Behind The Retouching | John Ross – Heroine Composite
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Running Time: 44 minutes
Welcome to Behind the Retouching, your all-access pass to learning about what goes on in an actual photo retouching session. Everyone loves a good superhero film, and Advanced Photoshop Magazine knows that one of the best parts of the hype is the awesome movie poster.
For issue 136, it’s all about the making of a superhero. My name is John Ross, and if you’ve always wondered how the magic behind those stunning movie posters work, you’ve come to the right place.
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My clients wanted me to go the dark and gritty route, and a telltale sign of this type of poster would be the classic dark city backdrop or the mysterious smoke and fog in the background. In this in-depth tutorial, I will walk you through my thought processes as I show you each step of my retouching session. So get your geek on and find out what makes a superhero image “super”.
- Trust your creative instincts, as well as your client’s. At the beginning of any project, your client usually gives you a base image to start working on. He may send you some samples, background image options, textures for your effects, and other raw files. If you truly believe in your creative instincts in making a fantastic superhero poster, then use these images for reference, work your magic, and submit for approval first. It’s difficult to reconcile your own vision with your client’s specifications, but if you ignore your client’s instructions, you might end up redoing all your hard work.
- Time is of the essence. Superheroes aren’t made overnight, and neither is good retouching work. Unfortunately, when you’re pressed for time as you will most often be, getting exactly what the client wants may not be that easy. Try to accomplish your project as early as possible. This will give you enough leeway for revisions. Does the client want a full-body shot? Are you concerned that if you don’t do a close-up, the details of your superhero will be lost to your viewer’s eye? Does your client want a different backdrop, or does he need more emphasis on your superhero’s city? Whatever your concerns and your client’s concerns are, working on the project ahead of the deadline will help you resolve them. After all, superhero movies take years to finish, so your movie poster shouldn’t be hurried, either.
- Don’t be afraid to take your own pictures. When push comes to shove, you need to be ready to go out there and take pictures of whatever it is you need to make your final image work. Because superhero posters are commonly shot with their cities in the background, try to capture a city view at the right angle where your model can blend in. If you’re going for a dark atmosphere, capture the moment when the sun is going down and the lights are lighting up before you take a picture of your chosen city view.
- Sometimes, it’s okay to be a copycat. Popular movie posters are popular for a reason—the most common styles out there are what have worked best for viewers time and time again. To make sure you’re on the right track, take a peek at what’s out there and find a common theme. Are the models usually shot up-close, or are they shot from head to toe? Are they looking right at the camera, or are they posing in certain angles? It’s okay to pick out the best style that will work for your superhero project just to get an idea.
- Solve one problem at a time. Because superhero movies are big-budget blockbuster hits, creating a movie poster for these films may seem too overwhelming at first. Add that to the fact that you need to create a comic book effect to your superhero image as well, which is another feat to accomplish. The trick to succeed in big projects like this one is to solve one problem at a time. For example, the first thing you might want to do is to isolate your model from her original raw image background, which is where Masking saves the day. You can learn all about the intricacies of this extremely powerful tool over at www.TheArtofRetouching.com, where you can learn about Cloning, Masking, Camera Raw, Smart Objects, and so much more to get the job done.
- You can’t go wrong with Masking and Refine Edge. After isolating your model and creating the basic silhouette of your image using Masking, you can clean the flyaway hair on your model by using Refine Mask or Refine Edge. The easy-to-follow tutorials at www.TheArtofRetouching.com will show you how this tool can help you paint over and refine the stray strands of hair on your model to make her look polished and help her hair blend in seamlessly with the background.
- Smart Objects are the non-destructive way to go. Converting your image into Smart Objects will help you go back and forth between adjustments without destroying your actual photo. You can even use Free Transform to scale your base image bigger and smaller. It won’t matter as a smart object, it will always reference the core files. Smart Objects will give you more flexibility later on.
- Being resourceful pays off big time. As mentioned before, you shouldn’t be afraid to take your own pictures when the situation calls for it. The same is true for taking third-party photos to be used for compositing into your image. Feel free to use Creative Commons images available online. Just be sure to check the copyrights for the image before using it. Some allow for reprinting with permission, while others allow for modifications. With magazines and advertising, you need to make sure the image you are using allows for commercial usage as well.
- Eyes need to pack a punch. More than the actual superhero punch of your heroine, it’s always best to make the eyes pop by giving more emphasis and color to the irises. You can use Curves and Hue/Saturation with Colorize to make those eyes as piercing as her powers.
- Achieve the comic book effect. When dealing with superheroes, it’s never a good idea to keep an image flat. You do want your poster to be super, don’t you? In order to achieve that gritty and contrasted comic book look, you can apply a Smart Sharpen Smart Filter and Camera Raw Filter to play with the colors and tones.
- Spare no detail. When you feel like something’s amiss with your image, chances are that you’re right. Even the smallest detail like a wayward tint on a nostril can greatly affect an image, so be patient enough to use up even a whole Layer or a whole Mask just to correct that tiny mistake.
- Hair should be flawless. Aside from trimming out the stray strands of hair earlier with your Refine Mask tool, you can further enhance your heroine’s hair by adding more strands for more body, as well as highlighting a few streaks to add more texture and depth. You can also add more contrast to the parts of her body outside of her head and hair to add more contours around the curves when you add in the costume later.
- Clean as you go—with Smart Objects. Once you’re done with your heroine, it’s time to focus on the background. Because you want to keep everything clean and neat, but you don’t want to lose any of the information in each individual layer, what you can do is to select all the layers and “Convert to Smart Object”. In absolutely no circumstance should you flatten your image else you lose the ability to go back to the changes and adjustments you’ve made. Converting to Smart Object creates a single Smart Object for all of your layers, but it retains all the settings and information that you originally applied. You can even go all the way back to your raw photo if you want to, but without the mess of all those layers.
- You can now focus on your background city. With all of the distracting previous layers out of the way, you can now start with the base image of your city, whether it’s provided by the client or something that you shot on your own. If you’re using an original photo, make sure you get a good quality shot. But if you still end up with shaky or blurred images, you can at least count on Photoshop’s Shake Reduction to sharpen those blurred and shaky areas of your photo. Just be sure to use the tool wisely, as it may or may not work on some areas of your image. It’s a touchy new Filter from Adobe, and requires some patience to get it working as expected.
- Borrowing images is allowed. Again, when you find yourself needing to replace certain parts of your image, say, the sky, you can always look for available photos on the internet with loose copyrights. To achieve a dark and gritty look for the city, it’s best to go with a photo of a sky that’s equally dark and gritty. Go for dramatic skies that can be used commercially with modifications. You can also borrow images for when you need to create some ground for your superhero model to stand on.
- Keep your viewer’s eyes focused. At this point, you can try to place your model heroine on top of the background and see how they blend together. An important thing to remember is that you always want to direct your viewer’s eye with the brightest and warmest points of the image, which should be the model’s face. After all, you want people to be mesmerized by how your superhero looks at them, right? Be wary of bright lights in your city background that might distract the viewer. You can use Curves to darken those lights down if you need to.
- Shadows aren’t always as ominous as they seem. Don’t be afraid to add shadows to make your image more believable. Shadows on the floor help make the viewer believe that your model is actually standing on something, while shadows in the peripheries add depth and can once again redirect your viewer’s eye to where you want it to look.
- Add the right amount of drama to your image. Because this is a gritty superhero movie poster, you can’t go wrong with adding some contrast to your image by adjusting the highlights and the midtones in a Curves adjustment. Be careful not to go overboard with your contrast though, so always use a Mask to make sure that you only add contrast to particular areas in your image.
- When borrowed images fail, let Photoshop help you create your own. Sometimes, no matter how wide the Web is, you just won’t be able to find the perfect image to couple with yours. When working with realistic rain to go with your superhero image, you can create your own inside of Photoshop to make sure you get the effect you want. First, create a blank Smart Object layer that’s plain black. Then, apply an “Add Noise” Smart Filter which will add white noise to your black background. On top of this, apply a Gaussian Blur and a Motion Blur to indicate the direction of where you want your rain to fall. The problem with this technique is that the rain effect is applied to your entire image, so in order to avoid making the rain look flat and fake, apply a Mask so that you can only apply the rain to particular areas in your photo. This way, you achieve the effect of the rain simply being blown in various parts of the image rather than having a constant shower of water droplets all over. You can also enhance this rain with some Levels adjustments, which you can link to your Rain Layer by holding down the Alt key.
- To see is to believe, and seeing water splashes makes you believe in the water. This particular effect can be achieved by adding a Mask to a Curves adjustment layer (with the Blending Mode set to Luminosity) for more flexibility. Create the splashes by using the pre-installed brushes in Photoshop, or you can download custom brush sets that resemble a water splash. Crank up the midtones and the whites on the Curve. This way, you can always readjust the Curves if you want brighter or darker water splashes. If you’re lucky enough to find good stock photos with water splashes on the ground, you can once again borrow these images and modify them so that they blend well with your own floor to add water splashes on the ground.
- Online vs. Print: Know the difference. If you’re like me and you love to use rich, vibrant, saturated colors in your image, you’ll be extremely disappointed when your finished image goes out to print. Vibrant colors don’t translate well to the printed medium. The RGB colors that you see on your monitor display are going to be converted into CMYK for printing, so your intentionally oversaturated artwork will be greatly desaturated automatically once it’s printed. To get a preview of how your image will look on print, go to View – Proof Colors.
- Finally, revisit the purpose of your project. There’s always going to be some creative differences between you and your client. While you may be well-versed in basic graphic design rules like directing your viewer’s eye to the brightest and central point of your image (that is, the heroine’s face), your client may want something else. You may also be aware that movie posters need a bit of dark space for titles, cast members, producers, and other credits to be placed. You can always suggest these tips to your client, but at the end of the day, you’re working on a project to satisfy your client. Just do the best you can to keep your inputs and your client’s specs aligned, and make sure you accomplish the purpose of your piece. Every good superhero movie has some conflict, but what really matters is that your heroine saves the day in the end. And if you keep your client happy, then that’s exactly what your superhero has done.
Thank you for joining me on this super-powered look at how to create your own superhero movie poster. You can unlock more of your superhuman abilities in Photoshop over at www.TheArtofRetouching.com, where you can find more Behind the Retouching videos, Emergency Retouching for Beginners, as well as the Portraits, Camera Raw, and Smart Objects for the more advanced users.
You don’t even have to look to the skies to master these techniques. There are also loads more tutorial videos on the right sidebar, where you can learn about Cloning, Masking, and so much more in my full Photoshop Basic 1, Photoshop Basic 2, and Photoshop Intermediate Courses.
Until then, keep the KA-POWs and creative passions burning and I hope to see more of you as we work together on your path to becoming a better photo retoucher.