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Create a Fantasy City Using Architectural Photographs

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Because matte painting often involves combining several photos to achieve an end-result, matte paintings can be great practice for anyone who wants to learn how to create photo manipulations. In this tutorial, we will show you how to create a fantasy city that is built on a rock structure, similar to Minas Tirith from "The Lord of the Rings." In the process, you will learn several techniques to help you incorporate architectural photos into your artwork. Let's get started!


Speed Art Video

Before you begin, watch this amazing speed art video that shows the entire process of creating this artwork.


Tutorial Assets

The following assets were used during the production of this tutorial. Please make sure to download them before you begin work. Often, third-party content is moved or deleted over time. If photos are not available, you will want to find alternative imagery before you start. Special thanks to Marcel Vijfwinkel for the use of his photography in this tutorial.


1. Cut Out Resources

Step 1

First, open one of the resource images. Let us start by cutting the sky out of our resource images so we can use them more easily later.

Open Image

Step 2

Select the Magic Wand Tool.

Select Tool

Step 3

Click on the sky until you've selected all of it.

Select Sky
Select Sky

Be sure to check the tool settings to improve your selection. I've used these settings.

Tool Settings

Step 4

Now let us go into Refine Edge to get a better selection.

Refine Edge

Depending on the image you might want to play around with the Edge Dedection settings. Once the selection looks good just use the Delete key to get rid of the sky. It should look something like this.

Cut Out Sky

Step 5

Now take the Rectangular Marquee Tool and select the part we need to keep.

Select Region

Step 6

Next, crop the image by going to Image/Crop.

Crop Image

Step 7

We can now save the image for later use. Saving it as a PNG file allows us to keep the transparency.

Save As PNG

Step 8

The previous steps are applicable to all the images we need to cut out, but let's go through it again. Open up another resource image.

Open Image

Step 9

Select the sky around the image.

Select Sky

Step 10

Be careful around more difficult areas such as trees. For these situations it is better to zoom in.

Select Sky

Step 11

Once we cut out the sky the image should look like this.

Delete Sky

Step 12

Again, the Refine Edge option can be handy to enhance the selection.

Refine Edge

Step 13

Now spend a little time repeating the previous process to all the images we are going to need. Once we have all of our cut out architecture as PNG files we can move on to the next part of the tutorial.

PNG Files

2. Building Our City

Step 1

Now we can start the real work; building our fantasy city. First, open our main image of Mont Saint-Michel, which we will use as a base for our city. We can work on this image, it should be large enough. If your computer is a bit slow however you might want to reduce the size of the image.

Open Image

Step 2

Use the Polygonal Lasso Tool to select one of the towers.

Select Tower

Step 3

Copy it and move it over to another part of the image to add more towers. You can add as many as you like.

Copy Tower

Step 4

Now select the Rectangular Marquee Tool.

Select Tool

Step 5

Select a chunk of a building and use it to cover up other parts of the image. You can also use the Spot Healing Brush Tool and Clone Stamp Tool.

Patch Image

We want to get rid of anything that looks modern or unwanted such as metal scaffolding, tourists, modern shop signs, etc... A well patched up image should look something like this.

Patch Image

Comparing the original to the edited version shows how unwanted elements have been removed. Don't worry about the cars for now, we will take care of them later.

Compare Image

Step 6

With the Polygonal Lasso Tool, select the main tower of our structure. Cut and paste it into a new layer, we will keep this for later.

Select Tower
Remove Tower

Step 7

Open up our image of the dome from the St. Pauls Cathedral.

Open Image

Step 8

Select the image and copy and paste it into our main file. We will keep all the new parts of architecture on a separate layer for easier use later.

Paste Image

Step 9

To match the contrast of the images lets go to Image/Adjustments/Levels. We want to play around with both input and output levels until it seems to match. We will do this with all future images we paste into our main composition.

Adjust Levels

Step 10

Duplicate our new layer, we're going to cover up the hole underneath the dome.

Duplicate Layer

Step 11

Move the image down to close the hole.

Move Layer Down

Step 12

We want to chop up the top section of the dome a bit to make it less recognizable. Select a chunk and cut it out.

Cut Piece

Let us keep the top part and move it down, reducing the height of the dome's spire.

Cut Piece
Move Piece Down

Step 13

Open our second image with a dome.

Open Image

Step 14

Copy and paste the image and scale it down using Free Transform.

Transform Image
Scale Image

Step 15

We will need to adjust the levels of the image again to match it.

Adjust Levels
Adjust Levels

Step 16

Now we'll select a chunk of a roof to use as a connection between our two domes. Copy it and move it over.

Select Roof
Move Roof
Move Roof

Step 17

To add some more detail, copy some of the smaller spires.

Select Spire

Step 18

Make two copies and flip one of them around so we have a total of four spires. Use Image/Transform/Flip Horizontal.

Flip Image
Flip Image

Step 19

Move it over to the side as shown in the image.

Move Image

Step 20

We can use another copy to add more spires to other parts of our city. Anything that takes it away from the original photo helps.

Add More Spires

Step 21

Select a piece of railing from a rooftop to add more detail to our newly added images. Cut off any unwanted bits.

Select Railing
Move Railing
Cut Off Piece

Step 22

Bring up our tower that we previously cut off the image.

Cut Off Piece

Step 23

Select the three arches.

Select Arches

Step 24

Move a copy over to the main structure holding the top of our city. We're going to use it to add some detail.

Move Arches

Step 25

We'll need more arches so scale it down a bit and add another copy next to it.

Copy Arches

Step 26

Select the part below the arches and copy it a few times. Then stack these copies to create the illusion that the arches are running deep down the wall.

Select Piece
Duplicate Piece
Move Duplicates

Step 27

We can apply the same technique to add more arches to other walls.

Repeat Process

Step 28

Next we're going to add some large walls. Select a piece of an empty wall from one of the houses.

Select Wall

Step 29

Make a few duplicates so we can have a bigger wall.

Copy Wall
Copy Wall

Step 30

To mix it up a bit we can use other parts of walls as well.

Select Wall

Step 31

Place and transform these pieces on our wall pieces. You can use the Eraser Tool to get rid of any unwanted seams.

Expand Wall

Now we have a couple of nice looking structures that expand our city.

Expanded Walls

Step 32

Open up the image that has our cut out towers of the London Tower Bridge.

Open Image

Step 33

Paste it and scale it to match the scale of our city. A good reference is to look at the size of the windows or bricks.

Paste Image

Step 34

Once again we need to match the lighting and contrast a bit before proceeding.

Adjust Levels

Step 35

To change the architecture of the iconic tower, let us do some cutting and pasting to change it a bit. Play around with scaling, copying and rotating.

Adjust Image
Adjust Image

Step 36

Once we're happy we can start building a bridge to connect the tower to the main structure of our city. Open up the image of our beautiful castle in Belgium.

Open Image

Step 37

When zooming in, we can see the entrance gate makes a great piece of a bridge. Select it and copy it into our main composition.

Select Part
Paste Part

Step 38

With a few copies we can tessellate the gate to make it look like a bridge.

Copy Part
Copy Part

Step 39

Select, copy and paste a suitable chunk of our main city to use as a support pillar for our bridge. If necessary, use multiple copies until the pillar reaches the ground level.

Add Pillar
Add Pillar
Add Pillar

Step 40

We still have our original tower. Select the top spire.

Tower Layer
Select Spire

Step 41

Move the spire over to our new tower. By changing the top of the roof we are altering the look of the iconic building.

Move Spire
Move Spire

Step 42

Open up another one of our resource images and select the right tower.

Select Tower

Step 43

Place it into the city at the correct scale.

Place Tower

Step 44

We can also add a copy of our tower and bridge to this side of the city. To match the perspective we can flip it around horizontally.

Place Tower
Place Bridge

Step 45

Cut off the top of the tower.

Cut Tower

Step 46

Use a copy of our previously created four spires to decorate the tower.

Copy Spires
Copy Spires

Step 47

Select a chunk of our round tower, we'll use it to build another tower at the top of the city.

Select Tower
Move Tower

Step 48

With a couple of copies we can make the tower a lot higher.

Copy Tower

Step 49

Select one half of the tower and use a flipped copy to widen the base.

Select Tower
Flip Tower
Flip Tower

Step 50

Make the tower even higher with another copy. Also add a copy of the spire of our original tower to make the entire thing look like a giant needle. Don't forget to fix any lighting or contrast issues.

Copy Tower
Add Spire
Adjust Levels

Step 51

Use another copy of our bridge to connect the tower to the main dome.

Add Bridge

Step 52

We've used a lot of different architecture from different periods. To make this less noticeable we can copy features to other parts of our image. Select one of the windows of our spire tower.

Select window

Step 53

Use copies of this window to match the look of the spire tower to that of our main dome.

Place Windows
Place Windows
Place Windows

Step 54

The city is looking good. Let's finish up with adjusting the base outer wall. Select a large portion of the wall and use a flipped version to fill in the other side.

Adjust Base Wall
Adjust Base Wall

Step 55

To close the remaining gap in the middle, select and copy another piece of the wall. Erase out any seams you might find. However since the source material matches so well you do not have to be that precise.

Adjust Base Wall
Adjust Base Wall

3. Background & Lighting

Step 1

Now it's time to place our creation into a nice background and finish up the image. Open up one of our sky resources and place it behind the structure.

Open Sky
Place Sky

Step 2

The image doesn't cover the entire background. Just select parts and stretch them out to fill the frame.

Select Sky
Stretch Sky
Stretch Sky

Step 3

Open up our image of the Nevada desert and place it in front of our city.

Open BG
Place BG

Step 4

We're going to use masks to reveal parts of our image. Add a Layer Mask and use the Brush Tool with colors black to cover areas and white to reveal them. We can use a standard round brush for this.

Mask BG

This is a good time to cover the cars that were parked in front of the original structure, or any other unwanted elements in the foreground.

Mask BG
Mask BG

Step 5

The scene needs to be correctly lit so we'll adjust our layers so that the back layer is the lightest and the front one the darkest. Since the sun is coming from the back, this makes sense.

Adjust Levels
Adjusted Scene

Step 6

I've changed my mind about the sky. Let's open the new sky and place it in our scene the same way we did before. The dim light of this sky seems to better fit our scene.

Open Sky
Paste Sky

Step 7

Add a new layer and set the transfer mode to Linear Dodge. Place the layer between the foreground and our city, we're going to paint some dust kicking up to show more depth.

Add Layer

Step 8

We'll use the same standard round brush and a color that is already found in our scene such as a dark brown or grey. Now just paint simple bits of smoke and dust as shown in the images.

Paint Dust
Paint Dust
Paint Dust
Paint Dust

Step 9

Copy our foreground layer and set the transfer mode to Color Dodge. Add another mask to it and paint in where the sunlight would hit the ground. Keep it subtle and think about where the sun would lit the ground and where we'd have shade from the enourmous city.

Paint Light
Paint Light

Step 10

Now set the transfer mode of your brush to Linear Dodge. Until now we've kept all of our added architectural elements seperate, now we can use this to paint dust and light at the bottom and help seperate the layers.

Paint Light
Paint Light
Paint Light
Paint Light

Step 11

Copy our city layer and set the transfer mode to Linear Dodge. Add a black mask to make the new layer invisible for now.

Add Light Layer

Step 12

Select parts of the structure where the sunlight would hit. Keep it subtle, we can leave most of the city in the dark.

Select Structures
Select Structures
Select Structures

We can use the same brush as earlier now to just paint into the selection. This technique will give as nice crisp edges. Use a white brush to paint into your mask, revealing our previously added layer.

Paint Light

Step 13

The composition of our image is a bit too central. Move the city a bit to the left and paste in another one of our image resources. We'll use this to add some structures outside the city walls. Be sure that everything stays in scale.

Add Structures
Add Structures

Step 14

Let's also take some less fancy looking buildings from our main city and copy those.

Select Structures
Select Structures

Step 15

One piece of the building is enough so let's cut it out and match the lighting with the rest of the scene.

Select Structure
Darken Levels

Below you can see the result of copying some more elements. Add as many as you like. You can always move the city more to the left if you need space for more buildings.

Example

Step 16

We're nearly done, we just need to paint in some spilling sunlight to give all of it a nice glowing touch. Create a new Linear Dodge layer. Then pick a nice warm tone to paint our sunlight with. Experiment with less or more saturation.

Create Light Layer
Pick Sunlight Color

Step 17

Our final step is to paint in the sun and light around the scene. We're using the same simple round brush. Try finding a balance between too much and too little.

Paint Sunlight
Final Result

Conclusion

In this tutorial, we learned how to cut and paste parts of photos and match them to create great looking structures. Remember to always keep scale and perspective in mind and to match the lighting and colors of all your elements. When you're done, remember to use a bit of Photoshop's great lighting capabilities to give everything that slightly magical touch. Have fun!

Final Result
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