Forza 3 Painting Guide
This rather simple Master Chief has over 300 layers.
Practical advice on creating your motorsport masterpiece...
Published on Jun 13, 2011
Racing and painting are a disparate pair of disciplines and rather like it's counterpart, painting is all about practice. Here, though, we offer you a significant legup with a whole bunch of sound advice.
Odds are you've already got a gazillion livery ideas in your head; stop right there and go check out the editor. Look at the vinyl shapes you have access to and imagine creating something with them. If this is your first Forza car design we'd recommend opting for one of your simpler ideas. Something that's going to be challenging, but not to the point of frustration. You should also start to think about which car the design is going to end up on, go and have a look at the car now… will the design work with the body shape? It's essential to have a rough idea of the end product in your head before you begin. We decided on a tribute to the Master Chief. It's worth making a sketch of your design before you begin. If only for reference purposes it'll make the whole process much easier. If you're feeling particularly creative you can even try knocking up a rough version in some visual software. It doesn't really matter if you do this in something high-end like Illustrator or something as basic as MS Paint; either way it'll give you a good idea of the complexity of the image and it'll force you to start thinking about the kind of shapes needed to make up the image.
First off, you'll be needing a car. However, we suggest leaving your vehicle of choice to the side for now. Instead pick your 'canvas car', something you can use to create your key art. The best canvas cars are those with large flat hardtop roofs, like the Civic you can see here. Because of the camera angles, lack of body panel joins and other obstructions like air vents or door handles, the roof is the easiest part of the car to work on. Once you've got your car, paint it white (or black if your design is going to be light), it'll make lining up shapes a lot easier. We also found that a grid came in handy to help with positioning. Don't worry about getting the exact size yet, overall proportion is more important. As a rule of thumb it's also better to make your design as big as possible now and then shrink it later on.
Start off by laying down the basic shape for your design. At this point don't worry about the details, just concentrate on making the basic shape perfect using square blocks, triangles and circles to start to form an outline. All of the controls are shown at the bottom of the screen, but don't forget that you can use the D-pad as well as the analogue stick to position, rotate and resize shapes. This is often a lot easier than using the stick and allows precise measurements; you can also check the X and Y values of each shape by glancing at the bottom of the screen. We're making our base shape here solid black so that we can keep a thin black outline for the final version… this will not only help the design to stand out when it's on the car, but it will also allow us to use the design on any colour bodywork we choose.
With your basic shape in place it's time to start adding some colours and details. Concentrate on one area at a time and, whatever you do, be patient. Sort the easier areas first, take your time, stay aware of the overall composition, line up the shapes, be careful about what colours you choose and take a break if your eyes are starting to fade, making sure you remember to SAVE after every few shapes. It's this middle section of any design that really hurts… it can take hours to get even the smallest section right and even then all you're looking at is a wall of shapes. Sadly there are no short cuts to be taken, but you can speed up the process a little by using your recent colours palette and using the 'stamp' button instead of insert when you know you've got a row of similar shapes coming up.
We're guessing that, whatever your design, the more complex areas all involve curvaceous shapes right? It doesn't matter how many vinyl options the developer puts in, these are always going to require a little TLC to work. With each design you'd normally be looking to save layers (just in case that 1,000-per-limit is reached), but when it comes to curves don't be afraid to throw more shapes than seem necessary. The hardest part of this entire design was getting the right shape for the area under the Chief's arm. We had to use three layers on the one curve just to get right look. If you're having problems we can suggest playing around with different vinyl shapes (the brackets on the fonts actually work really well) and experiment with the 'skew' option. This has been a lifesaver on numerous occasions.
GROUPS AND LAYERS
Always remember that everything you create is on its own layer and that the higher numbered layers always sit on top of the lower numbers covering them up. There are transparency options for each layer, with which you can create some awesome effects, but if you ignore that for now you can use layers to save lots of time. For example, if we need to add some lighter areas to Master Chief, since we know these were going to sit underneath the black armour detail we didn't need to spend ages lining them up. Once we were happy with the position we grouped the lighter layers together (by clicking in the left stick), cut them to the clipboard and then pasted them before the black outline on the layer list. It's a cheap trick, but it cuts down on the hassle.
When you're nearing the end of your design take the time to go back through all of the shapes you've put down and make sure you're happy with the way everything looks, you don't want to get to the end and regret not changing something earlier. Change colours if necessary (as we did here with the armour joints), reposition layers, maybe delete a few of the unnecessary shapes and tighten everything up. It's a better idea to do this now, when you have only got one design on the roof of a car, rather than trying to dig through hundreds upon hundreds of layers later on just to find one shape that's slightly off. As it is this rather simple Master Chief has over 300 layers and has already used up a nice chunk of our time! If you are struggling to pick out one shape on your image, try changing its colour to something that stands out while you re-position, then just swap the colour back when you are done.
Our Chief is finally complete, all that remains is to save it onto a vinyl group so we can abuse it wherever we see fit. With any layer selected press the Start button and scroll down the options until you see 'Highlight All Layers'. With that done either click on the group or hit the Start button again and look for the option 'Save Vinyl Group'. This allows you to lift your design off the car, give it a name, and save it to the hard drive. Now we're finished, sort of. For this design we're also going to go back into the layers and, group together the same colours and re-colour that group. In the space of a few seconds we've managed to create a second colour Chief that we're going to save down as a second vinyl group. We actually need three Chiefs for our final design, but we'll sort that out later on…
PICK A CAR
Hours worth of effort and we still haven't even got a car to show for all our work… well, it's now time to change all that. By now you've hopefully got a good idea of which car you want to garnish. There's so many to choose from, so you want to pick one that will compliment your design. A great design can be ruined by a poor choice in car. Since we picked the Master Chief for our design we figured our car had to be American, something with a bit of muscle, but with a modern touch. It was a close call between the Dodge Charger and the Ford Mustang GT, but the Mustang took it in the end thanks to the awesome Saleen body kit. If you are planning on adding external aftermarket parts like this make sure you buy them and install BEFORE you begin work on the car. The last thing you want is for your hard graft to be ruined by a bumper that's a slightly different shape. As we mentioned before it's also wise to ditch the stock colour (in this case metallic red) and give the entire car a lick of temporary white/black paint to help line up the layers.
We wanted our Halo design to start off as a stripe running from the front of the car to the roof. Features like this are incredibly easy to slap on thanks to a decent range of vinyl built into the game. Have a scroll through and you'll find multiple tabbed sections running from basic shapes to intricate patterns. However, a word of warning, every other person on the planet has access to these. So, if you are planning on using them, try and make them a little different. If it's lightning add another branch to the bolt or maybe try extending the lick of some flames. In this case we widened the two outer stripes with some additional layers and continued the star pattern. Tweaks like this are simple enough to carry out, but there's a lot more satisfaction in knowing you've made the shape 'yours'.
Gradients can be your best friend… and your worst enemy. They're nice and easy to use and can produce striking effects, but can also look incredibly tacky, especially if they're simply slapped across the full width of a car. It might be tempting to make that lime green/bright pink split, but in the end you'll just look like a noob on the track. Gradients should be used for subtle effects, like the stripe here. If you're planning on producing photo-quality vinyl (like the Pennywise car at the top corner of this page) you'll need to become a master of the gradients and transparency levels. The main problem to watch out for (in regards to both gradients and transparency levels) is overlapping layers, it can take a long time to get everything lined up and looking good but it will definitely be worth it in the end.
IMPORTING VINYL GROUPS
When you're ready to apply your own custom vinyl, highlight a blank layer and either hit the Start button or press A. You'll see an option for importing a vinyl group which brings up a list of every piece of art you've saved. When you do import a vinyl group it'll initially appear with the layers locked so you can re-position and resize (as you can with any layers you've grouped together), but be careful. Because, once imported, this behaves in the same way as other layers. When you need to select another group of layers you'll lose the lock. Make sure the group is separate from the rest of the layers on the list if you can, it can make your life a lot easier later on when you're making final tweaks.
WORKING WITH SIDES
Now that we're finally happy with the roof composition we're going to continue our arrows around to the sides. If your design covers multiple sides this is where things can start to get a little tricky. Lining up shapes can be awkward depending on the car, and you'll also find that with some cars you'll be able to mark sides even when they're not selected. The main areas to watch out for are the bumpers; these can often be affected by layers on the roof. Remember, if elements of your design are symmetrical you only need to work on one side to begin with, as you can switch over and mirror all of the layers simply using the menus. Once the blue Chief was in place we mirrored this side and re-coloured the final Chief green.
As you near the end of your design it's a good idea to start thinking about body paint. Hopefully you'll have a colour in mind already, but, as we found out with this car, you need to be prepared to accept that the colour might not look as impressive as you'd hoped. We originally planned for a sky blue finish, but it didn't gel with the rest of the design. In the end we opted for a bright orange to complement the cartoon-look and lightened the arrow colours to fit. Remember that when you've got the colour wheel up you can also tap the triggers to see metallic and manufacturer stock options. Also, if you've used vinyl with cut-out shapes, make sure the car paint hasn't created new problems… like the stars you can see here.
The game's range of fonts are perfect for adding bumper stickers, website addresses, number plates and so on. When you're placing letters keep a close eye on the X and Y values at the bottom of the screen, all it takes is for one letter to be slightly bigger or the spacing to be off and you're left with an amateur livery. Of course if you're not happy with what's on offer within the vinyl menus you can create your own letters, but we found that we've only needed to do this when it came to recreating logos. If you are planning on making a logo treat it the same as any piece of art, build a big version of it on your canvas car and shrink it down for use as a vinyl group.
All that's left to do now is add a few small extras to finish off the design. One of the most important things you can learn with the livery editor is when to stop. There's no shame in having sections of the car un-painted, if it works for your design. We've seen lots of good ideas that have been ruined by over-the-top clutter. To finish off our Halo Mustang we extended the star pattern to surround each Chief, painted the rims to match the body, darkened the window tint and added a few manufacturer logos. If you are going to go down the manufacturer logo route make sure you stay true to your car and only add the logos specific to your engine upgrades. There's nothing worse than seeing these logos slapped on for the sake of it. Sorted? Good, it's time introduce your baby to the world…
As much as you may try and kid yourself, there's no way you've just spent over eight hours painstakingly positioning layers on one car just for your own enjoyment. It's time to show off and (hopefully) earn some money/respect along the way. Apart from racing online the best way to get noticed is to post your work onto the forzamotorsport.net forum.