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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.
With the fist pass on toning our plate completed using the Adjustment layer we're ready to further tone the plate using layer set to transfer modes other than the default normal. First, add a new layer to this by clicking on the Add a New Layer icon at the bottom of the Layers window. Change the name of this layer to red multiply. Now, we're going to use the Gradient tool to tone this layer. Either pick the Gradient tool from the Side tool bar or press the G key on the keyboard.
I want you to select a particular gradient by clicking on the Edit Gradient box in the upper left corner. If the available gradients are different than what's shown here, choose Reset Gradients from this drop down menu. The gradient that Photoshop defaults to is Foreground to Background. But that's not the one you want to use. Foreground to background gradients between whatever you have in the foreground color picker, and the background color picker. The gradient that's much more useful is to the right of it. Called Foreground to Transparent. Click on that one.
And now your gradient goes from whatever's in the foreground color to transparent. Click OK to accept that gradient. Then, to the right of the Edit Gradient box are five different styles of gradient. You want to choose the first one, Linear Gradient. Now we need to pick a foreground color to use with the Gradient tool. There are several ways of picking color in Photoshop. The old way was to use the color picker at the bottom of the toolbar. Clicking on the foreground color brought up this color picker where you could make your selection. In the most recent versions of Photoshop there is a better way of doing it using the heads up color picker.
With either the Gradient tool or the brush selected, on the Mac hold down the Cmd+Ctrl, and option keys all at the same time and click, or on the PC hold down the Alt and Shift keys and then right click. There are several heads-up color pickers available, and you should check them all out under Photoshop, Preferences, General. Under the Heads Up Color Picker I've chosen Hue Wheel. I should check them all out and see which one suits your workflow best.
So invoke the Heads Up Color Picker again, and this time I want to pick a dark intense red to darken the sky. On this Color Picker, you select the hue on the outer ring. Then drag in to the center to select the saturation and value. With the gradient tool selected and the opacity set to 20%. Drag from the top down to about the middle. The layer I'm adding the gradient tool is still set to normal and I want to set it to Multiply so that it will darken the sky.
A layer set to the multiply transfer mode will always darken the underlying layers. Now drag the Gradient tool down a couple more times. Since it's set to 20% you can slowly build up the tone. Add passes at the top and bottom until the plate darkens up to your satisfaction. Next, we're going to add a red overlay layer so that we can tone the water in intense red color. Add a new layer above the RedMultiply layer and name it RedOverlay. Now, set the transfer mode for the layer to Overlay. You need to select a brush.
With the Brush tool selected, right click to bring up the brush selector. Select a round soft edge brush to glaze red into the layer. You need a large brush for this so Ctrl+ Opt click on the MAC, or Ctrl+ Alt right click on Windows to modify the brush on the fly. Drag left and right to re-size the brush and up and down to harden or soften it. Now lightly brush red on to this layer. Since the layer transfer mode is set to overlay the water and sky will become both redder and more saturated.
While adding red to the layer you can paint fairly loosely and build up tones as you go. The plate looks redder, but still needs lava highlights. We use a mass created from one of the color channels. Turn off the Toning layers that were already created to get back to the original plate. Then select the individual channels, and look through the red, green, and blue. Looking through the RGB channel, the red channel has the white caps of the waves most clearly defined. So, select and duplicate that red channel.
Then press Cmd or Ctrl+M to open up the Curves window. Pull that black point to the right until everything except the white caps becomes black. Then pull the white point to the left to make the white caps even whiter. Then press OK to accept the curve. You'll need to do a little lasso clean up to get rid of remaining detail in the hill and in the sky. With black in the background color picker, hit Delete to clean up the channel.
Load in the mask created by this high-contrast matte, by command or control-clicking into the channel icon preview. Click on RGB to restore the color, and click on the Layers tab to return to the Layers window, and turn on the other toning layers. Create a new layer and call this one orange overlay. We're going to fill the selection we just created with glowing orange to make it look more like molten lava. Press B to bring up the Brush tool and then using the exact color picker, choose a bright orange.
Set the transfer mode for this Orange Overly layer to Overlay. With your big soft brush, brush that tone into the selection. Press Cmd or Ctrl+H to hide the selection while you're painting. You can be quite painterly with this. Because the selection is constraining your tones. Now at a glow to the horizon line on that same layer, and with the same orange color. Turn off the visibility of all your toning layers again, so that we can use the original plate to extract one more high contrast matte, this one containing only the wave highlights. Click on the Channels tab and select the red channel, and then duplicate it. We use the red channel again.
Because it mostly clearly separates the ocean whitecaps from the other elements in the plate. We're going to apply another high contrast curve to this copy. This time, to get only the whitest parts of the waves separated. Now, lasso around the brighter part of the whitecaps, so you can apply another curve to them. All you want is the brightest highlights of the waves to create hot spots in the lava. Cmd or Ctrl+click into the channel thumbnail preview of the high contrast matte to load the selection. Click on the Layers tab and create a new layer called yellow normal. This layer will be left at the normal transfer mode to provide the bright highlights.
Turn back on all of the toning layers, make sure you're still on the yellow normal layer. Then hide the selection and press the B key to get your Brush tool back. Bring up the heads up color picker, and choose a bright saturated yellow. Brush that bright yellow into the selection to create the lava highlights. Now that's starting to look a lot more like a lake of lava. There's one last thing to deal with. The hill now looks too red and is no longer silhouetting against the sky.
Cmd or Ctrl + click into the layer thumbnail preview of the hill to load the selection of the hill. Turn off the yellow Normal layers and the orange Overlay layers because they are substantially lightening the hill. Cmd or Ctrl+Shift+Copy to copy merged, which copies out all the pixels under the selection, not just those on the current layer. Paste in that copy of the hill and then apply a curve to it to make it darker.
Pull the black point to the right a bit to darken the overall silhouette. Press OK and now the hill sits in the scene much better. Change the name to hill and then delete that old version of the hill with no color correction. Turn on those other two toning layers. And now you have a real sense of this environment. Scroll down to the original plate. And then Opt or Alt click on the visibility eyeball to the left of the layer. That turns off the visibility of all the layers, except the one you've selected.
Click it on and off a couple of times and you can see the difference that the toning has made. Feel free to come up with your own solution to toning the plate. Here are a couple of additional solutions each of which would produce a radically different environment for your castle.
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