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The Cosmos: Create a Supernova and a Ringed Planet in Photoshop

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This post is part of a series called The Cosmos.
The Cosmos: Create a Spiral Galaxy
The Cosmos: Create a Red Giant Star in Photoshop

When stars die, they explode in a brilliant burst of light that releases more energy than our sun releases in its lifetime. This brilliant burst of light is so bright that for a brief moment can outshine an entire galaxy. Supernovas occur in our galaxy about once every 50 years. Put another way, somewhere in the universe, a star explodes every second. This is important because the left over debris from these explosions eventually become planets, moons, air, water, and even life itself. Today’s tutorial will demonstrate how to create a supernova that is about to devastate an entire solar system. Our scene will depict a ringed planet and a fleet of ships struggling to get out of the way in time.

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 over an hour of video instruction to help you along the way. So what are you waiting for? Will our fleet of ships survive this massive explosion? Let's get started!

Tutorial Assets

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

Step 1 - Giant Planet

We will start up by creating the foreground main character the big ringed planet, and we will do this using this texture, so follow the link up there for the planet texture and download it.

Ok once you have it open it in Photoshop and duplicate the layer and rotate the copy 190 degrees counter clock wise.

Set this new layer to overlay so we get nice intense colors and then merge the layers.

Next up let's apply a motion blur completely horizontal like shown below, and repeat the filter about 6 times.

Ok perfect now let's get creative, grab the smudge tool with a big soft brush as shown below.

And let's start smudging horizontally with a bit of wrist action so we create some forms in our stripped texture and eliminate all completely straight lines.

Now let's reduce the size of our brush a bit as shown here so we can smudge some greater detail all over the texture, the screens here give you some insight on how to do this but you are better off watching the video for this part and then get creative yourself with the smudging.

Perfect, once we are happy with the texture and have smudged out all traces of the motion filter let's create a new layer.

Once the layer it's created, let's sample a light blue from the canvas, and the custom brush indicated below.

Now let's modify this brush a bit by adding some settings in the brush palette. First of enable transfer and shape dynamics as shown below and enable pen pressure for both opacity jitter and size jitter as shown below.

Now let's set up these settings for the brush tip shape. And as you can see in the preview we are getting a nice cloudy looking brush.

Ok now let's start brushing some tiny clouds as shown below, riding the streams of swift layers below and following these shapes.

Ok right here you can see what I came up with, so now let's give this cloud a bit of a shadow so it looks a bit over the general surface of the planet streams with the settings shown below.

Perfect, now sample some dark color from the image and let's paint in some darker spots over the cloud so it has more depth as shown here with the same brush and settings.

Now repeat the process in a couple of more cloud groups, but don't overdo it; it's just detail.

Next grab the smudge tool back and smudge some wisps out of the cloud edges as shown below, just to make them integrate just a bit with the flows below.

Once we are satisfied let's merge both layers back together.

Now its time to create our final piece document and start working on it so let's do this size shown and fill the background with black.

Perfect, now just copy and paste our texture on to this new document in a new layer

And now just scale it down within the borders of our new canvas.

Next up let's grab the elliptical marquee tool and drag a perfect round selection holding shift and if needed scale it right to the edge of the texture by right clicking on it and selecting "transform selection" as shown below.

Great, now invert the selection and delete whatever its outside so we have a perfect circle.

Now let's invert the selection back and spherize it so that we have the planet look on our texture; now for gas giants like this I spherize much less than usual for other planets so just apply the settings below or experiment to your liking.

Now that we are done with that let's just scale it a bit and rotate it if you want to give our composition something more dynamic.

And finally let's apply a levels adjustment layer to our planet with the settings below so we can create a shadow for it.

Ok Now we have a dark planet all around so let's grab a big soft brush as shown and mask off the darkening effect using black as shown below. And that gives us a nicely light exposed section of the planet.

Step 2 - Sun Flare and Perspective Grid

Next up we will be creating a flare so that we know where the light is coming from and also a perspective grid to keep our sights in the right place. So first we need our big soft brush and less intense orange such as this below and we will be continuously reducing the brush and increasing the brightness and color.

So next up we reduce our brush a bit and select a muted yellow to add to the first orange stroke.

And we keep adding the same process to the flare selecting a much brighter yellow and a much smaller brush

So we repeat the process as needed until we have what we want, but remember right now we only want a flare to remind us of the position, we will build on this much deeper later.

Ok let's move on and create a perspective grid to help us keep our creations in place. We will need a new layer for this and then just select the vanishing point filter.

Now just click to create a 4 point grid and drag the corners until you get something like this below. And then select render grids to Photoshop so that the grid appears in our new layer.

And there it is exactly as we traced it; now let's just reduce the opacity a bit so it helps us but doesn't intrude.

Step 3 - Planet Rings

Now let's create some rings for our planet; there are several ways to do this, this one has a great deal of control over the look of the rings and its pretty straight forward. So we will create a new document with the settings shown below so we get big defined rings.

Now select a medium gray and fill your canvas with it.

Ok now grab your circular shape tool and define a big circle that sits well within the edges of our document and center it.

Ok now double click on the shape color and change it to black as shown here.

Perfect now to create our rings we will be using the outer glow and inner glow in the layer style settings, so double click on the layer so you get this.

Ok do no for the outer glow select a white to transparent simple gradient, it is also included in the project files if you need it. And then set the opacity size and quality contour as shown below.

Now the custom contour its also included in the project files, but if you wish to edit one yourself, just select any contour and then click on the small thumbnail so you get this screen where you can drag and add points to the curves and immediately see the changes in the rings.

One you are finished with your experimenting with the curves then apply these settings to the inner glow so you get more rings defined inside the circle; load the custom contour or make another one you like.

Ok now it's very important to set the range and jitter for our contours plus select the anti-aliasing option so we get smooth rings. The range and jitter control for the quality of the contour affects the appearance of the rings directly, you can test this and see the results so you can choose the look of your rings.

Ok then we need to duplicate the layer to keep it safe if we need to modify something on the rings. Then hide the original layer and rasterize the copy and create a new layer so we can merge both the copy and the empty layer. This flattens everything in the layer styles.

We now need to drag a circular selection over the center of the resulting layer and transform it to fit perfectly centered inside the rings; once this is set right click on the selection and choose feather to apply a 50 px fade to it. Then just delete the center.

Perfect now we can copy and paste the rings to our main document and set the layer mode to screen.

Ok as rings are made from small particles, we will create this effect by applying some grain to them, with the grain filter and the settings shown below.

The resulting grain has much coloring and we need to eliminate this so let's desaturate our layer so we get only black and white information as the result shows below.

Perfect we are finished with the effects now let's scale and rotate our rings into place as I show below.

Once you have the rings in place drag the layer on top of the planet and create a layer mask for it that we will use to mask off part of the ring so it looks like it surrounds the planet. We need to mask off only inside the circumference of the planet so make a selection of the planet sphere by hitting Command/Ctrl + click on the planet layer thumbnail.

And now with a big brush just mask off with black all the rings that would be behind the planet as shown below.

Next let's create some shadow for the rings too the same as we did for the planet, so create a levels layer and select clipping mask so it only affects the rings; then adjust the levels as shown below.

Now we need a big soft brush to mask off the darkening effect from the lit areas, so grab this brush and set the opacity of it about half way down.

Now just mask of everything but leave a shadow as shown below that represents the planet shadow falling over the back section of the rings as shown below.

Ok now just to finish it up for now reduce the opacity of the rings a bit so the appearance its a bit more subtle. And that is it for this step.

Step 4 - Blast Effects Perspective

To begin building up the main action of our image we will start up by establishing a perspective and flow for this effect following the perspective offered by our grid created previously. Ok grab the circular selection tool and define a big selection inside the boundaries of our image and create a new layer to start painting.

Then select a bright yellow as shown here and grab a fairly small brush like the one below.

Now paint some strokes in a circular pattern close to the center of the selection and apply a radial blur with the settings shown below.

We get the results here, and we are going to increasingly build up on it by repeating the process; painting more strokes and applying the radial blur again, this time twice.

And again let's repeat the same steps, but this time let's paint a couple of concentric lines of strokes and then apply the radial blur again 3 times.

We will now modify the results of the last radial blur by accessing the fade option and eliminating a bit of percentage of the last filter

You can see that by reducing the effect of the last filter we can still see some of the circular brush strokes, which give a nice layered blast look.

Ok so now let's use the distort tool to arrange the perspective and size of our blast into position as shown below.

Once in place set this layer mode to screen, then duplicate the layer and set the copy layer mode to overlay.

And this is what we have so far a nice blast base for us to build up around.

Step 5 - Blast Cloud Structure

Next up we will be building up on what we have for the blast cloud right now so for these we need a new layer and let's pick up a nice bright yellow plus one of our big custom brushes shown below.

Now let's stamp a few times to get something we like.

Then let's pick up another brush and make a few additions like shown below.

Once we have something we are satisfied with for this stage, let's use the distort Command/Ctrl and modify it following the perspective grid guide.

Perfect, now let's select yet another brush, this time we will add the settings shown below in the brush palette.

Now just add some vertical cloudy strokes in the section shown here; you can undo and redo until you get something nice.

Then I selected a couple of more brushes shown here and added a bit more all over the image.

This is what I came up with so far we have a nice base structure to work with.

It is time to add some personality and unique qualities to this cloud structure, so grab the smudge tool with a brush and size as shown below.

And now start smudging flow and detail all over the image as shown in red.

Next we will need a new layer and yet another brush where we will stamp a new pattern to add to our work as shown below.

And select this other brush and add a bit more variation.

Ok once you are satisfied distort this layer into perspective the same way we did before.

And once again let's pick up this other brush and add some structures to the top as shown below.

And then we simply grab the eraser with a big soft brush and erase some sections to give the sense of depth.

Now we need to merge down all the layers we have been working on.

Then its time to continue our smudging all over to increase what we did before adding flow and detail all over the cloud; this process benefits quite a bit from the video so you might want to take a good look at it. Also indicated in green below I masked off softly the bottom of the planet so it feel sitting inside the blast cloud.

Step 6 - Color for the cloud

Ok so far we have been working with a mono tone cloud since that way its easier to work with the smudge tool plus the flow and detail of the texture; but now its time to add some color to our work. So let's make a gradient layer on top of the cloud layer and select the gradient I have prepared for you shown below.

Then set the layer mode to multiply and adjust the gradient as shown here, and drag the center of the gradient on top of the main light in the canvas.

Depending on what you see you might want to change color position a bit or maybe you want to change them into something you prefer.

Once the adjustments are ready, duplicate and rasterize the layer. Then hide the original.

Ok next up we will grab the smudge tool once again and select a brush such as this below.

Now as you can see in these before and after picks, we will distribute the color following the flow of our base cloud.

Now let's add a couple of adjustment layers to control our gradient. First create a hue saturation layer and add a clipping mask to it.

Now adjust the settings for the layer as shown here.

Now let's grab our paintbrush soft and big so we can mask off this layer effect from our image as shown below.

Now we also need a color balance layer and adjust as shown below.

And again we mask it off where we don't want the effect to go through.

And then one more layer this time a levels layer and adjust as shown below.

We repeat the process masking of the effect where we don't need it marked here in red.

Now to pair up the ringed planet with the new colors, we must go down to the planet adjustment layers and make some work there. Let's first add a hue saturation for the planet sphere layer and adjust as shown here.

Now fill the layer mask completely with black so the effect disappears completely.

And now with the same big soft brush and white we mask IN the yellow effect only where we need it as shown here.

Now select the levels layer we already have for the planet, and readjust as shown here.

Now go back to our original gradient fill layer, duplicate and rasterize it.

Drag the layer all the way to the top and set its mode to screen.

Now just reduce its opacity to 18%

And again grab our big soft brush and mask off this layer influence where we don't need it as shown below.

So let's add first a hue saturation layer for the rings as shown here.

Then just adjust the settings as shown here which gives us the hue needed to pair it up with the image.

Step 7 - Small Planets

Ok for this next step we will be adding a couple of far away small planets to enhance our composition. So first off let's grab the ellipse shape tool and define a big enough shape as shown here.

Then rasterize the layer and lock the pixels as shown below.

Now let's use these two brushes below to stamp some texture in our circular shape using black.

Now by holding the Command/Ctrl key, click on the layer thumbnail to make a quick selection of the circular shape and let's go to the spherize filter.

Apply the filter twice with the settings shown here.

Now scale the result quite a bit and move it into position as shown below.

Now we will need a couple of adjustment layers for the planet, let's start with a levels layer, and clip it to the planet as shown below.

Then adjust the levels layer as seen here

Now using a small soft brush let's mask off the darkening effect of this layer, to create the light side of this planet.

Next create a hue/saturation layer and adjust it as shown below.

And then follow the process once again to create another small planet we will place at the right side.

Here are both planets set and a cool addition to our image.

Now let's go to our top gradient layer and grab our elliptical lasso tool.

Now define a shape behind the planet as shown here that points in the opposite direction of the light source. And then right click on the defined selection to apply feather to its border with a radius of 5 pixels.

Once we have the selection feathered, grab the paintbrush back and set its size as shown, plus select a soft brush.

Now just mask off with this brush on the gradient layer to get the effect shown here.

Repeat the same steps for the other planet as shown here.

And here we have it both planets with a nice shadow streak behind them.

Now increase the opacity of the layer just a bit and grab our soft brush once again.

With this brush just soften up the shadow as needed and eliminate the brighter effect masking it of, behind the planet and where darkness should remain as shown below.

Steps 8-12 Continued on Page 2

The rest of this tutorial can be found on page 2 below.

Step 8 - Stars

In this step we will be creating some nice stars for our image, and we will do this with the help of yet another custom brush we are going to make. So let's make a new document 1000 by 1000 pixels and fill it with black.

Now we will be using this soft brush here, and we will be varying the size several times to get an array of different size stars. Ok let's start with a 5 px size and choose a completely white color.

With this brush click some times over the canvas. I say click because its easier to click in the same place several times which varies the intensity of the dot; using the pen here will prove quite difficult.

Now let's change the size to something smaller and click some more stars.

Now let's increase the size and ad a couple of big stars.

And once again change the size, and add some other stars, remember we are building a brush so don't over do it; the objective its to have a brush that can produce a varied cluster of stars.

Now we also need some tiny stars so let's include those with a 1px brush.

Ok one more time; this time with a 4px brush add some more stars.

Ok we are done, once we have a nice varied distribution, invert the image so its now black stars over a white back. Then select all of the image.

And then of course define the new brush preset, name it if you want and hit Ok.

Now let's go back to our main image and create a new layer for these stars.

Now select a pure white color, find the star brush and select it.

Easy enough start adding some stars on your image, mostly in the dark areas.

And you can reduce the size a bit to get even more variation than what the brush provides. Continue adding stars like shown below.

Now grab the eraser with a fairly small brush size and yes we are not going to keep all the stars we will erase some of them as shown below.

Perfect; remember stars don't shine in front of planets that is just wrong. Now grab the smudge tool once again with a tiny brush size as shown here.

Yes yes even for this we have a use for the smudge tool. Drag some bursts out of some stars, don't over do it just a couple of stars here and there will do.

Here is what I came up with, a nice delicate star field that enhances our image yet it doesn't distract much.

Ok now we will go through the process of adding some color grab a soft brush such as this one and a nice bright blue color.

Ok now lock the pixels on this layer and start adding some color to the stars.

Flip back to our previously used bright yellow and color some other stars.

Now pick a slightly darker yellow and find a couple of stars to color

Ok now just set this layer mode to hard light and duplicate the layer.

Set this new layer to overlay instead.

Now apply a bit of blur to this layer as shown here.

Perfect now let's go back to the original star layer and desaturate it so its all white again. So you see our new blurred layer provides a hint of color while the original provides intensity. Much more realistic.

Ok now let's merge both layers together and add a layer mask to it.

Now you can mask off some of the stars here if you feel like or maybe later. We have the stars elegantly filling up sections of our image so let's go on to the next step.

Step 9 - Blast Enhancement

We will be now adding some extra effects to the main blast, yet first we need to adjust our main planet once again, so find the planet layer and add a new levels layer to it, plus drag it on top of the other two.

Then adjust this new levels layer as shown here.

And of course the rings layer also needs these new adjustments, so make a levels layer for it too and adjust as shown here.

Ok we are done with that; now let's create a new layer and drag a fairly large circular selection where we will be working on.

Now let's grab our paintbrush again such as this one here with a bright yellow color selected. Now paint some daubs in a circular manner as shown below.

Now just apply a radial blur to it with the settings shown here.

Then re-apply the blur again and paint in some more daubs.

Apply the blur twice and paint in some more daubs, then repeat the process as many times as you want until you get a nice effect that you like.

Once you are done with it let's distort the whole thing as shown below.

Now just move it into position as shown here.

Setup this layer to screen and create a new layer on top.

Now just paint in a couple of bright yellow lines as shown here with color sampled from the image, then go and select motion blur.

Adjust the motion blur as shown here, and then paint in another set of lines to build up the effect.

And apply the motion blur twice.

Go ahead and repeat the process until you get what you want, in my case this is where I am at.

Ok now let's go with a new layer and sample some color from the image as shown below.

Now just paint in some horizontal daubs as shown here.

Sample some other shade of yellow and paint in some more.

And now we are back to the smudge tool with a brush and size as shown below.

Set the layer to multiply and smudge left and right as shown below.

This is the result you want to achieve here.

We will need yet another new layer and grab the gradient tool.

Select the gradient here that I have setup for you and drag a medium circular gradient from the center of the blast.

Set the layer to hard light; you should be getting the result below.

Now let's apply a hue saturation adjustment to this layer with the settings shown below.

And here is the result we get for this step; it's a subtle addition, yet quite effective.

Step 10 - Ships

Ok time to add a couple of our ships passing by this scene. We will be creating this shape below for another custom brush.

Ok so we will be doing this with the pen tool, just defining the shape for a simple ship as shown here, you might want to make a different shape, or even skip this and use the already made brush, yet its a nice thing to add in this learning process.

Just continue defining the shape as shown here.

Now change all the shapes color to black and if you used the base shape as guide, disable it.

And then merge all the layers down and select all the canvas.

Of course now define the brush preset.

Ok now scroll down the brush list to find the new brush.

Now go back to our main image and in a new layer stamp once a ship shape, and just flip it horizontally.

Now let's use the distort Command/Ctrl and reshape the shape a bit as shown below, just to point it in the right direction.

Now we have to scale it down quite a bit as shown below.

Ok we want another ship so just duplicate the layer and move the new ship to another position.

Now lock the pixels in both layers so we can add a bit of highlights.

Now going back to the paintbrush tool let's select a small radius and a soft brush plus a bright yellow if you don't have it already.

Add some subtle highlights as shown here to suggest some volume on the structure.

Now using the polygonal lasso tool define a bit of a wing shaped bit to the side of the ship.

And with the same soft brush add a highlight to it.

Select a 1 px sharp brush and an intense blue color.

Paint in some sharp blue windows for the ship

And here we are with a couple of ships highlighted and with some windows.

Now we need a new layer and the gradient tool again.

Then add a tiny circular gradient for each ship as shown here.

Set this layer mode to hard light.

Once again let's go back to the smudge tool with settings as shown below.

Drag some streak out of our gradients to suggest both sped and engine activity.

Finally select all this ship layers and scale them down a bit plus reposition as you like.

And here we are at the end of this step we now have a cool couple of ships leaving the system to safety.

Step 11 - Cloud Detail

This step its heavy brushing and smudging; so I can explain the process yet you will greatly get a better idea from watching the video after you have read through this step. First off we will be using the smudge tool to increase and enhance the flow we already have so select the tool and adjust the brush and its size as shown here.

Ok now here is a before and after image that will exemplify what we will be doing here enhancing and adding to the existing flow of our cloud.

Ok now once we have gone through all of our cloud detailing the flows and shapes we will then create a new layer to paint in detailed highlights, so let's grab now our paintbrush and a very small brush of 1px.

Select a nice very bright yellow color.

And in these screens here I exemplify what we will be doing all over the image, which again the complete process lies on the video. We will be adding wisps and highlights to each prominent feature that we have on the cloud as marked with red arrows.

We will go all over the image adding this new detailed trails.

Once we have covered the whole image with these new details, its time to smooth those a bit and blend them into the image so let's grab the smudge tool once again.

And now with a very small brush just go over all our highlights and integrate them as shown here. And with this we will conclude our step which its quite more extensive that shown here so be sure to look at the whole video so you can have a good grasp of what has been done.

Step 12 - Rings Blast Effect

Ok now all these blast energy its bound to have an effect on the ring particles, so let's create this effect. First of all we will need a new layer so let's create one on top.

Now grab the paintbrush again still with the bright yellow color we have been using and setup the brush as shown below.

Simple enough now paint in some fast stripes over the rings as shown here.

Great; now of course let's get back to the smudge tool and set its brush and size as shown below.

Simply smudge out from the blast flow direction as shown here.

Now add more fast strikes on top of that and apply a motion blur with the settings shown below to add to the effect buildup.

Ok here you start to see what we are aiming for. The influence of the blast on the rings is slowly building up.

Let's keep adding to this build up, painting in some more strokes as shown here and then grabbing the smudge tool to smooth them into place.

Now set the layer to hard light and you can see the result we have so far below.

Ok now we will grab the star brush we used before and adjust its settings in the brush palette as shown below

Then setup the brush size as shown here and simply paint some streaks of particles as shown below.

Now to increase the appearance of these particles let's duplicate the layer and then merge both back together.

Finally let's erase some of these particles with a soft eraser tool so we have streaks and variation in the particle stream. That is it we have successfully finished this new step.

Step 13 - Final Adjustment Layers and Details

Ok we are at the ending step of our tutorial; now I usually go through the image and see what detail is missing and what needs to be added. In this case I spotted some detail that is missing so let's go back to the highlights layer shown here.

Let's grab our tiny 1px brush again and paint in some more highlights as shown below.

Then of course smooth them out and integrate them into the image with the smudge tool as we did before.

Great now let's just make a couple of adjustment layers to finalize our work. Let's start with a photo filter and set it up as shown below.

This filter enhances the shadow areas, but we don't need it on the bright yellow section so with a big soft brush and using the layer mask let's mask off this layer influence from the red marked section shown here.

Perfect let's now go ahead and create a levels layer with the settings shown below.

Now opposite to the other layer this one is to enhance the bright area, so we will mask it off from all the shadow sections of the image.

And here we have both layers with the corresponding masks to each. You might have some last layers that you like to use in your images so go ahead experiment and give it your final touch.

And here is what I came up with after these final adjustments.

Final Image

Ok we have reached the end of this tutorial, hope you had some fun and learned new techniques to use in your own art, hope to see you in the next part of this series, and have lots of fun.

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