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Defining the light side

From: Digital Matte Painting Essentials 3: Tone

Video: Defining the light side

In this section we're going to define the direction of light and select all of the surfaces on the castle that face that light. If you're doing your own castle and following along with this project to understand the basic concepts, please light your castle from either the left or right side. If your structure is lit from the front or back, there is much less opportunity to establish form in the project. It's true that many great map paintings are backlit, but that's a more advanced lighting solution that requires a full understanding of the basics before it can be successfully mastered.

Defining the light side

In this section we're going to define the direction of light and select all of the surfaces on the castle that face that light. If you're doing your own castle and following along with this project to understand the basic concepts, please light your castle from either the left or right side. If your structure is lit from the front or back, there is much less opportunity to establish form in the project. It's true that many great map paintings are backlit, but that's a more advanced lighting solution that requires a full understanding of the basics before it can be successfully mastered.

So let's choose a direction of light for this castle and I want you to actually mark it in your Photoshop file. Create a new layer and name this layer Direction of Light. You also need to indicate the angle of the light. If I light this castle from a low raking angle like this. We'll get a very different shadow pattern than if I light it from a higher angle like this. Draw sun symbol to remind yourself this is the primary direction of light.

Make another new layer, and call this one light side. Now you need to select all of the rectangular or flat surfaces that face the primary light source that we just defined. You only want to select the flat surfaces on this pass, because we'll be handling all of the rounded surfaces, like the towers and domes, separately. We're also not going to worry about shadows on this section. If you use a 3D program in your work, think of this as if you had the shadows turned off on your primary light.

So any surface facing the light will be illuminated. As you're selecting, don't worry about any edge that overlaps with the outer edge of the castle. You can intersect this selection with a silhouette to clean up the edges when you're finished. This process may seem tedious, but you'll want to take your time with it. Expect to spend 15 or 20 minutes getting this accurately selected. Just like the silhouette, you'll be using this selection to define other selections.

So any inaccuracy will propagate through the other selections. One this first pass through, you should concentrate on getting all of the large flat surfaces. You will ultimately need to select all of the light sides of these triangular crenelations. But it's easiest to get the large surfaces first, and then return for a second pass. You'll find your selection process most successful if you don't try to get too large or complex an area in one go.

If you do too much at one time. You'll often lose track of where your selection began, and when you release the marquee, you'll find that you've unintentionally selected an area you don't want, or deselected an area you want. So, make reasonable selections, release the marquee tool and then add another reasonably sized selection. Don't forget the arm that goes out to this side tower.

And these back bastions. That took care of all of the large surfaces on the light side, but now you need to select the light side on all of these triangular crenelations. This part of the process becomes very repetitive. Hopefully you get the idea. So I'm going to speed up this recording by 200%, so I can get through this in a reasonable amount of time.

This light side selection will take you the longest to create, obviously longer than the selection of the castle silhouette since you have to select all of these crenelations. However, please take the time to be accurate in your selection. I suggest to my students that you put on some good music, and settle in, and enjoy the zen aspect of a good selection session. This is another good chance for you to practice your selection keyboard shortcuts. And one more time as a quick reminder, shift key to add to a selection, Option or Alt key to subtract from a selection, and Option+shift or Alt+shift to intersect within existing selection.

The next minute of selecting will be silent. If you want to skip over this section, fast forward to where the 2 X speed symbol disappears, so you can see how to clean up the selection by intersecting it with the silhouette of the castle and fill the light side with tone.

That completes the selecting of the light side surfaces, and that took me a total of about 15 minutes. Now it's time to clean up this selection by intersecting it with the silhouette of the castle. Hover your cursor over the silhouette layer in the Layers panel, then hold down the Cmd > Option > Shift or Ctrl > Alt > Shift keys. Notice how when you hold down those keys, the cursor gets a little x next to it? That means intersect. Now click into the Layer thumbnail preview for the silhouette layer.

Only the area within the castle silhouette remains selected. So you now have a clean light side on the castle. Make sure that your light side layer is still selected. And then, go to your color picker and pick that same medium grey 150, 150, 150 in the RGB readout. That we filled the castle silhouette with. Fill that selection full of the gray, and then change the transfer mode for the layer from normal to screen.

We're going to cover Layer Transfer modes in a lot more detail later, but for right now, just know that screen always makes things lighter, and multiply always makes things darker. It'd be nice to see a little bit of your line work, so set your LightSide layer to 70%. You've clearly defined the light side of your castle. And in the next section we'll find the inverse, the dark side.

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Digital Matte Painting Essentials 3: Tone

19 video lessons · 2763 viewers

David Mattingly
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