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Learn to create new worlds, both fanciful and totally realistic, in our series on digital matte painting in Adobe Photoshop with David Mattingly, a matte artist for many groundbreaking motion pictures such as Tron and I, Robot. In this installment, he shows you how to set up your palettes and workspace, tone the underlying plate, create silhouettes in your background, and paint in light and other details. Plus, learn to paint waterfalls, smoke, and other elements that make for fascinating movie backdrops.
Now that the castle's looking pretty good, I want to add a dusky sky and some erupting volcanoes in the background. To do that, I want to create a special custom cloud brush. So, let's open up that document we used before to create the previous custom shapes. Let's turn off those previous shapes and create a new layer. To start this, pick a soft round brush shape from the brush panel. I want to build a custom brush for painting clouds and you might think that painting a very elaborate cloud shape, something like the clouds on the Columbia pictures logo of a robed woman holding up a torch would work best, but actually a much different brush shape would work better.
Let me show you why. Here I'm quickly painting an elaborate cloud bank with lots of detail. This may look a little strange, since you need to paint your cloud shape in black. That's because when defining a custom brush, the black areas will be the paintable shapes. If you find this awkward, you can always paint white clouds on a black background and then invert it before you make your custom brush. With the cloud bank roughed in, select the rectangular marquee tool and make a selection around the clouds. Then go up to the top menu and choose Edit, Define Brush Preset. I named the brush, CloudBank.
Turn off the brush and make a new layer. On this new layer, let's create a test sky so we can try out our new brush. Pick a blue sky color and then with the gradient tool, gradient down from the top of the document. Then pick a ground color and do a short gradient up from the lower third. Select the brush tool and then choose your new CloudBank brush. Then choose white for your clouds. And now we can test the new brush.
The first dab of the brush looks really good. The problem comes when we start using the brush more. Outside of making it larger or smaller, we can't get any variation from this brush. In fact, because the brush is so complex, we can't rotate it, or scatter it to make it look different from stroke to stroke. It always looks the same. Let's try it a different way. Select a soft round brush with Transfer turned on and the Control set to Pen Pressure.
To create a better cloud brush, you want to paint something that looks like an x-ray of a popcorn kernel. You should dab the paint to get a soft puffy mark. You want the brush to be asymmetrical on every side. The reason for that, is you'll add a rotational attribute to the brush and varying the sides will make each application of the brush create a slightly different edge to the cloud. Be careful to make the edges of your brush pure white. You don't want any areas of slight tone, since that will create a hard line issue paint.
If you run the color picker over the edge of your brush, it should read 255, 255, 255 in the Info panel. If its lower then that, its not pure white. I'm cleaning up the edge here to make it pure white again. Making this asymmetrical is harder than it sounds. The human brain naturally goes to symmetricality. So you'll have to consciously work on this, to get the sides different. You should also create some smaller internal forms, to break up the big masses.
Don't have any forms out on the side like this. Dangling forms will make a lump in your cloud edge, and make the brush less useful. Keep everything confined to the main mass of the brush. Again, like a popcorn kernel. Once you have the big forms established, you can glaze over the hold brush with white and then go in and add more forms within the forms you already established. This allows you to add a second level of complexity to the brush, and create forms within forms.
It's starting to look like a proper cloud brush. Asymmetrical on every side, and filled with interesting internal detail. Now it's time to define the brush, and add some dynamics. Choose the rectangular marquee tool and make a selection around the cloud that is just large enough to contain it but doesn't cut off any of the edges. Then go up to the top menu and choose Edit, Define Brush Preset, and name this one, Cloud. Now we need to add some dynamics to the brush.
Turn on that Sky Layer, and add a new Layer. Choose that new Cloud brush. By default, the brush comes in with no dynamics applied to it, so lets open up the brush window and make it more interesting. Look at the preview without any dynamics applied to it. Pretty boring, and it doesn't look anything like a cloud. Let's turn on shape dynamics first. The Size Jitter control makes each dab of the brush a slightly different size, and that's good for making the brush less regular.
Having the control set to Pen Pressure, will make the irregular dabs larger or smaller depending on how hard or soft you press your stylus. Angle Jitter will give you a randomized rotation on each dab as you paint. That takes advantage of the asymmetrical edges you gave the brush. Roundness Jitter will randomly squash and stretch each dab of the brush. Next, click on Transfer and make sure that the control for Opacity Jitter is set to Pen Pressure. That makes the cloud lighter or darker depending on how hard you press the stylus.
Set the minimum slider to around 40. That will prevent you from making clouds that are too transparent. Then check scattering, and select it. Scattering randomizes the placement of dabs as you paint. A lot of scattering can make the brush hard to control. While too little scattering won't give you the random placement of cloud edges you need. Count increases or decreases the number of randomized dabs that are applied. And then one more control under brush tip shape.
Spacing. This controls the distance between each dab of the brush. Something around 15% will work well for a Cloud brush. With that set, close the brush window and let's do some painting. Select a blue from the sky and open up the color picker. Pick a slightly darker, less saturated version of the sky color. We're going to paint the dark sides of the clouds first, and then, paint into the shape for the light side.
As you can see, our custom brush is giving me lots of great cloud shapes as I paint. You can't completely control the shapes you get. Because of the amount of randomization we added. So keep your finger on the Undo key for when you get something you don't like. Clouds get smaller as they get closer to the horizon, because they are further away.
So I'm adding a couple of lines of small clouds in the back. That finishes up the dark side of the cloud. Let's go ahead and paint the light side. Lock the layer so you can't paint on any area that doesn't already have the dark side of the cloud painted on it. Load white into the foreground color picker and now you can paint into the existing cloud form. You want to pay attention to the direction of the light, the clouds should be lit from the left, so I'm painting on that side of the cloud formation. I'd like more variation in the opacity of the brush, so I'm going into transfer and changing the minimal opacity percentage to 17.
Now I can add some lighter tones to the area of transition between the light and dark side. I forgot to save the Cloud brush again, after I added all of the dynamics to it. If you don't do that, and select another Brush. When you choose that original Brush again, all the dynamics will be gone. Save the Brush's CloudDynamic. And then go in and delete that original Brush, so you won't get confused by it. Now, I can select another Brush, without fear of losing the dynamics I set up on the Cloud brush.
Here I'm using the soft round brush to even out the clouds a bit. I'm using the dark side color here to get the transition from the light side to the dark side smoother. As a finishing touch, select that CloudDynamic brush again, reduce its size, choose widen the color picker and use it to add a bright highlight to the leading edge of the cloud. PAUSE These smaller clouds in the background could use a little highlighted edge, also. PAUSE Be sure to find some inner surfaces on the cloud and add some highlights on them also.
And back to that soft round brush one more time to smooth out the tones. And with a few finishing touches that's done. Next up, we're going to use this brush to paint a dramatic background for our castle.
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