This is one from a pair of images I did for Machado and Silvetti Associates of Boston. Both were digital pieces, modeled and lit in Cinema 4D, then worked over by hand in Photoshop.
I use the modeling program not only to set up the camera station and determine the view in perspective, but also to light the scene in a way that picks up ambient color and lighting from the materials and atmosphere. Rather than a flat gray road, I find that the color of the sky and nearby materials will affect the color of the light itself, and thereby modify the final colors of surfaces as the light literally reflects off one surface and then hits and finally “colors” another. With complex models having many surfaces, lots of glass, and many objects, the process can take a while if not managed correctly. About a year ago I had a Boxx workstation put together for me specifically in order to maximize speed and render time, and now these solutions which formerly took 8 to 10 hours can be computed in less than an hour at most, often just a few minutes. This allows for an iterative progress, and numerous trials to achieve light, shade, shadow and color in a palette that works best for the intent.
Cinema 4D permits rendering of the model to a Photoshop-format file, with a number of channels saved as layers or selection masks in addition to the RGB image. I typically will render the image with some basic colors, even textures, for materials, in order to help bring color into shade and shadows. But I’ll almost always render it out with additional channels that contain the shadow information alone, major materials, depth information (to later introduce atmospheric perspective with paint), reflections, and even shadows from separate lights.
This allows me to throw a simple brick mock-up texture or surface color on to the model, in order to establish a base color for the ambient light. The channels will permit me to later go back in to the image in Photoshop and entirely remove the generic material and then re-paint in something more varied and interesting. This way, shadows can be worked independently of each other in 2D, colors shifted, atmospheric depth painted in, etc. It takes far less time to paint in a bluish haze than it does to, say, add a physical (modeled) light blue fog to the scene and have it solve for the depth effect by itself. It’s also entirely independent of the image (on a separate layer), and I can omit the depth if I want at the last minute. If the haze were part of the physical model solution, it’s in there, and not very “undo-able”.
As a first-pass toward establishing the composition and checking things over with the Architect and their client, I will sketch out a very rough composition test, introducing people, trees, cars, a little roughness and texture where it needs it. I’ll suppress detail from the model I find extraneous, and which fights the center of interest, while adding in detail where needed by hand. Colors are tweaked, either cranked up a bit, or dialed back in saturation, shifted one way or another with regard to hue, adjusted for color shifts, etc. The selection masks made while rendered in Cinema 4D are an immense help in this part of the process. The composition test is sent off usually via email, and because I’ll invariably have further questions or comments, I’ll include a marked up version of the composition and color test to get the issues out on paper.
This process of reviews and iterations takes place a few more times, each time dialing in on the final work. In this case, the class of students sitting around the scene during an outdoor sketch session was ultimately abandoned. It was also determined that we should see some of the existing Dartmouth Stadium at the far end of the street, to establish the context a bit more concretely.
While working in Photoshop, I take pains to avoid any use of the stock filters. They are notoriously limited in range, and look nothing like what they purport to be. The “watercolor” filter looks nothing like watercolor, for example. Even if it did, the use of such a filter would merely create an image that looks like every other “Photoshop watercolor” out there. The intent isn’t so much to replicate watercolor, which this doesn’t pretend to do, but to create an image which is expressive, gestural, less-literal and more conceptual, and which clearly shows evidence of a human hand.
When working in photoshop, I will usually use a simple round brush with a hard edge, pattern stamp brushes, texture overlays, and a system of layer modes that is so interwoven, it can become a house of cards if I’m not careful about it.
Below, the final image, …with details following.