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Create a Frozen Landscape Using Matte Painting Techniques

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What would happen if a future civilization were to stumble upon one of today's cities? In this tutorial, we will create a frozen landscape depicting an archaeological expedition that is unearthing an ancient New York City; long-lost due to an ice age. 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.

NSFW: Please note that there are elements of this tutorial that may not be appropriate for all work settings.

Step 1- Base and city

OK let's get right into it, we will be working on this render I made for you guys so we have a nice base to work with, and focus on some other things; yet this render needs some fixing before we move ahead. So open up the image you see here.

Let's pick up the clone tool to start with.

Select this brush here, which is one of my favorites and adjust the settings in the brush palette as shown below.

Let's start with this area here that has an ugly horizontal line across, and use the clone tool to make it go away, if you are unsure about your ability using this tool, just do the cloning in a separate layer to be safe.

Next let's fix this other area shown here in the same way.

OK perfect now we have those lines gone so we can move forward.

Open up this image here, where we will use the ice cliff, so select it with the lasso tool and copy paste it on to a new layer.

Let's flip the image and position it on the left side.

Now let's create a mask for the layer and carefully extract just the ice cliff, you can use the same brush tip which will be our workhorse for this tut.

Now let's change the levels on this layer a bit, so create an adjustment layer and adjust it as shown below.

And then make a color balance layer both clipped to the cliff image and adjust as shown here.

OK now we need to finish of by detailing the mask so we have a nice border.

Great! This is where we are so far, and the composition seems nice.

Now let's bring this image here and copy it to a new layer on top.

Scale down the image a bit as shown here.

Make a mask for our new layer.

And still with the same brush let's start masking off to extract the buildings from the background.

If you like to use some other brush or need to change sizes, go ahead, there is no need to use the same one as I do, but we need to extract the skyline as shown here.

We also need to extract from the bottom as shown here and also some spaces between buildings as shown below.

We need to achieve a nice organic extraction as shown here.

Let's adjust the levels on this layer, so create a layer clipped to the buildings as shown here, and adjust the settings as shown.

This darkens the overall highlights.

Now what we need is to adjust the color balance as shown here, so create a color balance adjustment layer.

OK we are closer to blending the overall color of the city.

We need now one more adjustment layer, so create a hue saturation layer on top and adjust the settings as shown.

Perfect now it is really blending into the shade of our image.

OK now we will go back into the layer mask and detail the edge as needed and refine the overall extraction, so back to our brush and adjust its size as shown, yet again if you need to change sizes during the process feel free to do so.

Remember this time to enable the pen pressure for the transfer setting.

Now it's just a matter of going all over the edge of the buildings and detailing the contour.

Let's go to the levels mask layer and select it, so we can modify it a bit.

Now let's use a tiny brush with black to paint in on the mask so we get some tiny subtle rim light on the buildings as shown below.

You can see the result as said is subtle but effective.

Step 2 Freezing the city

Let's create one more layer on top in overlay mode also clipped to the buildings layer, and select our brush tool again.

Select a bright bluish color such as this.

Make the brush tip small at about 7px.

Now just brush in some highlights as shown below.

Then gradually increase the size of the brush and add to the highlight spill as shown here.

We can see the effect that this work gives to our buildings making them feel more blended and icy.

Continue painting in this layer until you have the city feeling frozen and blended as shown.

OK now let's make our brush a tiny 4px size.

Make a new layer on top and adjust the brush palette as shown.

Simple from the image a shadow color as shown and let's start with the area shown in the circle below.

Let's paint in some snow and ice accumulated against and between the buildings as shown.

Let's reduce the size of the brush and detail this a bit more.

Looking good yet we need some variation on this accumulated snow, so let's do that.

Sample a darker tone as shown here.

And with the same tiny brush tip add some shaded variation on the snow as shown here.

Continue all over the city to cover it with snow and ice, and that is it we have finished with this step.

Step 3 - Liberty

OK now let's add the Statue of Liberty using this image here, so open it up ad if you want select with the lasso tool just the section shown here.

Copy and paste it on to our main document, and let's use the magic wand to make a selection of the area around the main statue.

On the resulting selection right click and select refine edge, and adjust the settings as shown here.

Invert the selection and click on the mask icon to mask it off.

Now let's keep working on the mask and extract the rest of the statue.

Now let's jump to the clone tool and select the brush tip as shown below.

Let's use this tool to remove all the people on the statue.

Continue in the other sections to remove all of the tourists.

Let's now flip the image horizontally.

Now let's give it a bit of rotation as shown.

Make sure you have this size and placement.

Now we need to adjust the shading, so let's start with a levels layer clipped to our statue, and adjust the levels as shown below.

Now add a hue saturation layer and adjust it as indicated.

Great now we have it matching the hue and dark shade.

Let's go back to the brush tool and select a small size for it.

Enable transfer and pen pressure in the brush palette.

On the mask for the levels layer let's paint with black so we mask off a bit of highlights for the statue.

Great it is working very nice.

Let's create even one more levels layer and adjust it as shown here also clipped to the statue.

Let's make even one more layer also clipped to the statue and adjust its opacity as shown here, and then just paint on the layer with a solid medium blue to help bring the dark tones up.

Let's now make a new layer on top and make our brush 1px.

Make sure there is transfer and pen pressure enabled, and sample a medium blue as shown.

Paint in some snow and ice against the base as shown.

Now sample color from a shadow area in the landscape and paint in a shadow.

Then sample a medium tone once again and paint more ice on the statue as shown.

Sample color from the ice in the shadows and paint in the shaded side of the statue.

Finally sample some lighter color and paint in some highlights as shown.

OK before we wrap up this step let's use this opportunity to paint in some more snow, so sample color from the right of the buildings as shown here and paint in some ice to merge the edge of the buildings with the rocks.

Then sample highlight color and paint over as indicated, and that is it we have concluded this step.

Step 4 - Advanced archaeological station.

Now let's move on to create some kind of arctic advanced research facility or something that suggests such installation, with the help of this image, so open it and copy it to a new layer on top.

Use the distort command just to adjust the perspective a bit.

Then create a layer mask and extract with black as we have done several times.

Create a hue saturation layer clipped to it and adjust the settings as shown to start working on the blending.

Then scale down the image as shown.

And then create a levels layer and adjust the settings as indicated.

This levels layer darkens the whole thing, so let's use the mask to bring back some highlights using our brush and black color.

Now add some highlights as shown here.

Now let's make a new layer on top and with a 1px brush let's sample a dark shade and start painting around the station some paths and shades that blends and also suggests activity.

Now sample some lighter color and paint in some snow that accumulates around the station.

Once you are satisfied with the snow let's use a darker sample and extend the paths in the ice all the way to the city.

Then sample a lighter color and add a touch of highlights to those suggested paths.

Great, our station is looking quite nice, and we have reached the end of yet another step.

Step 5 - Foreground ice and girl.

OK let's move on to the next section in the tutorial where we will introduce a sexy human character, yet first we will fix a tiny detail in our foreground ice. Just go to that layer and erase out the dark rock shown here.

Then let's select the clone tool.

And with this tool just fix the hole left by the rock.

OK we are done with that, now let's open up the girl image and bring in to our main document in a new layer on top.

Scale it down a bit and make a selection with the magic wand off the white background.

Right click on the selection and select refine edge.

Adjust the settings in the dialog as shown here.

Then inverse the selection and create a mask.

Then go back to the brush and fine tune whatever is left by the selection by working on the mask.

There we have a fast smooth extraction and the first step to integrate the girl into our scene.

Step 6 - Dress the girl.

OK now our model its not dressed for this climate so let's give her some hi tech warm clothes so she is more comfortable. So let's now duplicate the girl layer and hide the original.

On this duplicate layer mask off the hands and boots.

Also mask of the left and right containers.

Finally roughly mask off the head.

Perfect now duplicate this latest layer once more and again hide the original.

On this latest duplicate apply the layer mask.

On this latest layer access the filter gallery, select stained glass from the texture folder and adjust the settings as indicated.

You should get the result shown here.

Hit apply and then desaturate the layer.

Now access the levels command so we can adjust directly and match the settings shown here.

Hit apply and then desaturate the layer.

Hit apply and then desaturate the layer.

Let's now adjust the levels as shown here.

Now let's duplicate the girl base layer a couple of times, and hide one of the duplicated layers.

Now move the visible layer on top.

Once again let's desaturate this new layer.

Let's go now to the filter gallery

Select plastic wrap and adjust the settings as shown to achieve the results you see below.

Now let's set the layer mode to overlay.

This gives us a nice tight suit look for the girl.

Once we have this ready apply the layer mask as shown.

Now let's take both top layers and merge them into one, and after that create a new layer mask for the resulting layer.

Let's go to the brush tool and select black to paint in the mask.

Then let's make the 23 brush smaller, at about 5 px, and enable transfer and pen pressure.

Then let's start masking off the clothes off the hair as shown here.

Carefully go all over the hair until you get it all clear of the clothing. And that is it for this step.

Step 7 - Machines and equipment

Now let's add some equipment to our character with the help of a couple of images, so let's start with this one here, go ahead and open it.

Use the lasso tool to make a selection such as this one.

Copy that on to a new layer on top then scale and rotate as shown here.

Once you have it in position make a layer mask for it.

Select the brush again just as you had it for the hair section

Now work on detailing the mask as indicated here.

Once it's done, desaturate the layer.

Open up this other image and also use the lasso to grab a selection.

Copy that on to a new layer and again scale and rotate it as shown, plus make a layer mask for it.

Select the brush once again to work on the mask.

Mask as shown here just to leave the sections we will use.

Once you have it, apply the layer mask

Let's now access the warp tool, and modify the shape a bit.

And finally desaturate this layer too.

Let's repeat the operation with this other image.

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

Make a mask for it.

Mask off as shown here.

With your mask selected, go to the layer indicated here and make a selection of that mask indicated with the red arrow.

You will get a selection of the masking we did for the hair, and then we will invert it.

Then grab the brush again and with the help of that selection let's mask that last piece so it sits behind the hair.

Then deselect and edit the shape of this piece a bit more as shown here.

And there we go we have our pieces in place, and we will add to them in the next steps.

Step 8 - Boots, Gloves, and shading on equipment

OK now let's find this layer here which was the base for the girl, and make a duplicate.

Erase or mask off the head section, and the boots section.

Access this layer styles and apply a color overlay as shown here.

Then let's desaturate the layer.

Once that is done let's apply this pattern here, and adjust as shown below.

Now all these effects and styles we only need them on the hands, so let's mask off the rest.

Adjust the opacity of the overlay a bit.

Then let's mask back in where the fingers are.

Do the same for both hands so we end up with both hands in nice hi tech gloves.

Let's make one more duplicate of our base layer, this time just mask of the head and hair.

Now let's apply this other pattern and adjust it as shown. Which will give us a nice effect on just the boots

Now let's finish up with the metal equipment pieces, let's start with this one here; make a levels layer for it and clip it.

Adjust the levels as shown here.

Then we will mask off the darkening effects of this levels layer to let some highlights peek through.

Repeat the same steps for the other two pieces of equipment, considering the position they have for applying the highlights. And with this we are finished with this step.

Step 9 - Details

Let's make a duplicate layer of the left hand equipment and place it over to the right hand, just flop it first.

Make sure that the layer its below the other section of equipment and rotate it as shown., also making sure you rotate both the highlight levels layer and the base.

OK now select all of the girls layers and make a group folder out of them; name the folder girl if you want.

Let's now go to the base layer mask, and with a very tiny brush detail the edge of the hair.

Make sure you go all around the mask detailing the edge making it feel more like hair as shown here.

Zoom out to check your work until it feels correct to your eye.

Then we will duplicate the girls group.

And we will merge the duplicated group.

This will give us a single layer to continue working plus we have the original group if needed, yet we will hide it.

OK now create a levels layer clipped to our merged group and adjust its settings as shown.

Then let's scale and place it on to its final position on the scene.

Then let's go back to the brush and let's edit the levels layer mask with a tiny brush tip.

Let's remove the darkening effects of the layer to give some highlights to the hair.

We can use this same layer to add highlights in the equipment.

OK before we continue we will paint over the heel of the boot to make it look less high fashion, so sample color from it.

And in a new layer clipped to it, let's paint in with the chalk brush as shown.

OK that heel was annoying me, now back to the levels layer, let's continue adding highlights with a very small brush as shown here.

Paint in some tiny highlights to the pattern on the clothes so it seems more like something high-tech and solid than just a tight suit.

Perfect, now let's add a color balance layer and adjust it as shown below.

This makes our model have a cold color balance, yet we want to eliminate it from some areas that are getting the warmer influence of direct light. So grab a big soft brush.

And brush softly as shown below on the color balance mask so we eliminate the blue balance from these areas.

Step 10 - Shadow and blue equipment connections.

Now let's start by making a duplicate of all these layers.

Select the duplicated layers and merge them.

Apply a levels correction directly as shown.

Access the distort command.

Distort the shadow as shown.

Next access the field blur.

Drop down two anchors, reducing the one closer to the feet to only 2 grades of blur.

Set the layer to multiply and reduce its opacity to about 74%, plus move the layer below the main girl.

Perfect, now we have a very nice realistic shadow.

Now go back to the main girl layer and let's add another levels layer clipped to it on top.

Let's adjust this levels as shown here only in the blue channel.

Let's prepare a new empty layer on top and add these settings to the layer style.

Pick these two colors for the highlight and shadow mode respectively.

Let's now go back to our brush and select this tip here.

Now paint in some cables and connections as shown here.

And then add a levels layer clipped to it and adjust as indicated below.

Once you are satisfied, merge the layer and the levels layer.

Now in a new layer with the same sharp brush let's paint in with a dark gray some extra details to these connections.

Let's now apply another layer style with some gradient overlay, and choose the gradient below.

Make sure both ends of the gradient are changed to white and adjust the style as shown here.

Let's also add a bevel and emboss setting to the style with the values as shown here.

OK good now with the eraser tool and the same sharp brush just shave up some of the details as shown here to make them sharper.

And then we create a new layer on top set as overlay.

Let's pick these colors to paint with.

Plus a very soft round brush such as this one.

Now paint in some nice bluish influence close to all the equipment connections.

Great now let's go back to this layer here.

And add some details to the hand pieces as shown.

Add some bluish glow to those sections too; and we have finalized one more step.

Step 11 - Base lights and final shading

OK to start off this step let's find and select this brush here, and keep it at 2px

Make a new layer all the way on top.

Let's keep the same brush color of the previous step and start adding some tiny lights all over the base, trying to follow the patterns of the structures.

Then let's find this other brush.

And add some more lights as shown here.

OK perfect, now let's find this other sharp brush.

And add some more defined lines as shown here.

Let's now access the gradient tool.

Make sure circular gradient its selected and then choose the gradient shown below.

Drop some tiny gradients just on certain places to add to our work.

Perfect, now let's add a levels layer all the way to the top to affect our entire piece, and adjust it as shown.

Let's now grab a big soft brush and make it even bigger at about 1500px

With this brush let's softly mask off these areas of the image.

Move the layer just below all of our blue detail layers.

Now let's use the levels to adjust both the blue and red channels separately as indicated here.

Once we are done let's drop a solid color layer all the way to the top and select the dark blue shown below.

Set this layer to overlay and adjust the opacity to about 48%

Once again we will use a big soft brush to mask off where we don't want this layer to influence our scene.

Softly mask off as shown here. And that is it we have finalized one more step.

Step 12 - Searchlights.

Now let's add some searchlights on the city, so grab the polygonal lasso.

Define some cone shaped selections on a new layer as shown here.

Then go back to the gradient tool, and keep the same gradient we had.

Drag from the source of the searchlights up, as shown here.

Then we access the field blur tool again.

We will set one anchor to each source as shown here

And a second anchor for each as shown here.

Set all the base anchors to 0 and the top anchors leave them at the default blur. This will give us searchlights sharp at the base and softer ad the end.

OK now jump back to the gradient tool, with the same settings we used in the previous steps.

Drag a tiny gradient at each of the lights source as indicated here.

OK almost done, now create a new layer on top and set it to overlay.

Then with our soft brush and light blue we will add some glow and light to the buildings where the searchlights are pointing to.

Splendid, now let's go back to our stack on the girl layer and create a new one on top of the stack set to overlay.

With a soft brush and the same bluish color we will add more blue glow influence to her shape as shown here.

And then going back to the top layer where we did the buildings glow.

Let's add a bit of glow at her feet, and celebrate because we have finished our image on this last step.

Final Image

That is the end of the tutorial, refer to each video to see how each step was accomplished. If you have any additional questions, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email.

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