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Create a "2012" Inspired Tidal Wave in Photoshop

Read Time: 28 mins

In this tutorial, we will take inspiration from the movie "2012" and will demonstrate how to create a massive tidal wave crashing over a mountain range. This tutorial includes both written and video content. Let's get started!

Tutorial Assets

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

Video Preview

Take a look at this 6 minute video demonstrating the entire process of creating this artwork.

Step 1- Landscape

OK. there are not that many steps to be covered in this tut as you might think, yet they are long steps that require hard work. First of all let's bring all of the landscape images on to our document, and roughly match and arrange them into place to get a good base for our piece. Let's start by opening this image here and work the rest on top of it.

Then on top of that let's bring in this image here.

Now all of our extractions and work on the layers will be mostly through mask, so go ahead and create a layer mask for this one.

We will paint on the mask with black to get rid of what we don't need, and we will also make extensive use of my favorite 23 chalk brush.

First let's roughly mask out the edge of what we want to keep as shown here.

Once you have the edge of the rocks to keep defined then mask out the rest.

Then flip the image horizontally.

And we will place it on the right side of the landscape as shown here.

Obviously we need to get rid of the climber, so go ahead and select the clone tool.

Now let's make our brush about 79px, yet feel free to change or vary the size as needed.

Now select a source from the close by rocks and make sure you avoid obvious repeating patterns.

Continue until you have removed the climber, and edit any sections that you need to make it more natural.

Let's now open this image of our character, make a selection of him as shown here and copy it to a new layer in the main document.

Place it so you see all of the section so we can work on removing the background.

Let's now use the magic wand to make a selection of the background.

For those hard spots where the magic want failed just use the lasso tool to add to the selection.

Make sure you get all of those missing spots even in tight places.

Let's now access by right clicking on the selection one of my favorite tools; the refine edge tool.

Adjust the settings in the dialog box as shown here.

Once you click OK, inverse the selection, and click on the mask icon so you get all the back automatically masked.

And there we go, a refined nice and fast extraction technique which we will use quite a bit on this tutorial.

Then we also need to flip this image horizontally.

Once it's flipped, let's scale down and move it into position.

Let's open this other image and copy it on to a new layer.

And again let's make a selection, this time off the sky, with the magic wand.

And again access the refine edge tool; adjust the settings as shown, and click OK.

Inverse the selection and make a mask.

Let's move this section into position as shown here, of course the positioning and placement of each section has been studied beforehand trying to get the best looking landscape, that is why in the video you see me move pieces around and check for a proper level and look for each piece.

Once you have decided on a position, go back to the mask and also search for what we will keep and what we don't need; of course we do this with masks so we can always go back and reveal more or hide what we don want.

Now we need to start blending the level of the different sections a bit so it's easier later to apply color correction to the whole thing and not try to match complicated color correction to individual pieces. So go ahead and create a color balance layer for this section and clip it to the layer so it only affects this particular section. We will be doing this kind of adjustments on individual layers quite a bit, which of course provides us with a non destructive environment which we can adjust and re-adjust at all times. So adjust the balance as shown below.

Now for this image we have a flare right on the mountaintop that we need to edit out.

Let's use the clone tool and start editing as shown below.

Continue until you eliminate the flare from the top and then continue with any other section in the same way.

There now we have all the flare removed from the mountain.

OK let's now bring in another image, so open this one and copy paste it on a new layer.

First off let's flip the image horizontally.

Now we need to remove the sky and we will use the same procedure as we have been using, use the magic wand to make a selection of the sky.

Access the refine edge tool and adjust as shown.

Inverse the selection and create the mask.

Let's now again find a position for this big section of landscape.

Once in position let's edit the mask so it sits nicely with the rest of the terrain.

Consider and follow the slope of the base terrain and mask accordingly.

And there we have yet another big piece of the puzzle in place.

And as we will continue doing we will start blending the color with the rest of the landscape with some color balance, clipped to each individual new section we setup.

Right now as we can see we have a good base landscape going on so this is a good time to start refining our rough masks a bit, such as this section here.

Since we have all these pieces all dialed in and we have decided on the correct placement let's continue to check all of the layers and masks and refine all the borders and connections between each.

Always consider the shapes behind and try to match them with the layer you are working on, don't worry about it remember we are working on masks so if it looks wrong we can always fix it later.

OK once we have finished with the mask refining, we can bring in a new section for our foreground, so open this image and copy paste it on to a new layer; plus right away let's flip it horizontally.

And to extract the mountain we will once again use the magic wand, the lasso tool to make a selection of the sky and then we will apply our refine edge settings.

Once we have the mountain extracted let's search for a good position as shown here.

Once we have it in place this time we will apply the layer mask right away to fix one of the edges.

Let's grab the clone tool and head over to the section shown below.

And once again using a source from the same rocks just fix that hard edge.

OK and now we will go to this image, where we need the temple, so select it and copy it on to a new layer, and repeat the process fro extraction fist by using the magic wand for a selection of the back.

Then we apply our refine edge tool.

Inverse the selection and make a mask.

Perfect! Let's now scale it down and move it into position.

And then we need to mask off the bottom so it sits correctly on the rocks.

Let's now go to the rock layer and create a new mask for it.

Then let's mask off the rocks that are behind the temple so it feels on top the rocks and provides a silhouette against the white back.

Once that is done let's make a levels layer for this rocks and adjust it as shown below. The adjustment layer work as you can see its an ongoing process that goes all through the creation of the image right to the end.

And speaking of adjustment layers let's create a levels layer for the temple and adjust as shown.

And for this temple we will also need a color balance layer to make it a bit cooler and match the rocks behind.

Behind these rocks let's create a single levels layer that will affect everything below it and adjust it as shown below. Since we worked on matching the landscape throughout, now we have the benefit of applying an adjustment layer that influences all at once.

OK now let's move on to bring in a new section of the image, so open this one up and copy paste it to a new layer.

Let's flip it horizontally and move it over to the left, not into its final position since we still need to remove the sky using the same technique; so go ahead and make use of the magic wand to remove the sky.

This time we don't need the refine edge tool since we will be editing the edge manually so go ahead and delete the sky. Yet of course we will need a mask to work on the edge so go ahead and create one.

Grab the brush tool and with black let's work on the edge of the foreground rocks as shown below.

Go all the way to the right of these rocks as shown here.

Once you have the edge defined, just quickly mask out the rest and then move the section to the left bottom corner as shown.

Right away let's apply a levels layer to it and adjust it as shown.

By now you can see we clearly have three main sections in our image, we have the close foreground, the mid terrain and the back landscape which require separate levels and color matching. Right now and for this section of our mid ground we need several correction layers for it so make a color balance layer and adjust it as shown below.

As many times happens, when we adjust one section we need to readjust another, so go to the other mid ground rocks and adjust the color balance and levels as shown here.

Now as you can see we have both sections that sit on the same z depth area paired with the same blending. And that is it for this first step we have a successful base to work on, and a very cool landscape with different depths and sections that connect the foreground and back in a more realistic way.

Step 2 - Water

We will now introduce several wave images so we can setup the base for our big ocean flow creeping over the Himalayas. Let's open and copy to our main document several images and see what we can do.

This first one let's resize it and move it as shown here.

Let's open these other one and use our extraction technique with the refine edge tool to get rid of the sky.

Let's remove the bottom and top section roughly with the mask and scale it into position as shown here.

This process its much similar to setting up the landscape its a search for what works, and how it works both in position and size, but we start masking off to search for these two properties.

At this point I decided that smaller scale will be best for our image.

We repeat the same process with the other image; this helps us visualize and take decisions on the go.

Now let's bring in this other image, and just select the section shown here.

Copy it on to a new layer and scale it as shown here.

Then using the mask let's shave off the top and bottom as indicated here.

We will now use this same layer to make two other duplicates of the same layer to cover the whole with of the image as shown.

Once in position, select the three layers and merge them together.

Once you have only one layer from them, let's select the clone tool.

We need to fix the seams that join each duplicate.

Use the clone tool to make these disappear

Then let's drag this layer all the way down the stack.

This sets up our sea behind most mountains.

Yet we still have the first base mountain with sky so let's fix that.

Make a selection of the sky for that first base layer with the magic wand and the lasso tool as needed.

Then go again to the refine edge tool so we get a clean extraction.

And finally invert the selection and make a mask as we have done several times. And of course now we can have the ocean behind all mountains.

OK let's go back to this layer here and using the mask let's find a better way to merge it with the mountain.

OK now let's open up this other image and copy it to a new layer; remember we are testing and looking for successful sections that will make our overall wave work.

In fact let's import all these other images so we have the materials on our document.

Now let's hide all of the other layers so we can work on each at a time as needed.

So let's go first to the one that has the surfer in it so we can remove it, so grab the clone tool for this.

Select your source from the open wave and just clone until its removed.

Once you have it removed, also mask off the bottom and top sections of this image.

Let's start adding some adjustment layers to these pieces, so add a color-balance layer to this section and clip it. Then adjust the balance as shown below.

Let's also add a levels layer and adjust it as shown.

Now let's go to this other image and also mask off the top and bottom as shown.

Then scale it down as shown here.

And also add a color balance layer to start searching for the same colors in all of our sections. Adjust the mid tones, highlights and shadows separately as indicated below.

On top of it let's add a hue saturation layer and adjust it as shown. This one was very successful so let's duplicate it and add it to the other ocean layers as we go.

OK we are finding our shapes for the ocean let's now go to this other image and scale it as shown.

Duplicate all the adjustment layers of the previous image and attach them to this other section.

Let's now change its position as shown here.

Mask a bit out of it as shown.

Then move the surfer wave to the right as indicated here. You notice we are moving and shuffling pieces around so we can find a good structure for our massive wave.

Mask the top and bottom as shown here with our same old 23 brush. You can keep using this brush or some of the other irregular brushes, your choice.

Adjust the levels for this section as shown here.

Let's now scale and position this other section as shown here.

Let's mask around it as shown here so it feels its coming through those peaks.

Then let's duplicate the layers for this section here and place them at about the area shown here.

We will use it to represent the wave crashing at the back of the temple so mask it accordingly.

Go in and mask a bit more detailed as shown here.

Let's now use this other section of waves and set it up to the right of the image as shown here.

For this layer we only need for now the hue saturation layers so just deactivate the other two.

Now just mask off in the same way following the landscape shapes.

And then let's make even another duplicate of this other wave here and position it as shown; plus also remove the mask so we can paint in a new one.

Then we work on the mask according to this section of landscape as shown here. And we have the base for our wave all setup and ready to continue on the next steps.

Step 3 - Wave detail and New sky

To continue first let's group all of the wave sections on to a group, and then make a duplicate of the resulting group.

The duplicate group let's merge it and the original group just hide it in case we need it.

Now that we have a single layer we can start cloning our way around.

Use existing sections to finish filling up the sections where the wave would go over the mountains and also to blend the existing wave into position.

Just go around the image finding the sections that need some help and just observing so you find where would the wave crash or slip down the mountain and cloning accordingly.

You can use the sections further away from the cloning objective to avoid any pattern or repetition appearing.

Use all of your existing material, yet in case you need some more remember we have the hidden group of the different separate sections, however I did just fine with what we already have in this layer.

As you can see the cloning work above gave me more than enough material to cover the slope on the left.

I think we have a successful wave overall so far.

Let's use this point to bring in a new sky to our image, I have selected this nice image, yet we need to do some fixing before we bring it in. Using the clone tool again and a large soft brush let's get rid of the top part of the castle.

Bring it into our document in a layer all the way to the bottom of the stack and scale it plus position it as shown here.

And now let's apply some levels correction directly as shown, no adjustment layer at this point.

And after that let's apply some hue saturation correction as well.

OK perfect looking quite nice and blended overall.

Now let's continue our process of improving and refining our wave work, let's find the details that are out of place or seem wrong to your eye such as this one here.

Let's cover all the sections analyze them and continue fixing all the details.

Identify problem sections then find sections that will solve the issue and vice-versa.

Then apply the selected solution to get step by step a better structure of waves coming down the mountain.

Now we have wave overall on top of the temple yet we need to modify it a bit so it better shows a wave crashing into it, so make a selection of the building mask and coma back to the wave layer to remove it from the right side.

Maybe clone back a little bit of splash at the bottom.

At this point I decided that the back tide should appear a bit higher on the horizon so no big problem let's go to that layer and scale it just a bit as shown below. And that is about it for this step; its a very creative painting cloning step so be sure to take a look at the video to get the idea of what is happening.

Step 4 - Tide detail and wave refining.

OK at this point we need a new layer on top where we will paint in detail for the tide at the back.

OK all the tide back there needs a great amount of increased tiny detail to make it feel and look bigger. This step its not big at all in terms of screens and explanation yet it takes quite a bit of time to go all over the wave and actually paint in the detail. The process its as follows, you zoom in at about actual pixel level and start painting in detail for the crests and tiny foams; then you zoom in 50% more and increase the painted detail, and then zoom in a final 50% more and go all over the detail painting in even more detail.

We will need our trusty 23 brush and a size of about nothing, 1px will do.

This time we need to make sure that transfer and pen pressure are enabled as we need to drive our strokes with the pen tablet.

Then we will need a very bright bluish white.

Then let's start in this section here, where you can get the idea of what I mean about tiny detail, as shown below.

We continue over to the right and keep painting detail in the same way until we reach the end of the image.

Section by section we cover it all and once we reach the end of the image we go back, zoom in and cover the whole image again section by section.

At the end we will be extremely zoomed in where we will make sure all of the strokes merge well into the waves and increase the detail even one more time. There is not much more to explain, right here you really need to take a look at the video to review all of what its painted; about a continuous hour of it.

OK once we are done painting detail over the tide, let's go around the actual wave layer and check it for some more close up detail like this section here that needs some work; let's grab the eraser first.

Let's erase as shown so all this water seems to follow the slope down.

Then go back to the painted detail layer and add some tiny splashes as shown here.

Continue all over the image finding things that need to be erased, left overs etc such as this here.

Clean up the edges on other sections such as this here. Overall do a cleaning session on all of the wave layer, erasing where needed, cloning where needed, and finally painting where needed. This will bring us to the end of this step, and closer to our goal.

Step 5 - Little ship and temple detail.

OK we will start this step by bringing in this image here of a cargo ship so we can add a nice touch to our image. So open it, do a lasso selection and bring it on to a new layer on top.

Let's repeat the technique using the magic wand and the lasso tool to make a selection of the sky, then just delete it and use a mask to remove the rest.

We will then scale it way down and position it as shown here.

Rotate it a little as shown here.

Then let's apply some levels directly and after that let's apply some hue saturation adjustment as shown below.

Once you apply the hue saturation immediately access the fade (last action) command and fade it out as shown.

OK perfect once we are done with that let's grab our brush once again at 1px size.

Let's first apply the layer mask to the ship.

And then paint in some foam and wave crashing into it as shown here.

There we have a nice ship coming down with the wave.

Let's now make a duplicate of the temple layers.

And then those duplicated layers, let's merge them together.

Now select the lasso tool.

And we will use the lasso tool to break little pieces off the structure as shown here.

Continue selecting and dragging out several pieces.

Once you have enough pieces, select the rest of the building and delete it, so we only keep the pieces. Next grab the brush tool with the same 1px tip and sample some dark color from one of the pieces.

Then paint in a bunch of other pieces plus some cracks in the building.

Now let's go back to the main temple layer and select the mask.

Then in the mask paint in a big crack that reveals the water behind as shown here.

Then let's go back to the pieces layer.

And in there let's sample color from the close by water to paint in some water going through that new crack.

Now I think we have too many big pieces, let's erase some as shown here.

Also I just noticed some bright edge on the rocks that support the building, so let's fix that right away using the eraser tool, and use the clone tool to fix the sharp edge at the lower right.

And there we have our temple loosing some structural consistency because of the wave impact. And also we have the end of yet another step.

Step 6 Shadow and landscape detailing.

OK the first thing we will do in this step its give our Monk a shadow, and we will use his own layer to quickly create this. So go ahead and duplicate the layer/

Now just apply these levels directly to it so it becomes completely dark.

Access the distort command and modify the shadow as shown below.

Set the layer mode to multiply and drag it below the monk layer.

Then grab the brush once again with black and paint in where we are missing some shadow below his feet.

Then grab the eraser and remove what peeks in front of the feet.

Let's now access one of my favorite new tools; the field blur.

Drop an anchor at the base of the feet with a blur of just 2.

And another anchor at the tip of the shadow with the default blur. Then just hit apply.

Next let's access the puppet warp tool

Drop anchors as shown here and pull them so that the shadow follows the terrain.

OK and finally let's reduce the opacity of the layer down to 64%

Next up let's select the eraser.

Then just simply erase from the top of the rocks as shown below.

And there we have a very nice realistic shadow for this guy.

OK let's continue, find and select this layer here.

Then apply the layer mask it has.

We need to fix some things in our mountains such as this section here, so grab the clone tool.

Then just carefully clone as shown here to extend the slope down.

Perfect! Now let's find this other layer here, and also apply the layer mask.

We need to fix the sharp edge it has right here.

So keep the clone tool and fix the section as shown.

And there we have it another completed step, be sure to continue checking throughout the landscape and wave to be sure there are no mistakes, sharp edges or leftovers lying around.

Step 7 - SNOW.

OK now let's paint in some extra snow, and for that we can use the top layer.

Let's start with our brush tool and make its size about 8px

Enable transfer and pen pressure on the brush palette.

Sample some white from the snow that its there.

And let's start adding some snow as shown here.

Add some more in between the rocks.

Also on the left side we can add some more.

Then let's sample some dark from the shadows.

And let's add some shading to the snow, don't worry the pen pressure settings wont allow the full dark color in unless you really press hard on the pen.

Cover all of the new snow adding some shading variation to it.

Then reduce the brush size to about 1px and add some more detail on the snow.

Cover all of the painted snow making sure you blend all of the detail in.

And since we are painting snow let's add some of it to the temple back there; and there we have it, one step closer to finish our image.

Step 8 - Final color adjustments.

Let's start by garbing all of our layers and group them.

Let's name the folder landscape.

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

Now let's see we need to do some rearrangement of the layers, let's drop this last adjustment layer below all of the foreground and mid ground layers.

Now let's select all these layers here.

And also drag them below the foreground and mid ground.

So now we have all the layers shown in green above that adjustment layer.

That rearranging of layers messed what we did with the temple a bit so let's select this rock layer and make a selection of the castle mask shown below.

With that selection we can mask back in what we need over the temple.

Now we can go back to our adjustment layer and set it up as shown here.

Let's drag the foreground layers out of the folder and keep the adjustment layer on top of the rest, and then select the mask for that color balance layer.

Let's paint in the mask with black and a very big soft brush.

Eliminate the influence of this layer a bit as shown here.

Now we need to find our original tide layer and adjust the levels on it as shown here.

Let's reduce the size of the brush to about 479px.

And mask off a bit of that adjustment off as shown here.

Below that ocean layer, let's add another layer and select our brush once again.

Sample some color from the sky as shown.

And softly paint in a stroke across the horizon line.

Then sample a darker pinkish blue from the middle.

And lay down another soft stroke all the way to the right

Now grab all the foreground and mid ground layers.

Name the new group.

Now drop in a levels layer all the way on top.

Adjust the settings as shown.

And once again back to the big soft brush.

Then mask off as shown here.

Again drag this layer below the foreground group.

Let's make a new levels layer on top, and this time clip it to the foreground folder.

Adjust the settings as shown.

This darkens the foreground overall so let's mask off where we don't need it as shown below.

Now let's reduce the size of the soft brush.

And mask off the darkening influence off the monk.

And then let's create a hue saturation layer also clipped to the foreground.

Adjust the settings as shown here.

Grab the soft brush again and mask softly of as shown below.

I just noticed we are missing a bit of shadow for the ship so make a new layer here.

Grab the brush once again, this time very small tip and sample color from some dark wave close by.

Now just paint in some shadow as shown here.

Drag the layer below the ship's layer, set the mode to multiply and reduce the opacity to 57%

Next up create a color fill layer on top of everything and choose the color shown here.

Then set the mode to overlay and the opacity to about 42%

Then go back to the big soft brush.

And softly mask off the color layer as shown here.

And now for the foreground let's create a photo filter layer also clipped to that group.

Set it up as shown here which will give us a warm tone overall.

Then mask off this layer influence with the same soft brush as shown here.

Now below the foreground let's create a similar photo filter for the rest.

Grab the soft brush again

And mask off as shown here to leave some cooler balance on the shadows.

Let's go back all the way to the top, and create a new layer.

Select the fill tool and fill the layer with black.

Then access the lens flare filter and set it up as shown here.

Then apply a motion blur as shown here.

Then create a mask for this layer and go to the big soft brush once again.

Mask off the last layer as shown here.

OK we are doing nice, let's create now a curves layer all the way to the top.

Adjust the settings as shown here

Then mask off the effect of this layer as shown here. And that is it we have finalized our step and our tutorial.

Final Image

And there we have it a very cool and fun image to show off from our tutorial, hope you had fun and you should be proud to reach the end of this learning experience. Hope to see you soon on the next tutorial.

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