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Author: Kemp Sparky
* Paint Program
If you are like me, then you don't have any expensive paint programs like Photoshop or Paintshop Pro. Instead, you've got either a free program gleaned off of the internet or a program that came with your computer, neither of which have any of the brush or filter capabilities that the ever popular (500 dollar) programs have. For awhile, because of the limitations of my paint program, I gave up on doing close-ups of furred animals, due to their tendency to render looking more like a plastic child's toy than a real animal. Since then, however, I have learned a few faithful techniques to achieve lifelike, painted fur, and all you need is a paint program with a soft brush (I use Microsoft Digital Image Standard Editor).
First off, you'll need to correct any problems like poke through, texture seams, etc. In mine, I needed to close the stretched cheek of the cat, I did this by copying and pasting some of the fur from the cat's cheek over the area and painting new shadows over the new fur to help blend it in. I also lowered the angle of the upper jaw to match the extreme angle of the cat's open lower jaw, by copying the area, rotating it, and painting the shadows to blend it. (Fig. 1) Make whatever preparations apply to your render.
This step may not be necessary depending on the kind of animal you are painting. Domestic, groomed horses may be completely smooth, whereas a wild horse may not be. I recommend looking at photos of the animal or a similar animal for reference as to how the fur lays on the animal before beginning. Start with a light color, the lightest color you will be using in whichever particular area you are painting. Make short strokes going in the direction of the fur growth along the edges, be sure you release the stroke before making the next so that your fur doesn't end up looking as though it's looped (Fig. 2). Once you have a solid base, grab other colors from the fur and paint over it, this time in a darker color, then go over it again with another lighter color, then darker, then lighter again, and keep painting these layers until you have your desired result (Fig. 3).
I wanted my cat to have a bristling tuft of hair at his shoulders. I started by putting my guide hairs in place. Guide hairs are what you use to shape the tuft.(Fig. 4) After putting your guide hairs in place, you will need to fill in the area at the base of the guide hairs with the same color, to blend the new hair into the texture of the model. After filling it in, using the same color, paint fur sparsely over the image, leading the lay of the fur toward the tuft, to maintain the fur's continuity. (Fig. 5) Once this is done, you can vary the colors between darker and lighter hues to better blend with the surrounding fur and enhance its realism.
When painting contoured areas, you have to remain conscious of the direction of the hair growth, and the depth and color of the shadows. For this example, we will look at the cat's ear. The first thing you want to do is to paint guide hairs around the rim of the ear, marking the direction in which the hair will be painted, using a light color (Fig. 6). Once you have the guide hairs in place, fill in the area with fine hairs, keeping mindful of shadows and highlights according to the shape of the ear and light source. After you've finished the rim of the ear, begin painting the inside of the ear, make sure that you retain the shadow depth and blend it up to the rim (Fig. 7).
You can use similar techniques as those used in steps 2 and 4 to blend ill-matched patches of fur (such as those around seams, or the ear or cheek fur of the millennium big cat), or re-paint unattractive parts of the model, such as the jaw of the cat in my demonstrative image.
Play with these techniques to develop a method that works for you.