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Create a Planetary Asteroid Impact

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While asteroids don’t slam into the Earth all that often, movie producers sure act like they do. We can all think up a few movies with similar plots. An asteroid is about to hit the planet and a group of heroes comes to save the day. In this tutorial, the heroes aren’t successful and we learn the hard way what an asteroid impact actually feels like. Let's get started!


Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial. For the clouds and Planet surface choose the big tiff file for download.


Step 1-The Planet

Recently I have received some messages that my tutorials could only be followed and made on CS5, and that this latest version provided unique tools that allowed me to make the images; even if CS5 is used and sometimes we use unique tools available only on it, the same result can be achieved in much older PS versions. So for this Tutorial, lets use Photoshop CS2 for the whole scene, yet you are OK with CS3, 4 and 5. Actually I wanted to use Version 7 yet it doesn't work on Snow leopard anymore. OK that being said, first off lets create a document for our image with the settings shown here.




We will use this satellite image of Greece and Turkey to build up the planet surface, so just copy it and paste it to our document in a new layer.



Once we have it in our document, enable the distort command.



And distort the image as shown here, to create the illusion of perspective and depth.


Then to create a bit of spherical distortion we will go to the warp command.


Then pull and push on the lines and borders as shown here.


And use the rotate command to place the image as shown bellow.



Now we will use the layer style for our surface, and enable the outer glow plus we will change the color for the glow using the light blue indicated.



Then we will increase the size of the glow as shown here.


And there we have it, a nice outer atmosphere soft glow we can edit at any time.


Next up lets create a clipping layer on top of the planet layer.


Then select black and a big soft brush as shown below.



And paint in as shown here over most of the surface.


And then select the eraser and also a big soft brush with a bit of reduced opacity to clear out a bit of the border.



Then just set the layer mode to overlay and also with a bit of reduced opacity.


Now create a second clipped layer and choose a light blue color as shown.



Now choose a big soft brush as shown and before painting change the layer style size to 161.



Now just paint a bit over the border to pair it up with the outer glow of the atmosphere. And that is it we have the base of the planet ready.



Step 2 - Shockwave

OK lets now make the base of our shock wave on the planet surface, starting by using the ellipse shape tool and defining a big round disk with the same light blue we used for the atmosphere.





Once you have it in place, rasterize the layer so we can work on it, and lock the pixels on it.


Select a deep blue color and a big soft brush once again.



Adjust the spacing in the brush palette as shown here.


Then just paint in a circular motion over the edge as seen here.


Lets choose the smudge tool and set a soft brush with the size and strength as shown below.



Then again in a circular motion go over what we painted as indicated here.


Next up, select the ellipse selection tool and define a circular selection in the center of our smugged shape.



Right click on the selection and choose transform selection.


Scale the selection a bit and place it right in the center of the shape.


Then right click on the selection once again and select feather this time; enter 100 pixels and hit OK.



Then simply hit delete.


Now we will use the distort command once again, and reshape the circle as shown bellow, changing its perspective and making it appear to lay on the surface.



Set the layer mode to vivid light.


OK this is more or less what you should have so far.


Create a hue/saturation layer on top and create a clipping mask for it.



Now lets set up this layer as shown here.


Next, select a light blue such as this and a soft brush as shown below.



Paint around the border as indicated, making the edge more apparent.


Select a deep blue almost black color and paint in the middle of the circle.



Now grab the smudge tool once again and a small soft brush as shown.



Push in a bit from the edge as indicated.


Now select both the circle layer and its hue/sat layer, and make a duplicate. Then scale the duplicates and place them centered as shown.



Then lets go back to the brush tool with the selected brush shown below.



And in the new smaller circle lets paint in some differences as shown.



Lets go back to the bigger circle and with the same brush also paint in some random detail.



Locate and select the brush shown here.


In the brush palette lets enable these settings for shape dynamics and scattering.



Now just paint in some random edge detail as shown here. That is it we have the base of the impact wave ready and placed on the surface so we can continue our work.



Step 3 - City Lights

Now we will be painting a big bunch of city lights all over the surface; but first lets change the base layer shadow mode to multiply.




And then make a new layer on top.


Now choose this 1px brush and adjust the tip spacing as shown below.



Pick up a light blue color and start painting in lines and random lights to build up a city.



Even have fun defining some futuristic patterns.


Then use the lasso tool to select just the pattern.



Then use the distort command to modify its shape and perspective to sit it on the surface.



Then go back to the lasso tool, select the lights pattern again, then copy paste the section.



Then use the rotate command as shown.



Then follow with the distort command so it also fits on the surface of the planet.



Then go back to our city light brush and paint in street connections and detail between the patterns.



OK this is what we have so far a nice city base established.


Now merge both city light layers.


Now we need to do a quick selection of the large circle, so command + click (ctrl + click windows) on the indicated layer thumb.


Of course the center is empty so lets also select the center with the lasso tool.



Then create a color balance layer with the selection as a mask.


Adjust the color balance as shown here, and create a clipping mask for this layer.



Once you have clipped the layer, adjust the mid tones and highlights separately as shown here.




And this is the effect we have so far that only affects the city lights that are inside the shock wave, now add a levels layer also clipped.



And adjust the settings as indicated.


You can duplicate the mask for the other one or follow the same process to create a new one.


OK now lets go back to the ellipse shape tool and define another big circle, this time filled with black.



Then rasterize the layer so we can work with it.


Now pick up this yellow here and lock the pixels in the layer so we can paint stripes as shown bellow all the way to the edge.




The brush size doesn't matter much just choose a medium soft brush, and now apply the ripple filter as shown here.



OK now juts do a quick selection of the layer from the thumbnail. And Paint in some more stripes between the others as shown bellow.



Select the gradient tool and define a round gradient in the middle with the selected color gradient provided in the gradients file.




Now just paint in some random edge detail as shown here. That is it we have the base of the impact wave ready and placed on the surface so we can continue our work.



Then reapply the radial blur once more


But then use the fade command to reduce the second radial blur as shown.



Lets now use the distort command to set this new effect into place.



Once in place lets pick up the eraser and a big soft brush as shown.



Erase a bit off the edges as indicated here.


Then scale and place in the center of the shock wave.


Then simply duplicate the layer, and set the duplicate layer to linear light.


And there we have an impact zone defined for the asteroid.



Step 4 - Asteroid

For the asteroid hitting the surface we will use this other image, so go ahead and open it up.




Once you copy it to a new layer just scale it down a bit just so it fits between the boundaries of our document.



Now use the lasso tool to select a shape that you imagine your asteroid shape would be like.



Copy and paste the selection on to a new layer and hide the original stock. Next pick up the eraser and a standard blocky brush as shown below.



Just refine the edges with the eraser as shown here.


Then just scale and rotate it into position as seen here.


Now lets use the distort command to give it a bit of perspective.



Create a new levels layer on top and adjust it as shown below.



Create a clipping mask so it only affects the asteroid.


Now lets do a hue saturation layer and adjust its settings as shown below.



And just clip it also to the asteroid layer.


Lets go back to the brush tool and select a tip shape as shown.



Lets now paint with black on the levels layer to mask off a bit of the darkness from this layer so there is a bit of light coming from the impact.


Now we can adjust the hue/sat layer a bit to get the correct intensity of yellow.


Create a new layer on top and set its mode to linear light.


Now lets go back to the gradient layer with the same orange to transparent gradient with the circular gradient selected.



Then drag a gradient from the impact point upwards as shown here.


Make this layer also clipped to the asteroid and create a mask for it.


Lets now go back to the brush tool at 45 soft with an opacity of 31, to paint in in the mask with black just to block a bit off the gradient as shown.



Change the brush tip to this one here and adjust the opacity to 31%



Paint in to make the edge between light and dark more defined.


Increase the size a bit and paint in a bit more so we get random faded highlights and shadows on the asteroid, yet trying to follow the shape of the rock.



Now lets make the same brush about 7 px and make a new layer.



Then using this brush and a bright yellow start painting some kind of splash from the impact point up.



Then pick up an almost white color and paint in a bit more.


And now apply a bit of motion blur to it as shown.



Then keep the same brush and color and paint in a bit more detail.



And repeat the motion blur filter.


Now pick up the smudge tool and a soft 7 px brush.



Just start pulling out from the splash/impact as shown.


Go back to the brush and pick up a very bright color from the impact as shown.



Paint in with the color at the base.


Change to white and paint in a bit more on the streaks.


Now back to the smudge tool pull out to blend it all.



Next up pick up this 1px brush and a white color.



Paint in some defined detail as indicated here.


Then go back to the levels layer for our asteroid.


And pick the brush tool with black and the same 1px brush.



And paint in the mask for the levels layer to make the edge even more defined for the shadow as shown. And that brings this step to a close, we have a nice looking asteroid hitting the surface.



Step 5 - Shockwave detail.

OK in this step we will add to our shock wave a bit more detail and enhancements. First off lets grab the ellipse shape tool and define a circular shape filled with black.





Then as we have done, rasterize the layer so we can work on it.


Pick up this big soft brush.


Now we will adjust some settings in the brush palette for this brush tip as shown here. I also saved this brush in the brush file if you need it.





Now lock the pixels on the layer and with the same light blue used for the atmosphere, paint around the edge of the circle as shown below.



Adjust the scale of the texture just a bit and paint in again.



Set the layer mode to screen so we only get the light cloudy ring as shown below.



And once again we will use the distort command to set it into place.



On top of this we will create a new hue saturation layer and make it a clipping mask layer.



Then go back to the hue/sat settings and adjust it as shown here.


Then bellow it create a levels layer also clipped and adjust as shown below



Now lets drag these 3 layers down bellow the asteroid.


Lets not stop there, lets also duplicate these 3 layers.


Now lets scale these duplicate layers as shown below.



Now back on top the asteroid layers lets create a new one.


And with the ellipse selection tool lets define a big circular selection as shown.



Then grab your brush again and select the saved cloudy brush we worked with previously, but increase its size as shown.



And with the bright orange color still selected paint in as shown here.


Next up apply a radial blur with the settings below.



And this is the result you should get here.


Then we will need the eraser with a very big soft brush to erase off the edge as shown here.



OK once we have that soften edge we will distort this layer into place as shown below.



Once in place, set the layer to pin light.


And we will touch it up a bit using the eraser and our cloudy custom brush



Erasing off the edges as shown here. And that is it we have finalized this step with one more layer of detail that increasingly builds up our shock wave effect.



Step 6 - The Sun

Now lets quickly create our sun for the horizon; yet first lets change the settings for the outer atmosphere glow as shown bellow.





Change the gradient colors a bit for the left and right of the gradient respectively.



Also change the opacity a bit.


Lets now group all the work we have so far just to have everything cleaner.


Now lets pick up the gradient tool again and the orange gradient we have been using. Then in a new layer drag a medium circular gradient as shown below.



Then just move it a bit into position.


Set the layer mode to screen


Duplicate the layer.


Next lets grab the smudge tool with these settings here and start pulling out to the left along the horizon as shown.



Then reduce the diameter to 27px


And smudge out more of it as shown here to create some kind of light streams reflecting off the atmosphere. That is it step completed.



Step 7 - Clouds

Now with the help of this world cloud image from NASA we will be creating clouds for our planet. Yet we don't need all of it so just select a portion you like such as this here and copy/paste to a new layer in our document.





And the same way we did with the planet surface we will use the distort command to make this cloud map have some perspective.



And then the rotate command to set it into position.



And when finished, we will use the distort command a bit more as seen below.



Finally rotate and move it to align the horizon.


Set the layer mode to screen.


Now lets create both a hue/sat layer and a levels layer clipped to the clouds layer.



Lets then adjust the hue sat layer as shown here.


And we will not need this layer influence anywhere but in some small portion close to the horizon, so lets fill its layer mask in black so its all masked off.



Lets proceed with the levels layer and adjust it as shown here.


This levels layer darkens everything; so lets use this big brush with black to mask of the horizon area as shown.



Lets now go to our hue/sat layer mask and select white for our color.



And with the same soft brush and at about 42% opacity lets mask in the orange influence of this layer where indicated.



Lets drag the layer on top the levels layer.


Here is what we should have by now. The cloud layer with a bit of orange cast from the sunset and from the explosion of the impact.


Next we will duplicate the clouds layer and apply the layer mask of the duplicate.


Lets set this layer copy mode to normal.


And then use the color range command to select all the black using the settings bellow.



You should get all the black from the layer selected, so now just hit delete.



Now lets adjust the levels for this layer directly as shown here to make all the clouds in this layer black.


Then apply a Gaussian blur filter to it with these settings.



Then drag the layer bellow the original clouds layer.


Then shift the layer a bit off target to the lower left corner as shown, just 4 of 5 pixels its enough.


Since we also don't want this shadow layer to be all over the planet we will create a mask for this layer and fill it up with black so then we can come back and paint in just what we need using the mask.



So with this soft brush and a reduced opacity just paint in with white to make the cloud shadows appear only in the selected area. And that is it we have completed this step and have a nice cloud cover for our planet.




Step 8 - Smaller Asteroids.

For this step we will create some more smaller asteroids that are following the one that is already in contact with the surface; and for this we will be using the same texture we used previously so if you deleted the original layer bring it up again in a new layer.




Now we will use the lasso tool and start cutting varied pieces for each of these smaller rocks.



So just randomly select pieces of the stock you think will look good for a small rock and copy/paste each to a new layer.



Vary the size and shape until you get a nice group of rocks.



Once you have them, merge all of the rock layers and grab the eraser tool.



And as we have done before, with a small blocky brush erase of the edges to get clean good looking shapes.


Then just scale them down quite a bit as shown here.


Then use the lasso to to select some of them.



Move them a bit further from the first.


Then select the two further away and drag them even a bit further.



Right now I noticed that some of our clouds are on top the asteroid, so lets go to the cloud layer to fix that.


Grab the brush tool with a black color and lets mask off those clouds.


With a small brush paint in the mask to eliminate the clouds shown here.



OK back to what we where doing, lets create a new levels layer for our small rocks and adjust it as shown below.



Of course create a clipping mask for it so it only affects our small rocks.


The darkness created by this levels layer provides the general shadow, yet we will edit the mask a bit so we create some highlights. Grab the brush and the tip shown below.



Reduce the opacity of this brush a bit and paint in some highlights using the mask as shown here.



Now select a softer brush and change the color to white.



Paint in to soften up those highlights.


Then change to an even softer brush.


And again touch up the highlight making it even softer.


Perfect; now lets pick up this PS brush and the bright orange shown bellow.



Paint in some small burning pieces coming mostly from the asteroid closer to the atmosphere.


Lets now pick up our blocky brush and choose a size of 2px.


We will now adjust several settings in the brush palette to continue painting streams of burning pieces off these asteroids.




Move the opacity slider back to 100 and paint in as shown bellow.



Set the layer to linear light.


And we should end up with nice streams that fade to red over the distance.


Now lets find our asteroid group and duplicate it.



Scale the new group down quite a bit and place it as shown here.


And use the distort command to make it sit on the surface as shown below.



Now lets create a new layer over our main asteroid stack but not clipped. Then select the bright orange we have been using and keep the same small brush we have been using for the streams. And just paint in the same way defining some highlights and streams coming out of the asteroid.




Make the color a bit lighter yellow.


And lets go back to our smaller asteroids to paint in some more to the streams, keeping the same modified 2px brush.


Change the color to red.


And paint in some subtle red detail as shown here.


Then adjust the streams by applying some hue saturation adjustments with the settings bellow.



And finally with an almost white yellow define the streams even more as shown here. And that is it we have successfully finalized yet another step with some cool asteroids following the big one.



Step 9 - BIG Asteroid

Now we will make a big asteroid for the foreground of our image by using yet another stock image, so go ahead and open this one.




We only need the rock section so we will make a quick selection of the sky with the magic wand.



The magic wand will miss these grass bits so just use the lasso tool to quickly add to the selection


Then inverse the selection so all the rock is selected; and copy/paste to a new layer in our document.


Then we need to refine the edges a bit so go ahead and select the eraser tool and the brush shown below.



As you can see there is some messy blue edge, so just use the eraser as set to eliminate it.



Now in the image menu choose desaturate.


Then chose transform- flip vertical to have this rock image upsidedown.


Now just rotate it a bit as shown and move it into position.


Now we will be applying several adjustment layers to this rock to blend it into our scene. Lets start with a curves layer and adjust as shown.


Next a hue/sat layer with a bit of increased saturation.


And a color balance layer which we will adjust for mid tones highlights and shadows separately as shown here; and all layers will be clipped to the big rock layer.




Adjust the opacity of the color balance layer to about 68% and lets group all these layers into a folder called BIG ROCK.


Once that is done create a new layer on top the big rock group.


Now lets choose this black color and use the fill tool.



Once the layer is filled, set its mode to overlay and the opacity to about 43%


Now lets go back to the brush tool and select a big soft tip for it.



Then make a layer mask for the black layer and with that soft brush mask off in the areas indicated below.



Next up lets choose a white color and our custom cloudy brush



Adjust the scale of the texture in the brush palette and make the brush radius much bigger.



Now paint in some cloudy dust over the asteroid.


And directly adjust the hue saturation as shown here.



This is the result you should have by now.


Lets pick up the eraser once again with the brush tip shown below.



Erase some of the smoke dust as indicated here.


Reduce the opacity a bit more to about 43% and then create a photo filter layer


Choose these settings for the filter.


And once again back to the brush tool and the big soft brush tip.



And mask off all over the image, leaving the blue cast mostly just in the shadow areas. And that is it, we have our BIG asteroid in line to mess up the planet.



Step 10 - More City Lights

OK we are in the final easy steps for our tutorial; for this one we will simply add to our city lights to cover more of the surface, so lets find the city lights layer shown here.




And go to the lights custom brush we created previously.


Then just go around filling up with even more lights as shown bellow.



Continue adding lights on other zones even under the shock wave effect, those will be affected by all our adjustment layers.



Keep in mind the terrain features and the curvature of the planet as you paint further in the distance. But that is it simple yet effective addition to our image.



Step 11 - Final touch ups.

OK next up we will be adding some final touches and adjustments to our piece. Lets start up by grabbing the circular selection tool and defining a big egg shaped selection as shown bellow.



Right click on the selection and choose transform selection.


Now just rotate and reshape the selection so it fits just outside the shock wave area.


Then select the bigger shock wave layer and apply a motion blur filter as shown here.



Now still on the big shock wave circle layer we will use the smudge tool with these settings here to break up the edge of the shock wave just a bit.



So just work around the edge making it a bit softer.


Now lets go to the next layer of the shack wave and repeat the same steps.


With the selection still active apply the radial blur again a couple of times.


Lets now go to the city lights layers and duplicate them, and reduce the opacity of the copy to about 56 %.



Now these city lights are going right through our cloud layer, and the clouds must block a bit of the lights. Lets fix that first by going over the cloud shadow layer and making a quick selection on the thumbnail and clicking while holding command (ctr on windows)


This gives us a selection of all the cloud positions.


Then just inverse the selection.


And create a layer mask for both city lights layer, the original and the duplicate.


The result its a detail blocking of the city lights anywhere we have clouds.


Now on a final note you might have noticed that we have stars on the image right now yet I failed to mention it so far. No big deal I have the star field included in the file download for all of you to use as you like just copy the stars.jpg image on to your document in a layer all the way bellow the planet.


Then with a big soft brush erase randomly some of the stars and mostly check over the horizon to erase any that are shining too much through the atmosphere. Finally duplicate the layer so that the starts remaining are a bit more intense and that is it, no big deal. We have finalized our last step.



Final Image

That is it for this tutorial you have learned several techniques that can serve you well not only for space art but for several other images that you might want to take on. Hope you have enjoyed this work and have fun with your scenes; as always if you need some assistance or have a question feel free to send me an e-mail so we can talk about it. Thanks a bunch for joining me and see you on the next one.



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