Mad Scientist


The classic depiction of the mad scientist is of a crazed individual working on some kind of high-tech gadgetry in his lab, sparks and electricity flying all around. A good example is Mad Scientist by Roberto Campus, part of a series of fourteen images made by the artist for a trading-card game. Campus decided to go for a cyborg as the subject of the scientist’s experiment, since it put a modern twist on an image reminiscent of 1940s and 1950s pulp magazine covers, as well as adding a touch of gore to the picture. Here the artist talks through how he did it.

artist: Roberto Campus
software used: Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter

Step 1: I made sure to include all the elements planned for the final image during the initial sketching process. I then redrew them on the computer by tracing over the lines using Painter and a Wacom tablet. The CG sketch was a low-resolution 72dpi image created using the Pencil tool with a small brush, and a 100 per cent Opacity setting over a sepia background.

Step 2: I continued using Painter for the main blocking phase. I resized the image to 300dpi, then switched to the Airbrush tool with a medium-sized brush and medium Opacity setting. I picked a few base colours, put them in a corner of the image for later reference, then started filling up all the various areas, right over the original traced sketch (on a single-layer flat image). I don’t add fine details in the blocking process and usually force myself to use the same brush size at all times. Then, by using the colour wheel to pick a lighter or darker colour than the base, I painted highlights and shadows. Throughout this stage, I used the Alt key to pick colours while I moved from area to area.

Step 3: Next up was the main painting stage, when I refined shapes and added details to the foreground elements. Here I concentrated on reshaping all the forms to their final position and dimensions. I switched to the Painter Brushes tool and a medium Opacity setting, then I used varying brush sizes, but with regular, small and more carefully positioned strokes.

Step 4: I soon realized that in order to achieve a higher level of realism for the face and hands of the main character, I had to rely on some reference material. Using a cheap digital camera (an invaluable tool for the digital artist), I snapped a few pictures of my face and hands illuminated by a light source coming from below. I imported the low-res photos into Painter, desaturated them and kept them handy (to the left of the actual illustration) while I was finalizing the face and head elements. Using a photo reference makes it easier and less time-consuming to achieve a higher level of realism.

Step 5: The rest of the elements were created completely from scratch. As they mostly consisted of simple shapes, it wasn’t too difficult to imagine how the light sources would play on them. The background and some of the foreground (the cables coming out of the scientist’s helmet, for example) were to be refined later in Photoshop.

Step 6: I imported the image into Photoshop, copied the canvas layer and cut the foreground elements from the background, using the Eraser tool. Now I had the foreground elements (scientist and gadgets) separated on a layer called FG. I turned off this layer and proceeded to paint over the background on the canvas layer (which I then renamed BG). Using a large, simple, round brush set on Normal mode, I fixed up the background colours, then refined the shape of the Tesla coils.

Step 7: I added a new layer on top of the BG layer and called it Sparks. Here, I painted the electric sparks using a brush with a pink/ bluish colour and 100 per cent Hardness. To add a glow to the sparks, I added an Outer Glow effect in the Blending Options. I then merged the BG and Sparks layers. I turned the FG layer back on and added a new layer on top. I painted the cables coming out of the helmet, then added a soft Outer Glow effect to them.

Step 8: I added sparks coming out of the tools held by the scientist, using the same technique as before – but this time I used a light yellow colour. I flattened the whole image into a new layer. It was at this point that I noticed that the painted highlights were not bright enough.

Step 9: Using the Dodge tool set on Highlights, I went over all the spots that I felt needed to be brightened up and brought to prominence. I flattened the image to a single layer called Art, then duplicated that layer and called the new one Glow. I then applied a Gaussian Blur with a large radius effect to the Glow layer, obtaining a very blurred image. I set the Blending Options on Glow to Lighten and lowered its Opacity to 10 per cent. Now, with the original layer showing through, the image highlights looked softer and more natural. Finally, after flattening the whole image, I applied a few adjustments to its contrast and colour balancing by using the Curves and Color Balance tools.

Roberto Campus

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One response to “Mad Scientist

  1. Very nice and creative! Thanks for sharing.

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