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In today's tutorial we will demonstrate how to seamlessly blend 3D renders with stock images using digital painting techniques to create a stunning sci-fi illustration. We will walk you through the entire process of setting up and rendering a 3D figure to use as a reference guide. So don't sweat if your drawing skills are not you're strongest attribute – in fact, Poser was originally developed as a virtual mannequin to assist artists and comic book creators, so let's get started!
You'll find some files in the "source" folder. You'll also need the following free stock images and brushes to complete this tutorial. I would also recommend a pen and tablet for professional results.
- Landscape one
- Landscape two
- Palm trees
- Texture one
- Texture two
- Garbage container
- Birds one
- Birds two
- Brush pack (under tutorials)
I've supplied the Poser render, but if you want to recreate it, you'll need the following files.
Launch Poser, select the default figure in the main viewport and hit delete. Go to Library > Figures > Daz People > Michael 4, highlight the thumbnail and click the Create New Figure tick at the foot of the palette to load the model. At this stage were not concerned with textures, so select Smooth Shaded under Document Display Style.
Select the Coalition Rapier library (found under Figures > Mestophales > Coalition > Rapier). Select the top Rapier icon and click the Create New Figure double-tick icon. Ensure the suit is selected, then choose Figure > Conform To and select Michael 4 in the following window to make the suit follow the figures movements.
With the suit still selected, choose Pose > Mestophales > Coalition > Rapier and highlight the Mat-Armor-1 Olive thumbnail, then click the Apply Library Preset tick. Now to add the weapon. I found this pulse rifle in old library, but you can easily use something similar from DAZ3D such as these sci-fi rifles.
Load the weapon, mine is not a Smart Prop, so I had to use the Transform Parameter dials to rotate and position it just below the figures right arm.
Select Four Ports from the bottom-left pull-down menu and use the Camera Controls to access the best position/angle to view the right hand and weapon. Now fine-tune the Transform Parameter dials to accurately position the weapon.
Select Michael's right hand and apply the Grab preset pose (Library > Hands > P6 Male). Now select each individual finger/thumb mesh in turn and adjust them to grasp the trigger and handle.
When you're happy, select the weapon and go to Object > Change Parent. In the following window, choose Michael's right hand and check the Inherit bends of parent option.
Select Michael and choose Figure > Lock Hand Parts, then apply the M4_012 preset from DAZ's Michael 4 > General Poses. Go to the Figure menu and ensure Use Inverse Kinematics selected for both legs, then select Michael's left foot and adjust the X, Y and Z Translation dials. Now adjust any other body parts to complete the pose, then activate Texture Shaded from Document Display Style.
We want some fairly dramatic lighting, so apply the Dante Inferno light preset, then adjust with the Light Controls and also modify the light colors to shades of pale blue.
Press Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + D to open the Render Dimensions window, copy these settings and hit OK.
It's now time to perform a quick test render. Press Cmd/Ctrl + Y to open the Render Settings window, choose the Firefly tab and copy the following settings. Save this preset for any future renders, then hit the Render Now button.
Once you're happy with the test render, open the Render Settings window again and apply these settings, save and click the Render Now button.
When the render statues bar is complete, click the arrow to view (1), then click the triangle drop-down menu (2) and choose Export image and save (as a .png) to a memorable location.
Open Photoshop and go to Photoshop > Preferences > Performance and increase the History States to around 70-100. This makes painting errors easier to fix because the Brush Tool (B) reduces the number of history states rapidly as you'll discover later in the tutorial.
Create a new RGB Photoshop document 15cm wide x 20cm deep at 300dpi and the Background Contents set to White.
Place your own render, or use the one supplied ("Figure_render.png" from the "source" folder) as a new layer. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + T to access Transform and reduce slightly. Name this layer "Figure".
In this step we'll modify the color of the red body armor. Choose Image > Adjustments > Replace Color. Now click on any dark red area and apply the following: Fuzziness: 36, Hue: -160, Saturation: -66. Now use the plus (+) dropper to add to the selection until all the red tones are desaturated.
Now press Cmd/Ctrl + U to access Hue/Saturation and lower the Saturation value to -46. Now hit Cmd/Ctrl + B to open Color Balance and enter -2, -2, -21.
Set your Foreground color to an olive green (# 7a8d79), target the"Background" layer and hit Opt/Alt + delete to fill the canvas.
Place the "Moody_clouds.jpg" from the "source" folder as a new layer above the "Background", label it "Sky" and Transform as shown.
Add a layer mask, then set the Gradient Tool (G) to Foreground to Transparent in the Options bar and Shift-drag a Linear Gradient indicated by the direction and length of the arrow.
Target the "Sky" layer and press Cmd/Ctrl + L to access Levels and copy these settings to increase the contrast a little.
Add this landscape as new layer below the "Figure" and change the Blend Mode to Multiply. Resize/position as shown and label it "Terrain 1".
Now double-click its layer thumbnail to access the Blending Options window and Opt/Alt click, drag (to split) the top right Blend If slider to 13, then the far slider to 239 to render the lighter areas invisible. This modification is indicated by the icon next to the layer's name.
Add a layer mask, then drag two black to transparent Linear Gradients from the top and left to hide the hard edges. Now use a large, soft-edged black Brush (B) to hide the top-right edge. my mask is shown at the bottom of the screenshot for clarity.
Open the second landscape. For this image we'll need an accurate cut-out. Grab the Quick Selection Tool (W) and select the sky, then hit Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + I to Inverse the selection. Now click the Refine Edge button in the Options bar.
In the next window choose the best option to reveal any unwanted edge halos (I used On Black) from the View Mode drop-down menu, copy these settings, click OK and copy the selection to the Clipboard.
Paste the selection to create a new layer below the "Figure" and name it "Terrain 2". Position to the left, then resize/squash horizontally and rotate slightly anti-clockwise.
Add a layer mask and use the same Linear Gradient (G) technique to blend the right and bottom edges into the composition as shown.
Now apply a Levels adjustment (Cmd/Ctrl + L) and copy these settings to boost the contrast.
To blend the colors with the rest of the scene add a Hue/Saturation adjustment (Cmd/Ctrl + U) to the same layer. Change the Master Saturation to -27, then use the drop down menu to set the Yellows to -38 and the Greens to -35.
As a final modification, add a Color Balance adjustment (Cmd/Ctrl + B) to the same layer and apply the following settings.
Drag the "Terrain 1" layer over the Create new layer icon at the foot of the Layers panel to duplicate it. Move it above the "Terrain 2" layer and rename it "Terrain 3".
Fill the duplicate layer mask with white to reveal all the layer content, then move the layer across to the left. Transform accordingly to fill the empty space, them modify the mask as shown at the bottom of the screengrab.
Open the palm trees image. We'll use a slightly different technique to extract them. Go to Select > Color Range, click on the sky and set the Fuzziness slider to 55. Now use the plus (+) option to add to the selection. When you're happy with the preview, check the Invert button and click OK.
We don't need the bottom quarter selected, so set the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to Subtract and drag over the bottom as shown. Now Copy the selection to the Clipboard.
Paste the selection as a new layer below the "Figure" and label it "Terrain 4". Resize/position to the right beyond the canvas, then change the Blend Mode to Multiply. Next, apply a Hue/Saturation adjustment and reduce the Saturation to -73. As this layer is set to Multiply, there should be no masking required.
To keep your layers organized, highlight the "Terrain 4" layer thumbnail, then hold Shift and highlight the "Sky" thumbnail (this includes all the sandwiched layers too), then choose New Group from Layers from the top-right fly-out menu in the Layers tab. Name the folder "BACKGROUND TERRAIN" in the following window and click OK.
Open the rocks image and use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to select the base and Copy > Paste as a top layer above the "Figure". Name it "Terrain 5", then resize/position and mask as shown – don't worry about being too precise – we'll be painting over everything later.
Apply a Levels, then a Color Balance adjustment with these settings to the "Terrain 5" layer.
Open the foliage image and roughly select the central area with the Lasso Tool (L). Copy > Paste as a new top layer. Resize/rotate clockwise and position bottom right.
Add a mask, then use an assortment of soft-edged custom brushes to blend it into the underlying rock.
Duplicate this layer a few times and reposition over the rocks. Flip horizontal/resize some duplicates to avoid repetition and modify their masks accordingly. When you're done, highlight all their layer thumbnails and hit Cmd/Ctrl + E to merge them. Name this composite layer "Terrain 6".
Apply a Hue/Saturation adjustment to "Terrain 6" and copy the following settings to blend the colors better.
Now add a Levels Adjustment to the same layer and marginally increase the midtone contrast.
Place "Terrain 5" and "Terrain 6" within another folder called "FOREGROUND TERRAIN".
Import the "Fireball.psd" (from the "source" folder) as a new layer below "Terrain 4" (in the the "BACKGROUND TERRAIN" folder). Name this layer "Fire 1", Transform and position as shown, then change the Blend Mode to Screen. Duplicate this layer and rename it "Fire 2". Reduce slightly, then change the Blend Mode to Soft Light. Add masks to both layers and use a variety of custom brushes to blend them into the scene.
Before we begin painting, here's a couple of tips: Firstly, get into the habit of using the various options found within the Brush panel (available from the Options bar); secondly, use the Rotate View Tool (R) to rotate your canvas non-destructively – this makes painting or drawing at awkward angles much easier.
For flexibility, I prefer to paint on several different layers. Place your first paint layer above the "Sky" and label it "Paint 1". Now use an assortment of soft-edged custom brushes, holding the Opt/Alt key at regular intervals to pick up the underlying colors as you work, also remember to use the History panel to rectify mistakes. I also find painting easier by switching off the visibility of the upper layers/folders.
Place a new layer ("Paint 2") above "Terrain 4" and use the same technique to paint over the background. Now try using some of the more textured brushes to add detail. At this point you may want to reduce the layer Opacity to around 65% to reveal the underlying texture.
Add another layer called "Paint 3" above "Paint 2" and paint some mist and smoke over the mid-ground and palm trees.
Place a new layer ("Paint 4") above "Paint 3" and build up your brushstrokes as shown.
Your painting is not going to be a carbon copy of mine, but at this stage it should look something like this (with only the "Paint" and "Background" layers visible).
Place a new layer ("Paint 6") at the top of the stack within the "FOREGROUND TERRAIN" folder use the same technique to paint over the foreground rocks.
Add another top layer within the same folder and label it "Figure shadow". Change the Blend Mode to Multiply, then sample a very dark green and paint a shadow as indicated. Adjust the layer Opacity to around 60%, then mask any excess if required.
To add some detail to the mid-ground, duplicate the "Terrain 4" layer and stack it above "sPaint 4". Flip horizontal/rotate clock-wise 45 degrees and reposition just above the foreground rocks. Change the Blend Mode to Hard Light, the Opacity to 74% and mask accordingly.
Target the "Terrain 1" layer and choose Filter > Blur > Blur More to defocus slightly. Now target the following layers in turn: "Terrain 2", "Terrain 3", "Terrain 4", "Terrain 4 copy" and "Terrain 5", and press Cmd/Ctrl + F to repeat the filter. Finally, target the "Figure" layer and from the same menu choose just Blur.
The next stage is to texture and paint the figure. First, we'll add a network of pipework to the under suit. In a humid, tropical climate these could perhaps pump cooling fluid around the soldier's body?
Open the pipes image and roughly Lasso (L) a selection and Copy > Paste above the "Figure" layer, then reduce the Opacity to around 50% to help positioning. Make a duplicate, then rotate and place over the right torso and Warp it to follow the body shape.
Use the same workflow to create as many pipe layers as it takes cover the under suit. Mask each layer, then set the Blend Mode to Hard Light and the Opacity back to 100%.
Merge all the pipe layers and name the resulting layer "Suit inner texture" Cmd/Ctrl-click the "Figure" layer thumbnail to generate a selection and press Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + I to Inverse the selection. Ensure the "Suit inner texture" is the target layer and hit delete to remove any excess.
Check the Blend Mode is set to Hard Light, then reduce the Opacity to 70%. Next, apply a Hue/Saturation adjustment and copy these settings.
Place a new layer called "Paint 5" above the "Suit inner texture" and load the "Figure" as a selection again. Now use some of the softer custom Brushes (B) to sample and paint over the figure and gun – for best results, start at around 25% Opacity, then slowly increase to around 50% to build up the density.
This screenshot shows how your finished "Paint 5" layer should look. Once you're done, place the "Figure", "Suit inner texture" and "Paint 5" layers within a folder called "sFIGURE".
Over the next few steps we'll add some subtle wear and tear to both the weapon and body armor. Place this texture as a new layer ("Gun texture 1") above the "FOREGROUND TERRAIN" folder. Resize/position to cover the gun, rotate to match its angle and apply the Blur More filter.
Access this layer's Blending Options and split the top-right Blend If slider as shown.
Use a layer-based selection from the "Figure" to mask the "Gun texture 1". Now modify the mask further to hide areas overlapping the figure.
Modify the "Gun texture 1" layer with a Hue/Saturation adjustment as shown.
Next, we'll add a small decal over the gun nozzle. Open this garbage container and use the Magic Wand Tool (W) to select all the white areas. Fill the selection with a pale yellow (# e9cf47) on a new layer set to Multiply, then flatten and Copy to the Clipboard.
Paste as a new layer ("Gun texture 2") above the previous one and scale/rotate as shown. Now use a mask, or the Eraser Tool (E) to distress it slightly.
Change the Blend Mode to Overlay and reduce the Opacity to around 55%, then apply a Hue/Saturation adjustment to blend better with the gun.
Now we'll add some battle scars to the suit. Create a rectangular selection from this texture, Feather by 10px and Copy > Paste to create a new top layer. Create several duplicates and reposition, rotate and flip them to cover the figure. Merge these layers to one and label it "Figure texture".
Change the Blend Mode to Multiply, the Opacity to 63%, then access the layer's Blending Options and split the top Blend If slider as shown.
Use a layer-based selection from the "Figure" to mask this layer, then modify the mask to hide specific areas.
Add a new layer at the top and name it "sRetouch", then paint with a small Brush (B), sampling underlying colours to fix any flaws in your composition. Now place these floating layers into a folder called "ADDITIONAL TEXTURES".
With the image nearing completion, it's time to make some small refinements. Duplicate some of the fire layers and reposition them around the scene. Adjust their masks accordingly, then try setting some to Soft Light.
As a final touch, we'll introduce some artillery fire. Select the 300 custom brush, activate Scattering and copy these settings. Place a new top layer ("Shot 1") within the "BACKGROUND TERRAIN" folder and paint some small yellow and orange splatters behind the figure.
Change the Blend Mode to Screen, apply a Gaussian, then a Motion Blur filter using these settings. Duplicate and reposition this layer a few times, then adjust their opacities to taste. Now try setting some layers Hard Light.
Finally, sit back and see where improvements could be made; this could involve tweaking masks, trying different layer Blending Modes or adjusting opacities.
Conclusion and Scope
Now you know how it's done, why not create your own composition using a different assortment of 3D renders and stock images?