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Create a Post Apocalyptic Panoramic Matte Painting

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Read Time: 14 min

This tutorial is part of a two-part tutorial demonstrating how to create a post-apocalyptic photo manipulation. In Part 1, we showed how to shoot and assemble the base panorama. In this tutorial we will demonstrate how to turn the image we created in Part 1 into a snowy post-apocalyptic matte painting. Let's get started!

Tutorial Assets

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

Before Getting Started

Before we get started, make sure you've done the first part of this tutorial, which you can find here. If
you wish to skip straight to this part, I've included a final version of the last tutorial in the Photo Package.

Step 1 - Placing the Ice floor

Make sure you have the final version of the last tutorial opened in Photoshop. I will refer to it as Plate.psd. Open File1.psd, right-click on the layer and select Duplicate Layer. In the popup window, select your plate layer as the Destination Document.

Go back to your "Plate" tab, and rename the new layer "Ice Foreground." Now, remember the guide we placed on the horizon line of the image in Day 1? Take the Move Tool (V), and position the new layer so its horizon fit with the guide.

Now, using the Rectangular Marquee Tool (M), select the upper part of the image and go to Edit > Clear.

Now let's do the same with File2.psd. Except this time, place it a little bit over the horizon line. Name it "Ice Background" and place it on the top of everything.

Hit Command/Ctrl + T and rescale the layer to 70% of its height.

Give the layer a mask and paint out the top and bottom part. In the following image, the areas in red were painted out.

Finally, give your "Ice Background" layer a little bit of punch by applying a Smart Sharpen adjustment using these settings.

Step 2 - Fitting the ice

Select your two "Ice" layers and group them (Command/Ctrl + G). Name the group "Ice" and give it a mask. Make sure your mask is selected and not the group. Now, with the Polygonal Lasso Tool, zoom into your image, make selections around the building and fill with black the parts where there shouldn't be any ice.

The key here is really to zoom in and take the time to do a good job. Use the windows on the building and the bricks texture to figure the perspective your snow should have. You can drop your group's opacity to 50% to help you see better what underneath the ice.

Step 3 - Adjusting the perspective

At this point, you might realize that the ice's perspective doesn’t quite fit that of the buildings. So, select your "Ice Foreground" layer, hit Command/Ctrl + T, right-click on the canvas and select Perspective. Select either of the two top corner handles and drag it toward the center while holding the Shift key. Then, select either of the bottom corner handles and drag them toward the outside of your image. Without applying the transformation, right-click on your canvas once again, only this time, use Distort. Select the top handle and, without holding any key, drag it downward just before the city line become visible from under the "Ice Foreground".

Step 4 - Placing the sky

Select your base layer. Now, with your favorite tools, make a good selection of the sky. I personally used the Quick Selection Tool (W) to make a global selection, and the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) to refine it. As always, make sure you zoom-in and take the time to do a good job. With the selection still active, create a new group of layers and give it a mask. Name the group "Sky".

Then go to File > Place and select File3.psd. Name the layer "Sky" and place it into your "Sky" folder. Make sure the sun is placed a little bit to the right.

Create a new layer inside the "Sky" folder, pick the Brush Tool (B), hold Alt and click on the sky to sample a color, and paint out the annoying black spot on the lower-left part of the sky. When you are satisfied, you layer with the "Sky" layer and make sure it keeps its name.

Step 5 - Placing the elements

Place the File4.psd on the right part of your canvas and make sure it is on the top of everything. Give it a mask and paint out the top and bottom to make it fits. Then, apply it the following adjustments.

Open the File5.psd, duplicate it to your "Plate" and place it over the snow bank. With the layer selected, press Command/Ctrl + G to create a group and name it "Truck". Give your group a mask and paint out the bottom part of the truck to make it look immersed into the snow.

Let's repeat the process, but this time with the bus. Open File6.psd and duplicate to your plate. Create a mask and paint the bottom out. Note how I also erased part of the roof to make it more aesthetic and fit the perspective better. Scale down the bus to 75%.

Go to File > Place and import File7.psd into your composition. Scale it down to 80% and place it on the roof of the school bus.

To improve the composition of our image, we are going to block the lower-left area of our image. This will help to keep the viewer in the center of the image where the point of interest lies. To do this, load the File8.psd and place it on your canvas. Scale it down to 70%.

Step 6 - A little bit of organization

Good layer management is crucial when dealing with complex multi-layered files. At this point, here is how I organized my layers. Make sure your layer organization follows mine as it will become very important in the following steps.

Step 7 - Some adjustments

With all the new elements in place, it just seems that the ice floor is to big and doesn't quite fit the perspective. Select your "Ice Foreground" layer and make sure it is unlinked to its mask. Also, make sure you have the layer selected and not the mask. Then just move it down according to my example. Select the "Ice Background" layer's mask and paint back some of it.

Step 8 - Hiding the trees

Download the Facade 14a, Facade 14 and Street Stock 02 from the sources file mentioned at the beginning of the tutorial. Using the Distort Transform and the Eraser Tool (E), place them according to my example. Keep in mind that since this area will be against the light, we won't see much of it so it doesn't need to be photorealistic.

Load File9.psd, scale it down, and distort it so it fit the image. Then go to Image > Adjustments > Hue/Saturation (Command/Ctrl + U) to adjust the Saturation, and then Image > Adjustments > Curves (Command/Ctrl + M) to adjust the luminosity.

Put everything into a folder and name it "Corrections". Unhide the "Ice" folder. You should have something like this.

Step 9 - Color correcting the snow

You might have noticed that the snow looks a little bit blue. We'll correct that. Open your "Ice" folder and place the following adjustments layers inside. Make sure the layers aren't clipped so they affect both the foreground and background ice layers. When you're done, duplicate the adjustments layers (right click the layers > duplicate) and clip them to the "Snow Bank" layer.

Step 10 - Adjusting the light on the buildings

Our image is getting good, but there's still one major problem to it: the luminosity doesn’t work with our new light source. You see, when the photos were taken, the light sources were located behind the camera. Now, with our new sky, the light should come from the sun behind the buildings. This means we'll need to change the whole light dynamics of our image for it to remain believable. Also, since we are making a dusk scene, our image should also have higher a contrast, an orange tint in the highlights and apparent casted shadows. We'll fix that using Adjustments layers and mask.

Create a new folder on top of the "Corrections" folder and name it "Adjustments". In that folder, add the following adjustment layers. The areas in red represent the masked areas.

Had you missed anything, here is how your layers should be at this point.

Step 11 - Further adjustments

When taking a closer look at the image, you might realize that the building, although they are darker, still have a facade more illuminated than the others. Since both facade are against the light, that is not possible. You might also have realized that some buildings have become almost pitch black which doesn’t look believable at all. That is because, in real life, light change isn't as much of a linear process as the Curves adjustments is. So to get a more realistic look, we'll have to do some manual tuning.

To fix this, click the Curves layer's mask affecting this area.

Using the Brush Tool (B) at a medium opacity (between 20 to 50%), paint out (with black) the area you want to be less dark.

Step 12 - Adding the casted shadows

Since the sun is behind our building, our building should be casting shadow toward the camera. To do this, create a new layer, name it "Shadow", and place it inside the "Ice" folder. Select the Polygonal Lasso Tool (L) and draw a selection on where the shadow should be. Then, Hit Command/Ctrl + F5, select Color and fill it with #515962. To help yourself, you can draw straight light from the light source. Also, consider the shape of the objects like the bus and the truck and try to figure out how their shadow would project onto the ice. For the building, use your imagination and add some variation to the shadow.

Go to Filter > Blur > Radial Blur, and input the following settings. Make sure that the Blur Center is located where the Sun would be. When you're done, add a 2 px Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur).

Then change the layer's blending mode to Multiply.

Give your layer a mask. Then, with a soft round Brush (B) at 25% opacity, paint out the tip of the shadow from the buildings in the center.

Step 13 - Darkening the brick wall

Great! The only thing left to do is to adjust the light on the object! We'll start with the left wall.

Click on the Curves layer's mask and paint out the front to give it a nice light gradient.

Step 14 - Darkening the bus

Clip a new Curves adjustment layer to the "Bus" layer with the following setting.

Then duplicate the "Bus" layer, set it to 80% opacity, Multiply blending mode and mask out the bus's roof. Then, clip the following Hue/Saturation layer to it. Make sure you check Colorize.

Finally, I thought that the darker parts of the bus were a little bit too saturated so I added another Hue/Saturation layer on top of everything.

Step 15 - Darkening the truck

Inside the "Truck" folder, add the following adjustments layers.

Then, create a new layer, name it "Truck Shadow", set it to Multiply and place it under your "Truck" folder. With a soft round brush, select a dark blue color (#212429) and paint on the snow bank with different level of opacity to complete the shadow.

Step 16 - Darkening the model

Back to the "Schoolbus" folder, create two new layers respectively named "Shadows" and "Highlights" and clip them to your "Model" layer. In the "Highlights" one, pick a bright yellow color (#E6CF72) and paint where the character should receive light. Set the layer to the Screen mode and at 50% opacity. Then, on the "Shadow" layer, select a dark blue color (#212429) and paint the back of the with a low-opacity brush. Let the "Shadow" layer to the Normal blending mode.

Then once again, create a new layer and name it "Shadow". This time place it below the "Model" layer, and paint its shadow on the bus.

Step 17 - Adding the details

In this step, we'll blend everything together by painting over our image. We'll also add some other fun details that will give our image a more polished look!

Create a new layer on top of everything and name it "Details". For this part, there's no secret except patience. Pick a good set of brushes, sample color on your image (holding Alt) and paint over it. Here are a few example of what can be improved.

Step 18 - Adding the snowfall

The key for having a photorealistic snowfall is to have multiple size of snowflakes and a natural randomness. In this step, I will explain my method. It's somewhat long, but it gives a nice result. Feel free to use snow brushes if you don't want too much trouble.

First, we'll create the big snowflakes. Create a new folder and name it "Snow". Create a first layer and fill it with black (Shift + F5). Import the Snow Stock file and place it to the left.

Then duplicate it, rotate it by 90 degree, scale it horizontally and place it to the right.

Then import the Snow Texture file, scale it so it fit the composition and place it to the right. Set the layer to Screen blending mode.

Place all three layers into a folder, name it "Snow", set it to Screen and give it a mask. Select the mask, go to Filter > Render > Clouds. Then go to Filter > Render > Difference Cloud. Press Command/Ctrl + F to repeat the effect a few times. Then hit Command/Ctrl + L to bring the to enter the level adjustment and give it the following setting. You should get this result.

Then we do the small snowflakes. Create a folder, name it "Snow 2" and place a new layer inside. Create a new layer, fill it with black (Shift + F5), and then go to Filter > Noise > Add Noise and input the following.

Hit Command/Ctrl + M to open the Curves adjustment windows and input the following.

Press Command/Ctrl + T and scale up the layer by 400%, then once again, do a Curves adjustment to obtain this

Then give your "Snow2" layer a mask, and apply the same technique we've just used for "Snow1".

Then, duplicate your "Snow2" layer (name it "Snow3"), unlink the layer's mask. Make sure you select the layer, hit Command/Ctrl + T and scale it up by 200%. Click on the mask (make sure it is unlinked!) and go to Edit > Transform > Flip Horizontal.

The result should be a nice, natural and photorealistic snowfall.

Step 19 - Adding some color variation

Place the File10 from the photo package. This is an abstract image I made from random sunsets pictures on which I applied a Motion Blur. Place the image at the top of everything, and set it to Soft Light and 80% opacity. Name the layer "Color Variation." This image will give our ice and our sky a nice color variation that will make the whole image more appealing.

Then, using gray blue color (#606F73), paint in the areas that should be in the shadow, since we don't want those to have an orange tint.

You can also blur the illuminated areas on the left and right building as well as on the left brick wall to remove that horizontal pattern created by the Motion Blur. To do this, select the Rectangular Marquee Tool, input the feather to about 20 px, and create a selection on those areas. Then add a 50 px Gaussian Blur (Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur).

Step 20 - Final color adjustments

Another good way of blending the images together is with Gradient Maps. Add a Gradient Map adjustment layer, and double click the gradient to enter the gradient editor. Double click on the
pointers to select the color then input #3D2B55 and #D9BE75. Then set the layer to overlay and 20% opacity.

Finally, we want to keep the viewer focused in the center of the image, so we'll desaturate a bit the border of our image. Add a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer on top of everything and set the saturation to -35. Then, make sure you select the mask, pick the Gradient Tool (G), and create a black to white radial gradient from the sun to the border of the image.

If you have missed anything, here is how your layer panel should look like in the end.

Final Image

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