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Deke's Techniques is a collection of short Photoshop and Illustrator projects and creative effects that can be completed in ten minutes or less. The series is taught by computer graphics guru Deke McClelland, and presented in his signature step-by-step style. The intent is to reveal how various Photoshop and Illustrator features can be combined and leveraged in real-world examples so that they can be applied to creative projects right away.
Hi, gang! This is Deke McClelland here to welcome you to Deke's Techniques. This week I am going to show you how to create classic, synthetic star field effect inside of Photoshop, and here is how it works. We start with a base layer, convert it to a Smart Object, and then apply the Add Noise and Gaussian Blur Filters. Then we go ahead and differentiate the stars from each other using a levels adjustment layer and place all of that inside of yet another Smart Object. Then I apply the obligatory Lens Flare filter and create some space gas using clouds and blend it all together, and the result is an infinite universe that you can create on the fly and edit as much as you want.
You can customize it for the web, for print, for whatever you like. Here, let me show you. In a future movie, I am going to show you how to create wicked ray trace 3D type using the Repousse feature, which is new to Photoshop CS5 Extended. But in this movie, I want to show you how to create the background, and notice that I have got this star field background-- It's entirely synthetic, by the way-- and the advantage of using the star field background where 3D text is concerned is that I don't have to bother somehow reconciling the perspective of the text with the background, because the background, after all, is relatively infinite.
Now notice what we have here is this star field as well as a classic lens flare effect, a little bit of space gas as well. And this is all created entirely from scratch, by the way, using a few of Photoshop's oldest and most rudimentary filters. So let me show you how it works. I am going to switch over to this startlingly complex image right here. It's just all black, as you can see. I am going to press Shift+Tab to bring up my right-side panels and notice its a background--it's all we got--filled with back. Now I am going to apply some filters to this blackness here, and because I want to reserve the right to edit my filter settings later, I am going to convert this background into a Smart Object, by right-clicking on it and choosing Convert to Smart Object.
It's going to come in as layer 0. I think we can have a better name. I will go ahead and change it to utterly black. And the first filter I want to apply is under the Filter menu. Go to Noise and go to Add Noise. These are the settings I am going to use: an Amount value of 25%, Distribution set to Gaussian so we have a little more contrast between our lightest and darkest luminance levels, and then turn on Monochromatic so that we don't have any random color variations. Then click OK. Now I am going to right-click on that filter mask and choose Delete Filter Mask because we are not using it.
Now the Add Noise command deliver single-pixel noise. We need to increase the size of the noise a little bit, by going up to the Filter menu, choosing Blur, and then choosing Gaussian Blur. And I am going to take that value up to 2 pixels. I am working in a low-resolution image, by the way; it's just 1,300 pixels wide, 520 pixels tall. If you are working in a much larger image that you want to print at 300 pixels per inch or something along those lines, then you will want to work with a larger Radius value, something in the 4 to 6 range. Two is good for us, so click OK in order to accept that effect.
Now, the next thing we need to do is make our stars a little crisper here, because we just have this sort of smeary noise going on. And a great way to firm up detail after applying Gaussian Blur is to follow it up with a levels adjustment layer. So I am going to press the Alt or Option key, click and hold on the Black/White icon at the bottom of the Layers panel, choose the Levels command. Because I have Alt or Option down, I have the New Layer dialog box. I am going to call this guy "starmaker" and click OK. And now I am going to change my black and white point values as so.
I am going to change the black point value to 40, and then I am going to press Tab a couple of times to advance to the white point value, and I am going to change it to 46. Now, these are great settings for screen work. If you are going to print this image, you are going to get some dot gain and some of your stars are going to fill in. So for print work you want to reduce both of these values. For example, you might want to take the black point value down to 35 and the white point value down to something like 41. But of course this is a video, so it's designed for screen, so I am going to go with the values I showed you: 40 for the black point, 46 for the white point.
Go ahead and hide that Adjustments panel now. Now I am going to turn off the starmaker layer for a moment, because I want to add a little bit of blue bounce down here in the lower left-hand corner. And if I have starmaker turned on, we are not going to get good feedback. So I will click on utterly black in order to make it active, drop down here to the fx icon, choose Gradient Overlay. Inside the Gradient Overlay dialog box I am going to click on the gradient bar, and then I am going to double-click on the white color stop in order to edit it, and I am going to enter these HSB values. For H, I will enter 215, then we have got 65 for S, and a 100 for blue.
Click OK to accept those values then click OK to escape the Gradient Editor. Now I am going to change the Blend mode to Linear Dodge, and I am going to change the Opacity value to 50%. Finally, I am going to change that Angle value to -100, so we get a little bit of bounce down here in the lower-left region. That's too much, so I am going to drag the gradient down and to the left like so--pretty far, as you can see there-- and then finally I will click OK. Now then, notice if I turn the Levels Adjustment layer back on we get a very gruesome effect, because the starmaker layer is affecting not only the results of these filters but also the layer effect, and I don't want that. And the way you avoid that, by the way, is by pressing the Alt key or the Option key on the Mac and clicking the Horizontal line between the layer and its adjustment layer like so, and that goes ahead and combines the two into a clipping mask, and that way the Gradient Overlay effect is protected.
Now the next thing I want to do is add a lens flare, but if were to heap a lens flare effect onto this existing Smart Object, it would also be affected by the adjustment layer. I don't want that, so I am going to go ahead and group these two guys into a Smart Object, by clicking on one, Shift+Clicking on the other like so. And because I want this new Smart Object to be called starmaker, I will right-click on the starmaker layer and choose Convert to Smart Object. Now, before I choose a lens flare filter, I want you to notice how the stars tend to collect along the edges, and what we need to do is crop those away.
So I am going to do that because I want to apply a nondestructive crop. I am going to go up to the Image menu, and I am going to choose Canvas Size, and then I am going to make sure the Relative checkbox is turned on, and I am going to enter, for both the Width and Height values, -100 like so, and then click OK. Now Photoshop is going to warn me that we are going to lose something. That's not true. Click Proceed. For one thing, we are working with a Smart Object, which we just cannot harm, but also, the canvas size does not clip layers. And now you'll see that those little clusters of stars along the edges are gone.
Now go up to the Filter menu, choose Render and choose Lens Flare, and this is exactly the flare I want to apply, by the way. Notice that I have got the flare moved over to the right-hand side. You can drag it around as much as you want in this preview. Change the Brightness value to 100%; Lens Type is 50-300 mm zoom, which is the default setting; click OK; and you end up getting this effect right here. All right, now we don't need the filter mask once again, so I will right-click on it, choose Delete Filer Mask. I am not happy with the introduction of all of this wacky color here, so I am going to colorize the layer by pressing the Alt or Option key, clicking the Black/White icon, and choosing Hue/Saturation.
I am going to call this layer colorize. Click OK. Then I will turn on the Colorize checkbox--very important--and I am going to enter this very hue value of 220--that works out great--and then I am going to raise the Saturation value to 40, like so. Done with that panel. This is exactly the effect I want. Now what you need to do is go ahead and change your foreground color-- assuming your background color is white, which is what you want, change your foreground color. Inside the color panel, make sure that you are seeing the HSB sliders, and the values you want are these right here: 220 for Hue, 100% for Saturation, 25% for Brightness.
We are going to create a new layer by pressing Ctrl+Shift+N, or Command+Shift+N on the Mac. I will call it clouds because we are going to create essentially a layer of space gas using the Clouds filter. Now go up to the Filer menu, choose Render, and choose Clouds, and you will get some random fractal noise effect, as we are seeing here. Finally, what you want to do is click on the Blend mode pop-up menu and change it from Normal to Multiply in order to get this effect. There you have it, your everyday, average, synthetic star field technique, complete with space gas, the kind of basic Photoshop technique that every working designer should know.
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