Painting a dynamic fantasy gate siege

Discover the artistic secrets that bring this action packed fantasy illustration to life.

Gate siege

The force of the hit affects the rest of the picture

You can create a more engaging image by implying what's going to happen, instead of showing it. I decide to paint the actions of the creature as seen from within the castle courtyard, depicting the moment when the gate is still intact, but it might break on the next impact.

The key to showing dynamism and movement in an image like this is to show the strength of the attack, not just on the gate, but also on the surrounding areas. Depicting the shaking ground, the flying dust and wooden shards is just one technique. There are some simple painting tricks as well to help you sell the scene.

Tilting your horizon line is one of the most basic options, giving the feeling that it's been caused by the force of the smash in this case. Adding more details to the focal area and leaving softer edges outside pulls in the viewer and adds movement.

You can also strengthen this feeling by applying some zoom Radial Blur (Filter>Blur>Radial Blur) to your final image. This adds motion blur to the sides but keeps the central area of the composition clean and sharp.

01. Establish the composition

Gate siege

The gate is the focal area

I start with a compositional sketch. I block in my main elements, putting the gate in the centre. I not only want to create more contrast around my focal area, but frame the gate and the creature behind with the towers and the arch. I also establish my overall colour palette by using a yellow-brown classical underpainting to make my desaturated purplish-blue sky more vivid.

02. Creating a sense of scale

Gate siege

The angle of the picture hints at the force of the attack

Now I fix the edges. I like to keep as many soft edges as possible on an image and focus the harder edges around my focal areas, to help sell the story. In addition to the harder edges, I also add more contrast to my mid and foreground, and start to paint damage on the gate. The soft edges left in can also suggest movement and leave more to the imagination of the viewer.

03. Fixing the edges

Gate siege

Careful use of definition gets the story across

The slightly tilted composition enables me to place more soldiers in the foreground, sell the scale of the image and add perspective. I also push my colours further and introduce more values and tones. Starting your image close to the mid-range in values is always helpful to balance out your image, before starting to develop more realistic lighting situations.

04. Tightening the details

Gate siege

Mark focusses on the details of the gate and monster

In the finishing stages, although I want to make the composition really tight, I feel it needs a bit more air. So I push back the mid-ground. From this point I focus all detailing to the centre of the image, to show the strength of how the monster hits the gate. Because we can't see the actual hit, I paint in flying debris, flying shards of the gate, dust and so forth.

Artist's Secret - Paint in additional damage

Gate siege

You can strengthen the implied force of a hit if it seems to affect distant objects, too. The cracks and falling debris not only add more interest to your art, but will also create movement and dynamism.

This article was originally published in ImagineFX magazine issue 132.


Mark works on projects for film and game companies. His past clients include Lucasfilm, Time Warner, Weta Workshop, Eidos, Applibot and Fantasy Flight Games.