How to bring a landscape to life

Nick Harris reveals how to create a foreboding anthropomorphic landscape that looks like it's straight from the pages of a fantasy novel.

nick harris landscape

Nick Harris explains how to create an enironment that is coming to life just like this

When working out how to draw an environment, creating the effect of that environment coming to life can range from the very obvious and dramatic, to the almost impossible to spot at first. The examples that immediately pop into my head are Skull Island, as represented in various versions of King Kong, and the stone giant in the second Hellboy film.

The first thing to decide is what you actually wish to portray and its scale. The latter is important, because the elements making up the feature need to fit in and offer valuable clues for the viewer as to the size of the object.

You need to settle upon what the form is, how big it's going to be and what sort of landscape it's going to be a part of. Mountains and forest (rocks and trees) represent great building materials, as in the real world, but without the processing of our human building techniques.

skull out of trees

Once you have your forms worked out, you can have loads of fun embellishing them and disguising them with elements pertinent to your landscape

You should also think about what visual impact do you want to make? I like the surprise angle, wherein you don't necessarily realise what you're looking at straight away. I love that giant in the Hellboy example, which at first encounter resembles rocks randomly strewn across the landscape… until it sits up.


Nick starts by creating the creature and then camoflaging it afterwards to disguise it as part of the landscape

I need to get the large forms working first as in any drawing, so I tackle it from the direction of drawing the thing undisguised within the landscape and then applying camouflage from the types of material around it afterwards. I choose ArtRage to tackle this image, knowing that I have some custom, leafy brushes to throw at it.

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Here, Harris shares his process for bringing a landscape to life...

01. Create the character

step 1 anthromorphic

I start with a simple sketch, marking out where and how I want to place my skeletal figure in the landscape.

I avoid getting into too much detail, aware it is in reality only a form on to which I intend 
to apply rock and floral elements. Consider what sort of terrain and natural elements form the surrounding area and how your figure will fit in.

02. Build up in black and white

step 2 anthromorphic

Still working monochrome I start building natural forms around and over the skeletal shape. I sketch a mounted human character to set the scale, having him look at the thing to help balance the composition.

the sake of this particular example, I don't disguise the shape too much, but you should take it as far as you think feels right for the scene.

03. Add colour to your landscape

step 3 anthromorphic

Once a base is established I can have fun with mark making, to create textural rock effects and plant growth. This includes use of leaf sticker brushes I made some time ago to save time.

Don't go overboard with such tools though, and make sure you integrate their look to the feel of the piece by using shadows and softened edges.

Words: Nick Harris

Nick Harris went digital in 2000 after 18 years working with traditional methods. He works mainly on children's illustrations. This article originally appeared in ImagineFX issue 124.

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