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The Chase: The Process of Redesigning a Story Moment

Illustrator Adam Waters breaks down his process of adapting story moments and the tips he learned from Patrick Raines during  Environment Sketching for Production.


Hello, my name is Adam, I am from the UK and have been working as an Illustrator at Marcopolo Learning. I studied at Art’s University Bournemouth graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Animation/Illustration. As a 2D artist, I have always leaned towards character design and as a byproduct, my attention to environments waned. I found the prospect of not knowing how to tackle an environment overwhelming, I needed to learn the principles. CGMA was a great way for me to have a crash course into the very area I needed to learn with an industry professional at the helm. I was happy that a new artistic journey was about to begin.

Start of Project

I didn’t have a strong history with the environment so everything was completely new to me. I just knew I wanted to pick a source that I could put my artistic stamp on. So, I chose Jorinde and Joringel.

For our first scene, we had to have some organic structures and I thought I would like to do that initial contact where Jorinde and Joringel meet in the woods. I looked for references that naturally had a fairytale feel to them such as twisted roots or manmade architecture claimed back by nature.

I then focused on the different textures of trees, studying the shapes and overlapping of the structures. I also looked into the smaller details like the mossy surface or the flow of the bark.


After all the resources were collected, I had to make a series of thumbnails that showed how these characters could have met in the woods. I hadn’t thumbnailed in the past but found it incredibly helpful in figuring out how to set the stage and frame the future action of the characters. Being allotted a 20-30-time limit meant we couldn’t be overly protective of details we just had to display the depth of the image and where the characters would be. So, I kept my designs super loose.

I favored the left middle thumbnail as it had organic and inorganic structures together so I could practice both. Plus, it helped us as the viewer be a part of the scene as we are seeing what Joringel is seeing. The most important thing was to tackle angles and depth like a camera finding the best way to zero in on the action.

Making the Final Image

Before we started our fine line work, I found myself checking off design elements that PJ had taught us about, such as compositional arrows, lighting, value, contrast, thick lines in the foreground, thinner lines in the background, and breaking symmetry. Above you can see how Jorinde is a light character on a dark background and Joringel is a dark character on a light background, that contrast really helps you focus on them. One of the most important things I learned from PJ when making this image is how a mix of big, medium, and small shapes helps to reinforce a natural setting.

Secondary Image ‘The Chase’

Our secondary piece was to choose an organic or inorganic setting and since my first scene had both I decided I would like to try just an organic one instead. The scene in my mind was a barren land where Joringel is looking for Jorinde but it’s a false lead.

I looked into dark foreboding landscapes. The most important thing was to make this landscape threatening and with PJ’s suggestion I looked into shape language and found this article “Shape Language & Silhouette In Art & Design”. The triangular shape would be the most important one in this environment as it’s often associated with wickedness and unsafety.


I should back up a bit and say that I didn’t go in knowing this would be a chase scene. I was conflicted between two ideas, where the characters are being chased away or they are stumbling across a very threatening lair. PJ had done a demo for week 5 illustrating how we can tackle perspective. His demo really helped show us some of the techniques we could use when thinking about our new thumbnails such as looking for invisible gridlines and putting detail in focal areas and let the detail taper off so the overall image isn’t too busy.

In constructing the thumbnails above I focused on using the long windy road to suggest perspective as curves naturally make the eye believe the depth is further than a straight road. I used some of the rocks as arrows to point to the ‘action’ and attempted to find clear spaces where the characters would be able to perform. Out of the two I really liked the rhythm of the top image and thought it would be a good challenge.


From the thumbnail I moved the rocks further to the edge to act as a framing device, this opened up a window for the path of action. At this point, I did think I went a bit overboard with directional arrows as in the far-right corner you can see a curved mountain that seems out of place. When I sketched this, I started with a faint grey line to place everything in the scene and then went on a separate layer to create the final linework using a harder brush on about 6px.

First Value Pass

My first value pass was to separate the picture down into 3 main values which were dark grey, medium grey, and white as this helps to break up the image and place the lighting accordingly. The first pass was not so successful as you can see that the dragon and the main characters are all perfectly lit, yet the foreground is in complete darkness. Even the mountain was way too light for this scene. Thankfully, I keep my lines and tones on separate layers just in case I want to rework the value.

Second Value Pass

By week 7 we had a tutorial on lighting where PJ taught us the different sorts of lighting such as atmospheric (outdoor lighting) or chiaroscuro (indoor, dramatic) and how they affect the subject matter. I was very much into the atmospheric lighting and thought that would work really well with the piece I am doing. In the image above you can see how the background is now a faded middle grey and the foreground has a bigger contrast. The dragon is now highlighted from above giving him very dark core shadows. I have also placed a light source in the bottom left corner so that the characters are now jumping into a light source which as a viewer you can read them going from the darkness into the light which in turn feels like safety. More props were added to suggest others hadn’t made it through this land and made the dragon have war-torn wings. Using references from Lord of the Rings and Troy I found props like shields, spears that would help to fill the scene and reflect the danger these characters are in.


Below is a screengrab of PJ’s paint over which had suggestions to make the overall composition better. He advised me to keep the props simple so they wouldn’t distract the viewer from the main focus which is the chase. The skeleton in chains in the previous image could be replaced with spears and a simple series of rocks to the left. The right could overly suggest that it’s a feeding ground so instead of abandoned spears it could have a series of skulls in a mound. The dragon could be spaced away from the characters to give the piece some breathing room. The dragon could also be resized to make it seem like the characters had a chance of escaping. Since the dragon is higher in the image it would be logical to give it harsher lighting and darker shadows as well. PJ’s feedback continued to be constructive and gave me real direction on where to take this piece. I was eager to implement the changes.

In the image below I have made all the alterations that PJ as well as adding a touch of character to some of the skulls to suggest perhaps warriors from different eras had been defeated by the dragon. For lighting, PJ taught us that you can use a radial gradient on an overlay layer to lighten objects in a natural way that you can see on the skulls.

Final Alterations

In the final week, we were all given feedback and PJ did a final paint over for the chase scene. He suggested that the mountains be more subtle and faded, pointing to the area of interest like the dragon. Also, the lighting by the horse’s face could be softer and target the shield next to him. It was also suggested the dragon’s head be tilted more towards the horse so that the read is better.

After the amendments, I felt I had accomplished the chase scene in some respects such as the texturing on the rocks. The texture was applied using a bristle brush on low opacity then the shadows were added later on a multiply layer. I usually just play about with the opacity so that the shadows or definitions aren’t completely black. I enjoyed redesigning the dragon as this one had more bird-like qualities that fit in with the theme of Jorinde and Joringel. The skulls on the right could have been more subtle with only a few having definitions, at the moment they really stand out. After sketching the skulls or flags I would layer the values underneath; then to make the characters look less sketchy, I would then do another layer on top and break some of the linework with texture or tones.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I really enjoyed this process and found that with enough patience and several attempts you can get your art closer to how you envisioned it. I would say that having a background in sketching helped but there were many artists on the course who were just starting out and they flourished in this environment. I would say trying to read through all the elements that make up environments in depth is difficult and I found these visually driven lessons to be a godsend. Everything was neatly broken down with a demonstration on how to apply those instructions for the week. This has made me excited to build on these foundations and has made me confident in trying out new things as an artist. It is so easy to compartmentalize and say you are a character designer when there are always new things, I can do to challenge myself. CGMA is a brilliant resource for those who want an insight into the pipeline and I can say with certainty I will be doing another one.

Thank you for taking the time to look through my work and if you have any questions or would like to get in contact, you can at [email protected] 

You can see more from Adam at his website: adamwatersart.com