Sin City: A Dame To Kill For concept art – the artist tell us how he created it in Photoshop

How Francesco Corvino used effects and lighting to build concept shots from greenscreen footage to recreated Frank Miller's stylised look for the film.

Sin City: A Dame To Kill For is the second film based on Frank Miller's graphic novels. The film is set in an ultra-violent world of backstreet criminals and failing honour, and – like the comics – represented in stark, ultra-stylised black and white with occasional garish splatters of red blood and lipstick, and fiery explosions.

As with the first Sin City movie, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For was shot against greenscreen – with CG locations, effects, props, characters, explosions and even farm animals added by Prime Focus. As part of this process, artist Francesco Corvino created concept art based on stills from the greenscreen footage for the VFX team to reference when creating each shot's look.

I sat down with Francesco to find out about how these were created.

NB: Tell us a bit about yourself

FC: "I'm a concept designer, art director and matte painter. After a Master's Degree in Architecture and attending the Gnomon School of Visual Effects in Hollywood, I started working on films, TV series and commercials - creating concept art in pre and post production.

"Some of the latest projects I've worked on are season four of Game of Thrones, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, World War Z, Edge of Tomorrow and Maleficent."

Read on to find out how Francesco Corvino created the concept art for Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.

NB: At what stage of production/post did you create the concept art?

FC: "These concepts were created once the actors were filmed on greenscreen, therefore later than [traditional] pre-production concept art. It's a very reliable way of visualising a shot. You have the actors properly positioned on set and lit, and you can focus on creating the environment around them - following the basic rules established during the shooting.

"In this case the final product is a set of detailed and polished images that give an extremely clear guidance to the VFX company. This way of working is quite common nowadays, in particular with more and more productions heavily relying on a significant use of greenscreens and digitally created environments."

NB: You were working with a style defined by the first film and Frank Miller's original comics. Did this make the project easier or more challenging?

FC: "It was definitely challenging, but in a very good sense. It made the project even more interesting and I really loved the look of the first movie. It's what makes this film unique - visually speaking - and it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to explore original approaches to design for movies."

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NB: Picking one piece in particular, could you take us through the conceptual and aesthetic choices you made when creating the scene.

FC: "Let's take the shot with Eva Green next to the pool - it's a great example of the process we followed to create the visuals of this movie. The main focus is obviously the actor, therefore we increased significantly the brightness of her nightgown. On the other hand we pushed the stylized look of the environment in the background.

"The details of the shapes are minimal: the small wall right behind Eva is reduced to a rimlight, and the rest of the object is pitch black. Same is true for the plant pots and the palms.

"The cityscape is visible only through the buildings' lights – not even the buildings' silhouettes are rendered and the sky is a pitch-black surface, interrupted only occasionally by some very subtle clouds. The main source of light, the moon, is reduced to a big white circle, enriched only by subtle details.

"This approach to stylising elements was the core of our work on Sin City: A Dame To Kill For."

NB: What tools did you use?

FC: "All these artworks were based on a simple 3D scene with very basic geometries to establish composition, lighting and perspective. When rendered, these 3D scenes were imported into Photoshop, where a significant part of the work was made: adding atmospheric effects, enhancing lighting, enriching textures and details, stylising shapes and integrating the actors in the environment."

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NB: What did you find most interesting about working on this project?

FC: "I had a great time working on this project, in particular because I could do it with a group of such talented artists as Jelmer Boskma and the guys at the Aaron Sims Company.

"It was really exciting to recreate the Sin City look, at the same time it required a wise and sophisticated balance between photoreal and stylised elements.

"Here is where the majority of my work as concept artist was focused on, being such a fundamental part of the movie's visuals. A lot of thinking was devoted to decide if a specific shape was more powerful with a degree of photoreal detail or if rendered as a pure white silhouette.

"This kind of decisions may seem very specific sometimes but I think it really made a substantial difference in the final quality that we achieved with this movie."

More of Francesco Corvino's concept art for Sin City: A Dame To Kill For.

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Francesco Corvino's concept art for Sin City: A Dame To Kill For put live action characters in purely CG backgrounds from grand houses to fields full of CG cows.