Illustrations/Digital Models: Drawing Transformers: Part 2 - Color Basics

Discussion in 'Tutorials and How Tos' started by Altitron, Oct 4, 2009.

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  1. Altitron

    Altitron Commercial Artist

    Jun 22, 2007
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    Drawing Transformers: Part 2.1 – Color Basics


    First and foremost, allow me to thank Blitz. for giving me the go ahead for this little community collaboration! Seeing his drawing tutorial inspired me to create one of my own. However, I thought that rather than give everyone a second guideline to use when drawing a Transformer (and thereby possibly causing confusion amongst any beginners), I figured I would use the final, inked image from his thread and use it to give some insight towards the basics of coloring.

    Now, allow me to echo Mr. Blitz by saying that the techniques and processes that I will detail to you later in this thread are not necessarily the best and only way to go about coloring Transformers – or anything else, for that matter. I have refined my methods over a decade of using Photoshop (and Paint Shop Pro, prior to that), and most of my knowledge has been self-taught. As every snowflake is unique, as is every artist. Our respective styles may not be to every individual’s taste. I personally am not a fan of the so-called ‘Dreamwave’ coloring style (they went bankrupt for a reason*), but to each his or her own!

    For those of you that may be following along, here's a quick link to part one of this tutorial collaboration:

    Anywho, on with the tutorial!

    * I kid, I kid!

    Tools : Photoshop CS3 (Extended) †
    Wacom Intuos3 4x6 graphics tablet †
    The Intarwebz (for gathering reference photographs, textures, et cetera)

    † I realize that these two products may be a little pricey and many of you may not be able to use them. For those of you that do not have Photoshop, use Google and download yourself a copy of Gimp. It is a free program that is very much akin to Photoshop – and it’s FREE! As for the graphics tablet – I can only say that I have a very loving wife. I too once used a mouse to do all of my coloring, so do not despair! You don’t /have/ to have a graphics tablet in order color well. Artwork is not about the equipment that you use, but how well you use what you have at your disposal. Cell shading (i.e. Transformers: Animated or the lamented ‘Dreamwave’ style) can be easily created with a mouse.

    Part 2.1.1: The Setup

    First things first: let’s get the artwork properly situated! To begin, you should have your selected piece opened in your respective art program on a single layer. Use Ctrl+A to select the entirety of that layer. Use Ctrl+C to then copy that layer. Now use Ctrl+N to open a new file (Photoshop should automatically tailor the size of this new file to the dimensions of what you copied). Optionally, when the ‘New’ dialogue box opens, you may choose to set the ‘Background Contents’ drop down menu to ‘White’. Doing so will automatically fill the background layer with the color white.


    When your new file is ready, create a new layer (see image, or use Ctrl+Shift+N). When the ‘New Layer’ dialogue box opens, set the ‘Mode’ drop down field to ‘Multiply’, and entitle the layer ‘Lineart’. This last step will help you easily distinguish which layer is which at a glance – especially when you have a lot of layers in play.



    For the unitiated, ‘layers’ (and their placement) is a core component in how Photoshop works. You can only effect whatever may be on a particular layer that you have selected. For example, you can not erase things on Layer A when you have Layer B highlighted. You will see this interaction first-hand in just a moment.

    Create a new layer –this one should be above the background layer, but below the ‘Lineart’ layer. To do so, highlight the background (or bottom) layer, and use Ctrl+Shift+N. Now, with this in-the-middle layer selected, use your Brush tool – one under the band aid button on the left side of the screen – and go crazy! You will soon see that no matter what you attempt to paint, none of it will effect the ‘Lineart’ layer above it!


    This is how we maintain the integrity of the original drawing. Just remember to save often and be extremely careful with what layer you have selected when you do your work. You can only use Ctrl+Z and Ctrl+Alt+Z (shortcut keys for ‘Undo’) so many times! It’d be disastrous if you spent an hour painting away only to realize that you had the wrong layer selected (like your Lineart layer… which I’ve done too many times to be proud of)!

    Now that we have the setup down, let’s move on to the real meat and potatoes of coloring!

    Part 2.1.2: Flats

    ‘Flats’ is a term used by artists to describe the preliminary coloring process, and flat color describes an area of color that is uniform in tone and hue (you can look those two up at your leisure, ha ha!

    – I kid, I kid. Tone and hue basically mean highlights and shadows).

    Flats are used to essentially map out the major color groups that you will be using on your line art – nothing fancy. For this process, Opacity, Fill, and Hardness should be set to 100%, and for those of you following along with a graphics tablet, all your Brush Presets should be unchecked (see image). Master Diameter doesn’t matter much at this point, but it should be set high enough to where you aren’t spending an hour painting everything with an extremely small brush. We want to throw color down here as quickly as possible – sloppy is an understatement.


    Now, just /how/ you go about grouping and layering your flats is a personal matter of preference. I’m sure that after hours of practice you will develop a routine all your own that conforms to your own liking. However, to get you started on the right path, I can offer you a few suggestions to ease the process:

    - Each ‘flat’ should represents its own layer.
    - Group ‘like’ colors (as in very similar – the minute differences can be developed later on when you are doing more advanced and fine color detail).
    - Group body parts (such as hair, skin, clothes, or for Transformers, pieces of equipment and kibble, such as alternate mode paneling, weapons, or wheels).


    If you haven’t already done so, go back and label your flat layers (you can double-click on the name of each layer to do so) so that you can identify them easier in the future.

    Part 2.1.3: Cleanup

    Now that you have your flats mapped out, it’s time to get in there and clean them up so that you can get to properly painting! There are a few methods you can use to go about doing this. The first and most simple method is to use the Eraser (E) tool to – obviously – erase where you might have slapped some color outside of the lines like a two-year-old. This is a pretty straight forward method. Just remember that in order to get a crisp, clear line, make sure that your eraser tool is set up just like your brush tool when you were applying flats – opacity, fill, and hardness set to 100%, and all brush presets unchecked. Remember, you can be lazy when it comes to cleaning up layers if you know how yours are set up. By this, I mean that you don’t have to clean up every little piece of the work neatly when you know full well that a particular spot is going to be painted over and covered up by another layer. Why waste the time?


    A trick that I like to use in the cleanup process is to decrease the opacity of a dark layer so that I can make sure that what I've left behind in my cleanup is not actually the remnant of any bleed over color, but the true line art. To do this, select the layer in question and then move the opacity bar just above it in the layer window to the left. In this particular image, I used a color very near to black to flat the wheels, so I decreased the opacity in order to see where the line art falls. That way I know where I need to use the eraser tool.


    Something else that I like to do to help me clean my work up is to use a contrasting, muted color as the background. You may have seen this in any of my works-in-progress posted on these boards - and the particular colors probably have changed from post to post. Some of you may have wondered WTF was up with this... Well, this technique helps me see where my colors end. You'll find out with practice that some colors are very hard to see against a white background (such as greys against black line art), and you want to be sure that you've cleaned everything up as good as it can be. This is just a little something that helps me do that process a bit better and a bit faster.

    To do this yourself, simply select the background layer, then the Paintbucket tool (G; or one beneath the Eraser tool), then select your color from the 'Swatches' palette on the upper right-hand corner, and then click anywhere on the canvas. Ta da!


    Another method to use, which is extremely handy when dealing with geometrical works like * TRANSFORMERS * is to use the Polygonal Lasso tool. Right-click on the icon third from the top, and there it is in the middle. To use this tool, simply click on the canvas and begin to cut the excess color out, following the contour of the line art. Blitz’s particular inking style makes this especially easy since his border lines are thick, making things almost dummy-proof. Once you have a shape created (you must complete the polygon, so double-click near where you began), right-click on it and select ‘Layer via Cut’. This will move that shape you created onto a new layer above the one you had been working on. When this is done, right-click on that layer and select ‘Delete’. This will remove the shape, containing the excess paint, from the image! Viola!





    Continue to do this until you have nothing bleeding outside of the original line art, and there aren’t any layers stepping on any other layer’s toes (you should only have to worry about this from the top layer down, not the other way around. Like I said, who cares if layers that are going to be covered up by other layers bleed out from where they ought to end?).

    Cleaning up flat work is probably the most time consuming and boring part of color work. However, putting in the labor makes the rest of your time a breeze, and I'll show you why!

    Using the Magic Wand tool (W), click on any layer that you have done clean up for - in this particular case, I'll be using the Wheels layer I have created. When done, you'll see the marching ants border along the entirety of the canvas, as well as around the edges of the cleaned-up flats on this particular layer.


    Now, right-click on your canvas, and select 'Select Inverse'.


    Doing this step flips your selection around to where you now only have the cleaned up flats themselves selected. Now, when you color - when you do /anything/ - nothing will go outside of that marching ant boder from within your flats. It is /impossible/ for you to color outside of the lines! You will maintain that clean look no matter what you do. Go nuts! This is the point at which you can really start throwing down your colors. We'll get more into brush specifics, shadows, and highlights later in a follow-on tutorial, but for the time being I would suggest trying out your brush with a hardness setting of 0%, opacity set to 45%, and fill set to 65%. This is a basic setting that will allow you to get a good feel for the program.


    Well, I think that’ll do it for Part 2.1. In Part 2.2, I will cover more advanced painting techniques, various painting styles, brush settings, textures, tricks, lighting, shadows, color theory… lots more stuff! Stay tuned!

    And as a parting gift, here are a few key stroke shortcuts to commit to memory – trust me, they’ll save you time and that is your most valuable commodity!

    - X – Swap between foreground and background color.
    - While the brush tool is selected, holding down the ‘Alt’ key changes it into the Eyedropper tool (for selecting a color).
    - While the brush tool is selected, holding down the ‘Ctrl’ key changes it into the Move tool (for moving the entire layer around the canvsas).
    - While the brush tool is selected, holding down the ‘Shift’ key forces you into drawing straight lines, either vertical or horizontal depending on the motion of your next stroke.
    - Z – Changes your tool to the Zoom tool; clicking zooms you, while holding down ‘Alt’ and clicking zooms out.
    - [, ] – Changes the width of your brush; [ for a smaller brush, ] for a larger brush.
    - E – Changes your tool to the Eraser tool. Guess what that’s for?
    - B – Changes your tool to the Brush tool. Self explanatory…

    There are many, many more little time savers in this program. Just try some keystrokes and experiment!


    - Alty

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