These broken down gifs are roughly my "process tutorials" for creating a finished piece. I started making these kinds of gifs when fellow artists and my curious friends and peers began asking how I made this (overlay, layer, gradient, etc.) work, or what technique did I use to create that (harsh lighting, blur, glow, etc.) effect. After answering those questions a few times, I decided to simply post my process and hope that having some visual aids would help along with my explanations. Since Avatar: The Last Airbender has always been a childhood favorite of mine, I latched onto the Legend of Korra in a heart beat and loved it! So for these mini tutorials, I am using Avatar Korra to help show how I work.
(Disclaimer: I do not own this character. I am borrowing Korra for teaching purposes only.)
I always start out with a rough sketch, which is exactly what this is: rough! I don't focus on color or making anything tight and neat. At this point, I am simply following a path of motion I have set in my head. With this sketch, the movement is sweeping from the bottom left up to the top right in a swoosh arch. Once I have that decided it's easy to add the follow through details with the hair and clothing; they just have to follow the arch's direction I established with the water whip.
After the sketch is complete, I can think about lighting (not color! not yet!) but simply where my light source is coming from and where my shadows will be. Now I knew I wanted Korra in the Avatar state, so I knew to get those glowing eyes to pop out I needed her face to be in contrast to that bright lighting which is why her face is cast in shadow.
Since I was happy with the initail design, I used the rough sketch to get a clean outline to work with. Once that was done, I added the flat colors on separate layers in my PSD file. I also added a gradient for the background once I chose a color palette to work with (not forgetting where my light source was coming from!). For the eyes, I used the glow effect to make them "Avatar state" worthy.
The water was a bit more tricky to complete. At first I sat around scratching my head. How was I supposed to draw reflective water while in motion? I'd never done that before! Well, after some grumbling followed by research and then some trial and error, I found that a kind of "paint-by-number" look gave me what I was searching for.
At this point the drawing really starts coming alive for me. In this stage, I add the shadows and highlights to the character's skin, hair, and clothing. For pieces like this, shadows can simply be a multiply layer on top of the flat color.
For the water whip, I used a combination of the blur effect and the smudge tool to drag the water layers together so they would blend the way I wanted them to. I also went in to one of the water layers and added an 'outter glow' effect to it with a brighter and more saturated color. The closer the water whip is to the viewer, the more colorful the water is and the less blurred it seems. The whole water whip as a whole, has been lowered to an opacity of 85% or so. This way the water still appears somewhat transparent.
Almost completed! What little I have left to do here is basically minor touch ups to push my color and contrast. The background is given another once over, darkened with a textured brush. I made sure the glow from Korra's right was still transferred to her left side and also into her hair.
The water in the bottom left corner is faded out a bit. I didn't want the edges to be as sharp or noticeable as the water closer to the front which is where the main action is occurring.
Finally finished! I probably did not even need this extra push but I happened upon it while I was experimenting with some state changes and I really liked how it gave the background this cool wash effect, so I decided to try it out on my image as a whole. It darkened what I needed and allowed Korra's eyes to become a main focus, which was my main intent all along.
I achieved this overall look by using a gradient linked to my entire image, and then changing the state of the gradient to 'color burn' at a low opacity.
And there you go! This is one example of how I go about completing an image. I hope it was helpful and hopefully informative. Any questions you may have can be directed to my email on my contact page or at the top of the screen.
Composite of all process stages in action.
The gifs below are completed in the exact same fashion as the first break down. I really enjoyed figuring out the water look so I made another. Then I decided to try out what a wind effect would look like and made myself work out how to accomplish that effect. My next ones will, of course, be fire and earth.
I truly enjoyed creating these. I have always been a fan of this series as a whole: the storyline, the wonderful characters and their growth, the attention to detail in the various cultures, and the beautiful world building. This was a fun way to help answer a few questions directed towards myself, and gave me an opportunity to offer some tribute artwork to a show I really enjoyed growing up.