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3D Illustration: Create A Fearsome Fantasy Age Dragon

Step into a world of knights, sorcerers, elves and of course, dragons! Our Photoshop tutorial this time around will show you how we breathe life into one of the world’s most commanding mythological creatures, the mighty dragon, by mapping and rendering a 3D illustration.

Before & After:

What can you expect after going through the birth pangs of dragon re-birth?

Let’s get on with it, shall we not?

Step 1:

Firstly, use methods you’re familiar with to edge out the object. Select the Pen Tool (Press P) to make a selection on the dragon, as it gives a more solid and precise outline. Use Mask to reveal only the dragon, and make the background transparent for easier previews.

Image ID: 290805 © Paul Moore

Step 2:

I’d usually prefer to deal with the larger parts of a subject rather than the smaller areas. Thus, I’m first going to create the scale texture on the dragon’s body. Place the larger scale texture onto the body and the wing bone areas closest to the body. Use Multiply mode and set 100% Opacity to the texture layer. Mask the unwanted areas. The results you obtain should be like in the image below.

Image ID: 3127332 © Eric Isselée

Step 3:

In order to obtain a realistic end result, apply the smaller scale texture onto the body, the smaller wing bones and the face of the dragon, as this will enhance the depth of its bone structure. Use Overlay mode and set Opacity to 100% to achieve this effect.

Step 4:

The ancient dragon’s wing should look rougher, hence I was very careful when selecting its texture. I discovered that this bone would work well for it.

Image ID: 1648728 © Elżbieta Dziedzic

Set all wing layers to Multiply mode and Opacity at 96% while masking unwanted areas. Notes: The color of the entire dragon may be adjusted in the following step. However, if you’ve already decided on the color mood of the dragon, you may proceed with the rendering process in this stage.

Step 5:

Find any animal’s eye that could replace the existing one. That of an iguana is very suitable for our dragon here, as it looks quite aggressive. Then, use part of the iguana’s tongue on the dragon, applying Overlay mode with 100% Opacity.

Image ID: 4681309 © Galló Gusztáv

Step 6:

The dragon’s existing horns might not appear to be that outstanding, hence I’m going to use the same iguana’s horns to replace them. They convey the creature’s strength.

Step 7:

If you’ve already colored the dragon, then you may skip this step. For me, the sole purpose of changing its color is to help me obtain a more coherent feeling as to how its surroundings should look like. Its tone, as shown below, will still be modified eventually.

Step 8:

Increase the image’s contrast before beginning to tweak the color. The steps below display how I’d played around with Photoshop’s Standard Tools like Curves, Levels, Hue and Saturation. Try to experiment with various settings until you find your desired result.

Step 9:

Use Nik Software’s Viveza to create the lighting effects on the dragon’s body. Once you’ve decided on the settings, hold Alt and drag to duplicate another Control Point to the areas you want. The image below shows how I made certain parts of the dragon darker.

Step 10:

Use Nik Color Efex Pro’s Reflector Effects to give it a directional source of light.

Step 11:

Carry out some minor adjustments in order to get the right color mood. Using your own artistic sense, make the necessary changes should you discover any parts that can be further improved.

Step 12:

Insert the background image to suit the dragon’s position and perspective. Add some shadow under it, or you can do this at the final step. We might encounter some minor problems around the dragon’s edges, but they can be solved in the following step. Change the environment’s tone to match that of the dragon, as shown below.

Image ID: 6532760 © Galyna Andrushko

Step 13:

I am going to execute two steps to attain the final atmosphere for this image. Go to Nik Color Efex Pro 3.0 > Bleach Bypass to experiment with the effect.

Step 14:

Use the Sunshine effect to control the background scenery’s light source, and make the entire image warmer and brighter.

Step 15:

Go to Filter > Artistic > Paint Daubs to create an illustration effect.

Step 16:

Once again, use Nik Color Efex Pro’s Reflector Effects to render and slightly tweak the frontal perspective of the scenery.

Step 17:

In order to enhance the structure and hardness of the body’s surface, apply some contrast lighting on the edges of the scales. Select certain portions with the Magic Wand Tool (Press W). Then, use Curve (Press Ctrl + M) to make the lines of the scales more outstanding. I wouldn’t suggest applying it to the entire body because doing would make the scales appear to be uniform and monotonous. And if you’re really going for an amazing effect, you can even mask any particular layer with toning based on the dragon scales’ shading.

Step 18:

Generally, the dragon’s teeth, claws and horns should be really rough and dirty. So just create your own dirty look texture with some dull colors, or grab similar ones from other images. Always play around and combine the Layer Mode options in the Layers window, as they can help you to make those body parts look more interesting than those of pure color.

Step 19:

We’re almost done, but not quite yet! We can still enhance the dragon’s shadow and use some blood-like texture (with different toning) on the dragon’s scales to complete the entire process. It makes the illustration appear to be more realistic and engaging overall.

Image ID: 4502973 © Ruslan Kokarev

Step 20:

And with that, you’ve just unleashed a very hungry dragon to roam across the land. Be sure to pack your sheep in the barn and run for cover if you see a huge figure looming in from above!

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