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Integrating an outside reference using layer masks

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

Video: Integrating an outside reference using layer masks

I'm going to turn on the visibility of the snow selection by hitting Command+Ctrl+H. I have a nice piece of photo reference of a snowy hillside in Colorado that I'm going to use for this project. I am going to use the Rectangular Selection tool to grab just the bottom of this. I don't need the sky, and I'll copy it out. I'm going to return to my mountain_ chalet document, but rather than pasting the snowy hillside directly in, I'm going to use the selection I have as a mask for the snow. I am going to go up to the top menu and choose Edit > Paste Special > Paste Into.

Integrating an outside reference using layer masks

I'm going to turn on the visibility of the snow selection by hitting Command+Ctrl+H. I have a nice piece of photo reference of a snowy hillside in Colorado that I'm going to use for this project. I am going to use the Rectangular Selection tool to grab just the bottom of this. I don't need the sky, and I'll copy it out. I'm going to return to my mountain_ chalet document, but rather than pasting the snowy hillside directly in, I'm going to use the selection I have as a mask for the snow. I am going to go up to the top menu and choose Edit > Paste Special > Paste Into.

Paste Special pastes the material into the selection in your document. It also creates a layer mask on the new layer. Notice that the link between the color layer and the layer mask is turned off. If I turn it on and then move the layer around, they both move together, but that's not what I want; I want to move the color layer independent of the mask, so I'm going to turn the link off. Now, I can move my color layer independent of the layer mask. For now, I want to turn off my layer mask.

I do that by right-clicking on the layer mask preview and selecting Disable Layer Mask from the dropdown menu. Now I can see the entire piece of photo reference without the layer mask applied. I like these little footsteps in the snow, but I think this would look better if it was flipped so it looked as someone had wandered off the path on the left side. Press Command or Ctrl+T to bring up the Transform tool and then reverse it, and I want to get the footsteps lined up with the edge of the path.

I am going to squash it a little bit so it will more closely match the perspective of the hillside that I'm dealing with. The resolution of this piece of photo reference doesn't exactly match what I've got in the original plate, but that doesn't really matter because I'm using this more as a texture than a direct piece of photo reference. Anything that doesn't look quite sharp enough in the end, I'll just paint over. Now, move that new section of snow up a bit more and move it to one side to see how it lines up with the plate.

Then hit Return to accept the Transformation and right-click on the layer mask preview icon and select Enable Layer Mask to turn it back on. One thing that didn't quite work out right on this masked piece of photo reference is the bright highlight on the black hill. Use the Marquee tool to select a piece of background snow and go up to Select > Modify > Feather, and add an eight-pixel feather. Press Command+J or Ctrl+J to copy that selection out onto a new layer.

The copied section doesn't have the layer mask applied to it, so you can move it around until it covers the bright highlight. Now, take a big soft eraser and erase the edges so that a line doesn't show up where the two pieces of reference come together. With the layer with the patch selected, press Command+E or Ctrl+E to merge it with the layer beneath it. Then press Preserve to preserve the layer mask that has already been applied to the snow. Now, rename the layer Snow.

There needs to be some color correction done on the snow. It looks too dark to fit into the scene, and the midtones look rather red and the highlights yellow. Now, press Command+M or Ctrl+M to bring up the Curves dialog. First, brighten the highlights on the snow by pulling the white point in. This will brighten the highlights, but you want to be careful not to clip the highlights or force them to 100% white. Then raise the midtones so that the overall snow is lighter. It is important to keep some of the contrast in the darker tones of the snow, so use the Eyedropper to find out where those tones reside.

Now, pull that point down. After that adjustment, raise the lighter midtones up slightly more. Now, deal with the red cast of the midtones by pulling the midpoint of the red curve down a small amount. The snow, especially in the highlights, is too yellow. To correct that, go to the blue channel and pull up on the blue curve right in the middle. That adds more blue to the snow, removing some of the yellow.

Now, the snow looks like it matches the mountains in the background better. Next up, you'll find out how to extract some masks and turn the background hill into a snow-covered forest using information taken out of the alpha channels.

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