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Create a Robotic Motorcycle God Using Motorcycle Photography

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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Sometimes all you need to create a stunning piece of Photoshop art is a camera, some Photoshop know how, and some creativity. In this tutorial, we will create a robotic motorcycle god using photos that we took of motorcycle parts. Let's get started!


Tutorial Assets

The following stock assets were used during the production of this tutorial.


Before We Begin

A disclaimer: this tutorial will not be for the faint of heart, or those beginning with Photoshop. I will briefly discuss a number of basic tools and techniques but you will need some knowledge of the pen and transform tools before attempting this. With the large amounts of repetition, an in-depth step-by-step tutorial is unrealistic, so I will be describing some stages more broadly than others.


Preparation

First up, as with any photo-manipulation you're going to need to gather the source material. I personally shoot all my own stock material wherever humanly possible or work with Photographer who can get what is needed. If you can't do this you can use images from websites like iStockphoto, DeviantART's stock section or SXC.hu. If you do it this way be prepared to work with low quality material or spend a lot of money.

However, if you are shooting stock material yourself there are a few things you will need to consider. For this project I went into a local Harley Davidson dealership - they were quite happy to let me roam their large showroom with my camera. As long as you ask permission first, are honest and up-front, most business owners are usually surprisingly open to this kind of thing.

Taking photos of classic motorcycles means taking photos of A LOT of chrome and reflective metal surfaces. This in turn means reflections, so no flash and no direct sunlight as these will flare up and make it obvious that the original photo was lit from a different angle to the final manipulation. Or worse yet they with cause massive lens flares that make the photo unusable. Also keep in mind where you are as well in terms of reflections - you don't want to be Photoshopping yourself out of a hundred photos!
Alternatively, if you are using the files I have supplied, you don't need to worry about this at all. Although you will unfortunately have to look at me in some of the photos!

Make a plan: For something as elaborate and detailed as this, it's probably a good idea to make a rough plan of the image you will be creating. Think about the angle you want to be looking at your subject from and the resulting perspective that you will need. Take a couple of minutes to sketch up something before you start - this could potentially save you hours later in the project.

This is the basic sketch I used right at the start of my project. You can go into more detail at this point if you want, but don't get too carried away.

If you are following along this tutorial you can imitate my layout or sketch up your own plan. My concept was to create a "god of motorcycling" styled after Norse gods like Odin and Thor sitting on his throne. A god made out of motorbike parts with accompanying beasts made out of parts as well. The basic pose was meant to imitate the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC, with the Tone of this poster from the film "Chopper". Another influence was the Iron Throne, from Game of Thrones.


Step 1

First up you are going to need the various parts that make up our monster. I like to cut out lots of bits and pieces first to allow for maximum creativity in the later stages so you can play with different options.

Start by going file > new (Ctrl/Command + N) and making a file called Hamburg pieces, how big you make it will depend on what resolution the files coming out of your camera are, in my case I have gone 5000x5000 pixels. This will be your container where you keep all the cutout pieces so you can keep them saved to a single file. This helps you stay organized and keeps the file size of your main image down in the later stages. If you have a slower computer this is especially important.

This is the basic sketch I used right at the start of my project. You can go into more detail at this point if you want, but don't get too carried away.

I also did a bit of research into the style, pose and look I was going for and I've added the references I used.

If you are following along this tutorial you can imitate the layout of sketch up your own plan. My concept was to create "god of motorcycling" styled after Norse gods like Odin and Thor sitting on his throne. A god made out of motorbike parts with accompanying beasts made out of parts as well.



Step 2

Right. The next thing we will need is the pieces of motorcycle to use in our creation. Start by cutting out a few likely candidates. We will also go through some of the techniques necessary to lift the bits and pieces we will need for our god.

We will start by cutting out 20 or so components you think might be useful just to get the basic form started. First, though we need somewhere to put our components.

Start by going file > new (Ctrl/Command + N) and making a file called "Motorcycle parts", how big you make it will depend on what resolution the files coming out of your camera are, in my case I have gone 5000x5000 pixels. This will be your container where you keep all the cutout pieces so you can keep them saved to a single file. This helps you stay organized and keeps the file size of your main image down in the later stages. If you have a slower computer this is especially important.

If you are using the files supplied, you will only need it to be 1000px in each dimension.


Step 3

Get cutting. If you already have some knowledge of Photoshop there is a good chance you can skip reading this part.

Cutting out images of buildings typically involves one or both of two tools - Color selection and the pen tool. Color selection is useful for picking objects out of solid backgrounds like walls and skies. However, unfortunately for us, because pretty much all of the subject matter is sitting indoors in a show room we are going to be relying on the pen tool for nice smooth, clean selections.

I have chosen this shot from the supplied files because I think the angle of the exhaust pipe would be ideal for the back of my throne:


Grab the pen tool (shortcut "P"), and make a path around the outside edge of the exhaust pipe. This should be fairly straight forward as the pipe has lots of straight edges and few small details. Try to stay as close to the edge of the pipe as possible.

If you don't yet know how to use the pen tool I strongly recommend that you take the time to do so, it is an excellent tool for making complicated and clean selections where other methods won't work - it's always my fallback.

Now, as you work your way around the pipe, you'll need to make a curve - click and drag as you make the new point, the longer you drag, the wider the curve. You want to keep the selection fairly close to the light so that the next step works well. When you have worked your way back around to the start, right-click and make a new selection just like last time.

Once you're done, with the pen tool still selected, right-click so a menu pops up and choose "make selection" (In CS6 there is also a "make selection" button in the top right of screen when the pen tool is selected).


Now you can right click on the layer mask, or alternatively hit Crtl/Command + J to copy your selection to a new layer. When you turn off the background layer, you should have something like this:



Step 4

As you cut out pieces of motorcycle, you will find yourself running into obstructions and other pieces of bike that are in the way. Chances are, there will be an obstruction like a cable or another part of the bike that is closer to the camera in the way.Our exhaust pipe is one example of this - which has this piece of foot pedal that's in the way.


 Like we did in the last stage, use the pen tool to trace around the piece of foot pedal. Stay outside the edge of the pedal but make sure you are very close. Make a selection so you have this:


Magic time. Go to the edit menu and choose "Fill" (Shortcut Shift + F5) and you should get the following dialogue box:


The use should be set to "Content Aware", blending mode Normal and Opacity at 100%. Hit Ok. Depending on how powerful your computer is you may need to wait a little while at this point. My end result looks like this:


Easy as pie. Content Aware fill doesn't always produce the best results, but with careful use and some thought when making selections you can help it make better fills. The algorithm makes use of patterns in the surrounding pixels to come up with what it things is the best fill. By isolating the image to only include chrome, we got a pretty good result here. However if we had done the same thing to base image, we would have gotten this:

See how in this case the Content Aware fill also tried to draw on the texture of the foot pedal for the fill? Our case turned out so much better because we only gave the tool the rest of the exhaust pipe as a reference.

By carefully isolating what the tool uses as a reference, you can make nice, clean fills without resorting to clone stamping or the healing brush. When you need to make hundreds of such clean-ups, this can save you hours.



Step 5

Fill the bucket with Motorcycle parts. As you go about cutting out bits of motorcycle, copy and paste them into that file we made at the start, saving as you go.


Depending on how fast you are, this part might take a few hours.

Think creatively about what different pieces could act as. For example I thought the front of this bike could make a good head for a hawk or eagle with the headlights as eyes:


Or that the handle bars of bikes would make for good fingers:


Keep an eye out for useful miscellaneous bits and pieces too. Pistons and suspension are great for this kind of thing. I used pieces like this suspension and foot pedal numerous times to help give the suggestion of muscles and functional parts:

When you are out taking photos looking for new material this is something to look for too. This can often require just as much creativity as the making that follows later.



Step 6

 Time to move on to the fun part and make the god himself.

Make a new document. I've gone for a square one, 10,000 pixels in each direction as I want to print the final piece at a very large size, although you should choose one you are comfortable with that your computer can handle. 3000x3000 should suffice if you are using the supplied files.

Now, if you made a sketch or a plan bring it in to your new document. Grab the pen tool and draw some straight lines to mark the perspective of the image. I have marked two important points of perspective (vanishing points), one in the centre of the image, the other off above the image outside the canvas.

With a blank layer selected, quickly switch to your brush tool, make sure the size is about 50 pixels and the hardness is 100% with black as the foreground Color. Jump back to the pen tool, right click and choose "Stroke Path".



You should have something like this. It's a good idea to rename the layer "perspective" and lock it so you don't accidentally move or delete it later. As the project develops you will be switching this layer on periodically as a reference.

You now have the framework that we will be building over.


Step 7

Now the fun part starts and we can start building our new deity. Begin copying elements from your file of motorcycle parts in to your composition document. I started by taking key defining elements like the armrests of the throne, shoulders and heads - all extremities of the form. From there it becomes a matter of filling those details.

Keep the individual elements on separate layers, use the free transform tool to position elements. Scaling and rotating as necessary.

Start building up the skeleton of the image. Don't be afraid of playing with different pieces and going backwards, getting rid of different things if they don't work. You will see as mine develops not everything that is there in the early stages stays until the end.

As more and more pieces are added you can add less crucial details that fill the space and help give the image more life.


Step 8

This one isn't so much a step so much as an important public service announcement: make sure you use groups and name them so you don't lose pieces.

You may have hundreds, perhaps thousands of layers in this image and inevitably you are going to come back and want to change and move things again. Personally, I think it's overkill to name each and every layer - you're not going to remember the name of every layer - but groups should be named appropriately and descriptively in the layer stack and layer groups kept fairly small.

It's also a good idea to go to panel options and choose the following options so you know exactly what is in each layer. It can make searching through layer much easier.

Without some level of organization you could be in for some serious headaches later on.


Step 9

One thing I found that was important is making the more "human" elements early helps enormously and is key to the overall development of the image.

Here I have placed the "head" and "eyes", as well as placing the forearms and knees. Making an effective humanoid shape is often the hardest thing you will do with most media - this is only amplified with this kind of collage/photo-manipulation as you are using non-human elements.



Step 10

I decided I was going to make my character's beard and hair out of exhaust smoke. At this point, add a black solid Color layer to bottom of our layer stack so we can see the smoke.


This was done using this image from sxu.hu. Invert the Colors and cutout portions of the smoke, I'm starting with the plume on the left.



Copy and paste this to your main image and change the layer's blending mode to screen.

I'm going to make this into the basis of the moustache so I'm going to hit "Ctrl/command + T and rotate the image so the base of the plume is sitting horizontally with the base sitting where the plume begins.


Next, go edit > puppet warp and 3-4 point to the mesh that appears. Bend the mesh downwards so that it looks like the smoke is floating outwards and then down lazily to the floor. Of course the end result should look like it is suggestive of facial hair.



Finish it up by adding a layer mask, and using a low opacity brush at 0% hardness to clean up the hard edges.

Then rinse and repeat 3-4 more times until you have something like this:



Step 11

Don't be afraid of adding lot's of detail and spending more time on certain key parts. Hands are hard enough to make under the best of circumstances so don't be afraid to spend more time on them.

The key to this is to imitate the real thing - here I mixed and matched lots of pieces from a few handle bars, breaking the fingers down so there is a piece roughly where each major bone appears in the human hand. Similarly, joints are placed in the same points at the wrist and the base of the thumb.


One detail I was pretty proud of was using was this saddle bag to give the impression of a studded leather bag. Here, the warp function of the transform tool was used to mold the leather piece, dictating the shape and size of the figure's torso.

The warp tool is especially useful for shaping otherwise rigid forms into organic shapes, and perhaps a little easier to wield for broader surfaces than the puppet warp tool.



Step 12

As I've said before, for difficult forms draw on the real thing for guidance. For the eagle, I used this image of these Bald Eagles as my primary reference for its form, particularly the handsome chap on the right whose pose was pretty close to what I wanted.


Like with our main figure, start with the key parts - the first thing I placed was the head from the racing bike we saw earlier, then the top of the main wing that we can see and the top of the chest.



Don't be afraid to repeat elements either, like in the case of the wings we can see here:


Here, I used the same 2 elements for the "feathers" keep duplicating them and make each one progressively smaller as they get further and further away from the camera. I used the distort and perspective functions to break it up a little more too.

Also note that I've made the "feathers" smart objects - so I can copy, paste and re-size the repeated feathers at will without losing the original image data.

Here is how I was looking at this point:



Step 13

I'm not going to lie, I struggled trying to create my hound and it took me a few goes to get it right. So I cheated a little.

I found this guy on iStockphoto by Monika Wisniewska with just the right perspective and attentive, but unworried expression: Alsacians seem like the kind of menacing dog that a biker lord would have too. I bought the stock as I was grateful to find the perfect reference, but I'm sure if you downloaded a low res comp it would work too.

I roughly cut him out and placed him at the top of the layer stack in the composition document.


Now, with the hound in place, you can start building up motorcycle parts on top of him and molding the parts directly on top of his body to fit just the right shape.



By about this point you should be finishing up making your central figure.

Sometimes it took me a while to figure out how to make certain parts of the god's body, so I moved around it as I figured things out.

If you get stuck I found the trick was to just keep moving and build parts you do know how to make and almost always I stumbled onto solutions in the process or found I didn't need to actually do certain things.

Here is what mine looked like by the end of construction:



Step 14

Now we need to make a space for this god to inhabit, his throne room.

I used this shot of an elevator lobby in a multistorey carpark as the basis for my throne room, however, the perspective does not match that of the god so far so it first needs to be adapted. Also, I wasn't a fan of the floor and ceiling either.


The first thing we need to do it separate the different planes.

Grab the pen tool and make a selection of each surface. They are straight edged with sharp corners so this should be a breeze. As you select each surface, hit Crtl/Command + J (copy to layer) to place your selection on a new layer.


It's also worthwhile changing each layer into a smart object too, in case you need make repeated transformations later on. This is done by going to the layer menu > Smart Objects > Convert to Smart object. Smart objects preserve the original data, so you can warp them as many times as you like without losing quality. I do this often enough that have assigned a custom shortcut key to it (Done in the edit menu).

I also thought the base of this shot would make an ideal floor:


So when it's all cut out and moved to the bottom of the layer stack in our main document you should have this:



Step 15

Now, we need to make the perspective of our scene match the perspective of the god and his throne.

Start with the centre plane and select it's layer. Hit Ctrl/command + T then right click and choose "Distort". Drag the small handle in the middle of the top side of the box and drag the top corners in until you have something that looks like it is parallel in 3D space with the back of the throne:


Repeat this process, until you have something like below. It might be an idea to turn the perspective guides we made at the start back on:


Don't about the top edge of the wall, we are going to fade it to black and hide it. Duplicate the end sections of the wall to fill those black spaces if you like as well.


Step 16

Next we are going to add some shadow to the walls and floor. Grab a large brush, with black for the foreground Color at Opacity 20% and hardness at 0%.

Go through each plane of the wall and create a new blank layer above each one in the layer stack. Hold down Alt/Option and click the line between the two layer to create a clipping mask as shown below.


Now start painting broad, soft shadow onto each plane, making sure that they fade to black at the top of the canvas. Keep working until you have something like this:


 Lastly for the scene, I decreased the opacity of the whole scene to 60% (by reducing the group's opacity) to darken it further and added some more details like some old tires.


Step 17

Success! We now have nearly all of the image in place and largely ready to go. However, the Colors aren't looking that great.

Start by going to the top of the layer stack and make a group called "Global". This is where any adjustment layers that will affect the whole document go. Create gradient map layer in this group with Overlay for the blending mode, Opacity at 11% and the Blue/Red/Yellow preset.


Instantly our image looks considerably better and is tied together a bit more.

Things are going to get a bit repetitive for this next part so we are going to use actions to make things a bit more efficient and save some time. Open up the actions palette.

Open up your construction group and select a piece of your construction, it doesn't really matter which.

At the bottom of the actions palette, hit the "Record new action" button and give it a name, I'm calling it lighting.


Now we need to create some new Layers. Most people use the buttons at the bottom of the layers palette for this as it's more convenient. However just for this purpose we are doing it from the layer menu at the top of screen (trust me your actions sequence will run much smoother):
Make sure the box "Use Previous Layer to Create Clipping Mask" is ticked for each new layer.

  • Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Hue/Saturation. I called it "Distance fade"
  • Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Curves. I called it "Contrast/tint"
  • Layer > New > Layer. Blending mode set to Overlay and named "Shading"
  • Layer > New > Layer. Blending mode Normal and named "Highlights and Shading"

When you have finished hit the stop button on the action palette. Your actions palette should now look like this:


Be very careful when recording actions - everything you do will become part of the action, so it may take a few attempts to get right.


Step 18

Now that you have your actions set up we can get to work. We are going to work on the individual components of our creation and give them a a coherent light source, add shadows and so on. When you want to work on a particular element, select its layer and press the play button in the Actions palette with your action selected and your layers should appear if you have set up the actions appropriately.

Work your way through the document, hitting the play button on our action script for each component. We are going through individually as each piece it lit from different directions, doing it this way will make it much easier to turn into an effective image.

Each of the layers in the action script has a particular function - the adjustment layers will be used for contrast and saturation.


The only part of the Hue/saturation layer we need is the saturation slider. Objects that are further away from the camera should be less saturated, the same goes for parts that are in shadow. As I lit mine from directly above, that is quite a few pieces.


The curves adjustment layer is used for adding more contrast if it is needed, simply dragging the top end of the curve upwards to lighten it and the lower end down to strength shadows.

For many pieces I added some more Color by going to the green channel here and changing the input to about 6 or 8 to add a reddish-purple tint. This is a simple but effective way of making the large amounts of chrome look a bit less bland.


The shading layer is used for adding soft light to the subject. By painting white or black with a larger, soft, low opacity (10-20%) brush you can lighten or darken different parts at will. Pretty simple but effective.


Lastly, the Highlights and Shadows layer is used for just that - when you need strong highlights and deep shadows. Use sparingly with a smaller brush set to a higher opacity (usually around 50% or so).  

Pretty simple right? You'll get pretty fast at this by the time you are finished, just keep working your way around the image and you'll be fine.


Pay particular attention to key areas like the helmet and shoulders, the viewer's eye is naturally drawn to them, if done incorrectly they could spoil the whole image. Also, if you have a clear idea of where your light sources are it should be easy to create effective shadows. In this instance his jacket is an example of this.


Take your time on key detail areas like this that pick up highlights. The hand here uses strong highlights with the brush nearly at 100%. One of the reasons I have used clipping masks on different layers is to allow for the easy shading around the top and bottom edges of these "fingers" for strong rim highlights and shadow.


Step 19

Details can be what brings an image to life, and there are some simple but effective ones we can add here. I added some smoke to the exhaust pipes in the throne in much the same way we made the beard.

Make a new group that sits behind the main construction of our deity and open the smoke provided. Use the rectangular marquee to select a piece of smoke and copy it to the main document.

Change the blending mode to screen and use the free transform tool to position and distort the smoke as needed.



Repeat the process a few times and repeat with another group sitting on top so that you have something like this:



Another simple little detail I added was to add some glow to the eagle's eyes.
Use the pen tool to trace around the eagle's eyes and copy the eyes to their own layer, changing the blending mode to linear "dodge". Double-click on the layer to add layer styles and add a red outer glow to taste.



Run our lighting actions script now. On the hue/saturation layer change the hue to +53 and use the curves layer to brighten up the eyes. Also add a gradient map to the clipping mask - set the blending mode to overlay and here I have opted for the red to green preset.




Step 20

Now for some fnishing touches. The last thing I wasn't happy with was the god's aviator sunglasses. They were pretty bland. I wanted to add something mystical here. I thought the reflection in the sunglasses should have something unrealistic and pretty special - my idea was some kind of cosmic highway.

Open the supplied shot of the highway. Use the pen tool to trace around the surface of the highway, make a selection and hit Crtl/Command + J. Turn off the background layer.



Open the supplied shot of the starfield and copy it into the document, positioning it behind the highway. Here I have scales and positioned it so that main cluster of stars is at the end of the highway. Add a layer mask to the highway layer and lightly mask off some of the road surface so that some of the stars bleed through.



Flatten the image into one layer. Go Filter Menu > Lens Correction and choose the "custom" tab. Under "Remove distortion" drag the slider to -80 and you should get something like this. I also warped the bottom corners a little to bring the edges of the road in further.


Hit OK and copy this back over to our main composition. Drop the opacity of the layer to 50% and position it over the aviators. Note how I have positioned it so that in the reflection it looks like he is on one side of the road like he is travelling, as opposed to the middle.


Using the pen tool, trace around the inside edge of the glasses and make a selection and hit the "Add layer mask" button at the bottom of the layers palette. You should get something like this:

I also ran the lighting action script again and added more adjustments, brightening the centre on the shading layer and darkening the edges on the highlights/shadows layer.



Final Image


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