What is wrong with this image

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Yamsha polycounter lvl 2
Hi folks!
So I did this image a while ago and put a lot of work into it, but the reaction I got was mostly shrugs. To be honest I am not so thrilled about it either. I just can't really put a finger on the reason why. Could anyone point me in the right direction? So that I don't do the same mistakes again? I'm not really looking for the small things, but rather the fundamental reason why this image is not successful.
To add a bit of context, this is based on a book, and it's a concept for the shabby hotel where the main character lives. The book has a detective novel vibe, and also incorporates a lot of jewish cultural elements.


I would be grateful for any pointers, cheers!

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  • Gannon
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    Gannon polycounter lvl 9
    The poses and staging don't feel very believable or understandable. All of them stand very squarely and none of them feel comfortable in their posture. Removing the people and you have a very nice environment concept but it falls short of what the story is for the environment. I don't get the detective vibes.
  • jaker3278
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    jaker3278 polycounter lvl 4
    I actually really like the image i have no complaints about the posturing, people do in reality act and move in all sorts of ways and the positioning as we see it now is believable. Its good that the image doesn't constrain its self to much to artistic rules. I like the lighting and the dual split between characters. 
  • Wendy de Boer
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    Wendy de Boer polycounter lvl 13
    It's a nicely done image, but it seems a little tame. It's fairly evenly lit throughout, which doesn't add a lot of mood. Try having some areas drop off into deep shadows, and making the light at the counter a lot harsher. It might help to sell more of a noir look.
  • AgelosAp
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    AgelosAp polycounter lvl 6
    Agreeing with @Gannon and @Wendy de Boer, I did a paintover that might give some pointers, the framing is supposed to be a window so we are looking this from outside(I thought that might be better with the distance we have from the scene)
    What's the story for the two characters other than the clerk?



  • purehilarity
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    purehilarity polycounter lvl 5


    I think it looks great, first of all. I wish I could paint like this! The composition felt a little awkward to me so I cropped some off. The content on the right felt too pushed to the right side, and a lot of unnecessary space on the left. This felt a bit more purposeful to me, but others may disagree.

    Here's another one where I altered the scale a bit. Feels more filmic to me:


  • Yamsha
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    Yamsha polycounter lvl 2
    Gannon said:
    The poses and staging don't feel very believable or understandable. All of them stand very squarely and none of them feel comfortable in their posture. 
    Thanks, I was indeed suspecting the characters were at least a part of the problem, they have been a weakness of mine for some time. I think I've got to either buckle down and finally learn how to draw characters properly or concentrate on environment entirely and not even include any characters.jaker3278 said:
    I actually really like the image i have no complaints about the posturing, people do in reality act and move in all sorts of ways and the positioning as we see it now is believable. Its good that the image doesn't constrain its self to much to artistic rules. I like the lighting and the dual split between characters. 

    Thank you, I tinkered a lot with the lighting, trying to get it the way I wanted. Not there yet but I tried : D
    It's a nicely done image, but it seems a little tame. It's fairly evenly lit throughout, which doesn't add a lot of mood. 
    Thank you for the advice. I think painting on top of a 3d render may have contributed to the light being too even. Since underlit areas tend to come out bad in renders, I had this urge to put lights everywhere, haha

    AgelosAp said:
    Agreeing with @Gannon and @Wendy de Boer, I did a paintover that might give some pointers

    Thank you for the paintover! It definitely makes the image more dramatic. I think I was too scared to drop things into the shadow entirely, as I mentioned above.
    The initial story I wanted to convey was that one of the tenants came in drunk, and the more orthodox character (with the yarmulke) is arguing about it with the clerk.
    I think it looks great, first of all. I wish I could paint like this! The composition felt a little awkward to me so I cropped some off. The content on the right felt too pushed to the right side, and a lot of unnecessary space on the left. This felt a bit more purposeful to me, but others may disagree.
    Thank you for the kind words! I must admit there is a lot of 3d and some photos here, so the painting part was mostly making things more broken and shabby, haha.
    For the composition part, your crop does make sense to me. I guess I couldn't really decide whether I wanted an environment concept or a narrative scene, and it came out neither here nor there.


  • Stinger88
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    Stinger88 greentooth
    Not a bad image at all. There are some slight perspective issues which could be throwing it off. But the main issue I think is the composition. Some lines inter connecting or cutting the image in odd shapes. The double stair case feels odd as well.

    Here's a paintover

    Some "cheap" tricks I added.
    Add some colour variation in materials, even if its really subtle
    Push the Contrast light and shadow.... then push it somemore esspecially to add mood.
    Bounce light (lift light on back of character at counter)
    interesting detail (lift floor indicator)
    Suggest a light up the stairs add "mystery"

    Anyway, this might feel a little more sci fi with the green lift light, try some other things depending on what you're going for. Hope it helps.




  • Wendy de Boer
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    Wendy de Boer polycounter lvl 13
    If the character near the elevator is drunk, you might want to convey that in his body language. For instance, he could be slumping and  leaning his hand on the door post to keep himself upright as he waits for the elevator.
  • zachagreg
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    zachagreg triangle
    I think one of the biggest issues for me is that there is a general lack of a focal point in the image. It almost looks like two panels of a series of images. You've got the two strong focal points via the lighting, which others have brought up so I won't rehash, but neither focal point seem to convey a congruent story within the picture. I guess if you're going for detective vibe, it's missing the intrigue or suspicion that mystery illustrations give off.
  • fhurtubise
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    fhurtubise polygon
    I think @zachagreg pretty much nails it - you have two competing focal points. Both sides of the picture tell an interesting story on their own, but when put together, the viewer doesn't know where to look.

    I don't really agree with some of the other points brought here - perspective, lighting, values and colors all look fine to me. It's true the poses/body language aren't on the same level as the rendering (they feel too rigid, matter-of-fact, and you could gain from exaggerating the subtleties of body language more), so that's the one general area I recommend focusing on in your next pieces (references, always more references.)
  • BringMeASunkist
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    BringMeASunkist polycounter lvl 6
    First off, I have to commend your humility in seeking crit. It's an admirable trait and vital to anybody who's looking to grow as an artist.

    That said, totally agree with what everybody's saying about lighting. Punch your values for darker darks and lighter lights to help establish the mood. Not so dark that the blacks in the background crush into one homogeneous shadow, but I've found that it's often the concept artist's job to establish mood and environment artist's control the lights if it's too dark. But at this point I can't say anything that hasn't been said.

    For your characters, I'd sketch some very loose figures as a base. See if you can read their body language just from lose postures and then start painting. As somebody pointed out above, the drunk man could have a more interesting posture to accentuate his drunken demeanor. And the two men arguing could have more expressive silhouettes to indicate a disagreement; right now it just looks like the clerk is casually gesturing to a man that seems mildly engaged. Maybe the clerk has a clenched fist and the other man has his arms in the air like he's surrendering/ doesn't want to get involved?

    You even have a light directly above the clerk. Maybe punch some of the shadows in his face like a cliche villain? Experiment with rim lighting or top light to further drive home that he's an important character. It's ok to exaggerate in concept art and this would bring more interest to the characters/ narrative.
  • Fizzly
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    Fizzly polycounter lvl 7
    Most of the things I was about to say have already been said. One other comment though: The stairs behind the elevator, how does it work construction wise? It looks like it doesn't rise high enough to reach the next floor.

    Edit: I think that having two stairs both going up on either sides of the elevator is wrong. Normally one goes down, the other up to change floors.
  • KevlarOxy
    - Not a great composition. Your eye deosn't know where to look.. .towards the elevator, towards the counter, up the stairs (why do you have two sets). What is the focal point of the image? You eye falls off the page to the left where the staircase is.  The filmic crop / zoom above is better. but i would still lose the left staircase. The door behind the wall that you can just see is conflicting with the wall.
    - It's all brown... you need a pop of color.
    - Low contrast i.e. have darker / lighter areas / deeper shadows.
    - It doesn't tell a story. The people are generic. Who is the guy at the counter... what does he want? Show us.

    All of these things add up to a confusing image, but often, general on lookers won't know why... it'll just look ok... ish.
  • RustySpannerz
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    RustySpannerz polycounter lvl 7
    This is a great thread, lots of good discussion! From an environment artists point of view, I really like this. All the main points have been brought up, the characters definitely don't convey the story well, I had no idea that the guy was drunk nor the other guys were arguing until it was pointed out. But I don't think the lighting is too bland. It could be a little moodier, but the detail and texture in the environment comes out really nicely and for an environment artist it's nice to be able to actually see what's going on. I'm a big fan of this style, I really like it when the whole place is fleshed out and my imagination doesn't have to do all the work.
  • EricElwell
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    EricElwell ngon master
    Your rendering of light and your detail distribution are both working well. The colors are working in my opinion. I think you need to reconsider the composition. Even though light is rendered well, its placement could be reconsidered to create more dramatic shadows (perhaps a dramatic muted silhouette inside the elevator). The light could fall across the forms of the composition to lead the eye around a bit more, and more intentionally direct the eye to your areas of interest.

    I don't think it would necessarily help to paint over, but I'll point out some problems that jump out to me and maybe some tricks you might try; but the visual problem solving is in your court. :) 

    - The two characters nearest the center of the image have their backs to the viewer and are looking out of the frame. It creates this dead space in the middle and pushes the composition outward.
    - Currently these two regions are isolated, and I almost read them as separate frames. It could be that vertical wall just to the left of the center figure, or the aforementioned dead zone in the center of the image.
    - Purple highlighted areas don't really add to the composition or tell any story... though, your detail distribution is fine, and you DO need negative space... just maybe not that much. It is a lot of space. For better or for worse. That's a subjective thing, but in this case I do not think it is helping.
    - On the left side of the image, the leading lines seem to point upward (though there is a conflict, as they could almost equally be perceived as "emanating outward" from behind the elevator shaft). This could function in the composition if you are implying that the story continues in that direction. 
    - A final note that is not depicted in the gif... I get a very "TV set" or "stage" vibe from this composition. It's a wide open shot on the room (with a wide open floor). Some added foreground elements that overlap the mid and bg would help. You have that on the left side of the image.. but it doesn't overlap anything meaningful. Another possibility is a window view to expand the distance and ground the interior in a larger world.  



    Moving on to less technical speak and more to how the visuals relate to the idea: 
     So as far as story, I am picking up the Kippah implying the center figure is jewish. It seems he and the man at the counter are in a disagreement. The environment is run down, and the third figure is holding a wine or liquor bottle and intends to go up. I suspect that this is a part of a larger body (mystery game or something), but the image alone does not really give me enough story to understand or enough intrigue to be engaged by questions. Not to get too philosophical, but you seem to be wanting to move the image from a "technically executed" image to an engaging story. Hope something there was helpful. Good luck :) 
  • Yamsha
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    Yamsha polycounter lvl 2
    If the character near the elevator is drunk, you might want to convey that in his body language. For instance, he could be slumping and  leaning his hand on the door post to keep himself upright as he waits for the elevator.
    Thanks for the critique. I actually tried to do that, and then I realized I'm terrible at doing poses and kind of gave up :D I really have to address that weakness if I want to add characters to my stuff.


    Stinger88 said:
    Not a bad image at all. There are some slight perspective issues which could be throwing it off. But the main issue I think is the composition. Some lines inter connecting or cutting the image in odd shapes. The double stair case feels odd as well.
    Thank you, I had a feeling the composition was the main problem, I think it is in most of my images.

    zachagreg said:
    I think one of the biggest issues for me is that there is a general lack of a focal point in the image. It almost looks like two panels of a series of images. You've got the two strong focal points via the lighting, which others have brought up so I won't rehash, but neither focal point seem to convey a congruent story within the picture. I guess if you're going for detective vibe, it's missing the intrigue or suspicion that mystery illustrations give off.
    I think I get lost in the technicalities of making the image and the story gets lost in the process, I have to pay attention to that all along the way. Thank you for pointing this out!


    I don't really agree with some of the other points brought here - perspective, lighting, values and colors all look fine to me. It's true the poses/body language aren't on the same level as the rendering (they feel too rigid, matter-of-fact, and you could gain from exaggerating the subtleties of body language more), so that's the one general area I recommend focusing on in your next pieces (references, always more references.)

    Thank you, I tried to shoot my own references for the poses, but I think I went a little bit too fast and they were not very usable.

    That said, totally agree with what everybody's saying about lighting. Punch your values for darker darks and lighter lights to help establish the mood. 

    Thanks! I think the lack of bold choices is also a reoccuring problem in my stuff.

    Fizzly said:
    One other comment though: The stairs behind the elevator, how does it work construction wise? It looks like it doesn't rise high enough to reach the next floor.

    Thanks for the crit, I was wondering if the stair situation would read. I think they kind of make sense, if you see the 3d blockout, but obviously they don't read visually in the resulting image, so that's an issue for sure.



  • Yamsha
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    Yamsha polycounter lvl 2
    KevlarOxy said:
    All of these things add up to a confusing image, but often, general on lookers won't know why... it'll just look ok... ish.

    This is definitely what seems to happen, they don't see some obvious huge problem, but it doesn't capture anybody's attention either.
    This is a great thread, lots of good discussion! From an environment artists point of view, I really like this. All the main points have been brought up, the characters definitely don't convey the story well, I had no idea that the guy was drunk nor the other guys were arguing until it was pointed out. But I don't think the lighting is too bland. It could be a little moodier, but the detail and texture in the environment comes out really nicely and for an environment artist it's nice to be able to actually see what's going on. I'm a big fan of this style, I really like it when the whole place is fleshed out and my imagination doesn't have to do all the work.
    Thank you, it's very interesting to hear what it looks like from the point of view of an environment artist! I'm glad you think the image would be usable for production, since that's the point of concept art to begin with.


    I don't think it would necessarily help to paint over, but I'll point out some problems that jump out to me and maybe some tricks you might try; but the visual problem solving is in your court. :) 

    Thanks! What a cool way of giving feedback! I wish I was getting that type of breakdown at work, it's really helpful.

    Thank you all so much for your critiques! Originally I wasn't going to change the image, and just keep things in mind for the future, but now I feel indebted to all of you for putting this much effort into helping me, so I have to at least try and do something to make the image better.
    I will update the thread once I have something.
    Thanks again!
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