Anatomy of a Card

Working on the card art for HELIONOX: The Last Sunset has been an exciting, fulfilling and educational process. When we started this game, I really had no concept of what digital art was or could be and spent roughly three years teaching myself the basics of color, anatomy, composition and, of course, Photoshop. I’ve learned a great deal from understanding the processes of more experienced illustrators, concept artists and graphic designers. In the spirit of sharing knowledge and techniques, I thought I’d start a series of blog posts for other aspiring artists out there, particularly those working in the table top game industry. So, welcome fellow artists and art enthusiasts to “Anatomy of a Card”!

To start things off, I thought I’d walk through my typical work flow for designing art for a game card.

For most of the images in Helionox, I began with a rough sketch, like the one for the cybernetic operative, Tomo Yoshinaka, below:

anatomy 2 anatomy 1

The image on the left is the first rough pass.  The image on the right is a ‘refinement’ pass.  I usually add an adjustment layer over the rough sketch, giving it a faint, blue look.  This serves as my guide for the cleaner lines on a new layer.  Sometimes it takes two or three passes like this to achieve the level of finish I’m looking for.  I consider the line work to be the most critical step in the development of a card image.

Once I have my lines, I start thinking about things like background, foreground, color, mood, etc.  For Tomo, my next step was the background which I salvaged from another of my older digital paintings (see below).

anatomy 3anatomy 4

Keeping the line work on a separate layer allows me to create masks so that I can manipulate the back, mid and foreground of the image independently.  This is a perfect example of the powerful leverage Photoshop provides.  The image on the left shows the newly added background and the isolated silhouette of the figure.  On the right I have added the first pass of color to Tomo, keeping my values simple, balanced and neutral.

anatomy 5

At this point, I usually start a fresh ‘finishing’ .psd file where I manage the final mix down of the image (e.g. brightness/contrast, cropping, burn, global overlays, color mode, etc.).  In the image above I’ve made several more color passes, adding shading and highlights, overlaid a texture onto Tomo’s kimono, and added a touch of blur for a more photographic feel. The image at this point is done and ready for it’s card template info.

Thanks for reading the first installment of Anatomy of a Card.  I always love chatting with other artists and gamers out there, so drop me a line if you enjoyed this!

Luke Green, Illustrator, Zeroic Games