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Create a Futuristic Sci-Fi Scene Using 3D Models in Photoshop CS6 Extended

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In this tutorial we'll assemble a futuristic vision of Earth using pre-made 3D content, in an unorthodox way, to construct architecture directly in Photoshop – which is great if you're 3D modeling skills are not up to scratch, or if you're in a rush. We'll also use several stock landscapes, textures and some digital painting techniques to polish it off. Let's get started!


Tutorial Assets

You'll find some files in the "source" folder. You'll also need the following free stock images, 3D models and brushes to complete this tutorial.


Step 1

Use the Color Picker to set your Background color to # afa68c. Create a new document 15cm x 20cm, the Resolution at 300dpi and the Color Mode at RGB. Now use the Background Contents drop-down menu to select Background Color.



Step 2

Open the "Sky.jpg" from the "source" folder, then Shift-drag its layer thumbnail into your new document to create a new layer. Press Shift again, then move the layer content to the top. Change the Blend Mode to Hard Light, reduce the Opacity to 67% and label it "Clouds 1".

Press D to reset your Foreground color to black. Add a layer mask, then set the Gradient Tool (G) to Foreground to Transparent and Linear in the Options bar. Ensure the mask thumbnail is highlighted, then Shift-drag two gradients as indicated by the length and direction of the arrows.



Step 3

Place the second sky image as a new layer, then change the Blend Mode to Soft Light and reduce the Opacity to 79%. Name this layer "Clouds 2".

Hit Cmd/Ctrl + T, then hold down Alt/right-click and choose Flip Horizontal from the Transform menu. Position at the top and resize to fit the canvas width. Now mask the base with a Linear Gradient as shown.



Step 4

Add the first the landscape as a new upper layer and name it "Terrain 1". Flip Horizontal, then resize to fit the canvas width.

We'll now use an advanced blending technique to merge the lighter tones with the underlying layers. To do this, double-click the layer thumbnail to access the Blending Options window then Alt-click and drag (to split) the top-right Blend If slider to 13 and 239. This modification is now indicated by the square icon next to the layer name.



Step 5

Add a mask to the "Terrain 1" layer, then Shift-drag a couple of Linear Gradients (G) to hide the top and right sides. Next, select the Brush Tool (B) and paint with a large, soft-edged tip to modify the mask as shown.



Step 6

Open this landscape. We only need the mountain range, so grab the Quick Selection Tool (W), select the sky, then use the plus/minus options if necessary to clean up the edges. Now hit Shift + Cmd/Ctrl + I to Inverse the selection.

Click the Refine Edge button in the Options bar. In the next window select the best option to reveal any unwanted edge halos (I choose On Black) from the View Mode menu, copy these settings, click OK and copy the selection to the Clipboard.



Step 7

Paste the selection to create a new layer at the top of the stack and name it "Terrain 2". Flip horizontal, then rotate and resize as shown.



Step 8

Add a mask to the "Terrain 2" layer, then use the same workflow to hide the bottom and left areas.



Step 9

Drag the "Terrain 1" layer thumbnail over the Create new layer icon at the foot of the Layers panel to duplicate it. Rename this layer "Terrain 3" and move it to the top of the layer stack.

Now drag the mask thumbnail into the trash icon and click Delete in the following window. Finally, Transform the layer content as shown below.



Step 10

Add a fresh mask to the "Terrain 3" layer and use the gradient/painting technique to reveal the bottom right corner.



Step 11

To keep your layers organized, highlight your top layer thumbnail, hold Shift and highlight the "Clouds 1" thumbnail (this highlights all the in-between layers too). Now choose New Group from Layers from the top-right fly-out menu in the Layers panel and name it "BACKGROUND" in the following window.



Step 12

The next stage is to assemble the futuristic building. Download the first 3D model. There are two ways to import 3D objects; either choose File > Place, or go 3D > New Layer from 3D File and navigate/select the "CapitalShip.3ds".

After accepting the 3D workspace prompt, the object will appear as a 3D layer. Highlight the Move tool (V) and your Options bar will show options for moving the object in 3D space. You can toggle through these options (Rotate, Roll, Drag, Slide and Scale) by pressing the Shift V on the keyboard.

The 3D workspace has two important panels which are the 3D and Properties panels. The 3D panel lets you access your Environment, Scene, Camera and any 3D object. The various options for that object are shown in the Properties Panel.

You'll also see a small 3D widget that allows you to move and rotate the object along the X,Y,Z axis. Each axis is color coded with red (X), green (Y) and blue (Z). The central yellow cube enables you to resize the object.



Step 13

Select the Group Mesh in the 3D panel, then move and rotate the object as shown. Now select Infinite Light 1 in the 3D panel, drag it to match the top-left lighting in the scene, then modify the Intensity to 239% and the Shadow Softness to 100%.



Step 14

Now load the "pirateship.3ds" file from this 3D model to create a new upper 3D layer.



Step 15

This model is supplied minus a texture, so we'll add one. Double-click the texture name in the Layers panel to open it as a "child" document. Now open the "Hullf.bmp" texture from the first model download folder ("FinalCapital") and drag its layer thumbnail into the blank texture file. Enlarge to fill the canvas, then hit Cmd/Ctrl + E to Merge Down and save. The missing texture will now update automatically on the 3D model.



Step 16

This model is ungrouped, so to move it as a whole, highlight Scene in the 3D panel. Move this layer below the first 3D model and rotate, resize and position to the left of the building. Duplicate this layer and position on the opposite side. Finally, adjust the lighting on both these layers.



Step 17

Now import the "Gantry.obj" file from this 3D model to create a new 3D layer at the top of the stack.



Step 18

Use the same workflow to add the same texture to this model (as Step 15). Now move the layer below the "pirateship", then rotate/position as shown and match the lighting.



Step 19

Now load the "Cassini_assy.3ds" file from this 3D model to create a new top 3D layer.



Step 20

Add the same texture to this model, reposition to the right of the building and adjust the lighting.



Step 21

Next, import the "drift.3ds" file from this 3D model to create a new 3D layer at the top of the stack.



Step 22

This object is not part of the building, so we'll leave its textures alone. Now reposition the object just above the left gantry and match the lighting.



Step 23

Complex 3D layers can use a large amount of memory, so at this point your file size will nearly have doubled. Once your happy with your construction go to 3D > Render; depending on your set-up, this process may take a long time.



Step 24

When the render is complete, target each 3D layer in turn and choose Layer > Rasterize > 3D. You can now adjust the brightness and contrast directly on each layer with Levels (Cmd/Ctrl + L) as required. Merge then to a single layer and name it "Structure".

Target the "Structure" layer, chose Filter > Blur, then hit Cmd/Ctrl + F to reapply the filter – this will remove some of the sharpness of the 3D render and blend it better with the environment.



Step 25

Add a mask to the "Structure" layer, then hide the base with a very short Linear Gradient (G). Now use a small Brush (B) on the mask to remove the 3D shadow as circled.



Step 26

To boost the contrast of the "Structure" layer, choose Levels from the drop-down Create new fill or adjustment layer icon at the foot of the panel. In the following window, click the square icon to clip the adjustment to the target layer and apply the following settings.



Step 27

To match the building with our overall color scheme, clip another adjustment to the same layer, but this time choose Color Balance. First modify the Midtones, then use the drop-down menu to modify the Shadows and Highlights as well.



Step 28

Over the next few steps we'll add some textures to give the building a slightly eroded appearance. Place the first texture as a top layer and label it "Structure texture 1".

Resize to cover the front face of the building and change the Blend Mode to Multiply. Now press Cmd/Ctrl and distort to follow the building's perspective.



Step 29

Cmd/Ctrl-click the "Structure" layer thumbnail to generate a layer-based selection. Ensure "Structure texture 1" is the target layer, then click the Add layer mask icon at the foot of the panel. Now mask additional areas of texture with a black, soft-edged Brush (B).



Step 30

Clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment to the "Structure texture 1" layer, check the Colorize option and copy the following settings.



Step 31

As a final modification, clip a Levels adjustment to the same layer and apply these settings.



Step 32

Place the second texture above the previous adjustment and label it "Structure texture 2".

Rotate and position as shown, change the Blend Mode to Overlay, then follow the same masking technique as you did for the first texture.



Step 33

Now clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment to the "Structure texture 2" with the following settings.



Step 34

Place "Structure 1" and its accompanying adjustment layers into a folder and label it "BUILDING 1". Drag the folder thumbnail over the Create new layer icon to duplicate it. Place this folder below the original and rename it "BUILDING 2".

Ensure the duplicate folder is highlighted in the Layers panel, select the Move Tool (V) and resize/position to the left. Double-click the "Levels copy" thumbnail (clipped to the "Structure copy" layer) and change the Input/Output sliders to lighten, to give the illusion of distance.

So both buildings don't look identical, click the chain icon to unlink the masks on the "Structure texture 1 copy" and "Structure texture 2 copy". You can now reposition the textures independent of their masks. When you're done, relink both masks, so they can't be moved accidentally.



Step 35

We'll add the foreground layers later in the tutorial, so at this stage it's best to extend the hills a little so there's no gap. To do this place a new layer at the top of the stack within the "BACKGROUND" folder and name it "Cloned background".

Set the Clone Stamp Tool (S) to Current & Below in the Options Bar, then use a medium-sized soft brush. My cloned layer is shown at the bottom of the screenshot for clarity.



Step 36

The next stage is to add some plant detail over and around the buildings. Open the palm trees image, go to Select > Color Range, click on the sky and set the Fuzziness slider to 55. Use the plus (+) option to add to the selection as required. When you're happy with your preview, check the Invert button and click OK.

We don't need the bottom quarter selected, so set the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) to Subtract and drag over the bottom to remove it. Now copy the selection to the Clipboard.



Step 37

Paste to create a new layer above the "BUILDING 2" folder, then duplicate several times and Transform/place around the base of the buildings. To add some variety, use the same extraction technique as explained the previous step to add "pkg_bot008.jpg" and "pkg_bot009.jpg" from this botanical pack.

Try reducing the Opacity of some layers, then merge them to a single layer and change the Blend Mode to Multiply. Now use a small soft-edged Eraser (E) to remove areas as required.

Repeat this process to create another merged layer of vegetation, but don't alter the Blending Mode. Name your two merged layers "Foliage 1"/"Foliage 2" and place them in a folder called "VEGETATION 1". My foliage layers are shown for clarity at the bottom of the screenshot.



Step 38

Use the same workflow to create additional vegetation around the front edges of both buildings at the top of the stack. Merge them to one layer and label it "Foliage 3".



Step 39

Use the Lasso Tool (L) to roughly select the bottom-left chunk of hillside from this landscape. Copy > paste above the previous layer and flip horizontal/resize.

Set the Clone Stamp Tool (S) to Current Layer and remove the house and road as circled. When you're done, name this layer "Terrain 4".



Step 40

Reduce the Opacity of this layer to 75%. Add a mask, then use a Linear Gradient (G) and an assortment of these brushes to carefully merge the top edge of vegetation into the hillside.



Step 41

Clip a Color Balance adjustment to the "Terrain 4" layer and apply the following settings.



Step 42

Now clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment to the same layer and copy these settings.



Step 43

As a final modification, clip a Levels adjustment to the same layer and darken the Output blackpoint to 10.



Step 44

The background is now complete, apart from giving it a sense of depth and scale. To do this we need to introduce an atmospheric effect, where dust, smoke and other dry particles obscure the clarity of distant objects.

Drop a new layer at the top of the stack and fill it with # 9fb0b8. Change the Blend Mode to Screen and lower the Opacity to 45%. Now lessen the effect very slightly with a Linear Gradient (G) mask. Name this layer "Haze".



Step 45

Use the Quick Selection Tool (W) to extract the this landscape. Place it at the top of the layer stack and label it "Terrain 5".

Position at ground level, then flip horizontal and enlarge. Add a mask and use an assortment of black Brushes (B) to hide the areas as shown.



Step 46

Clip a Color Balance adjustment to the "Terrain 5" layer and copy the following settings.

Set the Gradient Tool (G) to Foreground (black) to Transparent, choose the Radial option and reduce the Opacity to 30% in the Options bar. Target the adjustment mask and pull a couple of gradients as shown. The mask now slightly reduces the effect of the adjustment.



Step 47

Clip a second Color Balance adjustment to the same layer and increase the Midtone Green to +11. Now use the same masking process on the adjustment layer, but use a Linear Gradient (G) at full strength, then finish with a large, soft-edged Brush (B).



Step 48

To introduce some more foreground detail, open this landscape and select the bottom half with a Rectangular Marquee (M). Copy > paste to make a new top layer in your project file, then squash/stretch and position at the base of your canvas. Name this layer "Terrain 6".



Step 49

Carefully mask this layer with an assortment of Brushes (B) until all the hard edges blend seamlessly with the underlying foreground.



Step 50

Now clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment to the "Terrain 6" layer and desaturate the Master Saturation to -72 and the Yellows to -14.



Step 51

To keep your Layers panel tidy, place all your floating layers, apart from the "Haze" into a folder called "FOREGROUND".



Step 52

With the basic elements of our composition now complete, we can start adding the smaller details. First, place the "GhoulOBJ.obj" from the Ghoul Fighter as a new 3D layer. We'll move the stacking order of this layer later, but for now, place it above the "FOREGROUND" folder.



Step 53

Reposition the ship in the sky, then duplicate it and move it into the distance. Now move both 3D layers below the "Haze".



Step 54

Render/Rasterize both 3D objects, merge to a single layer, Blur twice and rename it "Scout ships". Next, clip a Color Balance adjustment to this layer, then increase the Green to +5 and reduce the Blue to -32.



Step 55

Clip a Levels adjustment to the "Scout ships" layer and modify all three Input sliders as shown.



Step 56

Finally, clip a Hue Saturation adjustment to the same layer and reduce the Saturation of the Yellows to -67.



Step 57

Use the techniques you've learnt to extract birds one and birds two.

Add them above the last adjustment layer, Transform/resize, then arrange them in the distance over the mountains. Lower their opacities slightly, then duplicate and merge them to a single layer. Name this layer "Birds", then place it along with the "Scout ships" and its adjustments into a folder called "SHIPS/BIRDS".



Step 58

At this stage the nearest ship looks too distant. To fix this, create a layer-based selection from the "Scout ships" and target the "Haze" mask. Now drag a Foreground (black) to Transparent Radial Gradient (G) at 20% Opacity within the selection.



Step 59

To add an element of interest to the composition, we'll place a figure on horseback in the foreground. Although our scene set in the future, perhaps traditional means of land transport are more practical!

Open the cowboy image. Because of the complex background, there's no quick way to extract this subject. Set the Pen Tool (P) to Path in the Options bar and draw a closed path around the man and horse. Don't sweat over unnecessary detail such as the reigns – we'll paint these later.

When you're done, Cmd/Ctrl-click your path thumbnail to generate a selection, then hit Shift + F6 to access the Feather window and enter 1px. Now Copy the selection to the Clipboard.



Step 60

Paste the selection at the top within the "FOREGROUND" folder. Resize/position as shown and name it "Figures".



Step 61

Clip a Levels adjustment to this layer and set the middle slider to 1.27 to slightly lighten the image.



Step 62

Now clip a Hue/Saturation adjustment to the same layer with the following settings.



Step 63

Next, clip a Color Balance adjustment to the same layer again, then boost the Greens and reduce the Blues as shown.



Step 64

Create a layer-based selection from the "Figures", then fill with with # 5b654c on a new layer below the "Figures". Change the Blend Mode to Multiply, then drag the top middle control point down and rotate slightly to create a shadow.

Reduce the Opacity to 76%, then use the Eraser Tool (E) to remove excess areas. Apply the Blur Filter twice, then name the layer "Figures shadow".



Step 65

Place a new layer at the top within the "BACKGROUND" folder and label it "Paint 1". Now use an assortment of soft-edged custom brushes, holding the Alt key at regular intervals to pick up the underlying colors as you work. Concentrate on making darker areas behind both structures as well as working over the sky. You can also use the Clone Stamp Tool (S), set to Current & Below on this layer to fix areas as circled in red.



Step 66

Place another layer above the "FOREGROUND" folder, name it "Paint 2", then use the same technique to create some ground level mist. Reduce the Opacity of this layer to taste – mine is set to 76%.



Step 67

Add another top layer and name it "Paint 3". Now add smaller details with a finer Brush (B), such as the reigns on the horse and some cables on the buildings. Finally, use the Clone Stamp Tool (S) as before to fix any minor flaws.



Step 68

Place a new layer in Overlay Mode above "Paint 3" and label it "Engine glows". Now use a medium-sized, soft Brush (B) to paint some white highlights as circled.



Step 69

Now to carry out some final tweaks. First, place a Vibrance adjustment layer at the top of the stack, set the Vibrance to +12 and the Saturation to +30 , but this time deactivate the clipping option so the adjustment affects all underlying layers.



Step 70

Place "Paint 2", "Paint 3" and the "Engine glows" layers at the top of the stack within the "FOREGROUND" folder.

The composition is now complete, but feel free to modify or add further adjustment layers. I decided the sky needed more contrast, so clipped a Levels adjustment to the "Clouds 1" layer.



Conclusion and Scope

There are literally thousands of freely-available 3D models out there, so why not have a go at creating your own futuristic vision of Earth, or if you're feeling adventurous, even another world!

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