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The Cosmos: Create a Green Planet, a Setting Sun, and a Space Ship in Photoshop

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Read Time: 29 min
This post is part of a series called The Cosmos.
The Cosmos: Create a Spiral Galaxy

Our universe is vast. So vast, in fact, that astronomers don’t measure its size in meters or miles but by explaining how long it would take to travel a certain distance at the speed of light. Light travels approximately 186,282 miles per second. This means that in a one year a person traveling at the speed of light would travel about 6 trillion miles. In today’s tutorial, we will be concluding our cosmos series by demonstrating how to create a green planet, a setting sun, and a space ship which has traveled several million light years in Photoshop.

Today's tutorial is part of a 4-part series depicting the journey of the inhabitance of a dying world that must travel into the unknown to find a new world to call home. In this series, we will explore the cosmos from the perspective of this fictional civilization making their way through the universe and will demonstrate the techniques that you can use in Photoshop to depict your own cosmic scenery. In addition to written content, this tutorial also includes about 90 minutes of video instruction to help you along the way. So what are you waiting for? Let's get started!

Tutorial Assets

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

Step 1 - Ship Sketch and Base Shape

Welcome to part four of this series, today will be mostly about the ship, we will make our ship with Photoshop we will not use any 3d elements as we have kept all of this tut series, we will detail, texture, and blend it all with Photoshop. It all begins with a sketch, I made the sketch shown here more or less following the shape we have used throughout this story. I used to sketch on paper, yet when zbrush 4 came up I found a sexy behind the scenes app included with it, called "Paintstop" which is what I use right now, its so impressively like paper and pencil it is amazing. In any way you can sketch on paper and scan it, or even use Photoshop if you are comfortable with it.

Now let's go to Photoshop and create our document for this image as shown here and fill the canvas with black.

Then import your scan or any other media where you did the sketch and paste it on to a new layer. Then invert the image so you have white defined lines over black.

Now scale the size of the ship to what you want it to end up like.

Now let's adjust the levels for it so that the black background almost disappears and doesn't bother our work.

Now the first thing we will do its to trace the whole shape of the ship, a base for the rest of our work. So select the pen tool and set it up as shown below.

Now I will not go into detail on using the pen tool there are brilliant tuts here where you can learn how to pick up paths, use the handles for each point etc. I'm sure most of you already know how to trace a shape with it.

Once you have traced all of the ships contour just right click and make a selection as shown here

Now just fill it with a dark gray in a new layer.

You should end up with something like shown here. Now we will need to drag our sketch to the top so we can keep following it to trace our shapes.

Now set it up as screen and reduce the opacity a bit so it doesn't show too much.

Let's go back to the pen tool now and change the setting shown here and start building the different section shapes.

Let's now go on to the next section shown here, and use the same medium gray as the shape color.

So to avoid confusion here is what we have so far without the sketch, you can see where we are going with it, we will trace every section so we have several parts to use when detailing. Of course if you are an ace with the brush tool, you can paint instead of using the pen, this is an easy to follow workflow that renders precise smooth shapes fast, and most important can be modified if needed.

Now let's continue with the next section shown here.

Now the part we just traced is below the others so let's drag its layer down.

If needed you can adjust the points as needed.

Let's keep on going for each section, while checking the sketch now and then to be sure we are on the correct path.

We can also change the shades of gray to adjust to our sketch vision, and this is what we have so far.

Now that we have all big shapes in place we will ad the sketch lines by also using the pen tool to trace them, so for this let's make a new layer on top.

Now for tracing the lines we have to change the pen tool a bit and select a very small defined brush plus a dark gray color.

Now we will be shaping lines, not shapes; so trace the line based on the sketch from start to finish.

As soon as you have the line finished before you do another one, right click on the path and select stroke path and you start getting nice defined lines of the thickness of the selected brush.

Easy enough just continue with all the main lines from the sketch as shown here.

Let's now grab all the layers we have been working on and drag them to the group/folder icon so we have a new group.

Next on let's duplicate the whole group just to be safe, and hide the original group

Now at this point I decided to change the perspective just a bit, to make the look of the ship more lengthy and pointing into our scene.

Now let's continue with the rest of the secondary lines in a new layer as we did before, tracing the lines and then selecting stroke path.

At the end of this stage here is what you should have; now we have a strong traced shape where we can start texturing and detailing.

Step 2 - Base Shading and Texturing

We now have all our shapes in place, yet they all need highlights and texturing, and for this we will follow a very easy process to texture each of these sections that you can use not only in this project but the workflow is good for many purposes. For starters we need a new layer so go ahead and create one as shown here.

In this layer we will create a light source just to guide us through the highlights and to provide us with various shades of gray we can pick from. This is not our final light source, we will just be using it as a guide yet we have to decide where the final light source will be positioned. Grab the gradient tool and the gradient I have prepared for you and we have used in other parts of this series.

And drag a light source where you want your final source to be placed.

For now we don't need any color information we just need shades of gray so desaturate this layer.

OK now we need another layer to start painting in the highlighted sections to our shapes; so create a new one and make a quick selection of our forward shape by hitting Command/Ctrl + click on the shape thumbnail.

Once you have your quick selection as shown here, pick up a light gray from our light source as shown below.

Then just grab a big soft brush and paint in some delicate highlight considering where the light source is coming from.

And now select a brighter color and paint in a stronger highlight right at the border. Then we will drag the layer down inside the group just on top the main shapes.

This let's our lines layers to be on top the shading we just painted.

Now let's select another section of our main shapes and repeat the process, once again making a quick selection from the shape thumbnail.

And painting in with lighter grays sampled from the light source. Again taking into consideration where the light is coming from.

Now not all sections have a shape we can pick up from so let's see how to do this. Select your polygonal lasso tool and define a thin selection as shown below.

And use that selection in the same fashion as before to indicate a slightly brighter highlight.

Now continue doing this on all medium gray sections as shown here, remember this is just the basic highlight work.

OK now we will go on to the texturing for our sections, so create a new layer and grab your rectangular selection tool.

Define a selection about the size that will cover the section that you want to texture first and just fill it with black.

Now through the layer style, apply a pattern overlay shown here that I have prepared for you of a hull texture, there are many great textures about and other great tutorials on how to make a texture for this, yet to avoid texture providers from crying out if we use their textures, I have made one that you can freely use in whatever you want.

Now for us to be able to manipulate this texture we need to flatten the style, so let's make a new layer and then merge both the styled layer and this to create a single layer that has the texture applied.

Now select the distort Command/Ctrl.

Then distort the texture into perspective as shown here following the ship shape, and then setting up the layer mode to overlay.

Once again make a quick selection of the selected shape using the thumbnail and then inverse the selection.

Simple enough just delete what is on the inverted selection to get a great texture just for that section.

Now let's go on to another part of the ship, remember each part of the ship that presents a different perspective will need a separate section of texture to match. So create a new layer and repeat the process, define a rectangular selection of about the section size you need and fill it up with black.

Apply the texture through the layer style pattern overlay option, then create a new layer and merge both to get a usable flat texture.

Then distort the texture into place following our ship perspective and set the layer to overlay.

And once again make a quick selection for the shape we are working in, invert it and delete whatever its outside.

Now there will be sections that our quick selection method cant help us with, and for that we will simply erase what we need, so grab a defined sharp brush for your eraser tool making sure its small enough to erase whatever section you will eliminate as shown below.

And wherever we need another perspective we will eliminate those sections too.

Now let's continue with some other sections so following the same procedure, make a new layer, drag a rectangular selection that will be enough for the next part of the ship and fill it with black.

Apply the texture, make a new layer and merge them together.

Then use the distort Command/Ctrl to arrange the texture into place and perspective. Then set the layer mode to overlay.

Then use the quick selection method and/or erase what sits outside the intended section.

Now I am sure by now you get the idea of what we are doing, but there is one variant in our ship design, we have darker sections on our design, so let's se how we will do this. Start with the same procedure, defining a rectangular selection that will be enough or slightly larger than the section you want to cover and make a new layer.

Fill it with black and apply the pattern overlay as before.

OK so far it is the same steps, create a new layer, merge the two together and use the distort Command/Ctrl to set the texture section into place.

Set the layer mode to overlay and erase whatever sits outside the selected part of the ship.

OK now here is the only difference, we will use the image adjustments invert Command/Ctrl, to make this dark sections appear different.

OK I'm sure you can go on repeating this process until you have everything covered with our nice hull texture, once you are finished group all the texture layers and name the group accordingly.

OK now we will add some more details to other sections of the ship that do not require the same texture; let's start with this section here, so grab the pen tool and make sure the settings in the tool bar are as shown below.

Then define a shape as shown here and setup the layer style as shown below more or less, it doesn't matter that much because we will be modifying each section later, yet its nice to get an idea of the look of this sections.

Make one shape for each panel so you end up with something like this.

Now once again we have shapes with layer styles that we need to flatten so we can work with them, so select the first shape layer and create a new layer on top of it. Then merge both of the layers.

Once you have the layers merged lock the pixels on the layer as shown here.

Now with a soft brush such as this one, paint in a shadow with black as shown below.

Now with to a bright blue color and reduce the brush size just a bit to paint a glow that comes from inside the ship.

Easy enough repeat the same for each panel so you get something like this.

Now let's find the line layers we did in the first part of this tutorial shown here.

We need to make these lines less defined and apparent and blend them a bit with the rest of the hull; so select them both and merge them. Then do a quick selection of the resulting layer as you already know how.

Great now that we have the lines selected we just need to invert the selection.

Then use the feather Command/Ctrl as shown so we reduce the definition and with of these lines.

And there we have it a nice fast way of blending this lines into the hull, if there are any sections that still seem to apparent just grab the eraser tool and erase as needed.

Step 3 - Painting Detail and Applying Final Shading to the Ship

OK now we are done with the texture, yet there is much detail we have to paint in plus we need to apply some adjustment layers and creative masking to make the ship set in the scene nicely. Let's start with a new layer.

Now select a 1px defined brush such as this one and a black color for it.

Now go about the ship painting detail where there is no texture as shown here.

There are also sections I left that are planned from sketch to be inwards of the ship hull so now its the time to make this sections look the planned way as shown here starting with applying perspective shading.

We will also use the polygonal selecting tool to limit where we will be painting as shown here defining a selection.

Then select a soft brush with black to paint in a shadow and a blue bright color like we have used in other blue glow sections.

Then paint in the shadow first and then a bit of a blue glow as shown here.

Now let's go back to the 1px brush and add some detail to this bay entrance kind of section as shown below.

We will do the same for some other sections of the ship like the rear bay shown here, first with the 1px brush still selected with black, defining the perspective for this rear bay entrance.

Now we will separate each section of this bay with the polygonal lasso selection as shown below.

And then using the soft brush again to paint in some shading for the floor side and back.

Of course we will vary each section shading according to its position as shown here.

Then let's switch to our bright blue and add some glow to each section.

And again let's vary the amount for each side.

And finally the back which is where the most blue glow will come from.

OK now this is where we are so far our ship its starting to look cool and detailed.

So let's go back to the 1px brush and add details to that rear bay as shown below.

This is what I came up with for the rest of the bay.

Let's keep using the 1px brush and add some detail to the engine as shown here.

Once done with that detail we will work on the exhaust area so grab the pen tool once again and use it to define a round shape around it as shown below.

Once you have the shape defined, as we did before we will make this shape and its layer style merge with another layer so we can edit it.

Then lock the pixels on the layer and start the same process first painting in a shadow as shown below.

Then switch to the bright blue and paint in an intense blue glow for the engine.

At this point I decided to add some texture to the engine section so I repeated the process that I am sure you all know by now defining a shape, applying the pattern, and then making a new layer to merge both. And finally setting the resulting layer to overlay.

And we will do the same for the rest of this engine section as shown here.

And here we have it, although I want to add some dirty texture to the inner exhaust section so it feels more used, since right now looks too nice for an engine that has been used for several hundred light years. For this grab the brush shown below and paint in some exhaust look dirt to it as shown below.

Now there is other section of the ship that its also missing some detailing and we will add it very much like the way we did to the exhaust engine section. let's start by defining a shape as shown below.

We will also need another layer to merge it yet first we will adjust the settings for the gradient fill as shown below, by selecting a bit darker gray for the left color of the gradient.

Now let's modify the angle and the scale of the gradient just a bit.

And now we are ready to merge the layers and lock the pixels on it so we can paint a bit more.

Let's first setup the brush as shown here and with black paint in a shadow as we already did several times before.

And again just follow up with the bright blue for glow in the same fashion.

Great we are finished with that section now let's go to the front of the ship and define a shape of what I imagine its the forward bridge section as shown below.

Once you are done with the shape of course make a new layer and merge it with the shape, plus lock the pixels of the resulting layer.

Now let's use the polygonal lasso tool to define some variation and shape to this forward screen.

Once you have a shape you like just delete it so the screen shape gets different sections.

Great now we need to erase some sections of it that ended up on top of our hull so grab the eraser and a defined sharp brush.

Now just erase as shown here.

Perfect, now just go back to the 1px brush so we can paint in some detail as shown below.

And here we are so far, now let's go to the original shape layers group and duplicate it

Then merge the group duplicate and make a quick selection with the resulting layer.

Now we will also grab the complete ship group, duplicate it and merge it

Now inverse the quick selection you made before and delete what sits outside of it. This gives us a nice defined shape of the ship without any texture that might have spilled outside of our original design. So there we have it a nice ship we can now work with for our scene.

OK now we will setup the shading and adjustment layers for our ship, so now we will place the final light source for our scene. Let's grab the gradient tool and in a new layer let's place once again our light source.

Next up let's create a levels layer, select clipping mask for this layer and adjust the levels as shown below.

This levels layer will darken the whole ship so with a soft brush we will mask off its effect to let light go by as shown below.

We will vary the brush size as needed and go about masking off the darkness of the layer where we see light would go through hence creating nice highlights and volume for our ship.

Now let's add a color balance layer and adjust it as shown below.

This adds a blue cast to the whole ship so just repeat the same steps as with the levels layer masking off the effect where we don't need it. So here we are an nice ship with correct shading ready for us to continue with our scene.

Step 4 - New Home Planet

OK so we will now make a big close up of the new planet selected to become the new home for our ships population. Let's start by opening our NASA image, the same we have used in the first part of the tut, or again you can go to the site and pick up another one or as I generally do, mix several together. For the prepossess of the tutorial I will just go with this one.

Now just select it all and copy and paste it below the ships layer.

Now let's once again use the distort Command/Ctrl and deform the texture into perspective as shown.

Now you might want to zoom way back so you have space to define a huge circular selection of what would be the whole planet.

Then zoom back in and place the border of the selection right at the border of the texture.

Then just invert the selection and hit delete so we get a vast circumference appearance for the planet.

Now we will start adding adjustment layers to the planet. Let's start with a levels layer and setup a clipping mask for it.

Now adjust the levels layer as shown here and grab the big soft brush as shown below so we can mask off the darkness of this layer.

Now we grab the gradient tool and the same blue glow gradient we have used.

Change the far right color of the gradient to 100% white

Now drag the gradient once again to create the base for our sun and going back to the levels layer mask, mask off a bit more where the sun is positioned.

OK so now we have our sun and the highlighted part of the planet to start with, so now let's make a selection of the planet.

Then make a new layer and fill it with any color you want and set the fill of the layer to 0

Now we will setup for this layer several settings in the layer style panel, let's start with the outer glow to create an atmosphere and open up the gradient selector to change the main color to a light blue instead of white.

Now change the size to about 106

Now let's make a new layer and pick up a color from our sun as shown below.

Make a quick selection of the planet and grab a big soft brush so we can paint in the inner glow of the atmosphere.

OK let's go on and create yet another layer as shown here and set it to overlay.

Then with a big soft brush and an orange color let's paint in some orange glow inside the radius of the blue glow as shown below, if you deselected the planet layer make a quick selection again so no color spreads outside the planet.

Now let's select a slightly brighter blue and in the atmosphere layer let's increase the intensity of the edge atmosphere as shown here.

At this point I noticed we have a problem with the outer atmosphere layer, since it ends at the edges, the glow seems to have sections missing. Let's fix this by creating a new layer shape that goes beyond the edge of the image. Grab the pen tool and define a shape as shown below.

And then just copy the original layer style or make it again as shown, this will fix our edge problem. You can now delete the previous outer atmosphere layer.

Perfect now let's go back to the orange cast layer and make a mask for it and then grab the big soft brush.

Mask off a bit of the orange as shown here so the orange just appears at the border between blue and darkness.

Next up on top of these orange cast layer let's create another layer and grab the soft brush again with these settings.

Select this orange color and brush a bit of to the right edge to increase the sunset appearance at the edges.

Now let's make a new layer and with our very familiar gradient drag a new one where the sun sits

And let's distort the gradient as shown below.

Next set the layer mode to hard light.

Let's make yet another layer to continue building up on this effect and set its mode to hard light.

Drag another gradient and distort it as shown here.

And let's create a new layer and drag yet one more gradient as we have been doing.

This time don't distort it and set the layer mode to soft light

And we have finished building up this effect with these results so far.

Step 5 - The Fleet

So far we have a nice ship for our image, but we need a fleet, so let's start by duplicating our main ship layers.

Now on this new ship, use the scale and distort Command/Ctrl, just to modify its appearance and position slightly, and of course reduce its side and select a new position for it.

Now for the rest of the fleet let's make a brush so we can quickly add a bunch of more ships. Make a new document with these settings.

Now bring the duplicate layers on to this new document and merge them together, center the ship and then select all of the image.

Easy enough now define a new brush.

Name the new brush to something you will recognize

Now let's get back to our main image; you can close the ship brush document. Let's scroll down the brush list to find our new brush and select black from the color palette.

We need to adjust several settings in the brush palette, starting with the brush tip shape, we need to set it quite high so we have defined individual ships stamped at every stroke of the pen. Then the shape dynamics we have to setup the pen pressure so we get a large to small effect when we stroke. And finally a bit of scattering so we don't get a single column of ships.

Simple enough stroke in a new layer until you get a nice background formation of ships.

Next up select this brush here and create a new layer on top our small ships.

Create a clipping mask for this new layer and select a bright yellow.

Now just go about adding highlights to every ship.

Also add some small side detail highlights.

Once you are done with that, let's now go to a bright blue color and reduce the brush size as shown.

Perfect, now just paint in some blue glow for each engine

Next up, select this defined brush and make it 1px size; then adjust the spacing as shown below.

And now just paint in some lights on the fleet.

OK now we need to also create lights for our bigger ships, but we will do this in a separate new layer for each ship. So go ahead and create a new clipped layer for both ships.

Now with the same brush have fun adding several hundred window lights to our big ships

Step 6 - Stars

OK now for those that have followed all the tuts in this series this step its old news, so go ahead and do your thing. If you haven't read the other tuts, shame on you! OK let's start by finding the brush shown here that we created way back on the second tutorial.

Just turn on shape dynamics so we get a size variation.

Easy enough in a new layer below the ships start painting all over the stars as shown here.

Once you covered everything grab the eraser and a brush such as this one here to randomly erase some of them and create clusters and groups as shown below.

Next on top of the stars layer create a new layer with a clipping mask so it only affects the stars below.

Select a bright blue color and a soft brush as shown below and color some of the stars.

Switch to yellow and orange to color some other stars.

This is what I have come up with after coloring the stars.

Select both the stars layer and the color clipped layer, duplicate and merge them.

We will now apply a slight blur to this resulting layer as shown here.

Then we will setup this layer to hard light

We can now disable or delete the original color clipped layer, our new blurred layer provides us with a subtle color variation without being too obvious. If you want more color you can duplicate the blurred layer and adjust its intensity.

Now let's go to the smudge tool and a brush setting as shown below.

Easy enough just pull out some flares out of the bigger stars as shown here.

And there we have it a nice star field to cover our empty space.

Step 7 - Space Dust, Moon and Final Adjustments.

OK we are at the final step in this tutorial so let's go ahead and create a new layer below the stars and select an intense blue such as this one below.

Now in our brush list find this brush here from the custom brush file.

It is a huge brush so just click a couple of times until you get something nice.

Now find this other brush and add a bit more to the scene.

Create a layer mask for this layer

Pick up a big soft brush and mask off until you get nice subtle dust and clouds to accompany the stars.

OK perfect once you are satisfied we need a moon to make our scene more Earth like, so grab the circular shape tool and define a circle such as below. If you don't have a medium gray selected, change it in the shape layer.

Now to be able to work on it let's rasterize the layer.

Find this brush here and lock the pixels on the layer

Now do a quick selection of the moon by hitting Command/Ctrl + click on the layer thumbnail, and then select the spherize filter.

Apply the filter twice with the settings shown here.

Now let's create a levels layer for our moon and create a clipping mask for it.

Then adjust the levels as shown here.

Now pick up a small soft brush and mask off the levels layer darkness as shown below.

Easy enough now just move the moon into position.

Now let's create another clipped layer for the moon, this time a color balance layer and adjust it as shown below.

Next create a new layer just on top the first dust and clouds layer

With a combination of these two brushes here, let's make a new space dust layer as shown below.

And the same way we did before let's use a soft brush to mask off the layer until we get a subtle result. how subtle its up to you.

Once you are happy let's create a new layer all the way on top everything, this time a gradient layer and select the same blue we have used for the dust as the main color of the gradient.

OK now just set the layer to screen and reduce its opacity.

Next pick up the polygonal lasso tool and as we did in previous parts of this series let's define a shape for a shadow behind the moon.

Feather the selection by about 5 pixels.

Now using the gradient layer mask; mask off the layer effect in the selection with this brush here.

Then if needed reduce the brush size and fine tune the shadow as shown below.

Now its time to add some nice glow to the engines, so create a new layer on top the ships and select the gradient tool with this gradient we have used before.

Drag a circular gradient for each big ship

And we will apply a slight motion blur to this layer with the settings below.

Just reposition the glows if needed as shown here

And set the layer to hard light

And there we have it a nice glow for each ship.

Final Image

That is it, the end of this tutorial and the end of this series; I hope you have enjoyed it and thanks for working with me along the series. I really hope you have learned quite a bit and although this has been a sci-fi series, you certainly can use all what you have learned here on different artistic adventures.

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