I used the Magic Wand to select the black lines (with Contiguous unchecked of course) and then right-clicked on the selection and chose Make Work Path. I input a tolerance of 1.5 pixels, which made a Pen work path with smoothed-out lines around the ink. Then, I made the ink layer invisible and created a new layer. I selected the Pen tool and right-clicked on the path to select Fill Path. And viola! I had a layer with just inks. (Marty correctly noticed that the thighs were disproportionate. It was really a case of perspective gone wrong, so I adjusted them so they evened up.)

Layer 3 - Base Color: Next was the base color layer underneath the line layer. Here I defined the different areas of the character in flat colors. While I was inking, I was careful not to leave any gaps around the borders so that it was easier to use the Magic Wand to select the Bat's boundaries.

Layer 4 - Hard Shadows: Between the ink and base layer, I created a new layer for the hard shadows. I like lots of stark black shadows because they create such a dramatic flair. Here I used the Polygonal Lasso to select an area and filled each area with black.

Layer 5 - Soft Shadows: I placed the second layer of shadows underneath the hard shadows. This layer was pretty much the same deal as the first (select with Polygonal Lasso and fill with black), but the layer was set to 50% opacity.

Layer 6 - Indistinct Shadows: A third layer of indistinct shadows, also set at 50% opacity, went on top of the second layer. This was much more free-form than the other shadow layers. I just grabbed a black brush with a broad feathering (like 100 or 300 pixels) and painted shading here and there to add depth. If I colored outside the lines, I could just use the Magic Wand to select the outside of the base colors (Layer 3) and delete any sloppy paint strokes.

Layer 7 - Highlights: A highlight layer went on top of the previous layer (but below the hard shadows in Layer 4). Yet again, I did the old Polygonal Lasso > Fill thing, but with white instead of black. The opacity was set to 30%.

Layer 8 - Indistinct Highlights: Another layer of indistinct highlights was placed on top of the first highlight layer. Here I did the same thing as the indistinct shadows (Layer 6) but with a white paint brush instead. I set the opacity to 40%.

Layer 9 - Detailing: The last layer for the bat is a detailing layer, on which I added "sparkles" to the eye, eye lens, and mouth. This layer is the only one that I placed above the lines (Layer 2).

But I wasn't done yet! Bat still needed a background. I made all the Bat's layers invisible so that I could work on the background unimpeded. This background was actually reused from my first Armorvor illustration, but I adjusted the hue (Image > Adjust > Hue/Saturation) to a purple coloration. Reusing backgrounds might sound a bit cheesy, but it saves time and creates a sense of uniformity within an action figure line. But if I were to recreate this background, I'd start with a new layer under all the Bat's layers.

Layer 10 - Star Field: Star fields always make great backgrounds so I made a very basic one, courtesy of this tutorial. For the Armorvors, I didn't go too crazy with lens flares because the star field isn't the main attraction for the illustration.

I then replaced the white of the stars with a color by choosing Select > Color Range, selecting the black areas, selecting the inverse (Select > Inverse), then filling with color. I blurred the result with a radius around 12 pixels. Finally, I set the blend mode for the layer to Linear Dodge (Add). This will come into play with the next layer.

Layer 11 - Background Gradient: I hid the previous layer and put a new layer beneath it. This one was just a basic circular gradient.

Then I made the layer above it visible, and presto! A basic star field background. The Linear Dodge (Add) blend mode for Layer 10 allowed some of the gradient to come through and highlight the stars.

I made all the Bat's layers visible again and ta da! Armorvor Vampire Bat trading card! The whole process, from sketch to final product, was about a 4 hour deal. Stay tuned... there are more Armorvor illustrations where this one came from! And if you'd like to see a larger shot of this illustration, head on over to deviantArt!

Check out more step by step guides by other League members:
  • The Lair of the Dork Horde has an unconventional approach to destroying the Death Star.
  • UnderScoopFire presents some good guidelines for the inevitable Justice League movie.
  • That Figures has an easy guide to create your own SyFy movie title. Mine was "Ice Gator"!
  • Shezcrafti reminds us just how crappy computers were back in the 90's.

DISCLAIMER: All items reviewed on Dork Dimension were purchased by the reviewer unless otherwise noted. The opinions expressed on Dork Dimension are solely those of the author and are presented for entertainment purposes only.