Painting the Hound and the Hangar

With Alex’s dev computer in dry dock due to a flux overload*, he asked me to jump in and show off a bit of what I’ve been drawing for Starsector. Spoiler alert: It’s spaceships. But not as you know them.

* He actually got it sorted out pretty quick. No need to panic. I just have to express everything in terms of Starsector, eg. my first tech advice was “Transfer command!”. We have fun!

So yes: I’ve been digitally painting some large scale illustrations for use in Starsector, both as promo art and cropped down to little scenes to show for game event choices and so on.

Above: the final painting of the “Hound Hangar” faded into the first sketch.

Old games like Darklands (to the right, thanks Mobygames) and King of Dragon Pass used illustrations to show game events that were basically described in writing but not detailed gameplay simulations. I mean, say your game has a detailed tactical combat model: should you also put in a really boring wall-climbing minigame? (Answer: no. Though it’s funny how huge-budget modern games manage to cram everything possible in, to what one might describe as varying degrees of verisimilitude and/or success.)

Same idea here. Starsector has one artist — yours truly — so, for example, making a whole game mode where you’re a character walking around a space station really doesn’t make sense. This set of interactions can be expressed through some buy/sell type UI and illustrated event dialogs for if something special comes up. Makes sense, right? Let’s get back to the art itself.

When drawing these things I enjoy creating a new layer each time I sit down for a drawing session or make a major change. This lets me show the progression of the illustration over time. And now I shall show you, dear reader, this very process!


Above: very first sketch. So what are we doing here … how about some kind of hangar, that’d be cool.  Dramatic perspective, naturally. Choosing colour palette, rusty oranges and browns for that ‘completely not antiseptic and perfectly maintained’ universe of Starsector. Think Millenium Falcon in Mos Eisley. Serenity in … well, wherever Serenity went. But more rust, even if in space there’s no oxygen to actually oxidize what probably isn’t even iron armour. That’s not the point!

Moving on.

Here I’m filling in major areas of colour and lighting. Off to the left, cargo storage: still a warm colour, but something off from the orange going on in the main hangar. Above, florescent-green lights in the hab-interiors of the ship giving both an unnatural yet somehow life-filled glow. In the ship at dock, some bright cold blue lights to offset it from the rest of the image.

Rendering and details are filling in here. You can see I’m slowly botching the perspective on the ship. At some point around here I posted an in-progress image on twitter. Naturally, this image was dissected in far too much detail in the forums.

I admit, it’s slightly troubling to have my work picked apart in excruciating detail as if it were some canonical guide to the game universe and the exact scale of ships vs. people. My answer: it absolutely isn’t and doesn’t really matter! I’m just drawing stuff.  (But do pardon my defensiveness; I appreciate that the motives at work here are an enthusiasm for the game and a desire to explore the universe of Starsector more closely. This is actually awesome.)

But that said, it still bugged me enough that the scale was out of whack that I changed the size of ship by extending the drawing over to the right. There! It’s more like a proper Hound now. Kinda. Perspective is utterly bollocksed now. And even for that, there’s more detail going in all over.

Apparently I love that shade of orange in the background of the main hangar; I used a similar effect in my art for the Dungeons of  Dredmor title painting. I even had a tube of paint in that colour in art school that I abused thoroughly. I just realized that I keep coming back to it. Neat eh?

Alright, let’s fix this perspective. There: aligning things to be one-point rather than two-point.

I actually had an overlay layer of perspective lines drawn to use as a rough guide but as with all painting I tend to play fast and loose with the rules. I’m a rebel like that, you see. Or, more honestly, I can’t be terribly bothered to make the drawing a perfect CAD render because that’d take forever. I think it’s more important to draw the feeling of an image, whatever I’m trying to evoke, rather than holding with unnecessary fidelity to (anyway) made-up schematics. Admittedly, if I were doing this properly as many digital painters do I ought to block out the rough forms as 3d models then paint overtop a rendering. Maybe someday.

Yet more detail throughout, especially darkened the roof, added that girder lattice to emphasize the perspective, and added some spotlights to set it off.

More rendering and cleanup, especially perspective on the left. Made the big yellow supply crate into two smaller crates that might have a chance of actually fitting into the ship’s cargo bay. Scale, see – I’m paying some attention to it!

And so on.

At this point, Stian contacted me about some kind of Thing being cooked up which would be well served by having the image be at a higher resolution. So I said, sure, let’s rock and roll. Image -> resize.

Here I’ve up-sized the image significantly and filled in the extra space at the top and bottom with Photoshop’s “content-aware fill” which guesses what the selected area should be filled with based on what similar areas elsewhere in the image are adjacent too. It does a serviceable job at the very, very broad strokes and I’ve been enjoying using the content-aware fill as a starting place for when this sort of thing comes up.

And here we are. Lots of clean-up done for the up-sizing as well as tweaking of various details. It is still, you may note, not at all perfectly rendered down to each pixel. Lots of heavy brushwork. This is intentional because 1. it’d take forever to draw this pixel-perfect or photorealistically (and there’s so much more to do) and 2. this illustration will generally be shown at much lower resolution when used in game. And probably even with portions cropped for different situations in-game.

I’m looking forward to doing more of these, maybe not all quite so large. I’ve always loved science fiction illustration since I can remember and now I get to draw a whole bunch of them! What more could I ask for?

Just for fun, I’ll post a crop from another one I’m working on:



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This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 5th, 2013 at 10:39 am and is filed under Art. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.


  1. SO AWESOME! And not just b/c it’s a hound. 😉 Content-aware resizing is such a cool thing. I could geek out on the tech involved but I’d probably just embarrass myself… sooooo I’ll just say thanks. AWEsome post. 😀

    by icepick37
  2. New desktop background found! Very, very cool!

    by sdmike1
  3. Looks great, even in full size!

    As a background it’s a good idea to use large brushes to keep it from being visually distracting from GUI and foreground elements.

    But If needed, using a 1 pixel brush to add in some thin highlights can really increase the sharpness of a piece immensely!

    by Victor
  4. This is excellent! I look forward to more art posts in the future ^_^

    by Madao
  5. The turet is on the wring side ::)not trying to nitpick just saying 🙂

    by sdmike1
  6. Very good. I like it when you consider scale.

    Apropos, the real over-analyzes was happening in this thread:

    by Gothars
  7. That stuff is incredible, you do great work, moody but detailed. Just abstract enough to let the imagination get really excited.

    Also, Darklands is the only reason I have a working DosBox install 🙂

    by Nick
  8. Really nice drawing! What tools do you use to digitally draw?

    by Sogin
  9. That’d totally be my new wallpaper but I’m just not a big fan of the Hound… now if you made one of a Lasher/Enforcer, oh baby!

    I hope too see lots of these paintings in-game and great work on this one! 😀

    by Dri
  10. PS: This is also my new background. Probably FOREVER, haha.

    by icepick37
  11. Finally some updates 😀 nice artwork man! Its looking good

    by Jo
  12. I like the ship, I like the hangar in general, but for some reason the hangar CEILING is the best part for me. Simple, geometrical, but it just screams “FUTURE SPACE WAREHOUSE WHERE COOL SHIZZLE GOES DOWN!” to me.

    by DelicateTask
  13. Nice work, mate :). Hound Class is the cheapest and fastest wasy to harass enemy ship. I can hardly imagine how they’d be with shields !

    by Ze Governor
  14. Nice. And this was just after putting up a Squad 42 background up. Oh well, this is better.

    by BillyRueben
  15. Wow that final painting is gorgeous. Also very fascinating to watch the steps too.

    (OMGOMGOMG, Darklands is my most favorite computer game ever!)

    by Fellick
  16. I see this game has a very talented artist 😉

    by axicup
  17. Wow, now that would add another layer of goodness to an already good game.

    I’ll join sdmike1 on the new background GET. A real beauty that artwork is.

    by Troll
  18. You don’t always have to have epic super sharp artistry to get good imagery or themed backgrounds.
    If you have ever played Homeworld you will know what I mean. The art was not super sharp but it was still AMAZING.
    Personally I wouldn’t have minded the image at a slightly rougher stage.
    Still, very nice work. I’ll look forward to seeing it in-game!

    by Kalamain
  19. What tools do you use to do this kind of work?

    by paritybit
  20. re. parirtybit & Sogin

    I use Photoshop, switching between CS6 on my new machine and CS3? on my old (you can see the PS interface in the screenshot I posted on twitter). I also use a fairly ancient Wacom Intuos (medium) for drawing tablet – which I’m finally, finally replacing with a new one.

    by dgbaumgart
  21. David, now that I know about your day job I’m very disappointed at the lack of Gaslamp Games style tagging in this blog post.

    Tagged: starsector, david’s face has no perspective, hagar the horrible’s haggard hound hangar, my other ship’s an onslaught, patch what patch, the coffee is 34% plasma coolant with a hint of lime, loading ramps still exist in a future where gravity can just be turned off, a right-handed model also exists, warp drive gets you nowhere fast, inferring the entire game universe from one image, lore what lore, next week’s image courtesy of bob ross, when the stately astral glides through space it transforms the stars into drops of crystalized melancholy, the hound is cheap but effective it is studded with dirty pitchblende and decorated with just enough drizzle

    by DelicateTask
  22. my two cents, i like the idea of having still pictures and so on for the reason you’re using them. couple it with circumstantial music and it really brings the imagination to life. can’t wait to see more!

    by NOTsoSMART
  23. […] – A rare new update with lots of concept drawings of a “Hound Hangar” that look really […]

  24. I enjoyed this. More art posts in the future, please! 🙂

    by Jay
  25. That’s some juicy image there. Will it be as backgroud when you dock? Also, will there be background for every ship in vanilla? (for when you dock you see “your” flagship)

    by Gospodin Michail
  26. DelicateTask:
    Haha, well, I didn’t want to pollute Alex’s tag database. Our web guy at Gaslamp complained when we started getting crazy but decided “the lols” were worth it. I like your tags though.

    Gospodin Michail:
    Sadly (?) there are way too many ships in the game for it to be reasonable to draw a hangar image for each one — and then it would lock me into actually matching the sprite and the painting (which would make it more awkward to do stuff like add the thermal whatsit cannons to the Onslaught like we did).

    by dgbaumgart
  27. about still imagery, I think a bit of light animation would be amazing… like a flashing bulb or a growing/fading glow here and there… it would be magnificent with this kind of art.

    very good job

    by pigreko
  28. Now that you mention it, I’d love to see an Onslaught in the fire of action :p

    by Troll