Photoshop tutorial

Paint Darth Vader in 2D & 3D

Darth Vader art

Steve Argyle reveals how the process of painting perspective, reflections and details can be made easier by compositing 3D models into your art


Steve Argyle
Steve Argyle
Steve freelances in 2D and 3D, primarily for fantasy and science fiction genres in games and film.

Darth Vader. For folks like me, he's the grandfather of all villainy. Unyielding, unstoppable, unhuggable. Star Wars was the first movie I ever saw and forever did it dominate my destiny.

To create Vader, I want the painting to show that same disciplined, structured, hard style that Vader embodies. While I love loose, expressive styles, textured brush strokes and the abstraction of forms, I feel that Vader needs the opposite.

He demands precision, rigidity and clarity. Imposing realism, as opposed to dream-like, emotive and painterly.

Precision means line after line after line of perspective work. Groan. I could live out the rest of my days perfectly content to never work out my own threepoint perspective again.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: why doesn't this guy just burgle a screenshot from the internet and paint over that? Bad! This is a no-no in professional work.

Don't get me wrong. You need reference. You just need to use it wisely. So, in this case I'll be using the countless of Vader images knocking about online to build a 3D model.

I'll have all the control I want, and so it'll make a better painting. Soon Vader will have a new master.

01 Sketching up
Modern 3D tools such as ZBrush and SketchUp make sculpting models much more accessible to artists. I'm using Maya, but use whatever you're comfortable with.

I start by sketching up a basic front and side line drawing - something that'll make edges clear as I model.

Step 1 image

02 Meshing around
I build a low-res mesh using Maya, just getting the basic structure in there. I begin with a plane that orientates toward the front view, and draw in the edges using the Split Polygon tool.

Once the edges are all cut in, I move to the side view and move each vertex to its corresponding location. This gives me a quick, simple mesh.

I often stop at around this point, simply because the more work I do in 3D, the less I get to paint. And the more realistic your 3D model, the trickier it is to match into your painting.

Step 2 image

03 Getting into detail
That being said, I'm going for it. A detailed Vader model, and be damned the trouble later! Visually, he's so much about the reflections on his armour, so we're going to be better off with a smoother mesh.

Just as with a good painting, a good model has most of the work done in that initial, simple step. If step one equates to a sketch, then this step is all about simply cleaning up the linework, smoothing things out and adding a few details. I bevel some edges and add others where necessary.

Step 3 image

04 Get into the groove
Along with a little more refinement to the mesh, I introduce the smaller details. You could argue that elements such as the wire mesh behind his mouthpiece and the little grooves under his eyes are overkill.

Yet they're almost as quick to model as they would be to paint, so why not? (Because we only need a still image, we can get away with being a little sloppy in terms of 'polygon economy'. If this model were for animation, we'd approach it much more critically.)

Step 4 image

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