Decoding Daily Deviations: Forrest Defender

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Decoding Daily Deviations is the series that aims to unlock the secrets of what it took to create these magnificent artworks and motivate others to work towards similar recognition. Each week we will present an interview with one artist who has recently received a DD and have them share the details on that specific piece, relating to their creative process, techniques, and narrative inspirations. If you've ever wanted to know more about a beloved artwork and the talented skills applied to it, this is the series to keep track of!"

FEATURED ART: Forrest Defender by TatarskiSkandal
DD DATE: 2016-07-12
TOOLS/PROGRAMME: Daz3d, Zbrush, Marvelous Designer, Keyshot, Photoshop

Forrest Defender by TatarskiSkandal

Share with readers the details of how this piece came into being. Did you have a clear story idea/inspiration from the beginning?

I always wanted to create an image with some magical effects playing a role equal to the main character. Sometime ago I did a a sketch portraying a druid with a couple of ghost manifestations the said druid controls. I worked on it for few hours (yeah a “sketch") and stopped. I got bored. After couple of months I wanted to try a new workflow with new tools/software. I figured out this is a great opportunity to 'do it right.'"

The character design and detailing of “Forrest Defender” really stand out in grand fashion. Please, outline your creative process on the illustration from sketch to completion.

Thank you very much! Although I didn't follow this order (now I know that if I did I would have spent 10 - 15 hours less on this illustration), the overall simplified approach would be this: Thumbnails in 4- values (Shapes, composition) -> Designing the character(Graphic read -> shapes -> details) -> Making the 3D asset (staying true to the vibe, ignoring small shapes, focusing on the big shapes) rendering it and exporting to Photoshop -> Setting the stage (colour palette, perspective, etc.) -> Painting and simplifying (staying true to the thumbnail sketch) -> Painting some more -> Details."



               A-char design (1) by lovelessdevotions B-passess (1) by lovelessdevotions C-ghosts (1) by lovelessdevotions


D-1 (1) by lovelessdevotions D-2 (1) by lovelessdevotions 
D-3 (1) by lovelessdevotions D-4-value (1) by lovelessdevotions

I learned that the more I follow some sort of division of stages, the better (for me) the final result is. Multitasking is the killer of results, so I try to focus on one thing at a time. I separated the design from the illustration, did some studies on shapes and costumes, etc. I focused on the graphic read and made the concept first (IMAGE 1). I have a tendency to jump into cool stuff very quickly (dramatic lighting, details, effects, etc.), so I needed to pace myself and make sure the concept is worthy of taking to a fully rendered illustration. The process picture shows that. Although the final design in the illustration is a little bit different ( I got rid of some of the stuff from the concept phase), it's far better to get rid of/simplify stuff in the illustrative stage, than not have a strong design and just wing it. This is all about doing the heavy lifting first design wise. This is the arguably one of the most important stages. I learned it the hard way. If your design needs flashy dramatic lights, special effects, etc. to be awesome, it's probably not that great a design.  And then understand that if you’re doing an illustration, everything needs to work for the goal of storytelling.

Example: In the finished design phase (IMAGE 1), the character had some spikes/horns sticking out of his shoulder pads. I got rid of them, because the low angle shot made a huge mess there (the spikes from shoulders very tangential to antlers on the head etc). After finishing the concept itself, I proceeded to Zbrush to sculpt the armor on top of posed model from Daz3d. At this stage I am worried about big forms and staying true to the vibe of the concept. I also used Marvelous designer for the fabric bits (like the hood) which forced me to learn basics of sewing and pattern creation. It was hard as hell, but totally worth it because I now have an appreciation of how clothes are made, and what effort needs to be put to make costumes for movies. The 3D stage (for my process) is about getting a kick start, with a realistic form, not about making a final illustration. Most (80%) of the 3D stuff will get painted over later, so I try not to spend too much time there. I failed on this rule because I got carried away, I will know better next time...

After the 3D sculpt was done, I rendered a couple of passes in Keyshot (fabric, diffused, some wonky metal, some light passes) (IMAGE 2) and exported this to Photoshop. Backgrounds/environments aren’t my strong point, so I did a couple of forest studies to enforce the beginning. I start with a background to make a stage for the action taking place. That will give me some color/ value range that's needed to place the characters correctly in the scene. The ghosts are Daz models exported to Zbrush with the main character's armor distorted to fit them, not worrying about details at all (IMAGE 3). A lot of paint over with the original design put as a reference. This is all about being brave enough to get rid of some of the details 3D gave you. You are the artist, the master of the illustration. You are responsible for the end. If you feel that you need to bump a light here, add a shadow there to serve the illustration, do it. For example, I didn’t feel like the main character's right forearm (holding the staff) was serving my purposes, so I repainted it/changed the position. Also somewhere during this phase (IMAGES 4-6) I made the whole 4-value simplification (IMAGE 7). That allowed me to make a big decision about lighting. To plunge the illustration into shadow (lowering the key), and allow the magic to be the key light. Not much to say about the next phase, just painting. Making decisions, then painting some more. Adding details where needed (near the focal point especially), and  simplifying the rest along the way. Then simplifying some more, especially the textures. And that's up until the end."

Did you encounter any creative challenges when working on the piece? If so, how did you tackle them? Is there anything you would do differently now if you could?

I said in the beginning that I made a sketch prior to the illustration itself and I got bored. That's because initially I didn’t do the hard work of designing the characters, clothing, and I didn’t do the thumbnails, etc.  I got very ambitious with this illustration and the only way to proceed was to divide the process into manageable chunks. And on every stage I had problems that needed to be solved: Design stage problems with the visual library and generic shapes; making the 3D assets; how seams in clothes work; how this armor piece is attached to this belt, etc. Painting stage: Ability to lose details and textures in some spots and simplify. So most of the time it is asking yourself the right questions that give you at least an idea of where to look for the answers. 

A big one: During the painting process I got stuck. I didn’t know what was wrong and how to fix it. The overall piece was so visually busy that my eyes were hurting from looking at it. It's because I wanted too much. I wanted a cool light here, an amazing texture there, and it got out of control pretty quickly. I simplified the whole image into 4 values -- that's the concept of value massing. If your image doesn’t read in 4 (max 5 values) you’re doing something wrong. To check it in Photoshop, make flat merged layer (ctrl+shift+alt+e), desaturate it, make an adjustment layer: posterize (on layers tab, the black and white circle with adjustment layers -> posterize), and set the level to 4 values. If you can still read what's going on, you’re good to go. If not, adjust stuff to work in those 4 values. Value massing is a pretty advanced concept that really can’t be explained in couple of sentences. Basically, understand that you need to prioritize the focal points in the image. That understanding allowed me to control the textures, lights, and magical effects to better serve the illustration. What I’d do differently? I would do 4-value thumbnails first. That would have saved me 5 hours, maybe more. I would have spent less time in the 3D stage. I would have studied more to get some parts done quickly. And I would check the grammar of the title :) Also: I’ve got a small circle of people I trust, whose feedback I take into account. Even if I end up not applying the advice they’re giving, it's a powerful thing to have different opinions on stuff you’re doing. That can either help you get out of problems or empower your own ideas."

What’s one piece of advice that you would share with other artists hoping to reach this standard of work in the future?

Get out of your comfort zone. The only way to get good at something is to practice it."

What does this DD feature represent or mean to you at this stage of your artistic development? What can your watchers look forward to next?

I am really honored and humbled about this. It’s the appreciation of hours put in. And a reminder that I need to constantly get better and hone my skills. The journey never stops. As for next steps? I did some work I can’t wait to share and I really want to find time to start recording videos, even if we’re talking about time lapses, possibly evolving to tutorials with sharing the little knowledge I have."

Bonus question: Can you cite a memorable reaction to this piece in the comments at DA?

I enjoyed reading all of the comments and I appreciate all of them. I guess I remembered the most the one that said it’s "defender" not "deffender". Points for sharp observational skills." :)


Special thanks to TatarskiSkandal for kindly consenting to the interview!

Make a visit to his gallery to see more wonderful paintings: 

Einherjer by TatarskiSkandal Greenplanes by TatarskiSkandal DBZ_star wars by TatarskiSkandal

Previous Decoding DDs:

Red Snow
Catching Spirits
No kings and No Queens
The Tomb King
I'm fine
Cat Girl
Forest of Bunnies
The Journey
Malavestros: Muse of Madness
Jet Futura
The Northern Administration
Prisoned Singer
Don Kichote
On The Hunt
The Platform
I know a bank
Love and war
Chase, The Dreamer
Until the End of the World..
Crow Temple
Dragon's Breath

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cosmicbound's avatar
This series is ingenious in further featuring the artist and supplying incisive information to the aspiring. Could make a magazine out of these. Great suggestion here from @TatarskiSkandal on value checking! And I enjoyed the overall tone of continual artistic improvement communicated in this interview.