Create Action-Packed Zombie Apocalypse Concept Art in Photoshop

Create Action-Packed Zombie Apocalypse Concept Art in Photoshop

Tutorial Assets

To complete the tutorial, you will need the following assets:

1. Sketching it out

Step 1

Create a new document by going to File > New. The document can be any size you prefer. I typically use A4 at 300 dpi just in case I want to print it later. For this piece, I am going to paint it in landscape at a 16:9 ratio as if I am working on a rough storyboard for a film.

Feel free to reduce the size or resolution if your computer is not powerful enough to work in these dimensions.

Step 2

Start by sketching out simple skeleton forms (As shown below). Get wild and don’t restrict yourself, explore and have fun at this stage, it opens up to a lot of possibilities when you’re doing this. If you already have a certain scene in mind, just jump in and start putting the lines in.
You can use a default Photoshop chalk brush for the sketch, the brush you use doesn’t matter, just pick something you’re comfortable with and let it flow.


After that you can also try sketching out the mass of your character (As shown below), by using simple lines to roughly draw out the figure, but always check the proportion and the anatomy, practice makes perfect!
Then put in some rough lines so you have a better idea of what you’re going to paint, try not to go in to too much detail, just a rough sketch will do. If you’re going into the details at this stage, you’ll end up sub-consciously restricting yourself from further exploration of the painting, so try to avoid a super neat outline.


Step 3

Choose any brush and start sketching out the painting as shown below. Don’t restrain yourself too much at this stage, keep the flow going and loosen your hand a little.

You can turn off the skeleton forms layer while you’re sketching.
Once you’re finished sketching the focus point (In this case its the two guys with guns) of the painting, you can start sketching the rough background.

2. Bringing in the values.

Step 1

Create a new layer under your sketch, and fill it with a Mid Tone Grey (#7d7d7d) as shown in the image.
To fill the color, you can just use the shortcut Alt + Backspace with the color you have picked.


Step 2

Pick a default round brush or soft brush, and set the Brush mode to Multiply (as shown in image), the multiply mode makes the brush act like a coat of darker values and Darkens anywhere you paint.

Roughly put in a few strokes on the two main characters to make them stand out from the background, use a Default Soft Airbrush to darken the top and bottom parts of the painting as well.
Continue to darken the painting, plan a little ahead on where you want the focus point to be and where will the light be coming from, in this painting I’m thinking of doing a backlight for these two characters, so they should appear a little bit darker than the background since less light will shine on them. I’ve also roughly blocked out some values for the zombies in the background.


Step 3

Next, I’ll show you how to add in some fences. The fence shown below was created using a brush that you can download in the Tutorial Assets above. To create them, I created a new layer on top of the painting and duplicated it to create a seamless pattern.


After you’re done piecing together the fence, set the layer’s Blending Mode to Multiply, and you’ll have something that looks like this:
With the layer of the texture selected, press Command/Ctrl + T (Transform Tool) and right click on it, it will display a small menu that shows a list of transformations available, in this case, we’re going to distort and warp the fence in various directions. The Warp selection works best. You can move certain points as shown in the image to get the flow to the direction you have in mind for the texture, for instance, I’ve nudge a few points (Red Arrows) with my mouse to get the flow and shape I wanted.


Step 4

After that you can lighten up a little bit of your painting but don’t overdo it, it’s just for yourself to indicate where you want the lights to be coming from. With the same steps as Step 2, pick a default round brush or soft brush, and set the Brush mode to Overlay (as shown in image).

The Overlay mode works in a different way than the Multiply mode, it darkens an area if you’re using a darker color/value, but lightens an area if you’re using a lighter color/value. Basically, it lighten things up if you’re brushing it with a White palette, but it darken things down when you’re brushing it with a Black palette.

Using the same techniques as Step 2. After a few dots with the round brush, change it to a soft brush with the Linear Dodge mode selected. The Linear Dodge mode works just like a highlighter, except it gets lighter everytime you paint over it again and again. For example, use a softer brush and lightly dodged it on top of the round dot you’ve previously done. A soft edge around a hard edge circle as a spotlight would be more believable, as light tends to spread and gets disperse when looked through a camera lens.


3. Painting

Step 1

Set the color and mood of your scene by adjusting the color balance as shown below Command/Ctrl + B. I chose a desaturated blue since this scene is taking place at night.


With the base color set, you can now proceed with painting your scene. Start off by darkening some of the areas by painting from Dark to Light is a good technique to use, the concept is to fill in the darkest areas, and slowly introduce the lighter values into the silhouette, gradually pushing up the brightness of the subject one step at a time.

The technique applied here is as same as Step 2 from “2. Painting the base”

At this stage, there are no restrictions on what you should do and what you shouldn’t. You can start by painting the focus point. Slowly start painting out from the dark silhouette, and introduce the details bit by bit.


Step 2

Adding some sci-fi elements into the painting will enhance the theme, you can add a user-interface onto their wrists, since it’s going to be something like a projected hologram, it’s going to function just like how a light would function, so setting the blending mode to Linear Dodge would be the best bet. Add these elements using brushes that you can download from this site.


First, place your texture onto the painting, set the mode to Linear Dodge and put it on top of the layer of your painting.


Just like the fence, make sure the perspective fits the painting. Use the Distort tool this time as shown below.


While you paint, use the following brush blending modes to block in colors, paint highlights, and to darken values.

These are simple explanations of the different modes, but it takes time to get used to them and you might get confused at first. Practice makes perfect! Just keep exploring the blending modes and have fun with it.

Step 3

To paint fog and smoke, you can use a cloud brush, a soft brush, and the smudge tool. Cloud brushes can be found easily on sites like Brusheezy or Deviant Art.

Paint your clouds directly on a new layer above your artwork. In this example, we used a color that would stand out a bit more.
First, lightly paint a few strokes over the painting using the cloud brush, after that choose the soft brush and brush lightly around the cloud brush strokes to soften it up. Refer to the video and the image below.

Then use the smudge tool to smoothen the edges and distort it a little to blend.


4. Using textures

Step 1

Textures can play a very important role in coming up with quick concepts, they cut down the time required to paint the details and add realism to the painting. For this image, I used a texture this web page to create the muzzle flash. The image that I chose is a bit low resolution but you can search out others if you need to. Place it into the painting, set the blending mode to Linear Dodge.

Step 2

Once it’s in the painting, you can use the distort tool (Command/Ctrl + T > Right click > Distort) to make sure the angle is correct.

Merge the layers once you have the position correct. Once merged, choose a soft brush and set the brush mode to Color Dodge. Color pick (ALT with the Brush Tool selected) an orange color from the muzzle flash and lightly brush over the flare. This will create a soft glowing edge around it to make it more realistic.

5. Adding elements in motion

Step 1

Adding motion into a painting can be done in many different ways, in this example you can use bullet casings to bring out a sense of motion.
First, create a new layer, then paint out a rectangle by filling it with a base color, then choose a darker color to add one bold stroke in the middle of the rectangle, after that choose a brighter gold color and paint two bold strokes on both sides of the rectangle, then you’ll have a simple looking bullet casing. You can then duplicate as many as you like and place it around to your liking.

Step 2

Use the lasso tool (L) to select the bullets you want to apply the motion blur, then open up Filter > Blur > Motion Blur, you can slide the strength of the blur you want it to be and you can change the direction of the blur by clicking and dragging on the circular diagram above the slider. Apply this on the other bullets and make sure they all are blurred from the right direction.

6. Make it rain.

Step 1

First, create a new layer and fill it with a full black, the purpose of this is too make sure you can see the rain. Then create another layer on top, choose any grainy brush you like, make sure the color is a pure white, and then paint one strong and thin stroke on the new layer. Afterwards just randomly duplicate alot of them and put it all around the canvas as shown below. You can rotate them by using the transform tool (Command/Ctrl + T), or flipping them horizontally and vertically (Command/Ctrl + T > Right click > Flip horizontal/vertical).

Step 2

Apply motion blur to the strokes you just created.

Step 3

Remove the black layer and set the rain layer to Color Dodge.

You can also duplicate the Rain layer a couple of times and set it to the same blending mode to make it more obvious.

Step 4

On the same Color Dodge layer, choose a hard edge round brush, with a white color selected, and start dotting it around areas where the rain hits the character, it doesn’t have to be really accurate, but just an impression will work good enough for the audience to interpret it.

Make sure the dots are small!

7. Chromatic Aberration and Lens Blur

Step 1

Usually these filters are used as a finishing touch to the painting, the Chromatic Aberration filter adds in a red and green offset look to the painting, it looks like something printed, it’s useful in presenting some certain scenes where it’s supposed to feel more like its taken from a film camera. As for the Lens Blur filter, it helps adding a quick depth of field into the painting and gives a more “camera” look to the painting.
Make sure the layers are merged, so now you have one single layer of the painting. Now duplicate the layer two times, and rename them as Green and Red. Follow the description in the images below and see what happens!

Step 2

Now merge the Green and Red layers into one. Duplicate that layer, make sure it’s on top of the original layer and go to Filter > Blur > Lens Blur. I usually keep my settings like the image below, but you can change it to your liking. Press OK to apply the blur and it might take awhile to render.

You should have one big blurred image right now, but having the original painting as the layer behind, you can erase the blurred layer with a soft brush and reveal the layer behind, erase your focus point and your foreground elements to keep it more realistic, the more behind the things are, the more it’s blurred.

8. Adding foreground elements

Step 1

As the painting is coming to an end, let’s add some quick finishing touches to give it a little bit more depth. By adding foreground elements you can enhance the focus point and add more depth of field to the scene.
First, paint a rough looking barbed wire, it doesn’t have to be detailed, just the silhouette will do. Create a new layer, chose a round brush with black and paint it on the white background.

Step 2

Since this is a foreground element, and not my main focus point, it’s going to be blurred just like how a camera shoots an object. The Gaussian Blur works well in this situation, since all we need to blur right now is a simple shape, it take less time to render than Lens Blur.

Step 3

Set the layer’s blending mode to Multiply, you can touch up a little bit more here and there with the same technique as Step 1 & 2, you can add more wires, or different elements such as a warning sign or a flying debris. Just keep it mind that it needs to be darker and blurred so it doesn’t not affect the painting in losing the focus point.

You should have an outcome similar to this. The barbed wire I’ve drawn above in not used in the painting below, it was done afterwards, but the technique is the same.


In this tutorial, we showed you how to paint a scene with a sense of depth and texture. Along the way, we demonstrated some useful skills that you can use in your workflow. With a bit of practice you should be able to easily create your own concept art for video games. Good luck!

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