Digital Kitbashing: How to “Kitbash” Images in Photoshop to Use in Illustration

What is kitbashing?

Kitbashing is the art of taking model pieces from different model sets and combining them to create your own unique model. Kitbashing is used by model makers to create special effects for film, and even by sequential artists to create characters and props for their stories. Kitbashing was used by Star Wars model makers to create ships like the Millenium Falcon, the Capital Ship, and much more. The model making team, led by visual effects legend John Dykstra, used pieces from US army model kits as well as pieces of trash to create the “greeble” on the ships. In comics and illustration, kitbashing is used to help artists visualize different perspectives of their characters and creatures. It is an extremely useful tool to create consistent drawings through a story.

John Dykstra: Star Wars (1977)

How can we apply kitbashing techniques to digital art?

For the purposes of digital art, the idea of kitbashing can be applied to collections of photos to create a sort of cohesive collage. Professionally, this photo kitbashing is used a lot in visual effects to create matte paintings. Matte paintings are digitally (or traditionally) painted images of a set or distant location, which will later be composited to create the filmmaker’s vision for a scene. Digital matte painters consider a lot about the images they select to “bash” together for their scene; time of day, perspective, camera lens and angle, color, atmospheric perspective, and scale are all important things to consider in order to create a cohesive collaged image.

Game of Thrones Matte Painting

Digital kitbashing can also be used to create illustrations. Below is an example of how I used digital kitbashing to create a piece for HoneyDripper’s Drawlidays challenge this past winter. I had a sketch and an idea in mind, but in order to bring it to life, I started with researching images to combine into an illustration.

I began my research in Google Earth, trying to find a good house that I could base my composition on. I settled on this house for its nicely framed porch and area out front for a streetlight.

Next, I added some elements to the scene. It took some time to research elements that would fit, especially the new window on the left of the house. I did some adjusting to the sizes of the images and used Photoshop’s distortion tool to make the wreath image fit the perspective of the open door of the house. This was going to be a winter scene, so I used my knowledge of what snow looks like as well as some reference to add snow to the scene. Here is the final sketch for the scene:

After doing the line art for the scene, I began researching the family I wanted to add. I was lucky and found this great photo that fit really well with the style I was going for and fit the perspective of the house pretty well.

This draft looks like a mess, but I wanted to show just how many images I used to create the sketch of the family. Some of the images were purely used as reference, such as the jackets and the grandmother’s sweater. For other images, like the heads, I tried to find images that were facing the exact way I wanted. I added in some more elements like hats, presents, and some winter boots as some final touches. Kitbashing these images required a bit of problem solving, adjusting references in a way that would look correct and fit together. Below is a close up of the final sketch of the family.

After the sketch was completed, the next step was to color the image. To do this, I found even more reference, this time focusing solely on color. I found images with a blue and yellow pallet that I thought would fit well with my illustration. I chose a few different images to get colors from, but I was mainly inspired by this painting by Evgeny Lushpin.

Illustration by Evgeny Lushpin
Source: pinterest

Here is the final illustration! All of the images I found fit together to create this piece. In a way it is a collage of all of the references I used to create something that is new and my own. I used the basic principles of kitbashing to cut and paste, add and subtract as I needed to mash a bunch of ideas into one complete illustration. I hope y’all can find some inspiration from this article to try digital kitbashing for yourself!

Further Reading:

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