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Create an Alien Landscape in Photoshop

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The Orion Nebula is so large and so bright that if you were standing on a planet orbiting a star inside it, the nebula would light up the sky, even in daylight. In this tutorial, we will show what a world in the Orion Nebula might look like. In the process, we will show you how to apply snow to the ground, create frozen waterfalls, ice sickles, planets, stars, and even how to create the nebula in the background. Let's get started!


Tutorial Assets

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


Step 1 - Landscape setup



OK for this one I couldn't find a stock that suited the project (everyday happening in a matte artist) So I worked on Terragen 2 and create a sweet view for us to work on. So go ahead download and open it.


I did find however this stock image that I hope will work with our landscape, so go ahead and download it.


Now let's copy paste the stock image to a new layer and also make a duplicate of it.


OK we have duplicated the layer since there are two separate sections for this stock image that I want to use. Let's hide one of the layers and start working on the top copy.


Let's first of all scale this big stock image a bit just to make it fit in our scene.


Make it fit like shown here, do not distort those nice rocks.


Next up create a layer mask for the top image as shown.


Now we will start roughly masking off what we don't want of the image, so select a blocky brush, whichever you like doesn't have to be one in particular and make it big at about 100 pix


Start masking off as shown here, we are doing a rough mask; just to see how it looks and if this piece of stock will be good for our image or not


Continue masking all around the arch of the image which is the section we want to keep.


Now to further see if this will work let's attach some clipped adjustment layers to the image so we are sure it will work. Let's start with a levels layer.



Let's adjust those levels a bit as shown here, to bring the image together with the base.


Now it seems it doesn't have the same color level as our base so let's make another clipped layer, this time hue saturation to correct this.



OK now it seems we have it in line with our base, what do you think.


OK it seems the make will work, so now we have to go back and refine our mask for the border. So first of all we need to see the edge again so with the same blocky brush, yet this time with white we will reveal the edge again so we can detail it.


Go around all of the edge just to reveal a bit of the "cave" edge.


OK now let's reduce the size of our brush and go back to black so we can mask off in detail the edge of the cave.



So the same as we did before but this time on detail let's mask as shown here.



OK we have our cave nicely framing our scene.


OK let's move on to the duplicate layer of this stock image.


Now let's use the lasso tool to roughly make a selection of what we want to keep.



I want to use this big rock here for the image so that is what I selected with the lasso.


And then simply click on the layer mask icon so everything outside the selection gets masked.


Let's make our blocky brush about 26 px in size. And of course select black to detail the edge of our mask.



Then as we have done before mask off the edge carefully as shown here.



Now let's carefully select the position of our rock.


Now as we did with the other layer we will apply some adjustment layers to bring the layer down to the rest of the image. So create a levels layer and make a clipping mask for it.



Then let's adjust the levels as shown below.


Now since we introduce the some adjustments we need to go back to the previous layer adjustments to tune it a little bit so both sections fit together as part of the foreground. Let's first adjust the hue saturation as shown here and see how that works.



And next let's adjust also the levels as indicated here.


OK here is the result so far, and I think everything matches great.


Yet as we will cover the sky with the nebula, let's move the main cave a bit up as shown here.


Since we moved the layer then we need to fix the mask at the bottom, so let's use the lasso tool for this.


Let's define a selection over what we need to mask off.


Then select the layer mask and just fill it in with black.



There now we have the bottom mask fixed.


Now there are a couple of nasty procedural artifacts in the render, so let's fix those to finalize this step. Select the clone tool and a small soft brush.



This is the section where I found these lines that don't seem right to me, so let's sample from the adjacent area and clone these out.


And there we have it this is how it looks after removing those lines. When you render something for your scene, it is always a good idea to check all of the image for these kind of imperfections, either if you render on TG or Vue or any other package. Well that is it we have finalized our first step.



Step 2 - Painting snow.



OK this is a heavy painting step, so there is a need for you to watch and study the video to get a real feel of what will be done here. We will be painting the rough base for a slight snow cover over our landscape; why we didn't include it in the render? Because its very difficult to get snow looking and get placed where we want it; and the most important reason its so much more fun painting the snow. OK let's grab our blocky brush once again.


Let's setup our brush options in the brush palette; shape dynamics and transfer, both with pen pressure enabled.


And let's also make a new layer for our snow.


Now we will be using two shades of gray to paint our snow, one almost white as shown here.


And a slightly darker gray as shown here, we will use one for the lighter snow that is receiving light and the darker gray for the snow that sits in the shadows. We will be shifting between both by hitting X on the keyboard.


OK let's start painting with a brush size of about 3px.


Let's start painting in the areas that are receiving sunlight, so let's choose the lighter gray.


And just paint in some snow as shown here, always taking into consideration the terrain and where the snow could accumulate.


You have to go around the terrain painting the snow just on some flatter areas, nothing more that shall we say 45 degrees.


Now on the wide flat areas you can cover most of the surface but its also a nice touch to leave some gaps for some rock to peek through. Don't worry about the appearance of the brush strokes for now we are only selecting the cover and distribution.


Once we are done with the sunlit areas let's cover in the same way the shadow sections using the darker gray.


The distribution will be about the same as shown here.


Also paint in some snow on the thin edges over the cliff wall shaded areas, and gradually increase the cover of the snow filling the space up and consolidating the snow cover.


Then the cover will gradually become more like a snow covered canyon and the strokes will gradually disappear. I must insist keep looking at the video while you read this so you see the gradual change taking place as we keep painting.


Do the same on the shaded areas gradually increasing, not the amount of snow but filling in the space so all brush strokes are transformed into a more photo real snow cover.



This is what I have on the left cliff so far.


Now let's continue with some other surfaces on the landscape, but remember this landscape seems to be a very high canyon so the further down I want to paint in less snow, yet again you might be having too much fun and decide to increase the amount of it, so by all means go ahead have fun.



OK as soon as you are finished there let's move on to the cliffs at the back shown here and since it is mostly on the shadows let's paint in with the darker gray, continuing following the landscape features.



OK let's now move on to the right of our image and start covering with snow there; we will start with the right section closer to our point of view so let's increase our brush just a bit to 7 ex since we have quite a big flat surface to cover.


Paint in as shown here making a more visible even surface of snow.


Then change the color to the darker gray.


And in this case we will use it to make the snow cover have some depth and volume.


Then continue with the rest of the right side just as we did previously


Next let's add some snow on our big rock on the lower right, so since it is on the foreground we will increase the brush size a bit more.


Using the light gray for painting in the zones and then the darker gray to paint in some volume add some subtle snow pockets as shown here.


You can see here how the combination of light and darker gray provides volume to the snow painting.


Zoom in and detail a bit more the other sections.



And there we have it the snow details in our foreground rock; and this brings us to the end of this step, yet I have to repeat watch the video for the step that has about 40 minutes of painting for you to absorb.



Step 3 - Painting waterfalls



Next up we will be adding some ice melting waterfalls over the lower section of our landscape, so let's make and name a new layer for it, and we might as well name the previous snow layer.


We will keep using our same brush at about 2px in size


Now we will need to setup our brush as shown in these screens below.




Since we selected color dynamics that use both foreground and background colors, we must choose these two colors as shown below to start painting the falls on the shaded areas of the landscape.



Then let's have some fun and start painting the falls as shown below.


As we did with the snow, we have to take into consideration the landscape features and paint the streams of water according to this.


Continue over the right side of the image as shown here.


Now as water is as selective as snow, let's add some highlights to our streams of water changing the foreground color to a much lighter gray.


And also a very small 1px brush


And setup again shape dynamics and transfer, both with pen pressure enabled.


Paint in some lighter areas in the falls and also use the same brush to paint streams swirling through the landscape down to the water below.


And repeat the same process on the right side of the image. And that is it for this step, yet as being also a painted step I recommend watching the action from the video.



Step 4 - Icicles



OK now we will add some icicles hanging from the cave entrance, and for that we will use a couple of images from the free stock kingdom on the net, let's open these two images and copy/paste them on to new layers of our document.



OK let's start with the one that has the blue sky behind, so for now hide the other image layer.


First off let's scale the image quite a bit as shown here.


And first off let's use the lasso tool.


Make a selection as close as you can off the icicles as shown here.


And then create a layer mask so automatically everything is masked off but our ice.


You should end up with something like this where we just need to mask of the detailed edges.


So let's keep our blocky brush and make it about 16 px to start with.


And the same as we did with the cave let's mask detail the overall ice as shown here.


This is what I ended up with.


Let's now continue with the other image, first off scaling it down a bit as shown here.


We will take advantage of the black back of this image using the magic wand tool.


Make a selection of the black, which should get you a pretty fast and very detailed selection. Then invert the selection and just mask it off.


Then to eliminate the top wood section grab your trusty blocky brush and mask that also.


OK this is what we should have by now.


Then setup the layer mode to screen.


Let's now flip the layer horizontally.


Scale down and position these icicles as shown here.


Now let's make a duplicate of the layer.


And merge the layers back down just to increase the ice appearance of it, you might need to set the mode to screen again.



Now let's go back to masking so grab the brush and black color again.


Now let's mask the top as shown here.


Let's now go back to the other icicles and do the same on the top.


Let's duplicate the layer


On this new layer, let's change the shape a bit by re scaling it a bit as shown here.


And of course we will need to touch up the mask on top again.


So let's go ahead and do that plus use the opportunity to reshape these two icicles a bit.


Let's also reposition the ice on the left a bit as shown here.


And of course touch off the top masking as shown here. And that is it, we have our ice all setup in our scene.



Step 5 - Nebula Painting



Now we will make the nebula for our daylight image; you might be tempted to slap a NASA image in your piece and of course it will look cool those images are splendid, and many so called space artists use all the images NASA has to offer, modify them a bit and call them their own, which to my eye its despicable and pathetic to say the least, and besides there is absolutely nothing fun about ripping NASA and lots of fun and learning painting your own stuff. That being said, let's load up these cool brushes I made for a previous tut.



There is a big bunch of brushes in this file that you can use and have fun in this project or any other; I will let you know through these steps which ones I selected, and what did I do with them, yet this is the learning part, I say try them out, and use your imagination to come up with your own pattern. Also I need to say that this image we are working on we are trying to keep everything realistic, so taking that into consideration the way a bright light would look on a daylight atmosphere its not how the same nebula could look against the blackness of space. OK I started with this brush here.


I then selected a light purple color such as this one here.


Now this is a process of trying out how the brush looks so it took several attempts to come up with a stroke that I liked.


Next up I changed to a light blue color


And selected this other brush.


Then after trying some positions I places a stroke here.


Next I changed to this other brush here.


And positioned the stroke as shown here.


OK next brush is the one shown here.


Added some small detail on top as shown here.


OK then I selected this other brush.


After trying out this brush I decided to rotate the brush tip a bit for a better position for my stroke.


Then I placed the stroke as shown here.


OK now its time to drag down the nebula layer below the cave and rock layers.


We will use the overlay mode for our nebula.


Then to really make the nebula our own we will use the smudge tool to have some smudging fun with it.


Then to use this tool we will select this small soft brush.


We will use a strength of 100%


OK so let's start smudging in some flow in this section here as shown.



Also if you want or need to introduce further color, you can enable the finger painting option which enables the smudge tool to add a bit of paint besides what its already there.


For example let's pick up some purple as shown here and smudge a bit, you will see the tool drops some color at first but then continues smudging as usual. Experiment a bit with this so you get a feel for this option.



Whatever color you have selected in the foreground it will be used by the finger painting tool.


If we choose a light blue we can blend it better with the rest of the nebula, however we have the layer in overlay so you must have this in mind when the colors are selected.



To go back to the usual smudge tool be sure to disable the finger painting option.


And let's continue having fun adding our personal touch to this nebula.


This is what I have so far, so again be sure to check out the video for this section to get a good idea of what has been done.


Now let's add some more pattern strokes but in a new layer so we can work them separately.


I selected the brush shown here.


And this time Let's use this light yellow.


Let's stamp a stroke in this position shown here.


Now to prevent the yellow stroke to spill outside the sky area, let's make a quick selection of the base plate sky.


For this let's use the magic wand tool, and make a selection as shown below.



And then create a mask for this layer.


Once the mask is created let's apply the layer mask to it.


This removes all the yellow stroke from the top of the landscape on the right.


Then let's continue with our creative smudging.


And continue the structure and flow buildup.


OK next up let's create yet another new layer on top of both nebula layer.


We will now create on this layer some big stars over our nebula. We will use the gradient tool enabled with the circular option and selecting the gradient shown below from the gradient file download.



Now just grab some tiny circular gradients as shown here.


Now just change the gradient to this orange to transparent color.


Add some other small gradients as shown here.


Now let's choose the smudge tool once again.


Let's now choose the same soft brush that we have been using at about 2 px. size.


Now let's just drag some spikes for our small gradients as shown here.


And there we have it a cool subtle nebula covering our distant plant sky.



Step 6 - Detail the snow and falls.



Now we will just go about our image adding some detail to both the falls and the snow cover, trying to eliminate as much of the stroke appearance as we can. Let's start with the falls layer.


Let's go back to our blocky brush at about 2px in size



We will just be painting a bit more highlights with our lighter gray color as shown here.



Then we will zoom in quite close to try and eliminate all traces of individual/obvious strokes.



Here is another before and after sample of what we are doing, and remember we are at about 500% zoom. Also consider looking at the video since again this is a quite heavy painting step.



So continue adding detail all about the image.



There we have it we have detailed all of our snow cover and the falls are looking much better too.



Step 7 - Moons



OK the final touch in our image will be a couple of moons for it and we will use the 3d capabilities of PS to create them so first of all let's create a new layer on top.


Go to the 3D menu and select to create a sphere.


Once you have the sphere let's choose the material for it and on diffuse let's load a texture.



Select this texture here from the downloads.


Then let's edit the properties on the texture.


Just adjust the U offset to 0.717


Now let's go to the bump channel and load up the same texture.



We will get this dialog from PS, just OK t.


Then increase the bump to about 3


Now let's convert the 3d layer to a smart object so we can handle the layer as such.


Now let's set the layer mode to screen.


Now let's scale the moon a bit.


Then position it as shown


We need to mask off what seems to be on top of the landscape so once again let's make a selection of the base plate sky.


Let's use the magic wand to make a selection of the sky.



Now just create a mask for the moon layer.


Then make a new layer on top of the moon and make a quick selection of the moon layer as shown


Once you have the selection just fill it in with black



Then make this black layer a clipping mask.



Just move the layer a bit out of the way so that we now have a shadow for the moon.


First let's reduce the opacity to about 78%


Let's soften up the shadow by applying some blur as shown here.



Let's now enter the 3d mode layer


Dismiss the dialog from PS


Let's select the light rotation tool on light number 1 and disable light 2


Drag and rotate the light on the moon as shown here.


Now let's go to the other light and use the same tool to position the second light


This time drag and position the second light in the opposite direction


Then reduce the intensity of the second light to just 0.1


Let's now close the smart document and save the changes in our moon


If we need we have the clipped layer shadow to adjust it independently as needed


Let's now make a quick selection of the moon by using Command/Ctrl + click on the layer thumb.


Then inverse the selection


And create masks on both the nebula layers to hide what behind the moon.


Now let's choose this soft brush and increase the size to about 114 px


Now let's mask off on the blue nebula layer the bit that spills inside the landscape.


OK back on the moon layer let's create a new clipped layer for it


Let's pick up this light blue color


And fill in the layer with it so we have some atmospheric haze layer to work with.


Reduce the opacity to about just 16%


Now let's select all the moon layers and just rotate it a bit.


Keep all the layers selected and make a duplicate from them



Delete the layer mask from the duplicated moon


Then merge the duplicated layers.


Now let's scale and place the layer as shown.



Set the layer mode to screen.


Make a quick selection of the layer


Then with the fill tool let's add this selection to the mask on the blue nebula.



At this point I decided to move the big moon a bit to the left as shown, then of course you need to modify the mask on each nebula layer.


Finally we will adjust the color on the falls layer just to give it more punch


This time directly access the color balance Command/Ctrl from the image menu


Adjust the highlights as shown here.



Final Image

And we have reached the end of this tutorial with a fun cool image to show and more important taken another step in learning to paint snow all over a landscape wherever we want it, plus creating some sweet nebula effects and some moons to go with it. Overall a classic terra space image that will give you solid tools for your more advanced interesting projects. Thanks for joining me and see you on the next one.



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