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Transform a Photo into a LEGO Block Piece of Art in Adobe Photoshop

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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Use Adobe Photoshop to build a LEGO version of a photo. Use some clever filters and shadowing techniques to easily create the appearance of building a photo replica with hundreds of tiny plastic blocks. 

1. Create the Block Pattern

Let's begin by creating the basic LEGO-like block pattern. Precision is key to this effect working properly, so you need to be careful with the pixel measurements to be sure the pattern matches up with the mosaic effect later on.

Step 1

Create a New document that is 60x60 pixels in dimensions.

Then create a new layer and fill it with 50% grey using the Edit > Fill command and choose 50% Gray from the Use drop down menu.

Add a Bevel and Emboss Layer Style with the size set to 0 pixels as seen here:

Step 2

Set your foreground color to the same midtone gray (#808080)

Then Select the Ellipse Tool (U) and click anywhere on the canvas. Create a circle that is 42 x 42 pixels in dimensions.

Then use the Path Selection Tool (A) to drag the circle until it snaps to the center of the canvas.

Add a Bevel and Emboss Layer Style with a Depth of 62% and a Size of 3 pixels

Then add a Drop Shadow Layer Style with a Distance and Size of 5 pixels each.

At this point your block should resemble the top down view of a traditional LEGO 1x1 block.

Step 3

Use the Horizontal Type Tool (T) to place some text into the central portion of the circle. Use a thin, san serif font like Verb or Arial.


Then position the text using the Move Tool (V). Enable the Show Transform Controls option in the Options Bar to make the text easier to scale.

The final text should be the same gray color as before (#808080) but that makes it difficult to see to position it properly. Consider changing the text color to black or white, then changing it back to gray after it is positioned.

Add a Bevel and Emboss Layer Style to the text with a Depth of 1 pixel and a Size of 1 pixel.

Add a Drop Shadow Layer Style with a Distance of 2 pixels and a Size of 3 pixels

Step 4

At this point you should save your source file! The next step will cause you to lose all your editable layers.

Flatten the file with Layer > Flatten Image.  All your layers will be combined into a single background layer.

We need to resize the image to be exactly 30x30 pixels. Go to Image > Image Size and enter the values of 30 for both the Width and Height. Be sure the units is set to Pixels.

Then go to Edit > Define Pattern and give the pattern a name like "LEGOblock-top".

Then close the file without saving it.

2. Prepare the Image

Now that we have created a LEGO-like block pattern, we need to apply it to an image in such a way to look like the image was realistically assembled from actual blocks.

Step 1

Open an image to use the effect on. Choose an image that doesn't have a great amount of detail, but strong lines and good contrast. If the image is of something familiar, like the Statue of Liberty, the final effect tends to work better. 

The image needs to have pixel dimensions that are divisible by 30. So go to Image > Image Size and input a Height value of 1500. Don't worry about the Width value right now.



To set the width value go to Image > Canvas Size and enter a Width value of 960.

Photoshop will give you a prompt about clipping content. Click Proceed.

Step 2

Create a copy of the background layer by going to Layer > New Layer Via Copy (Control-J).

Then go to Filter > Pixelate > Mosaic and set the Cell Size to 30 square.

At this point the image should appear as an arrangement of solid colored squares.

3. Apply the Block Pattern

Step 1

Now to bring in the block top pattern we created in Step 1. First create new layer by going to Layer > New Layer (Shift-Control).



Then go to Edit > Fill (Shift-F5) and select Pattern from the Use menu and find your custom block pattern at the bottom of the list in the Custom Pattern drop down menu.

Step 2

The canvas fills with the block pattern. Change the layer's Blend Mode to Overlay to allow the mosaic color to show through the block pattern.

4. Create the Layer Mask

The next step is to mask out the outside portions of the blocks so the statue blocks appear to be sitting on top of the background blocks.

Step 1

Let's make life easy for us by using a 30 pixel grid to guide our selection for masking. Go to Edit > Preferences > Guides, Grid & Slices. and in the Grid section set a Gridline Every 30 Pixels.

To see the grid on the canvas go to View > Show > Grid.

Step 2

Now use the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M) set to Add to Selection in the Options Bar to create a selection around the head and shoulders of the statue, using the grid to assist in creating the selection to perfectly outline the blocks.

Step 3

Go Layer > Layer Mask > Reveal Selection to use the selection as a mask. The Layers panel will reveal a black and white thumbnail to indicate the layer mask.

Step 4

Hold down the Alt key while moving your cursor between the Mosaic layer and the pattern layer. When you see the cursor change from a pointing hand to a square with a down arrow, click it! This will clip the pattern layer to the mosaic layer, which allows both layers to be controlled by the same layer mask.

5. Create the Background Blocks

Step 1

We have our statue blocks, but now we need to create the lower base level of blocks. So repeat the same process of duplicating the background layer and running the mosaic filter. Then place a layer above it filled with the block pattern. Create a mask that includes a series of disjointed blocks near the bottom and clip the pattern to the mosaic layer. Your file should resemble this one.

Step 2

The background bricks appear too similar to the statue bricks. To help create a visual difference, change the Blend Mode for the block pattern layer to Luminosity.

Step 3

That rendered the block too dark. To correct this, let's lighten up the block pattern layer. Go to Image > Adjustments > Levels (Control-L) and adjust handles to match the settings here:

Step 4

Then go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and use a radius of around 0.4 Pixels. This creates a subtle blur on the background blocks, so the sharpness of the statue blocks stands out more.

6. Create a Cast Shadow

The top level of block should be casting a shadow onto the lower level. If the surface was flat, this would be an easy task. But all those little bumps create an uneven surface that will disrupt the shadow lines. To accommodate this we will create two shadow layers, one for the top of the bumps, one for the base area around the bumps. This detail is very subtle, but important to create a realistic effect.

Step 1

Create a new layer beneath the StatueBlocks layer and call it Shadow1.

Step 2

Control-Click the mask thumbnail for the StatueBlocks Layer to create a selection from it. You will see the marching ants outlining the area.

Step 3

Fill the selection with black by going to the Edit > Fill (Shift-F5) command and choosing Black from the Use drop down menu. the selected area will fill with black but you can't quite see it yet because it is behind the blocks layer.

Step 4

Hold down Shift and press the Down Arrow key twice. Then press the Right Arrow key 15 times (without the Shift Key). This will position the shadow to the lower right of the blocks to create the beginning of the cast shadow.

Step 5

The cast shadow won't look correct until the corners are connected. So select the Polygonal Lasso Tool and be sure the mode is set to Add to Selection. Then click on a corner of the shadow layer and connect it to the corner of the block that would cast that shadow. Add a third click point to complete the triangular area. Do this for each visible corner.



Step 6

Fill the selection with black using the Edit > Fill (Shift-F5) command with Black as the Use setting. 



Then press Control-D to Deselect.

Step 7

Soften the shadow layer by going to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 2.0 Pixels

Step 8


Set the Blend Mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 24%

7. Adjust the Shadow to Follow the Contours

The cast shadow currently appears to be running along a flat surface. Realistically the round posts of the blocks would break up the shadow line. It may appear daunting to try to get a shadow to follow along each little post, but by adjusting the original block pattern, we can achieve the effect painlessly.

Step 1

Return to the original file used to create the block pattern. Hide the text layer and the grey filled layer. Double-click the Ellipse layer thumbnail to select a fill color and choose solid black.

Step 2

Flatten the file with Layer > Flatten Image and hit OK when prompted about discarding hidden layers. Then resize the image with Image > Image Size and specify the Width and Height to be exactly 30 pixels each.

Step 3

Define this image as a new pattern by going to Edit > Define Pattern. You can then close the file without saving.

Step 4

Return to the main project file and add a layer mask to the Shadow1 layer by pressing the Add Layer Mask button at the base of the Layers panel.

Step 5

Make sure the mask is targeted (there should be a white border around the thumbnail) and fill it with the new pattern by using the Edit > Fill command. Set the Use to Pattern and select the newly created pattern from the bottom of the list of the Custom Pattern drop down.

This will remove the shadow from the top parts of the block pegs and only allow it to be seen in the areas around and between the pegs.

Step 6

Now we will create a shadow for the top portion of the pegs that is just slightly offset from the current cast shadow. Duplicate the Shadow1 layer by pressing Control-J.

We want the mask of this layer to show the top part of the pegs, which is the opposite of its current function. Target the mask of the copy by clicking on the thumbnail. Then press Control-I to Invert the mask.

Step 7

Now to shift the shadow slightly to give the appearance that it is following the contours of the pegs. First target the actual layer, not the mask, by clicking on the layer thumbnail. Then unlink the layer from the mask by clicking on the small chain-link icon between the two thumbnails. This will keep the mask in place while we move the layer around.

Step 8

Now nudge this shadow up and to the left by tapping the Up Arrow key and the Left Arrow key five times each. This subtle offset gives the cast shadow a much more realistic appearance.

8. Add a Plastic Appearance

The top layer of blocks is almost done. It just needs a few minor details to really make it look like real plastic blocks.

Step 1

Start by adding a Bevel and Emboss Layer Styles with a Depth of 32% and Size of 3 px.

Then a Drop Shadow style with the Opacity set to 69%, Distance of 7px and Size of 9 px.

This gives the top layer of blocks an even more realistic lighting effect.

Step 2

To enhance the plastic appearance even more, use a subtle filter effect. But first, select the StatueBlocks and BlockPattern layers and create a merged layer of them by holding down Alt and going to Layer > Merged Layers (Control-E) 

Step 3

Go to Filter > Filter Gallery  and open the Artistic folder and choose the Plastic Wrap filter. Set the Highlight Strength to 5, Detail to 13, and Smoothness to 5.

Then reduce the layer's Opacity to 40% to make the effect very subtle.

Step 4

To make it even more visually apparent that the top level of blocks is above the lower level, add a slight blur to the lower level of blocks. This simulate the same idea of a photographic focal point. Select the BackgroundBlockPattern layer and go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur and set the Radius to 0.4 pixels.

At this point your project should look similar to this:

9. Expand the Canvas

The top layer of blocks is finished, so now it's time to move on to the base layer. But first the canvas requires adjusting to make room for the shadow effect. It was essential to begin with a tighter canvas size in order for the Mosaic filter to work properly.

Step 1

Unlock the background layer by clicking on the Lock icon to the right of the layer name in the Layers panel. This will change the layer from Background to Layer 0.

Step 2

Go to Image > Canvas Size and set the Width to 1036 pixels and the Height to 1560 pixels. The Relative checkbox must not be checked and the Anchor must be at the default center position.

Step 3

Add a Drop Shadow layer style to the Layer 0 layer. Set the Distance and Size both to 5 pixels.

Step 4

Add a new layer beneath the Layer 0 by holding down the Control key while pressing the Create a New Layer icon in the Layers panel.

Fill this layer with white by going to Edit > Fill and selecting White from the Use drop down.

Here's what the project should look like at this point:

10. Cast the Final Shadow

The base layer of blocks is sitting on a flat surface, the picture, creating the cast shadow is much simpler.

Step 1

To create the cast shadow, repeat the same technique as the top level of blocks: Create a layer beneath the BackgroundBlocks layer to hold the shadow

Step 2

Create a selection from the BackgroundBlocks layer mask and fill it with black, then offset the shadow down and to the right.

Step 3

Use the Polygonal Marquee Tool set to Add to Selection to select the diagonal areas the shadow would fall on. Then fill that selection with black.

Step 4

Cancel the selection with Control-D and run the Gaussian Blur filter with a Radius of 3 Pixels.

Step 5

Set the layer Blend Mode to Multiply and reduce the Opacity to 20%

Step 6

Instead of setting the same layer styles again, just right-click on the "fx" icon from the StatueBlocks layer and choose Copy Layer Style. Then right-click on the BackgroundBlocks layer and choose Paste Layer Style.

Be sure to save your file because you are done!

Awesome Work, You're Now Done!

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