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Extracting clouds

From: Digital Matte Painting: Changing a Scene From Summer to Winter

Video: Extracting clouds

With the sky prepared, I want to return to that shot from the Virgin Islands, and I'm going to extract the clouds. I want to go to the top menu to select Color Range. I want to get rid of some of these wispy clouds and keep just the cloud bodies, so I'm going to select an area of blue sky up top. I need to raise the Fuzziness level so that will include more tones. And then I'm going to click into some lighter shades of blue to add them to the selection, and then adjust the level of fuzziness again until I seem to be getting a clean mask on the clouds.

Extracting clouds

With the sky prepared, I want to return to that shot from the Virgin Islands, and I'm going to extract the clouds. I want to go to the top menu to select Color Range. I want to get rid of some of these wispy clouds and keep just the cloud bodies, so I'm going to select an area of blue sky up top. I need to raise the Fuzziness level so that will include more tones. And then I'm going to click into some lighter shades of blue to add them to the selection, and then adjust the level of fuzziness again until I seem to be getting a clean mask on the clouds.

I'm going to add a little bit of that gray in the clouds of the selection and then adjust the fuzziness one more time and then click OK to make the selection. It loads the selection in, but it's the inverse of what I want. So I need to select Inverse again. I don't need the landscape, so holding down on the Option or Alt key, I'm going to remove that from the selection and then copy the clouds out. This is a very large file and the clouds are going to come in much larger than I need them. And I'm going to paste them in just above the blue sky gradient layer.

I'm going to zoom out and turn off the mask. It's good to be able to see the edges of the file you just pasted in. Now I'm going to scale the clouds and put them in a good position. As I scale the clouds, I need to remember that this needs to be large enough that it will have extra room on the edges to move the clouds in my animation. I'm going to squish the clouds down and then visualize them moving across the sky behind my mountains. I am going to accept that transformation and turn my mask back on.

Now I can see exactly how much room I've got on the edges, and that looks pretty good. I want to add a second layer of smaller clouds behind this big cloud mask, so I'm going to open up another photo I took. I like these little wispy clouds on the right. And again, I'm going to make a few tweaks to the exposure before I open it, then press Open Image. I'm going to use that same Color Range extraction technique. I am going to select several blues from the sky, holding down the Shift key so that it adds the new tone to the selection.

I'm watching that preview in the Color Range dialog to tell when I've got these clouds separated. And since I've selected the sky, I again need to invert the selection. I don't want that big cloud mask, just those little side clouds. I'm going to set my Feather to 5 pixels, then Option+Alt+Shift+Marquee-select to intersect with just the area needed. I'm going to copy that out and return to the chalet plate and paste that section in. I'm going to move it up where I can see it.

I clearly need to do some color correction on this. I'm going to open up Curves and go to the red channel. I'm going to use the eyedropper to see where that color resides in the body of the cloud, and I just want to pull the red out of that part. Then returning to the RGB, I'm going to brighten the cloud body up a bit and add some more contrast on the blacks. I'm going to accept that correction, move it down, and then change the location so that it's behind the large foreground cloud.

Now I want to distort it into the shape I need. I want it to be a wispy long cloud, the kind that hugs the horizon. With the clouds in position, I'm going to open up the Curves again. It looks like I need to reduce the contrast, and I am going to pull down on the white point and then add a little bit of yellow. I am going to pull down on the blue midtones since yellow is the opposite of blue in RGB space. I am going to turn that back layer off for a minute, and then I want a solo that main cloud layer by Option+Clicking or Alt+Clicking into the eyeball next to the layer.

And I want to marquee select some of these low wispy clouds on this big cloud bank. I have a 5-pixel feather on this, so it won't be a hard edge. And I'm going to cut those wispy clouds off of the layer by pressing Command+Shift+J or Ctrl+Shift+J. I don't like this hard edge on the left side of the cloud. I want to bring this more into the center of the picture, so I am going to go in with the Eraser tool and just soften that edge. Now I am going to turn on all of the layers again and move those wispy clouds behind those other background clouds.

I think those two layers of wispy clouds will work pretty good for a background cloud layer. I'm going to merge them together, Command+E or Ctrl+E, and then name them BackClouds. And the front clouds I'm going to call ForegroundClouds. I'll name that blue gradient layer Sky. Now I can test out moving my ForegroundClouds. One last detail: I'd like the sky where it meets the mountains slightly lighter, so I'm going to select that color near the horizon and lighten it using the color picker, and then I'm going to gradient up some of that light tone.

Next up, we're going to prepare a dusk version of this scene and create yet another sky so that we can cross dissolve between the daytime sky and a dramatic sunset sky.

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