View Full Version : Cliffside Fortress - WIP

01-21-2011, 07:28 PM
A cliff-side fortress, long abandoned with a fast flowing river running through a gorge. This thing is crashing my copy of Photoshop, I may have to abandon it for real!

Rather than use Fill patterns for the mountains, I'm trying to use smart-objects so I can warp the terrain as I want. The textures are still tileable, so they blend okay. I like the warping / liquefy method for terrain, because it lets me direct the "tectonic" forces somewhat. It does tend to push your machine to the limits through. Gah.

It's amazingly difficult to get aerial views of fast moving water. I wound up building the texture from a really wimpy white-water image into a raging torrent using "fractal" techniques. Use Fill patterns at several scales set to Overlay to add additional fine-grained detail. Use it carefully, because it's easy to over do the effect. This effect works well for foamy whitewater ocean, I suspect.

Now, the plan is to have this be a battle-mat by itself and then map the castle in the off chance the players want to seek shelter inside.

01-21-2011, 07:32 PM
Wow. PT, I dub you the king of the photorealistic. I clicked the picture first, then read your post, fully expecting to see "I photoshopped the walls onto a photo of a cliff overlooking ...."

This is amazing.

01-21-2011, 07:39 PM
Holy (watch your mouth) I mean WOW that is incredible. :)

01-21-2011, 08:01 PM
Wow. PT, I dub you the king of the photorealistic. I clicked the picture first, then read your post, fully expecting to see "I photoshopped the walls onto a photo of a cliff overlooking ...."

This is amazing.

Thanks guys. I want it to look like a miniature battle-set or model put out by one of those pro-modeling teams, with detail but enough abstraction to be useful for anyone. I would paint the textures but I can never get them "right" without some sort of reference to work with, so I try and find free or royalty free textures of real-life materials to visualize with.

Personally, I love the hand-drawn maps some of you guys can put out, I really want to work on my sketching and hand-painting as a long term goal.

01-22-2011, 04:24 AM
This looks awesome so far. You may have to save off the layers while you work on other areas and then put them altogether at the end. Definitely love your texture work.

Steel General
01-22-2011, 06:35 AM
This is really nice so far, hope you don't have to abandon it.

01-22-2011, 07:54 PM
Finally added in the foundations for the front bridge which spans the gorge, hinting in detail that they are cracked and about to be washed away by the river. Match color saved my rear end here, my rubble isn't quite the same color as my walls, so I fixed that.

If you look close you can see the trouble I'm in memory wise. It tends to crash when I'm at about 1.2G of utilization. I'm going to try and make a layers smart-objects so I can export them, and then place them back in the scene when I'm ready for them.

01-22-2011, 08:24 PM
Eek! I pretty regularly run at about 3G of memory usage. It would drive me bananas to have to be that frugal, you have my sympathies.

01-23-2011, 03:06 AM
So, here I'm trying to do massing on the internal structure of the castle. I beefed up the walls, as I assume masonry buildings of that era were at least 10 feet thick for the exterior walls. The grey is a refined sketch of the massing, the red was the original mass. The shaft to the SouthEast is going to lead down to an alchemical lab or something, the western half of the fortress is the "inner keep" with a well and an secret exit down to the river.


01-24-2011, 02:02 AM
Here's the first level roughed in with walls and collapsed sections. Need to do floors, elevation changes, etc. This area here is a sloping hallway to an alchemists lab on a level below. There is supposed to be a shaft which catches light at precisely a certain time of day for +/- 5 minutes for some experiment or time-lock-door or something. Do the hand-done walls blend well with the "photo-real rock texture? I don't know. I need more work on them, I think. Advice on how to blend the two looks would be appreciated. The back half of the walls re supposed to be "carved" out of the rocks then layered over with smaller rocks and roman style cement-mortar.


I want to add more color contrast to the battlemat but leave the hue natural. I want to add in more things elsewhere on the battlemat so there are other interesting areas besides just the cliffside fortress to work with as well, which means I'm going to want to have a "outside view of the fortress upper levels as well.

01-24-2011, 08:19 PM
This is the current floor texture I've mixed up, I think it's mostly the right amount of weathering for a slab like this, I need to add in more detail to break up the monotony. Every ancient fortress requires mysterious glyphs and carvings, so I will probably break the rooms up with some "granite" blocks embedded in the floor and then add carved glyphs.

Now that the plan is stabilized I need to start laying out the sub-basement alchemists lab level, and the upper two floors, the ruined bridge level being one of them.

01-24-2011, 08:41 PM
I like the floor, and the rubble, but I'm not too sold on the hand-drawn-type walls. Perhaps once the "guts" go in it might grow on me, though.

01-24-2011, 08:57 PM
This keeps getting better and better :)

01-25-2011, 01:24 AM
I like the floor, and the rubble, but I'm not too sold on the hand-drawn-type walls. Perhaps once the "guts" go in it might grow on me, though.

Are the walls too "simplistic" or "cartoony" when they're hand-drawn? Is it the sloping glacis of the exterior walls that looks too cartoony? Compared to the textures, I know they're much simpler than the terrain. I'll try working on a more photo-real style on the glacis maybe... the top-down walls are going to need an upgrade too then.

01-25-2011, 08:09 AM
I think it's cartoony that's the problem. It's subtle though. I may have only noticed it because you asked so i specifically looked.

01-26-2011, 01:04 AM
I worked on the wall textures a bit, and I think this improves it. I added in cracks and such to make it less monolithic and more varied in texture, as well as played around with the highlights and shadows to create some variations in color on the concrete. Hopefully this is an improvement.


I like my stair down into the pit, but my stair up... that's not interacting with the rubble quite right, going to have to half-destroy it or something to make it work. Additionally, I think I'm done adding rubble until I have the upper levels visualized and the amount of ruin going on up there.

I'm also looking for ideas on what sort of castle / dungeon props would remain after a thousand years of wild animals, and half-sentient monsters wandering around the place. (That's yet another challenge for my poor hand-drawing skills!) Also, my floors are too clean, going to have to grunge and crack them them up once I get props inside.

01-26-2011, 02:17 PM
Oh yeah, those walls look a ton better.

01-28-2011, 04:23 PM
This will be the last update on this for a few days.

I'm at the stage on this floor where changes made will seem small, so I won't bore people. I'm working on the upper floor. I'll probably have 4 floors total with one of the floors being the roof. In this update, I fixed my stair up, and added in some wizard/keep-holder rooms along with some servant quarters and will add more in the retreat. I collapsed a room or two, which means they will need to carry through to the basement and alchemy lab.

Furniture and props are going to be hard on this one, as the hand-drawing is where I'm weakest. Going to try and finish this eventually, I switched from psd to psb which keeps me from hitting the 2gb limit that was crashing photoshop.


01-28-2011, 06:40 PM
That grid is really distracting me. Other than that, this continues to look awesome.

Steel General
01-29-2011, 08:40 AM
I agree with Gidde, the grid is quite distracting on an otherwise great piece.

02-04-2011, 07:24 PM
@Steel General, Gidde (Thanks for your encouragement!) The grid's to line stuff up at the moment. I agree that it doesn't fit all that well with the layout of the castle. Maybe I'll have to have gridded regions where the grid warps or something (I don't really know if I can even do that!) to handle it. I know I saw somewhere someone was doing a voronoi diagram / escher like grid tiles for a city, maybe that would be feasible...

It's been slow going on this map now that I'm in the detail stage for this floor.
The old forge and the "ding-dong the witch is dead" skeleton:
(I should learn Human Anatomy and proportions better... he was originally about 12 feet tall.)

Servant's quarters with barred windows.
(No arrow slits on this castle, the cliff is too hard to climb en-masse, so a siege would basically entail lobbing magic spells or catapulting rocks at the wall or something. Anyway, that's my excuse, I didn't plan the openings and rooms enough to do arrow slits, really. Which is a shame.)

Mysterious Floor Carvings
They probably say: "Stop! Did you remember to feed your Bandersnatch today?"

Horned Giant Skeleton
Probably died trying to escape the Alchemist's Lab...
(This one's anatomy is better. My hands and feet still suck, but I can live with these.)

Let this be a lesson to myself, always sketch your map out before you start. Do several drafts so you understand what you want to do, instead of scribbling on a napkin...

02-08-2011, 01:07 AM
Added "furnishings" to the servants' quarters
Several doors hang loosely on what is left of their hinges, warped and forced half-open by collapsed rubble. Peeking through the doors reveals litter and half-ruined furniture fit for the poor, or perhaps servants who lived in this wing. The door to one room seems to be in better shape than the others, inside the room is more furniture and a rude table with several dusty items left on top: an old brush, a stub of candle, and a small wood bound volume covered in dust, which on examination is a diary. The diary's last entry: "There was more screaming from the Master's laboratory last night. We have been instructed never to enter, but the screams are so terrifying that I shall never be tempted of violating that order in any case..."

I should add some personal belongings or something.

Fleshed out the courtyard battle with the horned giant.
Day lights this courtyard which was clearly once a well-tended garden. Atop a destroyed portcullis lies the remains of a giant; its horned skull and body pierced by numerous spears and arrows. The decayed skeletons of at least two warriors lie heaped as if they were discarded toys: one nearly wrapped around the trunk of a gnarled, but blooming, old tree and the other nearly covered by rubbish in the corner. Old, dried blood covers the paving stones, a trail of it leading through a destroyed gate deeper into the castle.

Lighting needs to be neutral, but fit the mood of the abandoned castle. I'll get to lighting last, still more to work on!

02-08-2011, 12:11 PM
I love the descriptions!! This just gets better and better :)

02-08-2011, 01:43 PM
This is an incredible piece you are doing here. The only problem I seem to be having is that it takes me a moment to figure out what I'm looking at. I think it's due to it taking my eyes a moment to figure out what are walls of stone versus what are living areas. My visual interpretation is that it's a bit flat. It might be worth adding some darkness/lightness to help with that. For instance in the shot of the barred windows if the area outside was darker because it's farther away I think it would help. You may already have it in mind and just haven't gotten to it yet.

You have great textures going on and I really love the descriptions of the ruins. I feel like I'm looking at a real place which is totally awesome man.

02-08-2011, 02:39 PM
What Jax said about depth being needed. Also, are you using each texture on it's own layer with a layer mask to determine what shows where? If so, you may want to try a bit more blur on some of the layer masks to get a better blend of textures. In a few places, on texture just "ends" in a way that is weird. This is especially true of those with rocks/bricks/stones/etc). It could be those places are fine like that IF they are places where walls meet the floor and you just need some highlights/lowlights to help differentiate.

02-11-2011, 05:12 PM
@Jaxilon, jtfrazierjr: Is this what you're meaning by depth? I stroked the walls with the pen tool to make them stand out.
Or are you talking about shading with shadows?
Or both? I think my shading is overwhelming the drawing, with this attempt. If I make it any fainter, it just isn't noticeable, but when you zoom out to look at it at a VTT scale, it looks distracting as a whole. :/ Or maybe I should invert my concept of light and dark, and instead of making the shadows so dark, make the brightness brighter, depending on which areas the players would likely spend more time in.

02-11-2011, 05:24 PM
I think both, but perhaps a little less shadow. Not fainter, just ... shorter? Is that the right word?

02-11-2011, 07:57 PM
I think just looking at the thumbnails you can see a huge difference. I can tell what's what much better now.

02-11-2011, 09:28 PM
I think the pen tool and a bit less shading and you've got it :)

02-19-2011, 06:32 AM
Wow... really awesome!

There's little contrast in this however... I'm not really sure how well this would work on paper. The colour of the cliff-side, and the colour of the castle are quite similar. You may want to try and SLIGHTLY colourize the walls, to just make them jump out a bit more, at the same time, it will also guide the eye, and probably help with that depth.

For an example of using shadows to make the walls stand out more in my view (a really bad attempt, as I had to draw ON TOP of you picture) I kind of 'stole' your image and did what I think would be cast shadows. I could be wrong in my interpretation of the map though, it's just an example and I hope you do not mind that I used your thumbnail.

Hope it's useful, otherwise, sorry for butchering your image.


edit: also, rep!

03-11-2011, 11:49 AM
Just great images, would love to use this for a story arc in my game.


Port Paladine
04-07-2011, 07:59 AM
What can I say but wow. I mean i'm damn near speechless. I have not looked at your profile yet...do you do professional work? I love your photoshop skills. I am dieing to to see the final. Will you make it available for others to use? My hat is off to you and your passion for detail.