I haven’t decided what I’m going to start with in this post. Should I talk about how I made this picture, or write about how I’m liking playing my character, Aidrana who is a consular shadow in SW:TOR? Well, since I put the picture up first, I’ll start by telling you how this picture was made starting with the usual ‘before’ pictures.
Before I start, I use a lot of photos in my work- most specifically, I use images that isn’t mine. I always keep a list of where I found them, and provide links for credit if they were not photos taken by my own camera. I put in disclaimers that there are things is not my copyrighted material, and make it transparent where I get my materials from. I know I’m breaking a law somewhere by taking it in the first place, but I’ve taken steps to make sure people know where it came from, and that I don’t make profit off it. I’m not sure if some people would agree with the method of my work, but this is what I do so I can make awesome pictures
I’ve been meaning to do a picture with breathtaking landscapes and weather to create an emotional atmosphere in the picture. I thought I would do one based on Star Wars, but I didn’t quite know what the character in the picture would be, or if there would be more than one characters. I wanted to make it as realistic as possible, so with these ideas in mind, I set out on Google and typed in “free nature images”. I wanted to experiment with fog/mist and snow, so I looked for pictures that had potential for layering out these between trees, mountains and people. I’ll talk about that concept in a bit, but for now, this is what I settled on:
I got this picture from here. It has multiple foregrounds, with varying sizes of trees scattered out into the background. A prime candidate for experimenting with mist and fog, I could cut those trees out and using multiple layers, I could put in a fog layer in front of a few trees or behind it. I hope you guys are following me so far, but I’ll walk you through how I achieved that in Photoshop.
Let’s load up Photoshop and get started with a layer of the original image on a transparent background layer. For the sake of keeping this post from turning into a novel, I’ll assume you have basic knowledge of Photoshop, and understanding how layers work, so I won’t be going into a step/step tutorial. The intent of this post is to show you how this picture was made, and appreciate the techniques I used to create effects for this picture!
Starting with the foreground, I created a new layer for the trees in the front and filled them with black. I wanted to be able to control different layers of all the trees, and decided on four. It’s a good idea to decide how many you would do, but it is possible for you to do as many as you want. Four would suffice for what I had in mind.
As you can see here, I’ve painted the first few trees in the foreground black on a new layer on top of the original image’s layer. I repeated this process for each of the four layers of trees in the front, in the clearing, the middle then the back. Except I didn’t use the color black for all of them, I used different shades of grey as seen here. The idea behind these multiple layers is to create multiple planes for me to use layers for fog, snow and mist wedged in between the trees, to give a greater depth of field. I did the same thing for different parts of the ground, black for the foreground, grey for the middle and clearing and then finally, white for the snow patches.
Trees with black and grey foregrounds and then finally with snow if you want to see these layers that are visible on top of each other. For the snow effect, I used the Smudge tool a lot to give it texture, adding bumps or delicate wisps of snow flying off a drift. So where does those fog layers I keep talking about come in?
If you’ll remember, we already have four layers of different trees scaling down as you progress into the background. I created these new fog layers using the Gradient tool, from white to a transparent color having these start from either the top or the bottom. I put each of them directly between the layers of trees and on top of the ground layers the particular tree layer belonged to. Here’s a picture of the trees with the mist layers, check that out and you’ll see that I’ve decided on a orange mist for the sky. I wanted it to have a warm feel to it, and orange would help contradict the bluish green lightsaber color, helping it stand out even more amongst the trees. This is a great trick if you want something to stand out, look for the opposite color of the object to use as a background using a complementary color scheme.
This is what we have with the original image now visible:
It didn’t look quite right with the original image still green, so I adjusted the hue and saturation to an orangish color, lightening it for the trees to blend in a bit for a warm, wintery scene.
Ah, that looks much better now.
I now needed to put a character there, and I had already decided on a type of jedi- the consular shadow class. I’ve been enjoying this class so far, but I went Shadow when it was time to choose your specialization. I want to roll a Sage next because I’m a healer at heart Anyway, I went on Google once again and found this picture from this site, and double edged lightsabers weren’t something I was going to pass on giving my Sage character in the picture!
I needed to cut the character out, and I achieved that by using a mask layer where you ‘paint’ unwanted areas out. It sure beats using the Eraser tool, because once you erase something, it’s gone for good. With mask layers, if you want to undo an area you’ve just removed, you simply switch to white in your color palette and add back what you’ve just removed. A must-have for making pretty pictures!
I made another copy using a similar method so I would be able to recolor the lightsaber to a blue shade. I put in minor adjustments, retouching the highlighted parts to give him more light and dodging the shadowed areas. I tweaked the colors of the character to cooler shades to reap the benefits of using complementary colors, something I discussed earlier in this article to bring the character out some more. We’re almost done here- the picture still needs these snow layers I’ve been talking about!
Here’s a quick rundown on how to make snow in Photoshop. Make a new layer and fill the entire picture with black. Go to your noise filter and put the slider to around 150%. Then back to your image > adjustments > levels (ctrl-L). Slide things around until the image is completely black with a few specks of snow, as shown here.
Then change the layer’s blending mode from Normal to Screen. You now have a layer with only white specks of snow shown! You can change the density by messing around with your image’s levels. I made several layers like this, one had a motion blur effect added to show how quickly the snow were blowing across the landscape. The others were stationary, but were larger and fewer for the foreground, and the other were smaller, more like clouds of snowflakes for the back of the trees. The next image shows you all the effects I’ve applied with all the snow layers visible.
You might want to ask me why I decided to make these snow layers look the way they are. It’s a great idea to think about the logic of how the snow would behave in the image. In the real world, snow pass around objects and can be many different sizes in varying densities. Is it falling in clumps because it’s warm out? Or is it so gut-wrenchingly cold that each snowflake hitting your face feels like a bullet? I settled on it being a crisp but warm day where the snow is falling perfectly in swift bouts of breezes. Not quite warm enough for the snow to melt when they touch the ground, and it’s cold enough to keep the snowflakes intact, falling on the ground making a thick layer of fine powdered snow. In the image you can see places where I’ve erased some areas out throughout the layers.
I erased or lowered the opacity for some areas where the snow would be passing around or over things. Things like the Sage I’ve put in there, and the trees that were big enough to have an impact on affecting how the snow would flow in the scene coming from the left to the right. I hand painted the snow coming from the light saber, nearer the bottom of the image using a white with a slight aqua green tint. That would be how the snow would look like if they were passing by the light saber!
The end result with all the layers (totalling to 23 layers!):
And we are done! Oh, my, this post is long. I think I’ll have to write about my levelling experiences so far in SW:TOR at another time. Nevertheless, I hope you enjoyed this article on how this picture came to life and might have even learned a new trick or two! You might have noticed that I’ve now added a new category for SW:TOR, so you’ll be able to find all the posts that has everything to do with SW:TOR on this site.
Have a great weekend, everyone!