Create an Alien Portrait Using Photo Manipulation Techniques


Our culture depicts aliens in all shapes and sizes – but what would a creature from another planet really look like? Would it be the classic anthropomorphic, almond-eyed beings from the X-Files and countless Hollywood movies, or would it be so different from our own DNA to be totally unrecognizable?

In today's tutorial we'll apply some alien intervention and mix human and animal textures to transform a 3D render into a fantastical extra terrestrial portrait. Let's get to it…

Tutorial Assets

You'll find some files in the "source" folder. You'll also need the following free stock images to complete this tutorial.


Before starting I did a quick internet search to find my inspiration. I wanted to produce something along the lines of the classic Roswell alien, but to retain more humanoid characteristics. I decided the creature should reflect emotion and feeling, so my aim was to create a portrait of a dignified alien gentleman. Listed below are some examples of inspiration:

Step 1

For the first part we'll be using Poser to create the base image. I'm running Poser 6, but all the following workflow will be the same for later versions of the same program. If you want to skip this part, jump to Step 20 and use the "Render.png" from the "source" folder.

Launch Poser, then set the Document Display Style to Smooth Shaded (1) as we'll be adding custom textures later. Select the default figure in the main viewport, press delete and OK in the following window. From the Figures library (2) navigate to "James" and highlight "JamesHiRes" (3). Now click the single tick icon at the foot of the palette to add the figure (4).

Step 2

Click on the small head icon to change the main viewport to the Face Camera (Cmd/Ctrl + =). Select the neck mesh, then from the Parameter tab copy these settings: Taper: 12%, Scale: 111%, xScale: 110%, yScale to 139% to stretch and distort the figures neck.

Step 3

Select the head mesh and expand Face Morph > Brow. Now set the BrowUpAll parameter dial to 1.080.

Step 4

Change the main viewport to the Posing Camera (Cmd/Ctrl + comma). Now use the Move Y and Z, Move X and Y and adjust the Camera Controls to get a nice angle. Select the neck mesh and set the Twist dial to -31 degrees.

Step 5

Go to Render > Render Dimensions (Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + D) and activate the Render to exact resolution button. Now enter the following dimensions: Width: 1985 px, Height: 2026 px, Resolution: 300.000 px, then close the window. The non-render areas will now appear dimmed top and bottom.

Step 6

Next, we need to create a very basic texture for the alien. 3D texture artists can spend days working on this part – ensuring the seams match perfectly etc, but as we'll be overlaying numerous Photoshop textures we only require a very basic texture.

We'll begin with the body first. Open the texture (Applications > Poser > Runtime > textures > Poser 6 Textures > James > James_Body.jpg) via Photoshop and snap across a central guide. So as not to overwrite the file, Save As "Alien_Body.psd" within a convenient folder on your hardrive.

Step 7

Open the first elephant image. Grab the Lasso Tool (L), then roughly select the area as shown and Copy > Paste into the body texture document. Hit Cmd/Ctrl + T to access Transform, then resize and place over the left torso, slightly overlapping the centre guide. Add a mask, then use a large, soft-edged brush to gently blend the top, bottom and left edges.

Step 8

Duplicate the layer a few times to completely cover the torso and left arm. Now Copy > Paste the elephant's trunk over the chest and mask the hard edges. Duplicate this layer, then flip horizontal and place over the neck.

Step 9

Open the second elephant image and select the top of its head. Add this in Multiply mode as a new layer, mask, then reduce the Opacity to around 50%. Continue to duplicate as many layers as required to cover the top left half of the texture – don't worry about the bottom half, as this will be hidden in the final portrait.

Step 10

Shift-click to highlight all your layer thumbnails, then choose New Group from Layers from the top-right fly-out menu in the Layers tab. Add a mask to the folder, then use a soft-edged brush to blend the right edge to the central guide.

Step 11

Duplicate the folder, then make sure the duplicate folder thumbnail it highlighted and choose Edit > Transform > Fiip Horizontal. Hold Shift and drag the duplicate right. Add a new layer below both folders and sample a warm grey from your texture (I used # 8d806a). Use this color to fill the layer.

It's always handy to keep a layered version, in case you need to make changes. When you're happy, flatten and Save As "Alien_Body.jpg".

Step 12

Now we need to create a bump map. Go to Image > Mode > Greyscale and hit the Discard button in the following window. Press Cmd/Ctrl + L to access Levels and set the Input sliders as shown. Be careful not to overwrite your file by going Save As "Alien_Body_bump.jpg".

Step 13

Next, we'll create the head texture. You'll find this in the same folder as before (Applications > Poser > Runtime > textures > Poser 6 Textures > James > James_Face_Color_Hair.jpg).

Step 14

Reopen your "Alien_Body.psd" file and drag across both folders into the head texture and resize to fit. Add a filled lower layer as before to hide any holes. Now Save As "Alien_head.psd" and also a flattened version labelled "Alien_head.jpg".

Step 15

Repeat the process of creating a bump map from your flattened head texture and Save As "Alien_head_bump.jpg".

Step 16

Back in Poser click the MATERIAL tab (1), then select Body from the drop-down menu (2). Click on the texture thumbnail (3), then browse and locate your "Alien_Body.jpg". After your texture appears in the window, click the arrow (4) to apply the texture to the highlights. Follow the same steps to load the "Alien_Body_bump.jpg" (5), then set the Displacement Amount to 0.002000 ft (6) and leave the remaining settings as default.

Step 17

Select the Head and repeat the previous step to load the "Alien_head.jpg" and "Alien_head_bump.jpg", keeping the Bump value the same.

Step 18

Click the POSE tab, then set the Document Display Style to Texture Shaded. The viewport now shows an approximation of how your textures will appear.

Step 19

Choose Render > Render Settings (Cmd/Ctrl + Y), click the FireFly tab and copy these settings (1). Now click the Render button (2). When the render is finished, click the top right arrow in the Render window to access the fly-out menu and choose Export Image and save the .png file to a convenient location.

Step 20

Open your render (or "Render.png", from the "source" folder). Grab the Crop Tool (C) and drag over the canvas to reduce the width to around 1880 px. Name the base layer "Render" and place it within a folder called "3D RENDER". Now add another folder below the first one called "BACKGROUND". Place a temporary layer within this folder and press Shift > F5 and choose 50% Grey from the Contents drop-down menu – this layer covers the transparency and makes working easier on the eye.

Step 21

To darken the lower half of the figure, first duplicate the "Render" layer and change the Blend Mode to Soft Light. Press D to restore your Foreground/Background colors to default black/white. Set the Gradient Tool (G) to the Foreground to Transparent preset and select Linear in the Options bar. Add a mask to the duplicate layer, then Shift drag as indicated by the arrow. Rename this layer "Render soft light".

Step 22

Use the Lasso (L) again to select the top half of the head from your original "Render" layer. Press Cmd/Ctrl + J to Copy the selection to a new layer and name it "Top head dome". Place this layer within another folder called "HEAD MODIFICATIONS" at the top of the stack. With the new layer targeted, hit Cmd/Ctrl + T, then press Control/right-click and choose Warp from the Transform menu. Now pull the control handles in order to create the dome shape. Don't sweat over any overlaps at this stage – we'll fix them later.

Step 23

Add a layer mask and use an assortment of soft and hard-edged brushes to blend the central area. My mask is shown on the right.

Step 24

Use the same technique to Copy a selection from the right-hand side of the head. Place this in the same folder and apply a Warp to bulge the far edge. Name this layer "Right head dome", then use a mask to blend the edges.

Step 25

Repeat the previous step to create the left bulge. Name this layer "Left head dome" and blend using a mask.

Step 26

In humans the tops of the ears align roughly with the eyes. I wanted to keep the same rule for the alien. The new eyes (which will be added layer) will sit much higher up higher up, so use the Lasso Tool (L) to copy each ear from the original "Render" onto separate layers. Place both these layers at the top within the "HEAD MODIFICATIONS" folder, then reduce slightly, rotate and apply a gentle Warp. Now use masks to blend the hard edges into the face and label them accordingly.

Step 27

Now we need to remove the figure's original ears. Add a mask to the "Render" layer and use a small hard-edged brush as shown.

Step 28

We now need to boost the res tones of the figure. First, clip a Color Balance adjustment layer to the "Render" layer and set the Midtone Red to +33. Next, apply the same Color Balance adjustment to the "Render soft light" layer.

Step 29

Now the duplicate head segments need the same Color Balance adjustment applied.

Step 30

Lasso a selection around the mouth and jaw from the "Render" layer and Copy to a new layer. Place it within the "HEAD MODIFICATIONS" folder and name it "Chin" and squash vertically. I've disabled the "Render" folder on the right of the screenshot for clarity.

Step 31

Clip a Color Balance adjustment to this layer so it matches the rest of the figure.

Step 32

To fix the jawline, add a new layer beneath the "Chin" and label it "Neck retouch". Now set the Clone Stamp Tool (S) to Current & Below in the Option bar and use a small brush at around 50% Hardness to paint out the imperfections. At this point, you may need to modify this layer with another Color Balance adjustment.

Step 33

Open "HalongOldMan.jpg" from the "source" folder and select the right side of the man's mouth. Copy > Paste into the same folder and Flip Horizontal. Apply a slight Warp, squash horizontally and place just below the existing mouth as shown. Name this layer "Left mouth".

Add a mask and blend the hard edges, then clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer. Select Reds from the pull-down menu and set the Saturation slider to -60.

Step 34

Duplicate the "Left mouth", along with its adjustment layer. Flip the duplicate mouth layer horizontally and rename it "Right mouth".

Step 35

Copy > Paste a selection from the man's cheek as a new layer and label it "Left chin crease 1". Flip horizontal, place as shown and mask the hard edges. At this stage don't worry about any textures overlapping onto the grey background – these will be taken care of towards the end of the tutorial. Now clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and decrease the Reds Saturation to -21.

Step 36

Duplicate the layer along with its adjustment, reduce in size and position as indicated. Rename the duplicate "Left skin crease 2".

Step 37

Highlight "Left skin crease 1" and "Left skin crease 2" along with their adjustments and duplicate. Flip the duplicate layers horizontally, rename them accordingly and place over the right side of the face.

Step 38

Copy > Paste a selection as indicated from the third elephant into the same folder and label it "Left jaw". Use the Warp function, then mask to form the protruding jowl. Now clip a Color Balance adjustment to match the rest of the face.

Step 39

Duplicate this layer and its adjustment layer, then flip horizontal to create the right jowl and rename the layer accordingly.

Step 40

Copy > Paste a selection from the fourth elephant's forehead as a new layer within a new folder called "HEAD TEXTURES". Resize and position as shown, then mask the hard edges. Name this layer "Forehead 1".

Step 41

Clip a Color Balance adjustment to this layer and copy these settings.

Step 42

Copy > Paste a selection as indicated from the fifth elephant within the same folder and label it "Forehead 2" Enlarge to cover the centre of the forehead, then mask the hard edges. Now reduce the layer Opacity to 60% to allow some of the underlying textures to show through.

Step 43

Duplicate this layer and reset the mask by filling with white. Move down slightly, then elongate to cover the nose. Set the layer Opacity back to 100%, then re-mask, so the texture ends just above the top lip and rename it "Nose". Finally, clip a Color Balance adjustment and increase the Midtone Red to +23.

Step 44

Copy > Paste the head area from the sixth elephant within the same folder and label it "Head bulge". Transform to cover the alien's head, then mask, so just the temple areas are visible. Next, clip a Color Balance adjustment and apply the following settings.

Step 45

Darken the "Head bulge" layer with a Levels adjustment. Now use a large, soft-edged brush on the adjustment layer mask to limit its affect as indicated.

Step 46

Use a selection from the man's cheek to add a couple of small indents at 60% Opacity within the same folder. Mask these layers, then label them "Forehead crease 1" and "Forehead crease 2".

Step 47

Copy a selection from the sixth elephant again and place it within the same folder. Flip Horizontal, then Warp and mask to create the left cheekbone. Name this layer "Left cheek", then clip a Color Balance adjustment and increase the Midtone Red to +34.

Step 48

Duplicate both layers, then Flip Horizontal and position right. Rename this layer "Right cheek".

Step 49

Copy some scales from this tortoise and place in the same folder in Soft Light mode at around 90% Opacity. Duplicate, flip as required to create additional scales, then mask and label accordingly.

Step 50

Copy > Paste the man's right eye within a new folder called "EYES". Stretch, Warp, Rotate, then position to create the creature's left eye and name it "Eye surround left". Mask the hard edges, then duplicate, Flip Horizontal to make the right eye and label it "Eye surround right".

Step 51

Temporarily disable the visibility of some folders, so the "Render" layer is visible. Lasso both eyes, Copy to a new layer and place them at the top of the stack within the "EYES" folder.

Now enlarge them slightly, then add a mask. Target the mask thumbnail, then hit Cmd/Ctrl + I to Invert the mask to negative. Next, use a small, soft-edged white brush on the mask to reinstate the eyes. At this stage you may need to move an eye independently, to do this, simply Lasso a selection, then select the Move Tool (V) and use the arrows on your keyboard to nudge into position.

Step 52

Add a Levels and Color Balance adjustments to boost the contrast and increase the Cyan and Blues of the "Eyes" layer.

Step 53

Copy > Paste a selection as indicated from the fifth elephant within the same folder and label it "Lower crease left". Transform, position under the left eye, then mask the hard edges. Duplicate, Flip Horizontal, position under the right eye and rename it "Lower crease right"

Step 54

Make a selection from the top of the same elephant's eye and Copy > Paste again. Flip Horizontal and place over the left eye and name it "Top crease left". Mask the hard edges, then clip a Color Balance adjustment layer and increase the Midtone Red to +30. Now duplicate, Flip Horizontal and place over the right eye. Rename this layer "Top crease right".

Step 55

Darken the "Top crease right" with a Levels adjustment as shown, then mask the right brow to reveal the original layer.

Step 56

With the head now virtually complete, it's time to move onto the body. We'll be using the same techniques as we used for the head, so I won't go into detail for each layer. Use textures from the same elephant source files and begin building up the textures around the creature's body. Try reducing their opacities slightly to allow the original layer to show through and also clip adjustments as required.

Step 57

Duplicate some layers, then add more textures from elephant seven and elephant eight at around 60% Opacity. Remember to use the Warp function to mould these textures to the creature's body.

Step 58

Because we stretched the 3d model's neck, the next stage is to hide these distorted pixels. Continue duplicating / adding further layers until your image looks something like this.

Step 59

Use the same selection from under the elephant's eye (see Step 53) to accentuate the alien's windpipe and adam's apple, then reduce the reds slightly with a Hue/Saturation adjustment.

Step 60

Next use the same technique as detailed in Step 49 to strategically place some scales around the neck and shoulder areas.

Step 61

To finish off the creature's skin, we'll add a subtle stripped pattern. I first attempted to hand paint the effect, but found I couldn't reproduce the randomness found in nature as well – so I used another approach. Open the zebra image and go to Select > Color Range. In the next window use the eyedropper to select the darkest stripe, then set the Fuzziness to 87 and the Range to 26%. Now use the plus eyedropper to add to the selection and hit OK.

Step 62

With the selection still active add a new layer and fill with # 0aa5d0.

Step 63

Drag the layer into the "NECK/TORSO" folder and Transform / place over the right side of the face. Add a mask and Shift-drag a short black to transparent Linear Gradient (G) from the left. Duplicate and flip the layer to create a mirrored pattern.

Step 64

Repeat this processes to create the larger body stripes, then merge these layers, change the Blend Mode to Soft Light and the Opacity to 85%. Name this layer "Stripes", then clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment, copy the settings below, then reduce the adjustment layer to 57% Opacity.

Step 65

We now need to eliminate any pixels that overlap onto the background. This step is fairly involved, so take your time. Target the top folder thumbnail and add a mask, then Invert the mask to black. Cmd/Ctrl-click the "Render" layer to generate a selection and fill the mask with white. Now use a selection from the "Render" layer mask to reinstate black. Use the same technique on other layers and masks to create a clean white silhouette as shown.

Step 66

Hold Option and drag the mask thumbnail over the remaining folders in turn hide any stray pixels.

Step 67

Next, we'll apply a non-destructive dodge and burn technique to add shadow and highlight to the creature. First, add a top layer and label it "Dodge & Burn". Press Shift + F5 and select 50% Gray from the Contents drop-down menu. Now change the layer's Blend Mode to Soft Light to render the grey invisible, then place it within a new folder called "SHADOWS & HIGHLIGHTS". From here Cmd/Ctrl-click the "NECK/TORSO" folder mask thumbnail to load white as a selection, grab the Brush Tool (B) and paint shadows and highlights using black and white respectively at 20% Opacity. To show the effect clearly, my layer is shown in Normal Blend Mode too.

Tip: If you make a mistake and need to reinstate 50% Gray, set the layer back to Normal Mode and pick up the grey with the Eyedropper Tool (I), or use the Color Picker to set all three RGB fields to 128, then paint at 100% Opacity.

Step 68

For some more intense shadows add another layer called "Shadows 1" in Multiply Mode. and paint within the selection at around 50% Opacity. You can always reduce the layer Opacity if you feel the shadows are too strong (mine are set to 34% and this layer is also shown on the grey background for clarity).

Step 69

Feel free to build up the shadows with an additional layer if required.

Step 70

Now use the same workflow, painting with white to add highlights. These layers should be set to Overlay and their Opacities adjusted to taste.

Step 71

Copy the mask from the lower folder – just in case you accidently painted outside the selection.

Step 72

In this step we'll create a composite layer on which to carry out some retouching and blurring – but first, cast your eye over your work and carry out any final adjustments; I masked some of the pattern on the "Stripes" layer with a large soft-edged brush at a low Opacity.

When you're happy, turn off the visibility of the "BACKGROUND" folder, then place an empty layer above all the folders and name it "Composite". Go to Image > Apply Image, check the Blending is set to Normal in the following window and hit OK. You can now switch the visibility of the "BACKGROUND" folder on.

Step 73

We now have a composite of the alien, so disable the visibility of all folders apart from the "BACKGROUND". With the "Composite" layer highlighted, choose Layer > Matting > Defringe and enter 4 px to remove any edge halo.

Step 74

Zoom in and use a combination of the Spot Healing Brush (J) to fix small imperfections and the Patch Tool (J) over larger areas. It's also worth removing any obvious signs of symmetry caused by flipping the textures. To complete the alien, set the Blur Tool to 50% Strength in the Options bar and paint over both shoulders to draw the focus to the face.

Step 75

With the alien finished, it's now time to work on the backdrop. Add a new layer within the "BACKGROUND" folder called "Base brown" and fill with # 6b593c.

Step 76

Place the "Grunge.jpg" from the "source" folder above the previous layer. Resize as required, then change the Blend Mode to Linear Burn and the Opacity to 83%. Name this layer "Grunge".

Step 77

Load any folder mask as a selection, then add a new layer called "Shadow" above the "Grunge" layer. Fill the selection with black, then choose Blur > Gaussian Blur > 35 px. Move it to the right to follow the light direction, then change the Blend Mode to Multiply and lower the Opacity to 50%. Add a mask and remove areas as requited with a large, soft-edged brush at around 50% Opacity.

Step 78

Next, place another layer above the previous one and name it "Dark edges". Fill the entire layer with black, then change the Blend Mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 44%. Mask off the central area with a large soft-edged brush at 100% Opacity.

Step 79

In these final steps we'll add some overall color and tonal modifications to affect all layers. First, add an unclipped Color Balance adjustment layer by clicking the double circle icon at the foot of the palette and set the Midtones and Shadows as shown. Now reduce the adjustment layer Opacity to 15% to lessen the effect.

Step 80

Next, add an unclipped Hue/Saturation adjustment layer and reduce the Yellows to -23.

Step 81

Place another unclipped Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, but this time reduce the Reds to -82. Change the Opacity of this layer to 60%, then reinstate the eyes with a small soft-edged brush.

Step 82

Finally, add an unclipped Curves adjustment layer and choose Linear Contrast (RGB) from the pull-down menu.

Conclusion and Scope

I hope you've enjoyed this tutorial. Once you've mastered these techniques, why not use different animal textures to create your own version of an extra terrestrial!