How Adobe Dimension Helped Designer Antony Carlyon Take His Concept Art to the Next Level

Discover how the winner of this year’s From the Moon to Mars art contest has harnessed the 3D compositing tool in his workflow to create a series of striking concept images.

Antony Carlyon’s visualization of the deadfall from Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. Adobe Dimension has helped the graphic designer apply his existing skills to his real passion:
creating concept art.

by Jim Thacker

posted on 06-20-2019

This February, Antony Carlyon shot to fame in the world of Adobe Dimension when he won From the Moon to Mars, the art contest Adobe organized to mark the 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo program. Despite having barely used the 3D compositing tool before, Antony bested more than 250 other entrants to create a winning image that perfectly encapsulates both the magic of space exploration and the joy of learning.

At the time, Antony said that he had “all kinds of ideas” for future projects, and over the past months, he has proven just how true that was, creating a series of ever more ambitious personal art pieces in Dimension. He’s done this in combination with Adobe Photoshop and Photoshop for iPad, which Antony is using as part of an early beta.

By simplifying the process of creating 3D images, streamlining previously complex technical tasks like lighting and rendering, Dimension has transformed the way that Antony works. Before, as someone with a background in 2D design, the task of creating a 3D render daunted him. Now, Dimension enables him to realize images that previously only existed in his head.

We caught up with Antony to discover how his new workflow enables him to create images more quickly and flexibly, iterating on designs faster than ever before – and how the experience of using Dimension has encouraged the graphic designer to view concept art not merely as a hobby, but as something he hopes will become part of his professional work.

“Sometimes, software gives you these genuine jump-out-of-your seat moments: ‘Wow, I didn’t know I could do that’,” says Antony. “In my early days in graphic design, that software was Photoshop. Now it’s Dimension.”

Taking the fear out of 3D

Antony spent over a decade working in London as a graphic designer for clients including Virgin, Aviva, and the UK’s Royal Household before relocating to rural South West England. He is currently creative lead at Mole Valley Farmers, a chain of farm supply stores, heading a team of designers working on everything from product packaging to own-brand clothing.

Although Antony had used 3D software earlier in his career, he was put off exploring it further by the time it took to create a finished image, and by the complexity of the tools themselves. “I found it quite scary,” he admits. “You’d look at the software and think, ‘You know, I really don’t know where to start with this.’”

With Dimension, that all changed. Adobe’s 3D compositing software is designed to streamline the process of creating 3D images, stripping back unnecessary complexity and automating technical tasks to leave designers free to focus on the artistic aspects of their work. “I like the simplicity of Dimension,” says Antony. “If you aren’t a 3D modeler, you need a tool that isn’t going to crush the creativity out of you because you’re panicking about all the things you don’t know.”

Antony’s take on the vampire lair from 1987 horror movie The Lost Boys.

Reawakening The Lost Boys

One of the first concept art pieces that Antony created in Dimension was a personal homage to The Lost Boys, Joel Schumacher’s seminal 1987 horror thriller. The image reimagines the movie’s vampire lair in terms of the real buildings that may have inspired it, including the ruins of the Palace Hotel, destroyed by the fire that followed the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

Base models for the image were created in 3D sketching software SketchUp.

Antony began by creating basic 3D models in SketchUp, Trimble’s architectural sketching tool, and importing them into Dimension to block out the scene. The rocks, rubble, and vines came readymade from the royalty-free 3D asset library in Adobe Stock, which can be browsed directly inside Dimension, while the bike and – with a bit of lateral thinking – the chandelier were also stock models, this time from Sketchup’s 3D Warehouse.

The SketchUp models were teamed with readymade assets from Adobe Stock.

“The chandelier is built from lots of different objects,” says Antony. “You soon realize that if you change its size and texture in Dimension, one model can become something completely different. With some tinkering, a light bulb could become a hot air balloon.”

Antony assembled the models inside Dimension and set up lighting to create a grayscale image to paint over.

Having placed the 3D models, Antony set up lighting for the scene in Dimension. “Without Dimension, this is where I would struggle,” he says. “Lighting is such a complicated thing to understand that it really helps me that I can just create a light and shine it where I need, have Dimension handle the shadows for me, then fine-tune everything later when I do the paintover.” This is one of the most powerful aspects of working in 3D: you just change the light position and all the materials react realistically — you get shadows and rays. It’s real, dynamic, and non-destructive.

The base render with details overpainted in Photoshop. This is a color variant of the final image.

For that paintover, Antony generated a grayscale render containing the tonal values for the image then imported it to Photoshop to colorize, layering on photographic textures, and painting in grunge and aging effects. Most of the heavy lifting was done using Photoshop on the desktop, but Anthony also used a beta version of Photoshop for iPad for the final touches.

“It just feels amazing,” he says. “I’ve tried various pen displays, but they can’t touch the iPad. The screen has a nice surface, and I love drawing with the Apple Pencil. But the best thing is that I can work anywhere. It makes the most of all those little moments that you otherwise waste hanging around, like when you’re on the bus, or waiting for the train.”

Antony’s take on Pet Sematary reinvents the movie’s ‘deadfall’ as an evolving organic structure.

Reimagining Pet Sematary’s deadfall

For a more recent piece inspired by the recent movie adaptation of Pet Sematary, Antony took his core SketchUp-Dimension-Photoshop workflow to new levels of complexity to visualize the eerie ‘deadfall’ from Stephen King’s original novel.

“In the film, it’s really just a big pile of logs, whereas in the book, it’s a very dangerous natural structure that acts as a real deterrent for people looking to go beyond the cemetery,” he says. “I wanted to create something that wasn’t just a barrier but a living piece of the environment.”

The foundation of the entire image – a simple SketchUp model of a log.

The starting point for the deadfall was a simple model of a log that Antony created in SketchUp, then duplicated inside Dimension, scaling and rotating the copies to form a barricade, then adding stock models, including a bicycle, old chairs, and other pieces of debris.

The log model, duplicated and scaled in Dimension to create a final structure that hints at a face.

The form of the deadfall hints at a creature’s face, complete with eyes and a mouth. “I love the idea of just creating props, then building them up to form a scene,” says Antony. “Because Dimension is handling a lot of the technical details, like texturing and lighting, I’m free to concentrate on the storytelling.”

Self-illuminated spheres create the backlighting for the deadfall.

The light from the deadfall’s ‘eyes’ was generated by creating simple 3D spheres in Dimension, placing them behind the barricade, then applying a material with a high Glow value to act as a backlight. A larger sphere placed over the top of the scene forms a containing dome, helping to keep the lighting effect localized.

The base scene, with textures applied inside Dimension.

As well as lighting, Antony applied textures to his 3D models inside Dimension, rather than waiting for the Photoshop paintover. “If you look at the log model up close, it’s pretty rough and ready, but once I’d applied the texture, it hid a lot of those issues,” he says.

A quick Photoshop paintover adds further lighting effects, as seen in this test image.

The paintover itself adds the ground fog and the light beams, created using a large soft brush. Again, most of the work Photoshop on the desktop, with highlights and fine detail added using the beta version of Photoshop on the iPad. Antony also imported the image into Lightroom to generate color variations, exploring around 30 different options before deciding on the final look.

Antony used Lightroom to explore color variations for the final image.

“There was so much that was dark and grisly that you couldn’t see past it, so I cooled down the image so you could see the shadows better,” he says. “Because Dimension had taken care of so many of the other issues, I had the time to really immerse myself in the environment.”

Netflix’s Love, Death & Robots inspired Antony to create this recent concept image.

One Girl and Her Mech

Using Dimension along with other Creative Cloud tools, Antony created the title character for One Girl and Her Mech: an image inspired by the Netflix series of animated shorts Love, Death & Robots.

“I watched it over a weekend in a massive binge, then thought: ‘I’ve got to do a robot.’,” he says. “Hard-surface modeling has always scared me, because it looks so slick, but when I thought about it, I realized I was over-complicating things. A robot is just a collection of different shapes.”

A side view of the mech, assembled from a set of 3D parts inside Dimension.

Some of those shapes came from sets of readymade kitbash model parts that Antony had found online; others were created from scratch inside SketchUp and 3D modeling software Cinema 4D. Antony assembled the parts inside Dimension, applied materials and textures like the skull artwork on the side of the robot, and set up lighting for the scene.

Dimension’s environment light creates the basic lighting for the image, ready to be painted over in Photoshop.

“I used the environment light to help me with my shadows and atmosphere, then created another light out of a glowing sphere, with a cube to direct the light where I wanted it,” he says. “Again, because Dimension was doing a lot of the work for me, I had time to think about the storytelling. I wanted the image to be about someone taking a bit of downtime, just chilling with their robot, so I played around with colors and filters in Photoshop to achieve a painterly feel.”

A whole new way to create art

Using Dimension has transformed the way that Antony tackles his concept art projects, streamlining time-consuming parts of the work, and freeing him to focus on artistic decisions.

“Before, when deciding how to compose a scene, I would do a series of thumbnails in Photoshop, then pick one to paint up,” he says. “In 3D, I only have to create the scene once, then I’m free to move the pieces around as much as I want.”

Greater scope to experiment not only leads to new and better solutions – “often, when I’m playing around in Dimension, I find a shot I wasn’t initially thinking of,” says Antony – but saves time in the long run. “I’m not getting halfway through a piece then having to bail because it isn’t working,” he points out. “I know that the foundation of the image is solid before I move onto the paint process.”

Best of all, Dimension makes the process of discovery fun. “I’ve basically learned by playing,” says Antony. “I start trying to find a solution for one thing, then I learn a whole load of other stuff. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like this about software. One of the reasons I became a graphic designer is because I have a love for technology as well as a love for creating things, and Dimension brings all of that together.”

Spurred on by the experience, Antony has now begun to incorporate other elements of 3D in his work, experimenting with texture painting software Substance Painter to create his own custom texture maps, and now intends to make concept art part of his professional work.

“There are all of these ideas in my head that I left dormant because I’ve always thought that, as I wasn’t a 3D modeler, there was no way to realize them,” he says. “Now, it feels like there’s so much that I’m going to be able to achieve. Everything is wide open.”

Topics: Creativity, 3D & AR, Design

Products: Photoshop, Creative Cloud, Dimension