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Deus Ex - Adam Jensen Walkthrough

[HUGE FILE DOWNLOAD (I wanted to keep each step at a decent resolution)]

Ever since I uploaded my painting of Adam Jensen, I have been getting asked a lot of questions about my painting process, help for achieving certain things in art artwork, and tutorials. So I decided to make this simple little walkthrough for all of you with questions, or for those who are merely interested in the way I paint. It's not too in-depth, but I think it can answer some of your questions.


This is the first step in almost all of my paintings, and it's arguably the most important. I had this idea of Adam Jensen worn out from a tough fight fresh in my mind (which doesn't always happen, but that's ok; if an idea is not clear at first, do a bunch of quick thumbnail sketches to get multiple composition options down, then choose the one that you think is the most successful). I start with the general canvas proportions I want, but at only 150 ppi. This smaller format allows my computer to not be as bogged down with information, so it functions with less lag. It will be scaled up later.
With a basic round brush with my opacity and flow settings set to "pen pressure" (and sometimes a pencil or charcoal-like texture, if I'm feeling 'traditional'), I begin to quickly lay in the major shapes of the composition on a new layer: head, hand, shoulder armor, etc. I work big to small, keeping the overall composition in mind, rather than the tiny details. When I like the placement, I start loosely indicating facial features and expression. I then create a new layer underneath this sketch and start adding light and shadow, trying different lighting scenarios to see which looks best (When adding light and shade at this early stage, try to keep it to just one light and one dark. Just like how you should keep the composition as simple shapes at this stage, keep the lighting simple too). Once I am happy with how the composition feels, I lower the opacity of both the sketch and light/shadow layers, add a layer on top of it all, and start on more intricate line work in the areas than need it. In this particular image, the only places that need this extra refinement are the eye area, the mouth, and maybe the hand.
Not every little thing in the image has to be working this early, but it is important to get MOST of what you want to convey down at this stage; mainly the big shapes (both of object silhouettes and light/shadow shapes) and how they contribute to the overall composition. Just like the foundation of a house, this initial plan will be the basis for the rest of the project. It is important to give a good foundation so that the cosmetic parts can be successful (notice that I don’t have tiny details like bullet holes, smoke, or his augmented eye drawn yet. I was not even thinking about these yet; they came later as I was trying new things while painting).

Luckily for me, the Deus Ex game had a very specific color scheme: golds, browns, and blacks. I make a simple color palette on a new layer based on this information.
At this point, I have gotten rid of the sloppy sketch and light/shadow test layers, so now I just have (from top to bottom) the palette layer, the linework layer, and the blank background layer. I fill the background layer with a dark brown and some slightly varying values so that it’s not just one boring color (keep in mind that I am still playing with composition. Therefore, I put the lighter parts of the background where darker parts of Adam’s face are going to be, and vice versa. This “light, dark, light, dark” repetition creates energy, and also helps Adam fit into the setting. If I did not do this, then he would just look like a shape cut out and placed on a generic background).
I add a new layer on top of the background to start adding my skin tones. From this point on, I will always have a mental image of where the light source is coming from. I paint in the shadow and light areas, keeping it relatively simple, trying to show a bit of three-dimensional form. Keep everything on its own layer (skin, hair, armor, etc.) and try to paint good edges. This will make it easier you if you need to select or mask off a specific area in the painting.

Now that I have basic colors and shapes established, I bump up the resolution from 150 ppi to 300 ppi.
Once I am happy with the tones, values, and colors in the face, I start to slowly blend them together. There are two ways that I prefer to do this: use a speckled smudge brush at a fairly high strength, or use the color picker (alt) to select adjacent tones and paint them into one another manually. Both ways work great.
I now start to reinforce the focal point: Adam’s mechanical eye. The easiest way to make an area a focal point is to have the darkest darks against your lightest lights. The eye here is a perfect example: the pure black pupil is surrounded by bright circular bars of light in the iris, and that iris is encased in a very dark edge. Circular shapes and lines are also easy ways to make an object a focal point (think of a target; just a bunch of circles of varying size around each other. The human eye is basically the same way. That is one of the reasons that we as humans look at other people’s eyes when we talk to them).
At this stage, I also like to add a layer mask to my linework layer so that I can get rid of it where I don’t need it anymore (you could use an eraser, but that’s ‘permanent’; if you paint into a layer mask with white, what you’ve painted out will return). To add a layer mask, make sure you are on the desired layer, look at the bottom of the layers panel, and you should see a little square icon with a circle inside of it. Click it, and the mask is applied. Now just paint in that mask with black (to hide the layer) and white (to reveal the layer).

4.) MOAR
Just more of the previous step, but I am taking it to the armor and glasses.

After I have a nice, believable, three-dimensional base, it’s time to add the fun stuff. I establish the shapes of the big blood streams, trying to imagine how gravity would pull the thick red liquid over the bumps and mounds of Adam’s forehead and cheeks. A tip to remember about blood: wherever the blood is more dense, the darker and closer to black it will look. Wherever it is thinner and more light is passing through, it will appear brighter and more vibrantly red.
It is at this point that I start to add a bit of texture where needed. It is easy to overdo texture, so be specific about where you want it. Using a speckled brush first, I indicate where there is some unevenness in the skin. I usually just use the color picker to choose an adjacent color, then paint lightly with that new color (it’s basically the second blending technique I mentioned in step 3, except with a bunch of dots instead of a smooth brushstroke).
Even though I am painting the fun stuff, I am still adjusting the overall composition; you should keep doing this until it feels absolutely right, no matter how far along in the painting process you are. For example, I took a big soft brush and lightly added a bit of dark purple under his eyebrow to make his eye sit further back into his skull. I used the same brush to lightly redden/darken his cheeks at this stage as well. I also selected his hand and slightly enlarged it.
I am still progressively painting into the layer mask on my linework layer to get rid of it as I see fit.

I am nearing completion at this point. I made the blood darker so that it doesn’t distract as much as it did previously (thanks Dan), and made it pool a bit above his glasses frame. I add a few extra highlights on the blood to add a bit of interest and form, but BE CAREFUL. It is EXTREMELY easy to overdo highlights. Observe different materials in real life and see how light reacts with them.
To add a bit of variation and interest to the skin, I added some discolored purple and green bruises by lightly painting with a cloud-like brush. Add a little bit of skin texture on top so that they feel like they are under the skin.

The painting is basically done, but I always like to push things a little bit further. I add a few light blooms being reflected off the metallic buttons on the armor by lightly painting with a soft brush at 10% opacity, set to “screen”.
I touch up the smoke seeping out of the bullet wounds and add some smoke in the background. When painting smoke, try to imagine how the wind would carry it, and try to make it feel random. In art, making things seem random is extremely difficult, but it pays off in the end. Smoke can have both sharp and soft edges at the same time, so experiment with both to get a convincing effect. After I am happy with how the smoke looks, I lower the opacity a little bit so that it doesn’t distract from the rest of the image (which is easy for smoke to do, it looks awesome!).
Keep the composition in mind when painting the little details like smoke; they can add to the strength of the whole image (or break it if you’re not smart with it’s placement). For example, I could have easily painted cool looking wispy smoke that drifts off to the right, but that would make the viewer’s eye look off to the right. Instead, I made them float up towards Adam’s face to keep the viewer’s eye from wandering away from the focal point.

This is generally how I paint whenever i do digital works. Sometimes there are little differences (drawing in pencil first and scanning it in, for example), but for the most part it is consistent. I like to try to keep traditional painting techniques for as long as I can throughout the painting process before resorting to custom brushes, layer modes, and filters.

I hope this little walkthrough has been helpful and/or insightful. If you found it useful, please ‘favorite’ it so that it can get around to others faster. Comments and critiques are welcome and appreciated.

The finished piece can be seen here: [link]

and don't forget to join me on facebook: [link]

Thanks for reading, and thanks for the continued support. I really appreciate it!
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© 2012 - 2021 HoustonSharp
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J25TheArcKing's avatar
The concept to the final piece...

Very hard work, but you did a very good job on this. I like it!
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killswitchengagex's avatar
good job man i wonder why it didnt get a DD
xXPharaohAtemXx's avatar
this is beautiful o_o
punkeuzNDA's avatar
Woaaaw *^* this step by step is....
Really awesome !! And the final !! You rock !
Painthisice's avatar
AsheFF's avatar
Wow, really gorgeous! I could observe this forever
blackOliv's avatar
Amazing job! I love It!!!
renegadesoldier's avatar
Fucking amazing. Thanks for your insight, I completely agree with it, and yes, I'm all for traditional painting first and then only then further pushing a piece with effects, filters etc.
Algarys's avatar
That's wonderful ! I wish I had your technique ! :D
So real :)
HoustonSharp's avatar
it's a pretty straightforward technique, so you can do it too if you try. Hope this walkthrough helped!
fullcreamilk's avatar
crap.. i thought the finished product was a photo!
ponykenso's avatar
i still haven't finished that game, its rather hard when you pick the crap tranq rifle, good work though
ArthurTales's avatar
How many hours of work?
HoustonSharp's avatar
not many to be honest. I would say about 10. I worked on it for about 3 days, a few hours each day.
CoLdEmBeRs22's avatar
Oh my god this is beautiful! Adam Jensen is my favourite character~ Deus Ex: HR was such a beautiful game.
ZLibbenga13's avatar
Poor Adam...keeps getting beaten and bloody, but gosh I love this. Recently become addicted to the game.
HoustonSharp's avatar
same here, love the game.
ZLibbenga13's avatar
It makes me feel so sneaksy :P also makes me want to be augmented...
bionicron's avatar
not a praxis short of AMAZING
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