Defenders Tutorial

November 8, 2011


A number of people on r/Dota2 have been asking me how I put these together.  I made iterative saves as I worked on Dark Seer last night, and here they are with some commentary.

Alright.  I start off with a pretty large canvas and a reference portrait.  I think these days I’m trying to finish the hero at about 3000 x 3000 px (the first few were smaller), bark Dark Seer was even bigger to accommodate that big spike on his head.

At any rate, I block in the rough shape of the hero.  I really hate having anything cropped (especially along the top), so I do my best to fill in the blanks.  The bottom/edges of this initial colour block sometimes take on some weird shapes, but I know that by the time I’m done, I’ll be using some watercolour texture to dither them out, so I don’t worry too much.

Next, I create a separate layer and start picking out details using the polygonal lasso tool and filling them in white.  Sometimes I will create multiple layers, as I work through an image.  This is really the hardest part.  The reference portraits are really low resolution, and you really need to pick and choose what details are important in defining a hero.  I strive to keep the detail level relatively low, while retaining the hero’s identity.  When I’m done with this, I merge all my white layers and use them to actually subtract area from the red silhouette layer.  Why?  Well, there might be some other way to do this, but when it comes to the next step, it makes it a lot easier to apply a clipping mask of all the information is on one layer.  At this point, I usually move everything over to a new document/canvas.

Alright.  This looks like a big step, but really it’s not.  I take a hi-res watercolour texture, get it on a transparent background (select colour range and remove all the white), and then paste it as a new layer on top of the red portrait from the last step.  Then lock trasnparency and fill all the red in with white.  This is so that you won’t have red bleeding through the semi-transparent texture you just dropped in.  Finally, take your watercolour texture layer and create a clipping mask.  Move the layer around alittle bit until you have a composition you like, and then blam.

Interesting trick: if your watercolour texture is too light (like it was originally in this case), duplicate then merge the layers.  You’ll get more solid, vibrant colours.

Two subtle changes in this step.  One, I’ve started masking out the bottom edge of the portrait.  I do this in a number of ways, either with paintbrush style brushes of white on a new layer, or by inverting one of my water colour textures.  Normally, I select the white and delete it, leaving just the colour, but you can just as easily do the opposite.  Select the white and then copy it over as a new layer and place it on top of the portrait to give the edges an organic feel.

The second change was a bit of global hue/saturation tinkering.  I think I bumped the saturation up a tiny bit, and shifted the hue so that DS was slightly more purple.  We’re almost done…

Not much of a change here, just a little bit more roughing up along the bottom edge.  I really wanted to make sure that the white flowed up into his beard nicely… if that makes any sense.  It probably doesn’t.

And voila.  Here’s the finished version.  I added another watercolour texture, this time one that was less of a wash and more rough.  Set the blend mode on the layer to multiply, and it really helps darken things up around the eyes and add some more brushstroke-like texture, which struck me as a little more hard and fierce than the soft blobs that were there initially.

That’s all there is.  I hope this was at least moderately enlightening for you guys.  Thanks for the support.


  1. December 16, 2011 at 3:37 am

    there went all my respect for u sir.

  2. December 23, 2011 at 12:09 am
    DotK says:

    Lol @ artnoob above. Forget that, these are all really awesome pieces that have a really clean, graphic feel to them.

    Glad you shared your art process, gonna go try this out on a whole mess of things.

    Also, can you do Dazzle? One of my favorite, game-breaking supports, who just happens to look dope as fuck with his mohawk and voodoo face paints.

  3. December 29, 2011 at 11:46 am
    mastadon says:

    I found the first comment humorous. I do a lot of vector work and people think less of me when I show them it’s just a bunch of different coloured shapes.
    These look way nice and your process is pretty slick.

  4. January 4, 2012 at 12:01 pm
    I Fought A Bear says:

    Such a clean workflow, I love it! Keep em coming.

  5. February 6, 2012 at 11:39 am
    art and game appreciator says:

    Great work Adam! Very interesting process and very artistic realizations of each hero. It’s amazing how technological tools expand your pallet, if you will. Look forward to seeing more prints.

  6. February 13, 2012 at 10:56 pm
    Alex says:

    When can I expect to see a print for this bad-boy? The only answer I shall accept is “soon” TIA

  7. June 16, 2012 at 4:02 pm
    i just thought... says:

    … if the guy in the first comment could not even see if this was painted or not it rly speeks for the work. love them! just made a wallpaper for personal use so i have lich on one and earthshaker on the other screen, facing eachother just waiting for their ultimates to cool down ;)

  8. October 15, 2013 at 7:32 am
    Mark says:

    Hey, I’ve tried it out and I even found my own tricks :D

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